Saturday, May 18, 2013

Doing business with the Devil

The devil is a trader. He runs a traveling swap meet.

The devil offers you something for nothing, but in reality, you get nothing for something.

The devil cajoles you into giving away something you can never get back. Bartering something–or someone–irreplaceable.

When you realize your terrible mistake and try to return the worthless article, the swap meet has blown town. There’s a deserted lot where the tents used to be just a week before.  Gone are the gaudy lights. The festive music. The bustling crowds. All that’s left is you, holding a party horn.

Chronicles of the Nephilim

Not having read it, I can't vouch for it, but it might be an interesting exercise in Christian fiction.

Help! Arminians are giving me nightmares again!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Life Without Meaning: The Death of Ivan Ilych

The church of the poor

Perspectives on death

The Bible has different perspectives on death. That’s because death means different things to different people, at different times of life.

Paul calls death “the last enemy” (1 Cor 15:26). I think you have to begin losing people close to you to appreciate the force of that designation.

For whom is death the last enemy? Death is the last enemy for the damned. Death seals their fate. Death extradites the lost to hell. This is vividly portrayed in the fate of Dives (Lk 16:19-31) as well as the king of Tyre’s demise (Isa 14:4ff.).

Death is also the last enemy for those who are left behind to grieve the loss. In a diary entry right after the sudden, unexpected death of his friend, Charles Williams, Warnie Lewis (brother of C. S. Lewis) said:

There is something horrible, something unfair about death, which no religious conviction can overcome. “Well, goodbye, see you on Tuesday Charles” one says–and you have in fact though you don’t know it, said goodbye forever. He passes up the lamplit street, and passes out of your life forever. There is a good deal of stuff talked about the horrors of a lonely old age; I’m not sure that the wise man–the wise materialist at any rate–isn’t the man who has no friends. Brothers and Friends, 183.

For Christians, the wrenching separation is not inconsolable, for Christians anticipate the future reunion:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thes 4:13).

For the believer, death can sometimes be a blessing. It may spare the believer great sorrow had he lived longer:

The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; 2 he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness (Isa 57:1-2).

Paul viewed his impending death with a sense of relief and eager anticipation:

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Phil 1:21-24).

For younger Christians who have more to live for, death is still the last enemy.

Jesus said:

2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (Jn 14:2-3).

This picks up on the fact that Jesus is the Son, who is going home to his Father’s house. As the Son, it is his prerogative to assign rooms to his disciples (Jn 8:35-36). Christians take comfort in knowing that Christ has reserved a place for them in his Father’s house. And Jesus will come back for them, to take them home.

On a related note, Scripture depicts Jesus as a scout or pioneer who went ahead to secure our heavenly homeland. The walk of faith is a pilgrimage through life and death to our ancestral home, and Jesus leads the way:

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering (Heb 2:10).

19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 6:19-20).

We still must die, but the path is clearly marked while the destination is assured.

Finally, we must die before we can live again. To have the greater, better life to come, to enter into resurrected life, we first must die. We must set aside this decaying body, in this decaying world:

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (Jn 12:24-25).

The Truth about “Secret Sauce” and Other Marketing Wonders

As I’ve mentioned, I’m unemployed, and I’m looking for a job. The field I work in, broadly, is called “marketing”, and “marketing”, like many other disciplines, is becoming enhanced by technology. I’ve had some extra time to explore what’s “in” and what’s working in the field of marketing, and I’d like to share some of that with you.

“Search Engine Optimization” (SEO), which, not long ago, was a major thing, is on its way out because Google keeps changing its algorithms. “Social media” is huge, and just plain, simple old “blogging” is becoming a major activity among many companies. What’s really hot these days are things like “inbound marketing”, “content marketing”, and the technology enhancement is called “marketing automation”.

At my last job, I worked with a “marketing automation” program called Eloqua. If you follow the business world in any way, you may have heard of Eloqua – they had a successful IPO ($12.00 per share) around the time of the Facebook IPO implosion. Then late last year, Oracle acquired them for roughly $24.00 per share (about $870 million). That’s about 10x revenue, in a world where 3x or 4x is typical. All that is to say, “Eloqua works”.

If you’re involved with marketing in any way, (or if you want to really enhance your marketing effort for your organization), I’d urge you to look this up or better yet, give me a call!

In any event, I stumbled upon the following video by a marketer named Marcus Sheridan through a link at LinkedIn (in an article comparing three of the leading solutions).

The Honest Economy: Marcus Sheridan at TEDxRockCreekPark:

In this video, he describes where “secret sauce” comes from, and why such things ought not to be secret any more. To read more, see:

I have no idea what the event is where he’s speaking. But trends like the one he is describing hint at “common grace” to me, and lead me to believe that we are going to see better times on many fronts. Imagine something like an “honest media” describing abortion as what it really is, instead of according to the spin. Imagine if marketers like this begin to understand that honesty is good, not only because it’s good for business, but because God created such a concept as “truth”.

(I’m not naïve enough to believe that the whole big bad world is going to begin to operate according to honest principles. But it is not hard to see God’s hand behind this urge to honesty.)

By the way, I’ve taken the dive into “social media”:

Follow me on Twitter @johnbugay
See my (updated!) personal website:
Connect with me on LinkedIn:

Mention you’re a Triablogue reader and save 50% off your professional connection. :-)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Explaining away miracles

This is a sequel to an earlier post:

steve said...

    Brian Barrington said...

    “Steve, apologies for delay in getting back. Regarding the coin in the fish - one possibility is that it did not happen.”

    You’re repeating the same mistake you made before, which I already corrected you on. My argument wasn’t predicated on it actually happening. Rather, I used this as an example of a type of miracle that doesn’t conform to your artificial definition.

    I think it happened, by that wasn’t the point of the argument.

    Is there same reason you mechanically repeat the same formulaic responses rather than adapting to the actual state of the argument?

    “A second possibility is that it (or something like it) happened and that it was an entirely natural event - most likely some sort of magic trick, or else a natural coincidence… Second most likely (but considerably less likely) is that it or something like it happened and it was a completely natural event (e.g. a magic trick).”

    Have you made a serious effort to consider what that would entail?

    a) A fish swallows a coin.
    b) The fish swallowed the coin no later than when Peter went fishing.
    c) The fish swallowing the coin no earlier than the lifespan of the fish.
    d) Within the same narrow timeframe, Peter was talking with Jesus about the temple tax.
    e) The coin inside the fish was the exact amount required to pay the tax for two persons: Jesus and   Peter.
    d) Jesus predicted that if Peter went fishing, he would catch the fish with the coin.
    e) Peter went fishing at the exact time the fish was swimming by.
    f) Peter went fishing at the exact place the fish was swimming by.
    g) Peter successfully caught the fish.

    Now, considered hypothetically, what are the odds that all those independent variables would converge? Why do you think that’s more likely than a supernatural explanation?

    In what sense would it be a magic trick? Are you suggesting Jesus caught a fish, put a coin in the fish, then told Peter to go fishing, while Jesus trained the fish to swim by at just the right time and place for Peter to catch it?

    “Another possibility is that it was a miracle due to supernatural intervention or supernatural planning. Looking at the evidence (a couple of sentences in a single book) and judging what is most likely based on the testimonial evidence or anecdotal evidence, by far the most likely thing is that it didn't happen… Way, way, way behind either of these possibilities is the possibility that it happened and was a miracle.”

    i) To begin with, that’s a false dichotomy. To say testimonial evidence is the source of our information hardly counts as an alternative explanation to the miraculous explanation. You’re confusing a miracle with how we know about a miracle.

    ii) And, once again, you’re just repeating your claim about the alleged improbability of miracles, in the teeth of my counterargument. Why is that? If you raise an objection, and I present a counterargument, it’s incumbent on you to take the counterargument into account and either improve on your objection or withdraw your objection.

steve said...

“Having said that, if it makes some people happier to think that it happened and that it was a miracle, then I don't necessarily object to them thinking that - whatever gets you through the day!”

    Your condescension isn’t justified by the level of your performance.

    “When you say ‘Some events are too coincidental to be purely coincidental’ it means that the alleged event is so improbable based on what we know concerning physical evidence and the regularities of nature that the event requires supernatural planning or intervention. That is the basis on which the event is deemed to be virtually impossible based on natural causes alone - without that, you have no basis for claiming that the specific event is improbable/impossible without supernatural planning or intervention.”

    Once more, you’re just repeating yourself. That’s intellectually lazy. As I already pointed out to you, your framework is simplistic. Some events are too coincidental to be purely coincidental because they are the result of personal agency. Take a card sharp. You constantly fail to distinguish between inanimate agencies and personal agency.

    If an event can’t be plausibly accounted for by inanimate agencies, then we turn to personal agents.

    The next question is the kind of personal agent required to account for the event. If it exceeds human abilities, then it’s superhuman.

    “Crossing rivers is a natural event that occurs frequently and requires no supernatural explanation.”

    I said nothing about crossing rivers, so how is that responsive to my argument?

    “Turning water instantly into wine would (absent some new technological discovery) seem to require a supernatural explanation. That is why the first is not a miracle, but the second would plausibly be regarded as miracle if it occurred.”

    Once again, you’ve come back full circle to your original paradigm, having failed to acquire a more sophisticated grasp of the issues, despite my examples and explanations.

    I don’t know what your problem is. Are you just frivolous? Do you lack the mental concentration to keep track of the argument?

    You need to put your flash cards down and start to actually think through the issues.

steve said...

    Brian Barrington said...

    “If the coin-in-the-mouth incident occurred and was not a miracle but a natural event, then most likely the coin was somehow slipped into the mouth of the fish by a human AFTER the fish was caught.”

    i) You’re concocting a backstory for which there’s no evidence.

    ii) If you think it was a magic trick, then who would be the magician? Logically, that would have to be Jesus, for Jesus is the one who made the prediction. Jesus would be the beneficiary of a successful prediction.

    But according to the account, Jesus didn’t catch the fish. He wasn’t there when the fish was caught. Peter caught the fish.

    Therefore, your explanation isn’t consistent with the internals of the account, even if the account were fictitious.

    “But another strong possibility is that nothing of the sort occurred in the first place – that the anecdote related just didn’t happen…Well, that is not what I am saying – everyone agrees that the evidence we have for the coin-in-the-mouth story is the testimony or the anecdote. So what are the possible explanations for the existence of the testimony or anecdote? The first possibility is that the testimony is incorrect – that the events related in the anecdote did not happen.”

    That’s only plausible if we grant your hyperskepticism regarding anecdotal/testimonial evidence. I don’t share your hyperskepticism.

    For instance, I remember lots of things that happened when I was in junior high or high school. You may call that “anecdotal,” but so what? The fact that it’s anecdotal doesn’t make it unreliable. Do you systematically doubt your own memories?

steve said...

    Brian Barrington said...

    “Steve, there are probably thousands of miracle-claims made every year. Do you believe all or most of these miracles occured because it would be hypersceptical to regard the testimony as incorrect? Let's take the last 10,000 miracle-claims/supernatural claims made by humans over the last while - claims of moving statues, statues crying milk, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, visits from dead relatives, levitation, predictive feats inexplicable by natural means, mind-reading feats inexplicable by natural means etc. - unless you are prepared to say that you believe all or most of this testimony is correct then that makes you a hypersceptic with regards to human testimony. But I bet you don’t just accept that these miracles all happened just because someone says they witnessed them happening – you are sceptical about the testimony, and rightly so.”

    i) That’s grossly simplistic. There are standard criteria for sifting testimonial evidence, viz. C. A. J. Coady, Testimony: A Philosophical Study.

    ii) Why do you bring up Marian miracles when my first comment on this thread was to link to lengthy analysis of Fatima?

    iii) Likewise, I frequently evaluate the paranormal, viz.

    “Regarding the coin-in-the-fish, I'm saying that if something like the event occured (a very big “if”, admittedly) and if there is a natural explanation, then most likely someone put the coin in the fish after it was caught. This is obvious and unless you can come up with a natural explanation that is more likely, I'll take it you agree that this is the most likely natural explanation, if we assume that something like the event occured.”

    Since there is zero evidence for your alternative explanation, the onus is not on me to disprove a claim for which you have no evidence. A claim, moreover, that runs counter to the available evidence.

steve said...

    Brian Barrington said...

    “The only reason I mention Marian miracles is because I personally know honest, intelligent, sane people who claim to have witnessed them - in some cases simultaneously, meaning there were multiple witnesses to these post-mortem appearances of the Virgin Mary. Indeed, Marian appearances are so frequent and occur in so many places that I reckon one would have to be a real "hyper-sceptic" to hold that the vast array of testimony we have in relation to this matter is all incorrect.”

    Since I linked to my detailed approach to Catholic miracles, your example is moot. A constant problem with our exchange is that you repeat your rote responses, which are always one step (or more) behind the actual state of the argument.

    “I'm not asking you to disprove anything - I'm just saying that if something like the coin-in-fish event actually occurred (a big ‘if’) then the most likely natural explanation I can think of is that someone put the coin in the fish after it was caught. If someone draws my attention to a more likely natural explanation then I will change my views on the matter.”

    I was never my ambition to change your views. That’s not my responsibility. I can’t reason with unreasonable interlocutors. But I can show how unreasonable they are.

steve said...

    One more thing about Brian’s dismissive attitude towards “anecdotes.”

    i) Anecdotes can be unreliable if we try to extrapolate from a few isolated anecdotes to a general claim.

    ii) On the other hand, if many observers report seeing, say, ball lightning, then it would be irrational to discount their testimony merely because it was anecdotal.

    iii) Finally, while it may be unreliable to extrapolate from anecdotes to a general claim, there’s nothing inherently suspect about anecdotal reports of particular events.

Must God love me?

Jerry Walls gave a lecture at Houston Baptist U, available on YouTube, entitled “What’s Wrong with Calvinism?”

Towards the end of the lecture, Jerry said there are some things God can’t want to do. God can’t choose to love or not to love. For God, loving everyone is necessary rather than optional.

I’ve been a Calvinist for about 30 years. I’ve been a Christian for about 38 years. So I’ve had time to eternalize my theology. It isn’t just theoretical. It’s something I by, live with, live for.

So it’s good to let Jerry’s alternative sink in. What would be the impact on my devotional life if I thought God had to love me? How would that change my view of God? How would that affect how I relate God?

Well, it would move God off-center. God would cease to be the central figure in my life and heart. If I shared Jerry’s view of God, I wouldn’t have a devotional life.

Believing that God loves me because he must, because he cannot not love me, rather than loving me in spite of who I am, would instantly erase my gratitude. Why be grateful for something I can take for granted?

Frankly, I can’t respect a God who has to love me. God would be a poor judge of character if he loved me because he had to. I’m not that lovable. I don’t deserve it. I love God, not because he has to love me, but because he chose to love me despite my utter unworthiness.

There’s a sense in which I might still appreciate God’s irrepressible love, in the way P. T. Barnum enjoyed the fact that a sucker was born every minute.

At best, God would be a necessary presupposition, like time or oxygen.  Mind you, there’s a sense in which God is a necessary presupposition. But he’s far more than just a background condition.

A God who loves me because he has to reminds me of those pitiful women who are stuck on losers. They keep going back to the loser boyfriend or abusive husband. They cannot not love the loser boyfriend or abusive husband.

That may also explain Jerry’s air of entitlement. His theism is a recipe for a church full of spoiled brats.  

Coercing God

This will be a running commentary on a lecture (“What’s Wrong with Calvinism?”) Jerry Walls gave at Houston Baptist U, available on YouTube. This has gotten lots of high-fives in Arminian circles.

Before commenting on the specifics, I’ll make a general observation.  Jerry talks down to his audience. It’s like he’s teaching little kids in Sunday School. At one point he even feels the need to explain a common idiom (“bite the bullet”), as if his audience lacks a command of conversational English.

Throughout the lectures, he assumes a tone of calculated shock. There’s a steady build-up to the shocking revelations about the true character of Calvinism. For a Calvinist like me, it’s unintentionally comical to listen to him unveil Calvinism in incredulous, scandalized tones.

Jerry says the deepest issue distinguishing Calvinism from Wesleyan Arminianism is not nature of freedom. However, that’s critical to understanding the deepest issue.


He quotes a phrase from the Westminster Confession:  “Determining them, most freely.”

He admits this is coherent, given a compatibilist or soft determinist definition of freedom, which he proceeds to define thusly:

There is no logical inconsistency between freedom and determinism. Freedom and responsibility are compatible with total determinism.

A free act is not caused or compelled by anything external to the agent who performs it. The agent isn’t forced to act against his will

It is, however, caused by something internal to the agent, namely, a psychological state of affairs such as a belief, desire or some combination of these two.

The agent performing the act could have done differently if he had wanted to. Freedom defines in counterfactual conditional terms.

The agent is determined to act given psychological states. Those states are caused by something external. But once you’ve got those, you act freely.

He says this is the definition of philosophically sophisticated Calvinists like John Feinberg.

i) To his credit, Jerry concedes the internal consistency of Calvinism at this juncture. I’ve read Arminians who don’t even attempt to understand Calvinism on its own terms.

Admittedly, this is a throwaway concession on his part, for he’s still going to lower the boom on Calvinism later on.

ii) That said, when you interpret a phrase from a 17C document (e.g. the WCF), you need to define the phrase in terms of 17C theological usage. What did “freedom” mean to the Westminster Divines?

I don’t see that Jerry has investigated the historic usage of the Confession. He just gives us a generic definition of compatibilism.

iii) In addition, his definition is problematic. Compatibilism, as he defines it, is not the only deterministic theory of free agency. There’s a lot of work being done in action theory. So Jerry’s definition is simplistic and dated.

iv) Moreover, Calvinism is not committed to any particular theory of the will. It’s not so much a question of what action theory Calvinism espouses, but what action theory Calvinism opposes. Calvinism opposes any theory of the will that runs contrary to absolute predestination, meticulous providence, spiritual inability, monergistic regeneration, divine hardening, plenary verbal inspiration, and so on.

But as long as a theory of the will is consistent with various Reformed doctrines, Calvinism doesn’t select for any particular theory of the will.

He then says this definition has a “huge implication” that “can’t be overstated.”  He highlights this implication by quoting a statement by Paul Helm:

If we suppose some form of compatibilism, then God could have created men and women who freely (in a sense compatible with determinism) did only what was morally right.

This, in turn, sets the stage for what Walls is pleased to brand the “Calvinist conundrum”:

1. God truly loves all persons.

2. Truly to love someone is to desire their well being and to promote their true flourishing as much as you can.

3. The well being and true flourishing of all persons is to be found in a right relationship with God, a saving relationship in which we love and obey him.

4. God could determine all persons freely to accept a right relationship with himself and be saved.

5. Therefore, all will be saved.

Jerry admits that some Calvinists escape the conundrum by denying premise #1. They deny that God loves everyone.

Jerry says that’s consistent Calvinism. They embraced the “huge” implication “without flinching.” Mind you, he thinks that Calvinists who sidestep the conundrum achieve consistency at an exorbitant price.

Jerry quotes Arthur Pink, McGregor Wright, and John Piper as representatives of this option.

Actually, he quotes Wright as saying: “God never had the slightest intention of saving everyone.”

i) That, however, isn’t equivalent to denying that God loves everyone. Although that’s consistent with such a denial, God might, in principle, love everyone, yet have no intention of saving everyone.

ii) Be that as it may, the quote is more problematic for Arminianism. The Arminian God never had the slightest intention of saving those he foresaw were doomed to hell if he made them. So Jerry’s example circles back and bites his own position in the tail.

There are also problems with his appeal to John Piper:

i) For one thing, Piper is a well-known exponent of the “two-wills” view of God. So it’s not clear that Piper denies premise #1.

ii) After quoting Piper’s statement that God would be just to damn his own sons, Jerry says that “maybe Piper loves sons better than God.”

Jerry says this as if it’s self-evidently outrageous to imagine that a parent might love his own child more than God loves his child. But what’s surprising or incongruous about that possibility?

a) To begin with, some mothers and fathers are blinded by parental love. They take a “my child right or wrong” approach. No matter what their child does to anyone else, they always side with their child. But although that may be psychologically understandable, that’s not ethically admirable. They so completely identify with their own kids that they ditch elementary moral standards where their own kids are concerned.

b) In addition, Arminianism traditionally affirms everlasting punishment. So does God love the damned less than their parents? Would parents damn their children?

Jerry says that according to Calvinism, the vast majority is destined for damnation. He doesn’t cite any Reformed creed to that effect.

Having outlined consistent Calvinism, Jerry surveys inconsistent Calvinists who “waffle” on the alleged conundrum.

He singles out J. I. Packer. Packer says human beings are divinely controlled, yet morally responsible agents. Packer says that’s a mystery.

Jerry attacks that position. He objects to Calvinists like Packer who “punt to mystery” under the “guise of superior piety.”

Jerry distinguishes real from apparent contradictions, explicit from implicit contradictions, and offers his own definitions of mystery and paradox.

Now, I myself am one of those Calvinists who denies premise #1. So the alleged conundrum doesn’t apply to me.

However, there are Calvinists who think the Bible teaches both reprobation and God’s universal love or universal salvific desire. Although I don’t agree with that position, if a Christian genuinely believes the Bible teaches both, then it’s proper and pious for him to invoke divine mystery or paradox. They defer to the authority of Scripture, as they understand it. That is a mark of superior piety, compared to Jerry’s position. 

In the same vein, Jerry attacks Packer’s claim that the Gospel is “freely offered. God gives all free agency (voluntary decision-making power), so that we are answerable to him for what we do.”

He considers that to be “confused.” But suppose, for the sake of argument, that Packer’s position is confused? Unlike John Feinberg or Paul Helm, whom Jerry previously cited as examples of “philosophically sophisticated” Calvinists, Packer is not a Reformed philosopher or philosophical theologian. Packer is a systematic theologian with a predilection for historical theology–especially the Puritans. If Packer’s position is incoherent, that may simply mean he lacks the philosophical aptitude and training to formulate a logically consistent position. He has his limitations. He’s better at systematic theology and pastoral theology than philosophical theology. Big deal.

Having mentioned the offer in the gospel in reference to Packer, Jerry segues into a segment on “Core Calvinism”

1. Only the elect can actually accept the offer of salvation

2. Not all are elect

3. Not all persons can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.

He raises the stock Arminian objection that the offer of the gospel is insincere or dishonest unless every sinner could “really” could respond or “actually” accept the offer.

He ignores standard Reformed rejoinders:

i) A bona fide offer is a true offer. Since the offer is conditional (“If you believe, you will be saved”), the veracity of the offer is not contingent on whether a would-be respondent is able to respond, but whether he would receive what the offer promises in case he responded.

ii) Assuming the classic Arminian doctrine of divine foreknowledge, God foreknows that everyone to whom the offer is made will not respond. So does that make the offer disingenous?

iii) God doesn’t offer the gospel directly, but indirectly, through preachers and evangelists who, in the nature of the case, don’t know the disposition of the sinner.

iv) In addition, Jerry’s description of the “universal” offer is equivocal. The offer of the gospel isn’t universal in the sense of offering the gospel to all, for the gospel isn’t offered to every human being who ever lived.

Of course, Jerry subscribes to postmortem evangelism. But that’s not how the offer of the gospel is framed in the NT.

Jerry then discusses “Ambiguous Calvinism,” by which he means Calvinists who allegedly “slide back and forth between a libertarian view of human responsibility and a compatibilist view of divine sovereignty.

In that connection he quotes a statement by Calvin (Institutes, 3.24.8) about how rejecting the offer of the gospel aggravates the guilt of the sinner. However, Jerry fails to explain how that’s ambiguous.

And, in fact, we have examples in Scripture where OT prophets are told ahead of time that their warnings will fall on deaf ears. In that event, the warning is not intended to convert the sinner. The effect would be to aggravate his guilt.

Jerry then discusses Calvin’s position in relation to backsliders and the “dreaded false hope.” However, the notion that a professing believer can entertain false assurance of salvation is hardly unique to Calvinism. In most theological traditions it is possible for professing believer to be self-deluded.

From there, Jerry shift to “Misleading Calvinism.” He says Calvinists who tell unbelievers that God loves them are dishonest. He singles out D. A. Carson, who distinguishes between different senses of divine “love”:

1. Providential love, viz. rain falls on just and unjust (common grace).

2. Whosoever will, may come

3. Effective selective love towards elect.

I myself don’t think it’s necessary to tell unbelievers generally that God loves them. However, there’s nothing dishonest about distinguishing between differing degrees of “love.” We don’t love strangers or enemies as much as we love our spouse, or mother, or son or daughter.

Jerry exclaims: “Isn’t that the gospel, for crying out loud? Christ died for the world.

i) That objection assumes an Arminian definition of the “world.” But in Johannine usage, the “world” is not synonymous with “everyone.” Indeed, the “world” is often set in contrast to Christians. Exclusive rather than inclusive.

ii) Moreover, did Jesus give his life for pagans who lived and died before the advent of Christ? What does that mean, exactly?

God called Abraham out of paganism, but he left the rest of Abrahams countrymen in darkness. God made a covenant with Abraham and his posterity. Eventually that would redound to the benefit of future gentiles.  But most gentiles were consigned to ignorance, idolatry, and superstition. 

At one point Jerry says that if a Reformed preacher explained to the unbeliever what he really meant, if he told him that, “for all you know you may be damned for all eternity,” the Calvinist resurgence would lose its popularity in two years.

But that’s really an objection to everlasting punishment rather than Calvinism. Wesley believed in hell.

He then asks: “Does God love those he sends to hell unconditionally?”

i) God doesn’t “unconditionally” send anyone to hell. There are no innocents in hell. Everyone there is a sinner.

ii) Speaking for myself, I don’t think God loves the damned.

iii) But we could turn Jerry’s question around: Does God love those he send to hell conditionally”? Eternal punishment isn’t remedial punishment. It’s not for the benefit of the damned.

Jerry then attacks a position he imputes to Calvinism:

God can’t do this because he wouldn’t be fully glorified if he didn’t damn some.

God gets more glory out of determining people to blaspheme, to commit horrendous sins, then punishing them forever.

For his nature to be wholly manifest, God must damn some. He needs eternal evil to be fully God.

But that’s a straw man:

i) God doesn’t “get more glory” by reprobating sinners. God doesn’t need evil to be fully God.

Manifesting his nature is hardly equivalent to “getting glory” for himself or needing evil to be himself. And the manifestation is for the benefit of others, not himself. God hardly needs to manifest his nature to himself.

ii) To my knowledge, Jerry rejects annihilationism. So Jerry believes in eternal evil.

Jerry then says “Calvinists are all about power.” That’s just slander. Jerry is an Arminian bigot. 

Jerry says that Calvinism subordinates Love to will. But that’s just his jaundiced characterization. God loves the elect. God ensures their salvation. That’s far more than the Arminian God does for the lost.

Jerry says “Calvinists favor imagery of God as sovereign, king.”

I don’t know where Jerry comes up with this stuff. Calvinists affirm all of the theological models for God in Scripture.

Jerry makes the odd comment that the first person of the Trinity is called “Father” rather than “Lord.”

i) Of course, Jewish fathers were authority-figures.

ii) Does he think “Lord” is not a proper title for God the Father?

iii) Conversely, the second person of the Trinity is typically called “Lord” rather than “Father.” So where does that leave Jerry’s argument?

He objects to Calvinists who say “Who are you to question God?”

But, of course, Calvinists are simply repeating Paul’s riposte, in Rom 9.

He then says the proper question is “How would a God of perfect love express his sovereignty?”

Well, that’s a good question to turn back on Arminians. The Arminian God is far less loving than he could be. For instance, why doesn’t the Arminian God give advance warning of natural disasters? Advance warning wouldn’t infringe on freewill or destabilize the natural order. Indeed, advance warning would give humans more choices.

Likewise, why does the Arminian God let the powerful abuse the weak? How is that loving to the weak? 

Early in the lecture, Jerry contrasted compatibilism with the libertarian theory, which he tendentiously dubs the “intuitive” or “common sense” theory. He defines libertarian freedom thusly:

A free action is one that is not determined by prior causes or conditions. As he makes the choice, the agent has the power to choose A and the power to choose not-A, and it is up to him how he will choose.

One problem with this definition is that not all freewill theists define libertarian freedom as choosing between alternative possibilities. For instance, William Lane Craig is a prominent freewill theist who rejects that definition of libertarian freedom.

But there’s a bigger problem. Towards the end of the lecture, Jerry says there are some things God can’t want to do. God can’t choose to love or not to love. For God, loving everyone is necessary rather than optional. Jerry also says that he could never strangle his own granddaughter. 

But in that event, Jerry has conceded that God lacks libertarian freedom. Moreover, that humans like Jerry lack libertarian freedom.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It takes one to know one

by PZ Myers

I like Jamy Ian Swiss, and he’s definitely a passionate speaker…But the first half of this talk is scattered with sniping at atheists, and smug back-patting about how superior skeptics are to atheists.

The worst part begins at 11:30. This is where he starts reciting anecdotes. He declares that “the world is full of atheists who are not skeptics,” and gives us a few personal examples.

He was at an atheist meetup and found an atheist woman who believed in The Secret. At an atheist parenting group, he met someone who asked his wife about her astrological sign. He hates Bill Maher.

Yes? This is new? We’re supposed to be surprised that there are dumbass atheists? Of course there are.

I don’t believe in The Secret, or astrology, and I also detest Bill Maher. When Maher got nominated for the Richard Dawkins award for his movie Religulous, there were howls of protest from the atheist community, too. Portraying atheists by the stupid people in their midst is a game I can play, too — I’ve been to TAM several times.

Guess what? The world is full of skeptics who are not skeptics. I’ve met skeptics who are 9-11 truthers, at TAM. I’ve met skeptics who think ESP is reasonable and has been demonstrated, at TAM. I’ve met skeptics who believe in an afterlife and think ghosts can be detected by their electromagnetic emissions, at TAM. I’ve met skeptics whose idea of arguing with believers is to make cheesy martial arts videos of skeptics kicking woo-woo proponents in the crotch, at TAM. I’ve met skeptics who believe in goddamn Jesus, at TAM.

You want to start listing people who believe in idiotic things within the atheist movement? I can match them one for one with people in the skeptics movement.

The inter-universal geometer

"The Paradox of the Proof" by Caroline Chen.

See the section titled "Inter-universal Teichmuller Theory" for the apparent proof of the abc conjecture.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Thomas Howard asks “how do you think the Reformation ought to be commemorated in 2017?”

Howard was a convert in 1984, before the rest of the “Catholic Convert” industry happened. He writes now:

Several years ago I came across the then Lutheran theologian Jaroslav Pelikan’s notion that the Reformation is best remembered as a “tragic necessity.” Pelikan elaborated:

The tragedy of the Reformation consists in the loss by both sides of the some of the very things each claimed to be defending against the other; its final outcome was not what Rome or the reformers had wanted. Yet the necessity of the Reformation consists in the loyalty of the reformers to the best and highest in Roman Catholic Christianity and their obligation to summon Rome back to it. Partisans on both sides have difficulty acknowledging the Reformation was indeed a tragic necessity. Roman Catholics agree that it was tragic, because it separated many millions from the true church; but they cannot see that it was really necessary. Protestants agree that it was necessary, because the Roman church was so corrupt; but they cannot see that it was such a tragedy after all. . . . [Whatever the case] an honest assessment of the Reformation belongs to any . . . effort at meeting the present situation between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

Let me suggest that, as the Reformation quincentennial approaches, Catholics ought to try to think about why so many, then and now, felt the necessity of the Reformation. Conversely, Protestants ought to consider why Catholics, then and now, have perceived it as tragic. That might not answer all questions, mend all divisions. But it might not be a bad place to start.

My response:

We should remember that if the Reformation was a “tragic” necessity, the tragedy was caused by Rome. That’s the first thing that needs to be recognized. There was tragedy before the first Protestant. Centuries-worth of tragedy.

In that vein, the Reformation was, as Philip Schaff said, “the turning point of modern history”.

Schaff said:

The Reformation of the sixteenth century is, next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history. It marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. Starting from religion, it gave, directly or indirectly, a mighty impulse to every forward movement, and made Protestantism the chief propelling force in the history of modern civilization.

I think we ought to begin by considering whether Schaff or Pelikan was more correct.

Bergoglio’s Gig #5: Scripture + Tradition + Magisterium and functional “Sola Ecclesia”

Nothing new here folks. Leonardo De Chirico has commented on “Pope Francis’s” recent speech to the Pontifical Biblical commission, which gave us a look at his understanding of the Scriptures:

After commending the Commission for the choice of the topic, the Pope highlighted the nature of Scripture and its relationship to the Word of God. The Bible, according to Francis, is "the testimony in written form to the Word of God". Scripture is not associated with the Word of God on a one-to-one basis, but is rather perceived as a witness to something co-inherent, yet different. Following this comment, the Pope adds that "the Word of God precedes and exceeds the Bible". In other words, the Pope does not endorse an identity view between Scripture and the Word but supports a dynamic view of the relationship between the Word of God and the Bible whereby Scripture witnesses to a Word that is before and beyond the Bible. The Word is present in the Bible but not confined to it.

That is, what Roman Catholicism says (via the Magisterium, through its “Tradition”) is also “the Word”.

The Word is spoken and told by the Bible but the two do not coincide, being that the Bible is only a (partial) witness to the (fuller) Word. According to this view, what the Bible says is what the Word says, but what the Word says is not necessarily what the Bible says.

Francis rightly recognizes that the center of the Christian faith is a "person" and not a book, i.e. the person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God. Yet the inference is that "the horizon of the divine Word (i.e. Jesus Christ) embraces Scripture and extends over it". In a rather technical language, Francis goes on to say that the Bible is the "canonical memorial that attests the event of Revelation". The sentence needs some theological unpacking but it is clear that the "memorial" language coupled with the notion of "attestation" support the view that there is a gap between the Bible and the Word of God. There is nothing original in this account; it has been the theological standard of the Word advocated by the Catholic Church since Vatican II.

Scripture is Subject to the Church
Once the identity between the Word and the Bible is refused and substituted with the dynamism of a "living" Revelation that exceeds the Bible, there stems the need for an arbiter that is able to recognize the living Word in and beyond the Bible. While Protestant Liberalism submits the Bible to the final judgment of conscience or reason, Roman Catholicism believes that the Magisterium of the Church has ultimate authority over Scripture. This is what Pope Francis believes as well. In quoting Vatican II (which is actually a quotation of Vatican I), he says that "all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God" (Dei Verbum, 12).

Of course, here Francis is recalling the Roman Catholic view that there is a profound unity between Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church, to the extent that one cannot be pitted against the other two and vice versa. The critical point here is that the Magisterium represents the only "living" voice of the Word, and its interpretation of Scripture is what really matters and what finally counts. So, instead of letting Scripture speak to the Church and over the Church by the Spirit, the Church is the only authorized voice of the Word which is witnessed in Scripture, and which also extends beyond it. Again, the Pope quotes Vatican II (which in turn quotes the Council of Trent) when he says that "it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence" (Dei Verbum, 9).

God & logic

Science and Human Origins: A Review

Jonathan McLatchie reviews Science and Human Origins.

Also, Casey Luskin has a related series here (which Steve previously posted).

While we're on the topic, I'll likewise mention Jonathan Sarfati has a series of books Refuting Evolution and Refuting Evolution 2.

Signature of Controversy

FWIW: Signature of Controversy: Responses to Critics of Signature in the Cell.

Also, FWIW: Metamorphosis: The Case for Intelligent Design in a Nutshell Chrysalis.

Adam in the doghouse

Last year, NT scholar Michael Pahl was dismissed from Cedarville U. Some commentators, like Michael Bird, Mark Goodacre, Alvin Plantinga, and (predictably) James McGrath expressed their disapproval:

According to Christianity Today (not necessarily the gold standard of impartial reportage):

Pahl affirms the Ohio school's doctrinal statement (recently augmented by trustees via theological white papers) regarding human origins, but his beliefs are based on a literary reading of Genesis 1 and 2.

"I hold to a historical Adam and Eve, though not on exegetical grounds," Pahl wrote in his defense to trustees, which CT obtained. "My reasons are more theological in nature…." Later, when explaining his take on Paul's use of Adam and Genesis, Pahl stated, "Once again we are in an area of academic freedom as the doctrinal statement does not mandate specific exegesis of specific biblical passages."

Let’s stop there for a moment. This raises an interesting question: if, he does, indeed, affirm the historicity of Adam, but for “theological” rather than exegetical reasons (whatever that dichotomy means), is it fair to dismiss him from his post?

If a theology prof. believes the right thing for the wrong reason, then I can see how that might be grounds for dismissal. In particular, if Cedarville is committed to the classic Protestant position on sola Scriptura, and Pahl affirms the historicity of Adam on some other grounds, rather than Scripture, then that’s sub-Protestant.

However, the plot thickens. According to two of his admiring students:

Recent events seem to indicate that Cedarville is drifting away from the discursive end of the spectrum. In August of this year, a few weeks before the beginning of fall classes, the university fired Dr. Michael Pahl for the opinions expressed in his book, The Beginning and The End: Rereading Genesis's Stories and Revelation's Visions. In the book, Dr. Pahl argues that the creation stories of Genesis 1-2 are ancient Israelite cosmogonies, narratives written to tell of the origins of the cosmos and explain why things are the way they are. As ancient cosmogonies, they are not to be interpreted as literal historical accounts in the modern sense, but on their own terms, as bold alternatives to all other origin accounts of their day, "describing the one true God, his work in the world, and his purpose for humanity and the created order" (Pahl 2011, 12). It is important to note that Dr. Pahl fully affirms the accuracy of a literal six-day creation and a historical Adam and Eve, based on other references throughout the narrative of Scripture (from genealogies to theological mentions); he simply doesn't think Genesis 1-2 is the place where that doctrine is best supported.

Although the students are defending Pahl, this is rather damning. So his position looks worse than initially reported.

To top it off, Fuller NT prof. Daniel Kirk recently wrote:

My post on Adam and Christ generated the range of predictable responses, from, “Thank God someone is saying what I’ve thought for a long time,” to “How on earth can anyone believe what Paul says about the resurrection of Jesus if he flubbed so badly on the existence of Adam?!”

To the latter question I address this post.

More the point, I address this post to the question of why I acknowledge the errors in the Bible, the ways that ancient cultures influenced the biblical writers to say things that we cannot agree with, and the like.

No, I’ve not quite said it right yet–I want to address how the Bible, precisely as the word of God can be so varied in its witness, and so reflective of both the strengths and shortcomings of its writers.

In response, Pahl left this supportive comment on Kirk’s blog:

Michael Pahl May 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

Yes! I stopped simply referring to  “2 Timothy 3:16” some time ago, and instead reference at least 2 Timothy 3:15-17, if not even 3:14-17, when I speak of  “inspiration.”  Verse 14 also includes a much-needed dimension to this faith-through-Scripture, a faith-through-faithful-people.

This in the context of a post attacking the inerrancy of Scripture generally as well as the historicity of Adam in particular. How can Pahl be so sympathetic to Kirk unless he shares his basic viewpoint?

So it looks to me as if Cedarville was fully justified in firing him.


Conflicted atheism

I recently got into an impromptu debate with Hector Avalos over at David Marshall’s blog (Christ the Tao).

steve said...

    Somehow I don't think Hector's self-testimony to his own impartiality is...impartial.

    Avalos has an odd habit of fighting for the cause of atheism, even though, if atheism were true, nothing matters. He's a conflicted atheist.

steve said...

    Dr. Hector Avalos said...

    "I believe that we call that a false dichotomy."

    Calling it a false dichotomy doesn't make it a false dichotomy. Try again.

steve said...

    Dr. Hector Avalos said...

    "And, of course, nothing you say actually addresses the facts or arguments in my post on DC. Try again."

    If atheism is true, why do facts and arguments matter?

steve said...

    Dr. Hector Avalos said...

    “Your logic is still impeccable.”

    That’s one thing we agree on. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for your own position.

    “Yours is a truism that applies to almost anything. Calling something a true dichotomy also does not make it a true dichotomy, and so you end up saying nothing meaningful by observing that ‘calling something a false dichotomy doesn't make it a false dichotomy.’”

    To the contrary, to point out that your allegation is just an assertion is a meaningful observation. You haven’t given the reader any reason to think my statement was a false dichotomy.

    “So, try telling us something that we don't know already instead of repeating slogans.”

    Given how much you don’t know, you’d have to clear your schedule.

    “Because lack of belief in any specific entity you call ‘God’ bears no necessary logical relationship to how I value facts and arguments anymore than lack of belief in Zeus means that ‘facts and arguments don't matter.’”

    You suffer from an artificially compartmentalized belief-system. If Christian theism is true, then that has logical implications for human nature, human responsibility, human destiny. Conversely, if atheism is true, then that has logical implications for human nature, human responsibility, human destiny.

    Same thing with the existence or nonexistence of Zeus. If Greek mythology were true, that would implicate a different worldview than Christian theism or atheism.

    And let’s not pretend that atheists merely disbelieve in God. Atheists typically have positive beliefs, like belief in naturalistic evolution.

    “After all, who made up the rule that facts and arguments only matter if one believes in your god (or in Zeus)?”

    i) For one thing, many atheist thinkers are moral relativists or moral nihilists. But in that event, we have no epistemic duties. Absent objective moral norms, we are under no moral obligation to have fact-based beliefs.

    You accuse David of dishonesty, but you are, by your own admission, a moral relativist. So even if David were dishonest, big deal?

    ii) A godless universe is indifferent to who is right and who is wrong. The corpse of Bertrand Russell has no advantage over the corpse of George Whitefield.

    Likewise, according to the standard secular narrative, humans are just a temporary stage in the evolutionary process. You and I are just primates. By your lights, David is a dishonest primate. So what? Are you equally concerned about the beliefs of gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees?

    According to the standard secular narrative, the human species will become extinct. So in the long run, what does it matter who believed what? If atheism is true, everyone loses.

    “If anything, I lack belief in your god because facts and arguments do matter to me, and you have offered no facts or arguments that I find convincing for the entity you call ‘God.’ Comprende?”

    You are not the standard of comparison. Sorry to disappoint you.

    “So, I think you need to update your reading on how modern scholarship is changing when it comes to references to the Christian god(s).We had a whole session about that at a recent Society of Biblical Literature convention.”

    That betrays your own bias. You’re illicit appeal to authority.

    Why should we take the Society of Biblical Literature as our frame of reference rather than the Evangelical Theological Society, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, or the American Catholic Philosophical Society?

    “So, do you ever feel a sense of shame for pontificating on things you don't read?”

    Why are you trying to shame David? After all, he’s just a primate. Do you also think gorillas should feel ashamed?

    Moreover, you’re an avowed moral relativist. Well, if moral relativism is true, then David is entitled to be a shameless Christian apologist, right?

    “First, you need to define ‘truth’ for me to even know how to answer your question properly.”

    Good question. From a standard secular perspective, truth is whatever your primate brain perceives to be the case. “Reality” is just a neurological construct. That’s a problem with Hector’s naïve appeal to the “facts.”

    Avalos keeps demonstrating that he’s a conflict atheist. His atheism is self-contradictory.

steve said...

    Dr. Hector Avalos said...

    “I don't deny that atheism/theism has consequences. I simply deny that they are the specific ones you cite (e.g. that truth does not matter if one is an atheist, etc.). My argument also is THAT EVERYONE is a moral relativist, whether they are theists or not. So, you are still not understanding my position, since you seem to think that only atheists are moral relativists. As it is, you don't even seem to understand moral relativism.”

    Your objection is confused. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Christians and atheists are both moral relativists.

    That fails to explain your warrant for acting as if “facts,” arguments, and honesty matter. To claim that Christians and atheists are both in the same boat, ethically speaking, even if that were the case, does nothing to justify your own practice.

    If everyone is a moral relativist, then that includes atheists, as a subset thereof. If, by your own admission, atheists are moral relativists, then why do you keep acting as if we’re supposed to have a fact-based belief system? Why do you devote so much time and effort to disproving Christianity if, by your own admission, it is not morally incumbent on humans to respect the truth?

    “I've already explained many times that your theistic morality is circular: ‘X is right/wrong because X is right/wrong.’"

    I already rebutted your contention when I reviewed that chapter in the book edited by Loftus. In addition to my review, I also posted follow-up articles.

    “Nothing changes if you have what you call God in your moral system because it is YOU who have judged that whatever God says is right is right. So, how did you decide that God should be the moral arbiter in the first place unless you had a prior judgment that YOU made? How is that not just as relativistic as the moral judgments of anyone else who is also the judge of their own morality?”

    You’re conflating several different issues:

    i) To begin with, you repeat your initial confusion. Even if Christians and atheists are both moral relativists, that does nothing to justify your own practice. You act as if atheism is an intellectual virtue, while Christianity is an intellectual vice. Your practice is inconsistent with your avowed moral relativism.

    If you were consistent, you wouldn’t care what other people think. Since you can’t say it’s morally wrong for Christians to be Christian, since you can’t say Christians are derelict in their epistemic duties, what is your rational basis for trying to dissuade Christians from being Christian? Your practice is self-contradictory.

    ii) In addition, you’re conflating a value judgment with a factual judgment. My “deciding” that the Christian God exists is not a value judgment (or moral judgment), but a factual judgment. I don’t have to measure God by moral standards to conclude that God exists. Although there is a classic moral argument for God’s existence, arguments (or evidence) for God’s existence (and the Christian God in particular) are hardly confined to moral arguments.

    “You have provided no reason why anything God says should be regarded as right other than give us yet another circularity, such as: ‘Because he is a Supreme Being who makes the Rules’...or some other such nonsense that only reflects that YOU are the one making all the ultimate moral judgements about the standards you follow. You have NEVER been able to solve your circularity problem, and and so start there.”

    i) Since you’re not quoting or citing anything I’ve written on the subject, you’re in no position to say I failed to provide a reason.

    ii) You’re attacking a crude version of divine command theory. Perhaps that just reflects your ignorance of Christian ethics. For instance, your attack disregards natural law theory. Moreover, divine command theory and natural law theory are not mutually exclusive. God commands us to act the way he designed us to act. The “rules” are grounded in the nature God gave us.

    “The last time you tried, it ended in disaster for you --so much so that you had to take your post down---remember?”

    I think you have me confused with Paul Manata. So you’re the one whose memory is faulty. Your confidence outstrips your competence.

    “You lost all of my respect that day, and so quit wasting peoples time with your amateurish philosophical/apologetics arguments.”

    Notice that when Avalos is unable to win an argument on the merits, he resorts to emotional appeals. Why does he imagine that I value his respect?

    Avalos has forgotten that he’s just an ape. A disapproving ape.

    BTW, notice that in his response to me, Avalos chose to focus on moral relativism to the exclusion of other objections I raised to his position. I'm happy to take his evasive silence as a tacit admission that my other objections are unanswerable.