Saturday, August 11, 2012

Counterfactuals and contrary choice

Nevertheless, I felt the prick of the rapier when Craig referred to 1 Cor 10:13. I have often cited the text as evidence that God knows counterfactuals. He knows in what circumstances we would be unable to resist temptation, and he does not allow us to get into such situations. But I am unsure how best to respond to Craig’s proposal that 1 Cor 10:13 also indicates that we have the power of contrary choice. The text does sound, on a natural reading, to indicate that when we yield to temptation, we could have done otherwise, all things being equal.

This is, indeed, a favorite libertarian prooftext. However:

i) There’s a tension between using this as a prooftext for libertarianism and using this as a prooftext for God's counterfactual knowledge. If a libertarian cites this verse as a prooftext for God's counterfactual knowledge, then that, in turn, runs afoul of the grounding objection, viz.

ii) Calvinism doesn’t deny that humans can do otherwise, simpliciter. Humans lack direct power to do otherwise. Instead, there’s a possible world in which God predestined the alternative course of action. Hypothetical decrees.

Ryan in his own hand

Some time ago, I talked about the phenomenon of Reagan having thought through his own policies. As I noted just below here, Paul Ryan is the kind of individual who had also thought through his own policy proposals.

That's good, because the election has just become about Ryan's economic policy proposals.

Here's what I said:

Reagan had lost an election to Gerald Ford, but meanwhile, he was hard at work. A “Goldwater” Republican during the late 60’s and early 70’s, Reagan was a person who took the time to think through how conservative ideas and principles ought to play out in the real world. It was his thought and his policies that led very quickly (within 10 years) to the demise of the Soviet satellite of nations and eventually the Soviet system of government. And it was his economic attitude and policies that enabled the US economy to recover from the stagnation of the 1970’s to become the growth engine that it had become through the 1980’s and 1990’s and beyond.

From this perspective, it’s very hopeful for Republicans to have names like Christie and Ryan and Rubio and Jindal in some high-profile places. Ron Paul has, and articulates, some good ideas, but the weaknesses of his libertarianism (and his personal weaknesses) are very evident. Sarah Palin may have been a pretty candidate who espoused conservative principles, but she was just a “stopper” and a window dressing. The real heavy lifting of the Republican party will need to be accomplished not by someone who merely claims the mantle of Reagan, but by someone who can genuinely do what Reagan did, and that is, to think through the problems of the day, and understand how best to solve these problems with the best of conservative principles.

The American System not only allows for that, but indeed, it encourages it.

Dimwit Coal Miners

It's amazing. Obama is bent on destroying, not just coal mining jobs, but the very coal industry itself. Yet dimwit coal mining union workers have agreed not to vote against Obama. Talk about blind ideology.

Memo to coal miners: your union bosses are leaving you out to dry.

Paul Ryan's Economic Plan

1) It would spend $40.135 trillion over 10 years, compared with the $46.959 trillion the White House said its budget would spend over 10 years.

2) It would bring in $37.008 trillion in tax revenue over 10 years, compared with $40.274 trillion in the White House plan.

3) Lowers tax rates and cuts tax breaks. But the report doesn’t say which tax breaks would be targeted for new limits or elimination.

4) Overturns the White House’s health care law and replaces it with changes. New Medicare rules would not go into effect for those already using the program or about to qualify for benefits. They would be able to use the existing program.

5) On Medicare, it would give Americans a choice to enroll in a Medicare-type plan. The government would subsidize part of the payments for private-run insurance plans. Mr. Ryan believes this competition between firms “will help ensure guaranteed affordability.” For the poor or those with more health risks, Medicare would offer additional assistance.

6) The Medicare piece is perhaps the biggest flashpoint in the entire plan. The White House and Democrats have said it would gut benefits for seniors, and even former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has kept some distance from it.

7) On Medicaid, the budget would turn it into a federal block grant program, “thus freeing states to tailor their Medicaid programs to the unique needs of their own populations.”

8) The plan offers no details for changes to Social Security, other than calling on Congress and the White House to pursue modifications to it.

9) On taxes, the plan calls for two individual income tax rates – 10% and 25%. It also proposes “clearing out the burdensome tangle of loopholes that distort economic activity,” but it doesn’t identify which ones should be cut.

10) It calls for overhauling the corporate tax code by gutting exemptions and lowering the top corporate rate from 35% to 25%.

11) The Ryan budget would reduce the deficit to just 3% of gross domestic product by fiscal year 2014, three years faster than the White House estimated its plan would reach that level. For comparison, the deficit is expected to be $1.2 trillion this year, 7.8% of GDP.

12) The Ryan budget would not, at least according to its 10-year window, balance the budget, as tax revenue would always lag behind spending.

Romney Picks Paul Ryan

With his selection of Wisconsin Rep Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has very much set the tone of the coming Presidential election. Ryan is the author of the Republican budget (which passed the House but not the Senate each of the last couple of years). (A subscription is required at this link, but here are some selections):

Mitt Romney's pick of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate ensured a very different kind of fall.

The Ryan pick wasn't the safest one Mr. Romney could have made—not by a long shot. But as the author of the budget plan that most clearly delineates the view of limited government that most Republicans hold, and with more specificity and crystalline explanation than most can muster, Mr. Ryan best guarantees the country will get the kind of philosophical debate worthy of a presidential campaign....

With Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney is getting one of his party's fastest-rising stars, and the heir to the late Jack Kemp's brand of sunny and optimistic conservatism. He has added a dash of youth and opened a clear play for Mr. Ryan's state of Wisconsin, which hasn't gone Republican in a presidential race since the days of Ronald Reagan....

In picking Mr. Ryan, though, Mr. Romney has chosen, quite consciously, to take some risks:

He and his party will absorb regular attacks on Medicare for the duration of the campaign. The Ryan budget envisions the transition of Medicare, over time, into a premium-support plan in which the government helps to finance rather than provide health coverage for senior citizens. The pressure now is on Mr. Romney to declare whether he embraces that vision, something he hasn't until now. Politically, the risk is that the Medicare debate erodes Mr. Romney's advantage with seniors, who have been one of his strongest demographics. Given his problems with young voters and Hispanics, those older voters are mighty important to him....

He has decided to gamble that, in an election dominated by the economy, he didn't need to pick a running mate with foreign-policy or national-security experience to offset his own shortages in that area.

He has decided to risk that the pure and genuine excitement the Ryan pick will generate among conservatives will offset the portrayal of the Republican party veering far right that now will commence.

One of the surprises of the election so far is that Mr. Romney has defied the conventional wisdom that said he would move to the center after clinching the GOP nomination. No chance to do that now.

One of the things I like about Ryan is that he is a genuine thinker, who, much like Ronald Reagan in the 1970's, has thought through his own policy proposals.

Political antinomianism

Plenty of folks were lauding Chick-Fil-A and denouncing the pro-gay community when I checked my Facebook news feed on Friday. While I agreed with those who support Chick-Fil-A’s freedom of speech and view of marriage, I thought it might be helpful to add a complementary perspective into the mix. So I posted the following remark, “I’m not a prophet, but I suspect that it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for many who patronized Chick-Fil-A on August 1st.”

Hence, it’s not enough to be “straight” and support heterosexual marriage. Standing up for the First Amendment and morality is good and well. But what’s ultimately important is not where you stood (or stand) on “Chick-Fil-A Day” but where you’ll stand in relation to Jesus on Judgment Day.

But sometimes I wonder if our opposition to homosexuality and advocacy of Christian values doesn’t come across primarily as a misguided attempt to create a “Christian nation” rather than a humble endeavor to win our fellow non-Christian Americans to the kingdom that is “not of this world.” In the words of Joel Rainey, who actually went to Chick-Fil-A on August 3rd in an effort to reach out to gays,

    When I read about Jesus’ words and actions in Scripture, I see a Savior who aggressively pursues relationships with people who are far from God, and who simultaneously displays a strong reticence toward fighting over the control of temporary kingdoms. His mission was, and is, much larger!4

I just wanted to remind folks–whether believers or non-believers–that the ultimate issue isn’t what one does with the First Amendment or marriage but what one does with Jesus and the gospel. And in doing so, I hoped to prod my fellow believers to think not only in terms of preserving the moral fiber of our country but also (and more importantly) of promoting the gospel by means of declaring the fact that, as one of my good friends puts it, “we’re all in this sinful mess together.”6

I’m not convinced that buying a sandwich from CFA on August 1st was the only way Christians could show their support for the CFA’s First Amendment rights and views on marriage. And while it may help to preserve our American liberties, I’m not sure how much it will serve to advance the cause of the gospel. In the words of the hymnwriter:

    For not with swords loud clashing
    Nor roll of stirring drum
    But deeds of love and mercy
    The heavenly kingdom comes.

This is the kind of smug, otherworldly pietism that I often run across in certain Reformed Baptist circles.

i) You have ministers who talk down to laymen. Even if a layman says or does something right, the minister thinks his role is to remind the layman–as if the layman needs reminding–of another “complementary” truth. The minister imagines that, unlike the layman, he brings a balanced perspective to the issue.

The effect is to relativize away whatever good the layman did. But as Bishop Butler wisely observed, we should resist the impulse to discountenance what good because it wasn’t better.

ii) Ironically, it’s the position of Gonzales that’s unbalanced. The Bible preaches law as well as gospel. Duty as well as grace. It isn’t all gospel all the time.

Some Baptists like Gonzales promote political antinomianism.

iii) God put us in this world. This is the world we must function in. This is the theater in which we must practice our faith. This is where we must live out what we profess, until we die or Jesus returns.

We're living in the here-and-now, not the hereafter. We need to be faithful to the situation God has put us in. If we're faithful in the present, the future will take care of itself. 

iv) Christian men have a duty to protect and provide for their dependents. Christian political activism, or “push back,” is one of the ways we’re called upon to defend the welfare of our dependents. If, say, a totalitarian state takes control of your kids, then you can’t raise them in the faith. Then you can’t perform your parental duty as a Christian father. Likewise, if the state reserves the right to euthanize your elderly mother, you can’t perform your filial duty.

v) Sure, what “ultimately matters” is what happens to us after we die, not before we die. In that sense, if you have a toddler who wanders into a busy intersection, or a toddler who approaches a rattlesnake, it’s ultimately unimportant whether he’s run over. Ultimately unimportant whether he dies of snakebite. Yet you still have a duty to protect the toddler from harm.

If a mugger jumps your wife while the two of your are walking in the park, it’s ultimately unimportant whether or not he rapes her and murder her. Does that mean you should preach the gospel to the mugger rather than defending your wife?

If a lifeguard fished a drowning swimmer out of the water and resuscitated him through CPR, would Gonzales find fault because the lifeguard failed to evangelize the swimmer?

If a sharpshooter caps a schoolyard sniper, thereby saving the lives of innocent kindergartners, would Gonzales find fault because the policeman failed to evangelize the sniper?

vi) All goods are God’s goods. We should be thankful for every good thing. It’s more important to distinguish between good and evil than distinguish between greater and lesser goods.

vii) We’re not going to win everyone to Jesus. And the law is primarily for unbelievers, not believers (1 Tim 1:9-10).

Unreasonable faithlessness: failing as an atheist

Unreasonable Faith: Failing as a Parent
Posted by Jeffery Jay Lowder . . at 8/08/2012 07:14:00 AM

So much for "love the sinner but hate the sin," eh?

As the father of two young children myself, I cannot even imagine ever writing a letter like that to either of my children.

From an atheistic standpoint, a blind, pitiless, amoral process programmed Jeff to love his offspring. The same evolutionary process programs other animals to eat their offspring.

Jeff keeps forgetting what it means to be an atheist. That’s because he has to live in God’s world. It takes a lot of conscious effort to be a consistent atheist. Constant vigilance. You have to keep reminding yourself of what it means to be an atheist. Keep prompting yourself. Otherwise, you slip into the unconscious default mode of someone God designed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Was the Sikh Temple Shooter a "Christian Terrorist?"

The Sacred Rite of Circumcision

Should Protestants affirm a doctrine of purgatory?

The Community of Reason

Learning Lessons from the Past

From Typology to Doxology

Christian Theology in The Dark Knight Rises

A lesson from an atheist

Making the "Catholic Paradigm" work

Just saw this one from Bryan Cross in the Justification thread:

What’s tripping you up here is thinking that venial sins are violations of God’s law. So you’re not yet seeing the basis for the difference between mortal and venial sins. Venial sins are not violations of the law; they are not violations of love. They are deficiencies or defects in carrying out the love that is the spirit and principle of the law. So to view venial sins as merely more rule violations is to approach the whole question through the list-paradigm, rather than through the agape paradigm, which gets ‘behind’ the list to the spirit or principle (i.e. agape) of the law, thus allowing for a distinction between actions that violate this spirit, and those that are still ordered by this principle but fall short of its perfect expression.

Bryan explains further.

More explication:

Venial sin in relation to God is very much like doing something minor or unintentional that troubles one’s spouse but does not break the friendship with one’s spouse (say, failing to remember to readjust the seat in the car, so that it is easier for the other person to get in). It is not a violation of the law of love. When you get into the car and find the seat not readjusted, you don’t justifiably turn to your spouse and say, “You violated the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.” That would obviously be way over the top, because the failure was not purposely chosen out of spite or apathy; the spouse loved and loves you, and the inaction did not destroy that love or indicate its absence. But neither is failing to readjust the seat, if one’s spouse has requested that one do so, a perfect conformity to love for one’s spouse. And in our friendship with God there is a similar kind of distinction between two types of sins: mortal and venial.

This is fudging. It's also merely a "venial sin" to tell your little sister that you hate her; this is not merely not re-adjusting the car seat. And yet it will net you simply a couple of Hail Mary's in the confessional.

And yet it is thoroughly a sin according to Matt 5:21-22. This is a clear example of Bryan's "Tradition" negating the Word of God.

Is certainty a bad thing?

David Anders has done a rather strange post:

I’ll make a few comments:

i) Anders is presenting a specious choice between certainty and uncertainty. Protestants don’t concede that Catholicism offers more than Protestantism. Rome offers less. It’s not a choice between Catholic certainty and Protestant uncertainty, for that’s not a genuine choice. Rome can’t make good on its offer. You might as well say it’s a choice between believing in Jesus and believing in the Tooth Fairy. Well, that’s not a real choice, is it?

Keep in mind that many cults claim to offer their followers certainty. Indeed, a common theme in both the OT and the NT is the danger of false prophets.

ii) Anders also contradicts himself. On the one hand says:

Why did some Reformed Protestants take the reductionistic path? Scripture does not call for theological reductionism. Paul could exhort the Corinthians “to agree on everything.”

But then he turns right around and says:

What the Catholic Church promises, then, is not an answer to every question, but a principled way, established by divine authority, to differentiate dogma from mere opinion, and to do so in a way that allows for certainty in our act of faith.

So his Pauline prooftext notwithstanding, he doesn’t think Catholics are required “to agree on everything.” Indeed, it’s not even possible for Catholics to agree on everything since, by his own admission, Rome has only defined a core of formal dogmas.

So that's the classic bait-n-switch you get from Catholic salesmen. There's the come-on, then there's what they really have in stock. 

iii) Notice that having censured Protestants for their (alleged) theological reductionism, his Catholic alternative is reductionistic. Certainty is limited to formal dogmas.

iv) He also erects a false dichotomy between “ mere opinion” and “certain in our act of faith.” But that interjects a false dichotomy between opinion and knowledge. Yet some opinions count as knowledge. To put it a bit technically, nonaccidental true belief counts as knowledge.

v) Even if our interpretation of Scripture is fallible, Biblical teaching is often redundant. You don’t have to interpret every verse correctly to have a correct understanding of a Biblical doctrine.

vi) Even if, for the sake of argument, we said Protestantism can’t offer certainty, the same holds true for Catholicism. Remember, we don’t concede that Rome has something we don’t. Therefore, at most, it would reduce to a choice between competing uncertainties.

vii) Apropos (vi), a probable interpretation is still preferable to an improbable one. I’ll take my probable interpretation of Scripture over your improbable interpretation.

viii) The fact that Christians are fallible doesn’t create the presumption that Christians are wrong. This overlooks the special providence of God. If it’s God’s will that his people come to a saving knowledge of the truth, then God is both able and willing to guide them into a saving knowledge of the truth.

The process of divine guidance can operate at a purely subconscious level. God can arrange circumstances so that we will believe whatever he intends us to believe.

ix) We should defer to the level of certainty that God has promised.

x) Luke (Lk 1:3-4) and John (Jn 20:31) contain purpose statements assuring the reader that these gospels contain information sufficient to know who Jesus is and what he did-or will do. And, by parity of argument, that’s also the function of Matthew and Luke.

Catholics defiantly refuse to believe in the adequacy of Scripture to accomplish what Scripture explicitly claims for itself.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

In the Cross hairs

Bryan Cross normally plays it safe by taking refuge in the never-never land of hypotheticals. "Can't catch me!" However, this time around he slipped up. He's drawn Lane Keister into a debate over justification. Even as a general proposition, whenever the issue turns to exegesis, Pastor Lane can run circles around Bryan. But it gets worse for Bryan. Pastor Lane has become a specialist on the doctrine of justification. This is going to end very badly for Bryan:

Dear Haters


Eating and excreting

Many atheists are very moralistic. They quote passages from the OT which they find morally outrageous. They wax indignant at the political agenda of religious right.

They fervently believe in human rights, and they feel that the Bible and Christian ethics infringe on human rights. But where is all this coming from?

Before we can ask what rights (if any) a human being has, we need to ask what a human being is. From a strictly naturalistic viewpoint, what does a human biological unit amount to?

From an evolutionary perspective, human life arose from inorganic chemical reactions. Indeed, our bodies are still reducible to inorganic compounds.

Then there’s the big picture view of human organisms. Where we fit in the ecosystem. Our ecosystemic role is to metabolize carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. Basically, we’re glorified digestive systems. From an ecosystemic standpoint, the most important part of a human unit is the gastrointestinal tract. Intake and outtake. Ingestion and egestion. In one end and out the other. We thereby help to maintain the balance of nature by breaking down and oxidizing large molecules. That’s a necessary link in ecosystemic ecology.

Of course, a digestive system can’t exist in isolation. It can only function in a living body. Our hands and feet, heart, lungs, brains, &c., are aids to the digestive system. They keep it alive and functional. They enable us to acquire the raw materials.

Human units age. So we reproduce our replacement units. The survival of the ecosystem is not contingent on the survival of any individual human unit. The ecosystem has great redundancy. Human units are highly expendable and disposable.

Our value isn’t essentially different than the value of an earthworm, which also contributes to the ecosystem by converting dead organic matter into humus. Or trees, which emit oxygen and filter carbon dioxide.

We’re important in relation to the ecosystem. Of course, from a naturalistic perspective, the ecosystem has no inherent value. It simply is. The result of fortuitous initial conditions. When our sun burns out, the biosphere will die. 

From a naturalistic viewpoint, humans are processing systems–like sewer plants. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Cocooned atheism

Over at the Secular Outpost, Jeff Lowder continues to crusade for the glorious cause of sodomy. He acts as though homosexuals are suffering from some grave miscarriage of justice.

Other issues to one side, Jeff is doing things backwards. Before he presumes to moralize, an atheist should first determine if a secular moralist is oxymoronic.

This involves two questions; (i) Is there right and wrong? Are there objective moral norms? Are there moral truths independent of what humans happen to think about morality?

Relatedly, (ii) even if there are moral facts, do they apply to human organisms? Are human organisms entitled to certain rights? Is there a right way or wrong way to treat human organisms?

For some reason, Jeff imagines that he can just skip over the preliminaries and go straight to moralizing about his pet peeves.

This illustrates the fact that the intellectual pretensions of atheism are just a façade. It corroborates St. Paul’s allegation that the unbeliever is living a lie.

Like many atheists, Jeff lives in a silken cocoon that shields him from exposure to the harsh elements of atheism. It’s warm and soft inside his little cocoon.   

Anything but human

Super snooper

When fiction

Becomes reality

The Imputation of Christ's Righteousness

The first extant exegesis of Matthew 16:18-19

One of the more significant exegetical monographs that we have on the topic of the importance of Peter is Peter in the New Testament, edited by Raymond Brown, Karl Donfried, and John Reumann. This work describes its mission and function:

A National Dialogue between Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians began in July 1965 under the sponsorship of the U.S.A. National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation and the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops…. In their 1971 meetings [these groups] began to discuss one of the thorniest problems arising from the Reformation: the problem of ministry in the universal church, with special emphasis on papal primacy…. In order that the work of the National Dialogue not become impossibly long, it was decided that smaller task forces of specialists be appointed to work on two particularly sensitive historical periods, namely the New Testament and the Patristic periods (pgs 1-2).

So two works have been produced by this commission. I’ve had the first for some time now, and have referred to it on occasion. The second, Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, just arrived in my mailbox. It has taken me a while to locate it, because it was not referred to directly in the first work. The footnote in the first work refers to the second only in terms of function (I suppose the essays had not been collected at that point):

The Patristics task force, co-chaired by the Rev. Dr. A.C. Piepkorn of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, and by Professor J. McCue [a Roman Catholic] of the School of Religion at the State University of Iowa (Iowa City), will make a separate report on the evidence pertaining to the first five centuries (fn 4, pg 2).

From the Roman Catholic side, T.Austin Murphy, Bishop’s Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs served as a co-editor. Murphy was an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore at the time.

I’m working through McCue’s essay, “The Beginnings Through Nicaea”, and I hope to talk about this a bit more, but for now, I’ve found the following, which I find quite interesting:

When Origen is commenting directly on Matthew 16:18f. he carefully puts aside any interpretation of the passage that would make of Peter anything other than what every Christian is to be.

… And if we too have said like Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”, not as if flesh and blood had revealed it to us, but because light from the Father in heaven had shone in our hearts, we become a Peter, and to us also he who was the Word might say, “Thou Art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church”. For every imitator of Christ is a rock, of Christ, that is, who is the spiritual rock that followed them that drank of him. And upon every such rock is built every word of the Church, and the whole order of life based thereon; for whosoever is perfect, having the sum of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the state of blessedness, in him is the Church that God is building.

But if you suppose that God builds the entire Church upon Peter and on him alone, what would you say about John, the son of thunder, or any particular apostle? In other words, are we so bold as to say that it is against Peter in particular that the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other apostles and the perfect? Does not the above saying “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” hold in regard to all, and in the case of each of them? And likewise with regard to the words “Upon this rock I will build my Church”? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? For in the passage before us, the words “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” and what follows do appear to be addressed to Peter individually; but in the Gospel of John, the Saviour, having given the Holy Spirit to the disciples by breathing on them, says “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” and what follows. For all the imitators of Christ are surnamed “rocks” from him, the spiritual rock which follows those who are being saved; … but from the very fact that they are members of Christ, they are called Christians by a name derived from him. And those called after the rock are called Peter. (In Matt. 12:10-11; ANF translation, extensively revised by E. Giles, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority 1952, pp. 45-46).

This is the earliest extant detailed commentary on Matthew 16:18f. and interestingly sees the event describe as a lesson about the life to be lived by every Christian, and not information about office or hierarchy or authority in the church.

The Brown, Donfried, and Reumann work concludes by saying, “it has become clear to us that an investigation of the historical career does not necessarily settle the question of Peter’s importance for the subsequent church” (168).

Origen is the first commentator from the Eastern church (Alexandria) on the importance of Peter. According to this passage, Peter’s importance as an apostle is not denied, but it is very much put on par with that of the smallest of believers.

There is no acknowledgement here of any “primacy”. This speaks also to the issue that Christ founded a visible church and specifically, what this “visible church” is – very much reminiscent of Calvin and the WCF, “The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.”

Here Origen’s understanding deals with the ontological aspects of what is visible, and that is, “every imitator of Christ is a rock”, a reflection of Peter’s own statement, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house”.

Both of these together support the notion that there was nothing special about the “ontologicalness” of being Peter. In terms of being “first”, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Peter had the privilege of being the first one to preach the Gospel, “first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles” (Acts 10), but in the context of historical “tradition”, Origen contradicts the notion that the early third-century church in the East thought that there was anything particularly special about him, or where he happened to be located.

Psalm 115:1-9

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”

Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

He tricked us!

Their Bags were Packed

A Quest for Godliness, J.I. Packer

The puritans have taught me to see and feel the transitoriness of this life, to think of it with all its richness, as essentially the gymnasium and dressing-room where we are prepared for heaven, and to regard readiness to die as the first step in learning to live. Here again it is an historic Christian emphasis—Patristic, Medieval, Reformational, Puritan, Evangelical—with which the Protestantism that I know has already lost touch. The Puritans experienced systematic persecution for their faith; what we today think of as the comforts of home were unknown to them; their medicine and surgery were rudimentary; they had no aspirins, tranquillisers, sleeping tablets or anti-depressant pills, just as they had no social security or insurance; in a world in which more than half the adult population died young and more than half the children born died in infancy, disease, distress, discomfort, pain and death were their constant companions.

They would have been lost had they not kept their eyes on heaven and known themselves as pilgrims travelling home to the Celestial City. Dr. Johnson is credited with the remark that when a man knows he is going to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully, and in the same way the Puritans’ awareness that in the midst of life we are in death, just one step away from eternity, gave them a deep seriousness, calm yet passionate, with regard to the business of living that Christians in today’s opulent, mollycoddled, earthbound Western world rarely manage to match.

Few of us, I think, live daily on the edge of eternity in the conscious way that the Puritans did, and we lose out as a result. For extraordinary vivacity, even hilarity (yes, hilarity; you will find it in the sources), with which the Puritans lived stemmed directly, I believe, from the unflinching, matter-of-fact realism with which they prepared themselves, so as always to be found, as it were, packed up and ready to go (pg 14).

The Audacity of Dope

Right off, I have to put up the disclaimer, in the face of Roman Catholics (and even some Protestants) who will say, “John Bugay’s mean, he’s calling Neal Judisch a dope”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it is true that I’m commenting on his article, The Audacity of Pope, (itself a take-off on Obama’s work “The Audacity of Hope”), I’m not calling Neal a dope. In fact, that would be silly of me, in the face of his own statement of his credentials. He says, “After all, I am a super-duper educated philosopher”. So no, it would be very naïve of me to say that Neal Judisch is not a super-duper educated philosopher. He has proven that in so many ways, I am sure.

What I’m saying, though, is that his apologetic method, the typical Roman Catholic apologetic against Protestants these days, is a narcotic. It is a kind of dope to which they must rely, over and over again. And this is precisely the kind of “dope” to which I am referring.

Neal begins appropriately. Yes, we both agree that man is fallen. Neal kind of gives us a brief introduction to the doctrine of fallen man.

The fundamental conviction here is really quite straightforward: Catholics think that we’d better not be left to our own devices, or else we’ll probably screw things up. When you get right down to the core of the thing, it isn’t that Catholics are misanthropes; they don’t think that human beings are just absolutely idiotic or irredeemably horrible. But they do have a lot of skepticism about man’s inherent capacity to get things right on his own; to see things straight for himself; to understand things clearly and objectively, apart from the potentially adverse influence of the cultural categories and presuppositions, the inherited traditions, through which he sees the world and understands the Bible – but which themselves usually remain unseen. They believe that owing to these inherent and historical limitations to which all men are subject, an individual person, even if he is a Christian indeed, cannot always rely upon himself – that his own internal “feelings” of certitude, or the inward confidence he has in his own views and in those of his tradition, do not necessarily come straight from the Holy Ghost and do not automatically mean he is right.

But even here, especially here, at the beginning, things diverge. It is where Roman Catholics say that man is “wounded”, whereas Protestants say man is “dead in sin”. Roman Catholics say that man was “ok” in Eden, but not “perfect” so God gave man this donum superadditum, this “superadded gift” of grace, which he lost in the fall. Protestants believe that man was “very good”, “in the image of God”, and that when he fell, he did not simply lose some “superadded gift”, but he became “dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body”.

So, we don’t even agree here (though Neal has fluffed up his definition of “the fall” so as to be unrecognizable to most people.

But here’s where the narcotic comes in. The rest of Neal’s (5000+ word) article takes the following form:

P1. He caricatures the Protestant understanding of canon.
P2. He caricatures the Protestant notion of tradition.
P3. He makes fun of the Protestant notion of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
And then he concludes: Therefore, the bold claims of the papacy are true.

This, of course, is the ever-present narcotic for the Roman Catholic, now who needs a shot of “feel-good” when they have been so sorely challenged on utter, abject inability of “actually sustaining a historical, biblical, and theological argument that proves the proposition that Christ established an office of the papacy?”

It is the “audacity of dope” to sustain Roman Catholic in the face of what Carl Trueman says is “once again what historians take for granted: the rise, consolidation and definition of papal power is an historically very complex issue; and, indeed, as scholarship advances, the story becomes more, not less, convoluted and subversive of papal claims.”

Monday, August 06, 2012

Them thar gun nuts

The Sikh temple shooting graphically illustrates, once more, why we need to confiscate guns. Civilians can’t be trusted with guns. Only the pros should be allowed to carry guns. Guns ownership ought to be confined to professional soldiers and law-enforcement officers. Not to untrained, trigger-happy civilians.

Wait a minute…wasn’t the shooter an army vet? Okay, well I guess restricting gun access to the pros won’t solve the problem after all.


Once again, the homofacists are flexing their limp wrists:

Atheism at sixes and sevens

Here are two common objections to intelligent design theory:

i) Design flaws are counterevidence

ii) Design detection presumes knowing the intentions of the agent.

I think both these objections are bad objections in their own right, but for now I’m primarily interested in how they cohere (or not). For doesn’t (ii) cancel out (i)? If (arguendo) we lack access to the intentions of the designer, then how can we know if something is poorly designed?

For instance, planned obsolescence might appear to be a design flaw. But that serves an economic purpose.

Also, doesn’t (ii) sabotage the argument from evil? If we lack access to God's intentions, how can atheists say any particular evil is gratuitous or lacking a morally sufficient rationale? If they raised that objection to intelligent design, doesn’t that boomerang on the argument from evil?

The Omega Point

Arminian author and theologian Roger Olson has hosted a guest post by Bev Michell:

Olson presumably agrees with the content of the post. Here are some of the highlights (or lowlights):

This universe came into existence in the face of a spiritual rebellion against God’s will.

It did? This suggests a preexistent insurrection, prior to the creation of the universe. Who was rebelling against God’s will before God made the world?

Our creator is waging a cosmic battle against rebellion, chaos, disorder and confusion – a physicist would say, a battle against entropy.

This demotes God from Creator to demiurge. God reshapes preexistent chaos into order. God is not the Creator, but the cosmic reorganizer.

Maximum entropy equals maximum disorder. There is a spiritual battle, a rebellion against God, that comes from a great deceiver who wants only chaos and darkness (Rev 12:7-9). In the first verses of the Bible we see God’s response to chaos, darkness and emptiness – he simply and powerfully says “Let there be light.”

So sin is equivalent to entropy? Is Satan a metaphor for entropy? Redemption saves us from the three laws of thermodynamics?

The living world that biologists explore is constantly changing, and it has been changing for more than 3.5 billion years, with no end in sight…The evolving cosmos and the evolving bios to which we belong are clearly works in progress; not independently either, but part of a huge, long-term, unfolding masterpiece. And amazingly, all of the participants are part of the process. All are unfolding in relation to everything else in an unimaginable, magnificent symphony.

Of course, many people look at the evolutionary narrative and see a meat grinder rather than a symphony. How natural selection grinds up biological organisms, including human beings, then spits them out in bleeding chunks.

In fact, from a Christian perspective, the singularity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, the God-man, is the very heart of creation as well as the essential beginning of the Gospel. He is the apex of creation while also being the one through whom creation flows.

But he’s not the apex of creation. For Bev just told us that the bios is a work in progress, constantly changing and evolving with no end in sight. A million years from now, Jesus will be an evolutionary throwback, belonging to a primitive species.

This resurrected Lord now takes up residence with the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and looses the Spirit, the very Spirit of Creation, upon the earth for our edification, guidance and empowerment.

Notice the apposition: she juxtaposes Jesus over against the Trinity, including the Son–as if the Son is a different entity from Jesus. Jesus is taken up into the Trinity, in distinction to the persons of the Godhead.

The whole post reads like warmed over Teilhard de Chardin.

Where was God?

On the one hand:

rogereolson says:
April 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I would remind Job that it was “the Accuser’s” doing, not God’s. Now, please answer this for me: What would you say to comfort a father and mother whose four year old daughter was kidnapped, brutally raped and murdered and thrown in a river (a real incident)?

rogereolson says:
April 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm

So, nothing you wrote there (in answer to my question about how you would comfort the parents of a child who was murdered) stands in contradiction to what I (or any good Arminian) would say. But the difference, I suspect, would appear in what we would say in response to parents who asked “Where was God when the murderer kidnapped, raped and killed my child?” and they MEAN “What was God’s role in bringing it about–if any?” I teach that pastors ought to preach and teach their doctrine of divine providence so that when such things happen the congregants don’t for the first time cry out “Where was God?” because they will already know what God’s role was.

In short, the Calvinist account of God’s sovereignty given earlier in this chapter inevitably makes God the author of sin, evil, and innocent suffering (such as the children of the Holocaust) and thereby impugns the integrity of God’s character as good and loving. The God of this Calvinism (as opposed to, say, revisionist Reformed theology) is at best morally ambiguous and at worst a moral monster hardly distinguishable from the devil. R. Olson, Against Calvinism (Zondervan 2011), 84.

On the other hand:

rogereolson says:
June 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I’ve talked about this quite a bit in the past. No Arminian I know denies that God ever interferes with free will. The Bible is full of it. The point is that in matters pertaining to salvation God does not decide for people. If he did, he’d save everyone. The issue is personal relationship. God cannot and will not override a person’s free will when what is at stake is his or her personal relationship with God of love. But God certainly can and does knock people off their horses (as with Saul). I think you are over interpreting Arminianism’s view of freewill. Free will, as I have often said, is not the central issue. The central issue (and only reason we believe in free will) is the character of God including the nature of responsible relationality.

rogereolson says:
June 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm

The difference lies in the character of God. I don’t have a problem with God manipulating people’s wills so long as it doesn’t coerce them to do evil or force them to enter into a relationship with him. If God causes a person to turn one way at a corner rather than the other way, so that the person sees a sign that brings attention to his or her need of God, I don’t have any problem with that. You seem to be laboring under the misconception that Arminians believe in free will above everything. We don’t. That’s never been the point of Arminian theology as I have shown in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.

Notice that by his own admission there are only two restrictions on God’s liberty to “manipulate,” “override,” or “interfere” with human freewill: he “doesn’t coerce them to do evil or force them to enter into a relationship with him.”

But in that event, Olson can’t deploy the freewill defense to exonerate God’s nonintervention in the Holocaust, or cases of child rape and murder. These are two paradigm-cases of evil that Olson cites against Calvinism. Yet Olson’s God could intervene to prevent the Holocaust without coercing the Nazis to do evil or forcing them into a saving relationship with himself.

God was at liberty to manipulate the wills of the Nazis. God was at liberty to override the will of the murderous rapist.

By the same token, Olson’s God is free to prevent or minimize a natural disaster which, absent divine intervention, will kill many men, women, and children.

So given how he’s framed the issue, someone can well ask, “Where was God during the Holocaust?” Where was God when a child is murdered?”

The Papacy Roundup

In response to repeated calls to demonstrate the early papacy from Scripture and tradition, the Called to Communion guys finally posted this Papacy Roundup as a start on their defense of the historical papacy. But it has taken an interesting twist: some Eastern Orthodoxophiles have joined in the discussion. And the discussion has pretty much not gone anywhere.

But I thought I'd put my two cents in:

* * *

Trebor135, I too am interested in seeing the folks here address the issues you brought up in comment #2. (This can also serve as a response to Garrison’s comment in #8).

You may be aware that Archbishop Roland Minerath, who was a contributor to the Vatican’s 1989 Historical and Theological Symposium, which was directed by the Vatican’s Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, at the request of the then Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the theme: “The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the First Millennium: Research and Evidence,” has made the admission that the Eastern Orthodox churches “never shared the Petrine theology as elaborated in the West.”

This was not merely “the manner in which the primacy is exercised”. Minnerath clearly is talking about the developments of Roman theological and doctrinal proposals. Here is how he puts it:

“The Eastern church has never taken into account the developments about the Roman bishop as vicar, successor or heir of the Apostle Peter” [which he had just outlined in detail]. …

In the first millennium there was no question of the Roman bishops governing the church in distant solitude. They used to take their decisions together with their synod, held once or twice a year. When matters of universal concern arose, they resorted to the ecumenical council. Even [Pope] Leo [I], who struggled for the apostolic principle over the political one, acknowledged that only the emperor would have the power to convoke an ecumenical council and protect the church.

At the heart of the estrangement that progressively arose between East and West, there may be a historical misunderstanding. The East never shared the Petrine theology as elaborated in the West. It never accepted that the protos in the universal church could claim to be the unique successor or vicar of Peter. So the East assumed that the synodal constitution of the church would be jeopardized by the very existence of a Petrine office with potentially universal competencies in the government of the church
(in How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Unity of the Universal Church? James F. Puglisi, Editor, Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ©2010, pgs. 34-48).

Not all of the pages of the Minnerath essay are available either through Google Books or through Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature; but I’ve scanned the pages not available at the Google Books link, and made them available here, so that the interested reader can read the entire essay.

The reason I bring this up is because some of the folks here are reluctant to admit that they have “the burden of proof” to explain precisely why they don’t have to make an actual argument for the papacy. That was one of the reasons why this Green Baggins comments thread is so long. The thread here, with all the articles, is their attempt to fulfill their “burden of proof” requirement with respect to the Eastern churches, who cannot be said to have “separated themselves from” “the Church that Christ founded”.

However, if anyone within the Roman Catholic hierarchy is in a position to say with authority that “The Eastern church has never taken into account the developments about the Roman bishop as vicar, successor or heir of the Apostle Peter”, it is Archbishop Roland Minnerath.

Thus, given the philosophical backgrounds that these individuals have, they ought to recognize that Archbishop Minnerath is not “begging the question” in any way, and that the burden of proof now lies squarely within their court to “prove” somehow that the Eastern churches really did at one time accept “the successor of Peter” (and thereby show Archbishop Minnerath to be incorrect). And as you say, Vatican I will be a difficult set of pronouncements for them to have to deal with.

* * *

Should be interesting.

On going back to the first century church

Andrew Preslar 907

My question is exactly, “What is God saying?” Furthermore, I want to know “Where has he said it?” and “What does it mean?” I also want to know “What is God doing, and where, and through whom, and in what ways?” I cannot begin my inquiry into these question by exegesis, because I need first to know that there are sacred texts, which texts they are, where they come from, and where to find them. Otherwise, there will be nothing to interpret

Even if we say, for the sake of argument, that the church precedes the Bible (or the New Testament), we’re not living in the first century. We don't have direct access to the 1C church. Our access to the New Testament church is mediated by the New Testament itself. Even if the church were prior in the order of being, the New Testament is prior in the order of knowing.

I know this is where where you guys say you begin:

ideally an adult would come to seek full communion with the Catholic Church only after a careful study of Church history, the Church Fathers, and Scripture. He would start with the Church in the first century at the time of the Apostles, and then trace the Church forward.

But my question to you is, when you say “start with the church in the first century”, how do you get there? Do you ride some magical telephone booth back to the first century? You talk about “a careful study of church history”, but your response shows very clearly the presuppositions you take with you back there:

It would be foolish to pluck and bite into the fruit without considering the tree that produced it (the visible, human side of Scripture). In this case, it is a very old tree, and much grown from its seed-like origin. And of course the same God who breathed out the Bible gives life to the tree. The Word of God, being alive and powerful, gives us all things in their place, in union with him, with his Body, and because he is alive and powerful, his written word lives. Sacred Scripture is not a dead letter, but to know and appreciate this, we have to take it, to feed upon it, in context.

You realize this paragraph is chock-full of assumptions that need to be examined.

How do you get to the first century, New Testament church?

And when you get there, what do you find there? What do you suppose (imagine, etc.) you find regarding the church's leadership, authority structure, etc.

Otherwise, we are left with the option of willy-nilly deciding the God must have produced a book, and then just selecting whatever we like from the shelf, and digging in with exegesis of the text.

This too is attributing things to me that I don’t accept. I don’t “willy nilly decide that God must have produced a book”. This is a horrible assumption for you to make.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Gay bashers

Check out this post about some homosexuals and/or their supporters harassing a homeless man reading the Bible.

How Roman Catholics Understand Scripture

Andrew Preslar 895:

I didn’t say that my reading, in any any aspect, was “self-evident.” I did say that the biblical basis for the papacy was “quite clear.” I’ll clarify what I meant: I meant that if one were confronted with the papacy, in its claims and contemporary and historical manifestations, and were to wonder “is there anything in the Bible that could provide any support for this sort of thing?” then he would naturally find Matthew 16, along with that passage’s resonance with Isaiah 22, as fitting the bill. The resonance with Isaiah 22 is undeniable (just compare for similarity), and is but an exercise of literary judgment to discern a typological connection between the passages. If you deny the connection, having compared the texts, then I can only conclude that you have poor literary judgment, or else that something is clouding your judgment in this case.

Your hermeneutic is not to try to learn, “what did Christ intend to say when he said …?”

Your hermeneutic is an “after-the-fact” hermeneutic. “Confronted with the papacy, in its claims and contemporary and historical manifestations”, you look for some kind of “proof-text” that can provide some sort of “after-the-fact” support. For Roman Catholics, I’ve found, “what the text actually says” is far less important than what it came to mean.

I’ve written about this phenomenon extensively, in a series of posts I’ve tagged The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic. Here is the difference:

For Protestants, understanding begins with exegesis, and exegesis begins with a patient and humble listening to the text, with the willingness to hear an alien word. We are all prone to read our own conceptions into the text. Thus our first task is simply to see what the text actually says. The Protestant seeks to understand what God is genuinely saying, through his Revelation in Scripture, from start to finish.

As I’ve said above, and I don’t by any stretch mean it flippantly, but here is how the Roman Catholic approaches the Bible. And with your comment here, you’ve given confirmation to what I’ve written.

Pius IX’s, “Gravissimas inter,” Dec. 11, 1862, reiterated by Pius XII cited in Humani Generis: “theologians must always return to the sources of divine revelation: for it belongs to them to point out how the doctrine of the living Teaching Authority is to be found either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures and in Tradition.” Another theologian wrote, “We think first of developed forms for which we need to find historical justification. The developed forms come first and the historical justification comes second.” (“Ways of Validating Ministry,” Kilian McDonnell, Journal of Ecumenical Studies (7), pg. 213)

Aiden Nichols, “The Shape of Catholic Theology” (253) notes that for the last several hundred years, “the theologian’s highest task lies in proving the present teachings of the magisterium from the evidence of the ancient sources.” One internet writer called this method “Dogma Appreciation 101” (related in a discussion of his studies in a Catholic seminary.) Nichols calls this, “the so-called regressive method,” and notes that Walter Kasper (now a Cardinal) has traced the origins of this method to the 18th century.

I’m not sure if you see it, but this is historical revisionism of the most blatant form, and I’m surprised that you Called to Communion guys, especially with scholarly backgrounds, don’t find this to be just an absolutely illicit way of going about doing things.

You all talk about “evidence”, but what if a murder suspect could pick and choose just what counts as evidence in a trial, and what doesn’t? With this method, Rome has stacked the deck in its own favor.

Your question should rather be, “What is God saying?” After all, how else can we know about God, other than what He reveals about Himself?

The forgotten history of rock-n-roll

It's about time that somebody set Carl Trueman straight:

What do unbelievers live for?

Atheists are touchy on the meaning-of-life question. They resent the fact that Christian apologists keep harping on this issue.

Now, there are academic atheists who conduct very dignified, highbrow discussions comparing atheism to Christianity, viz. Michael Tooley, Richard Gale, Evan Fales, Paul Draper, Graham Oppy, Nicholas Everitt, J. J. C. Smart.

Likewise, many atheists talk about how we create our own meaning. You don’t need God to lead a purposeful, worthwhile life.

But how does that highfalutin’ theory translate into practice? What do people actually live for? How do they fill their lives? What’s the meaning they make for themselves?

Let’s take some examples from the pop culture? Why the pop culture? Because, by definition, it’s popular. It reflects popular attitudes and interests. This is where many people live.

Many years ago I watched Dick Cavett interview his old philosophy prof., Paul Weiss. After Cavett asked him a series of questions, Weiss turned tables on Cavett and asked him a question. Of course, as a philosophy prof., Weiss was used to grilling students.

I don’t remember his exact words, but as I recall he asked him, of all the famous people Cavett had interviewed over the years, if he could remember anything any single guest ever said that changed his outlook on life?

Cavett drew a blank. He was visibly embarrassed. He couldn’t think of anything that stood out.

Cavett was just killing time. Nothing he ever heard made a difference. It was irrelevant who the guest was, or what they said. It was all a blur.

I also remember reading an interview with Pauline Kael. She mentioned talented people who used to come to her parties. Brilliant conversationalists who frittered their lives away in brilliant conversation that didn’t leave a trace. Just idle chatter.

Roger Ebert is a very prolific film critic. He churns out 200-300 movie reviews each year. I believe he’s written over 5500 reviews.

But isn’t there a point at which more becomes less? What does adding another 300 reviews really add up to? What difference would it make in his life if he didn’t see the next 300 films?

Doesn’t viewing so many movies tend to dilute the value of the viewing experience? Eye drops become pints, then quarts, then gallons, then swimming pools, then lakes, then oceans.

Or take television fare. Every year, year after year, decade upon decade, there’s another sitcom. Another talk show. Another game show. Another hospital drama. Another courtroom drama. Or private detectives. Or the NYPD.

Not only does this create an overwhelming sense of sameness, but replaceability. Interchangeable actors, interchangeable scripts, interchangeable settings, interchangeable plots. Just watching the trailers tells you all you need to know, because it’s so deafeningly familiar. You could write the script yourself. You could cast it yourself.

Yes, this is fiction, but this is how many people entertain themselves. Pad the empty spaces in their lives–when they’re not at work.

There’s also the social media.

I’ve been talking about pop culture, but what about high culture? What about a conductor, pianist, or violinist who performs the same symphony, sonata, or concerto hundreds of times in the course of his career. What’s the point, exactly? It’s like beginning and ending and then starting right back over again.

Now none of this is wrong in moderation. Sometimes we need to unwind.

But in my observation, a lot of what many people do with their leisure time is just filler. A way to pass the time. There isn’t anything more they have to live for. That’s it.

I know retired relatives who spend half the day at the tavern. They only leave at closing time, then go back the next day. 

The agony and the ecstasy

My favorite version of the argument from evil is Paul Draper's evidential argument from evil, which focuses on the biological role of pain and pleasure. The naturalistic explanation for this is obvious. If animals are the products of evolution by natural selection, we would expect physical pain to aid survival. But not all physical pain and pleasure aids survival. For example, think of the horrible pain that inflicts many people with terminal illnesses. If the hypothesis of indifference is true, this is what we would expect: evolution by natural selection is not an intelligent process; there seems to be no way for creatures to have evolved so that they only feel pain when it will aid survival. In contrast, if theism were true, God could "fine tune" humans so that they experience pain only when it is necessary for some greater good. If God did exist, what possible reason could he have for allowing people with terminal illnesses have to endure such agonizing pain until they finally die? The chances that such a reason would intersect with the biological goal of survival is pretty slim. Thus, the biological role of pain and pleasure is more likely on the hypothesis of indifference than on theism.

i) “If animals are the products of evolution by natural selection, we would expect physical pain to aid survival.”

a) Why does Jeff imagine that natural selection selects for survivability? Don’t Darwinians tell us that 90% of species became extinct?

b) Why assume that pleasure must aid survival? Must chocolate mousse or chocolate gelato aid survival? Evolutionary psychology often reduces to unintentional parody.

ii) “In contrast, if theism were true, God could ‘fine tune’ humans so that they experience pain only when it is necessary for some greater good.”

a) Why must it be necessary for some “greater” good? Suppose it’s necessary for a mere good, rather than a greater good? Is that insufficient? If so, why so?

b) Jeff seems to think it’s a matter of engineering a body to be impervious to gratuitous pain. But that artificially isolates a body from its environment. How do you fine-tune a foot to enjoy the sensation of waking barefoot on the beach, but be insensate to stubbing your toe?

This seems to be one of those cases where atheists make thoughtless claims about optimal design without bothering to think through their position.

iv) “If God did exist, what possible reason could he have for allowing people with terminal illnesses have to endure such agonizing pain until they finally die?”

That’s a pretty dense objection. The real issue isn’t why terminal illness is a painful, but why some people suffer from a terminal illness in the first place. That involves the doctrine of the Fall, as well as a theodicy for the Fall.

Defeating 100 Reasons

Silent Running


Still, one of the standing problems of the text, and a source of embarrassment from patristic times forward, is that the light is divorced from the stars. How can it be, asked those to whom rabbis, Church Fathers and even Reformation theologians replied, that there was light beside and before that of sun and moon? How can it be, later skeptics inquired, that a day passed when the earth did not rotate once around the as-yet uncreated sun? To resolve the tension, one need only bring to Genesis 1 the assumptions of a Hellenistic doxographer, namely, that this most orderly of all texts is systematic in intention.

The opening line of Genesis 1 contains a geography of the cosmos…Light is the first new element. Light is also fire, as the two are not divorced in any ancient cosmology.

Yhwh next installs a “firmament.”…This is “the plate,” or vault…The birds “of the skies” will fly “across the surface of the plate of the skies” (1:20), never just “across the surface of the skies.”

The light is above the upper part of the tohu. The plate separates it from the lower part of the tohu. As of the second day, then, no light penetrates below the plate, and darkness still enshrouds the inhabited planet. On the third day, Yhwh drains the waters that are below the vault into a single basin; land emerges from the primordial muck. The land then brings forth terrestrial vegetation. The terrestrial vegetation seeds itself in the absence of light, just as seeds germinate in the dark.

God said, let there be luminaries in the plate of the heavens, to distinguish between the day and the night, that they be for signs, both for festivals/appointed times/seasons and for days and years, and that they be luminaries in the plate of the heavens, to throw illumination on the earth. And it was so. God made the two large luminaries, the large luminary for governing the day and the small luminary for governing the night, and the stars. And God put them in the plate of the heavens to cast illumination on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to distinguish between light and dark (Gen 1:14-18).

The light remains above the plate of the sky. And no new light is created on the fourth day. The term for the luminaries is not the causative participle, “shiners”, but a noun with either a passive or a locative sense. That is, the luminaries, which rotate into position each day or year or period of years, permit the light that penetrates the upper waters to filter through the plate of the sky onto the earth. Light exists independently, previously, behind the plate, and these “lighted things” or “places of light” transmit it to the earth. So, these entities “in the plate of the heavens” must be intermediaries, functioning as membranes, which regulate how much light negotiates the division between the extracosmic region of Yhwh and his light and the cosmic region between the earth and the shy. This is why Yhwh sets the luminaries into the plating of the sky (1:17), as opposed to where birds fly: across the surface of the plating of the sky (1:20; cf. 1:1, across the surface of the deep/water).

If the luminaries are merely membranes set into the plate of the sky, then the plate itself must be in motion relative to the plate of the earth. The stars, sun and moon would rotate in fixed positions on the plate of the sky.

In this cosmological system, the stars and planets…are merely holes.

B. Halpern, From Gods to God: The Dynamics of Iron Age Cosmologies (Mohr Siebeck 2009), 429-433

By way of comment:

i) Although he himself doesn’t draw the connection, Halpern’s analysis dovetails with the cosmic temple interpretation which scholars like Beale, Kline, Levenson, Walton, and Vogels have advanced.

ii) Apropos (i), on this view the cosmic “plate” would be an architectural metaphor.

Keep in mind that there are Hebraists like Victor Hamilton who don’t think raqia means a hard surface. But even if it did, that could be figurative.

iii) On the face of it, Halpern’s explanation is only partially successful in solving the problem he posed at the outset. His analysis would account for the preexistence and independence of light (on day 1) in relation to the skylights on day 4.

However, it fails to explain the diurnal cycle on days 1-3. If sunlight didn’t reach terra firma until day 4, when the skylights were cut into the cosmic plate, then how does he account for the alternation of morning and evening, day and night prior to the fourth day?

iv) One possible explanation, although he himself doesn’t offer this explanation, would extend the architectural imagery. On this view, the sequence is structural rather than chronological. The narrative spatializes time. You have to roof the temple before you can put skylights in the roof to provide natural illumination, even though there was day and night outside the building. Likewise, you have to erect walls before you can have clerestory lightning.

v) BTW, it’s difficult for a modern reader to read Halpern’s description and not visualize a combined greenhouse and planetarium. I imagine the geodesic greenhouses floating in outer space, in Silent Running.