Saturday, June 08, 2013

Scholars Overreacting To Mistakes

People often overreact to mistakes, whether their own or somebody else's. Children raised by parents who were too strict grow up to raise their own children too leniently. The same tendency to overcompensate often occurs in religious contexts, such as New Testament scholarship.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Hippolytus And Prayers To The Dead

Praying to the deceased is an unbiblical and antibiblical practice with no foundation in the earliest generations of church history. See the articles on the subject linked here. The Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott wrote:

Thursday, June 06, 2013


NSA scandal

I’d like to make a brief observation about the latest scandal engulfing the Obama administration. Even liberals are decrying the NSA spying on all Verizon customers. However, the same liberals decry the profiling of demographic groups at higher risk of terrorism (e.g. single Muslim males).

Well, the alternative to targeted profiling is universal surveillance. Everyone becomes a suspect. Conversely, if you object to the NSA dragnet, then the alternative is to surveil groups more likely to commit terrorism. Liberals are caught in their own dilemma.


I’m going to comment on this post:

Now, let’s set aside the bigoted way he uses Lana’s previous (male) name and then puts the pronoun “her” in scare quotes…

I’ll set aside the usual bigotry of his slippery slope argumentation…

And here Steve’s bigotry can be made even more apparent.

Keep in mind that Carrier espouses naturalistic evolution. So he’s an ape, calling me a bigoted ape. Why should one ape’s opinion of another ape matter? And assuming that I’m a bigoted ape, does that violate the simian code of conduct?

No, I think he’s repulsed by the idea that I’d find a transsexual woman cute because that implies to him sexual attraction and that’s supposed to be perverse.

Anyway, what he really seems to be frightened of is not transgenderism as such but transsexuality in particular.

Carrier has a habit of projecting psychological states onto his opponent. However, my argument wasn’t based on whether or not transgenderism is “repulsive” or “frightening,” but whether it’s patronizing for a self-styled feminist like Carrier to say Lana is “super-cute.”

Maybe he wouldn’t go so far as to concede that men could dress and act like women if they want to (and women like men); that might still be too “gross” for him. But I’m speculating.

Another example of Carrier projecting. Actually, there’s a tradition of tough guys dressing in drag for comedic effect. That’s comical precisely because it goes against type. It presupposes heteronormative standards. Macho men can get away with that because their masculinity is unquestionable. It only works for a he-man. And it’s just a gag.  If, by contrast, an effeminate male dresses in drag, that’s not comical. It’s just pathetic.

Steve, I think, can’t get past that. So he wants to declare her insane and me dishonest. Because that’s the only way he can sleep at night trapped inside his insular, hate-filled worldview.

How is Carrier in a position to know that about me? He’s not.

About six months ago, a Christian blogger on the Triablogue network (a Calvinist creationist inerrantist by the name of Steve) reacted in horror that I would think noted transsexual Lana Wachowski was “super cute” (see Lana Wachowski Is Awesome).

In fact, of course, I said she was “funny, smart, eloquent, and super cute,” but when you’re a repressed sex-obsessed Christian the only thing I guess you would notice me saying about her is that she’s physically attractive (even though those other three attributes I also find sexually attractive in women, and supercuteness is a property of personality as well as appearance, but maybe all that’s a little too advanced for a creationist, way beyond first unit in sexuality 101).

i) What makes Carrier think Christians are sexually repressed or sexually obsessed? Most Christians marry. Have sex lives.

Does he mean Christians are required to practice a degree of sexual self-control? If so, does Carrier think humans should always act on their sexual impulses? Exercise no self-restraint whatsoever?

ii) More to the point, it’s revealing that Carrier uses “cute” as a synonym or “sexually attractive.” So if Carrier says little boys and girls are cute, does that mean he finds little boys and girls sexually attractive? If he says kittens and puppy dogs are cute, does that mean he finds them sexually attractive?

iii) Conversely, suppose I’m watching a Rita Hayworth movie. In her prime, she was an icon of sex appeal, but “cute” isn’t the adjective that leaps to mind.

In a post Steve titled Species Dysphoria (in mockery of the condition called Gender Dysphoria…which used to be called Gender Identity Disorder, so I don’t know if Steve meant this title as a double insult, since the condition had just been renamed in diagnostic manuals earlier that year, downgrading its status from a mental disorder in need of cure to a natural condition in need of acceptance, in parallel to homosexuality in that same diagnostic manual decades ago: see APA Revises Manual: Being Transgender Is No Longer a Mental Disorder).

The APA is highly politicized.

Now, I can excuse someone for not knowing the way the terminology is actually employed in different technical contexts, since words can be used in all kinds of ways and laymen often don’t know much about that. So I’ll just gently correct Steve for not knowing the difference between gender, sex, and sexuality when they are used in contexts of a person’s expression and identity.

To begin with, artificially separating gender from biology advances the sociopolitical agenda of the “trans community.” That’s a tactic of trans activists. Language is power. Manipulate language to further your radical aims.

But there’s another problem. As Carrier is forced to concede later on:

Finally, on everything I’ve said above and all to follow there are still many disagreements in the trans* community, particularly as they are still trying to develop a culture and a vocabulary to describe their experience in the face of often intense hostility and bigotry. For example, the Trans* Awareness Project is reluctant to nail down a precise distinction in the meaning of transgender and transsexual because their community hasn’t reached agreement on that. So when I say that “transsexual” most commonly means someone who takes any physiological steps to alter their assigned sex (which can just be HRT, for example, producing a male or female biochemistry, or any degree of SRS) while “transgender” indicates a broader category encompassing anyone who identifies or expresses a gender different from their assigned sex (even if they take no physiological steps in that direction), it should be understood that “commonly” does not mean “always,” and debates about distinctions like this can still be had.

For instance, at TAP, that distinction is avoided with the following argument:

    The argument has been made that the difference between transgender and transsexual lies in making a distinction between gender (culture/performance) and sex (bodies/biology). On the contrary, Transgender rights activist and lawyer Dylan Vade claims there is no “meaningful difference” between sex and gender and any definition “that pit biology against psychology or the body against the mind…denigrates transgender peoples self-identified genders.”

So by his own admission, the terminology is fluid.

I’ll set aside the usual bigotry of his slippery slope argumentation (implying we’d give transsexuals a pass if they stalked and killed children, thus further implying transsexuals would do that…no, Steve, transsexuals aren’t pedophiles any more frequently than anyone else is, and no, we won’t let transsexuals rape or kill children any more than we let anyone else do).

i) To begin with, I didn’t use a slippery slope argument. I didn’t suggest that mainstreaming transgenderism will likely or inevitably lead to transsexuals raping or killing children. Rather, I used an argument from analogy to draw a logical comparison. Doesn’t Carrier know the difference?

ii) But since Carrier raises the issue, let’s not forget that the pedophilia scandal rocking the church of Rome involves LBGT nuns and priests.

However, there’s a deeper problem. For Carrier goes on to say:

We should be free to choose the lives we want. So even if gender was all just a happenstance choice, that shouldn’t make any difference. Who we like to have sex with, for example, should not be an issue any more than what our preference in desserts or sports happen to be.

People should be free to choose their lives and not have to prove they were forced to make their choices just to get their choices to be respected. And honestly, that should be obvious. Most of what we now do in life is both unnatural and freely chosen (ever fly in an airplane?), and even the Christian widely accepts almost all of it as moral or okay.

So what’s wrong with LBGT types raping or killing children? Isn’t that just another lifestyle choice?

This is reinforced by something else Carrier says:

For example, we are naturally born with violent tendencies. Yet we neither regard that as moral sanction to be violent nor as an excuse to “choose” to be violent, as if being born that way made it okay, simply because our propensity to have those urges was installed in our brain against our will. Most of human culture involves regulating, altering, advancing beyond or overcoming our natural tendencies. It does so by in turn drawing on other natural tendencies (such as make us social and empathic animals, for example)…

So why should we suppress our violent propensities in favor of our empathetic tendencies, rather than vice versa? From a secular perspective, why is that not okay? Isn’t Carrier’s preference arbitrary?

Of course, fundamentalist Christians perhaps tend to be insular and less frequently study foreign or historical cultures and just assume everything has always been the same. I don’t know. But how a Christian could not notice that gender expression is a cultural construct is a bit astonishing.

I attended public school K-12. And, by definition, when we study the OT and the NT, we are studying foreign historical cultures.

Well, I have some scary news for him. He might be shocked to know this isn’t so simple as creationism would have it. If God wanted everyone to be consistently a boy or girl, he wouldn’t have created hermaphrodites. But more commonly, a significant number of women are actually XY chromosomed (and thus genetically male but almost entirely physiologically female), the result of a condition called AIS, or Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in which they genetically lack sufficient receptors for androgens and thus do not develop as men in the womb but as women (only lacking certain internal developments, like a uterus)…

What on earth does a creationist do with that information? If by genetic accident you can be XY (and thus genetically a “man” by Steve’s standards) and yet still a woman (anatomically, biochemically, and legally), why can’t you be XY and a woman by personal preference? Why should it matter?

One wonders if Carrier is really that ignorant of basic Christian theology. Not only does Christian theology have a doctrine of creation, it has a doctrine of the Fall. Due to the Fall, humans are liable to genetic defects.

For example, people vary in “adventurousness” regardless of their sex, but put those people in a culture that strongly identifies “adventurousness” as feminine and you’ll see them call having a well-developed “adventurousness” center of the brain as having a “female” brain.

Is there really a “brain center” for adventurousness?

But the outcome in practice is that some men will feel more at home living and acting more like women and some women will feel more at home living and acting more like men, and some cross far enough in that direction to be uncomfortable living as women or men altogether, because what our culture has chosen to call “feminine” and “masculine” just happens to align better with the way their brains and personalities have developed. Since brains and personalities can develop differently than the cultural ruts we try to force them in, it makes no sense to keep trying to force them into those ruts. Because those ruts are human fabrications. They don’t track human biology at all, or do so only weakly (and a sensible Christian would listen to their own Jesus here: they ought to follow God’s ruts, not the ruts carved by the traditions of men: Mark 7:8-9). Whether your brain and personality “fit” being a woman or a man is all just a happenstance of what culture and time in history you happened to be born in. But your brain is not a happenstance of that; and your personality, not altogether.

The Bible would be the first to grant that decadent societies can misalign biology, gender, and sexual expression. Both the OT and NT condemn that in pagan culture.

Indeed, with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and sex reassignment surgery (SRS), a man can effectively resemble a woman with AIS in every relevant respect. And since AIS exists in different degrees, men who identify as women but don’t get surgery or take HRT can still resemble women with milder cases of AIS. Perhaps the creationist would insist AIS is a “disorder,” and no one should want to emulate a “disorder,” but in fact it’s not a disorder. It’s just a natural genetic outcome, which presents few to no problems. If people are happy being who they become, what business does the Christian have telling them they’re doing it wrong?

If it’s just a “natural genetic outcome,” then why, by his own admission, do some undergo hormone replacement therapy or even sex-change operations?

But let’s put that aside and focus on the real gist of Steve’s analogy, that a woman who claimed she belonged to a different species (and acted like it) is exactly the same as a man claiming he’s a woman (and acting like it). This silly analogy has already been refuted, in many incarnations, by Zinnia Jones in Being a Woman Also Isn’t Like Being Napoleon. All genuinely interested parties should read that. Because it’s short and to the point and illustrates the very crucial mistake the Steves of the world make, born largely of never actually talking to a transsexual (or listening to one) before declaring conclusions about what they think or why.

Picture of Lana Wachowski smiling and sitting in her simple black belted dress and colored hair (in a spectrum of reds and blacks) at the Human Rights Campaign awards.I doubt Lana believes she is a woman by Steve’s narrow standards, as if she delusionally thought she has an XX chromosome if she doesn’t or that she has a womb if she doesn’t or anything else you want to cling to as your definition of “being a woman.” That’s simply not what’s going on here. Lana is not delusional about any real facts of the world. She well knows what her DNA, biochemistry, and body is really like.

Yet Carrier also said: “Identity is generated by the brain.”

So what if your brain self-identifies as lycan? Are you delusional to think you’re a werewolf if your brain self-identifies as lycan? By parity of argument, wouldn’t that make the transgendered delusional?

But the major premise of this argument is also false: the notion that what nature has done to you is good and any deviation from nature is bad. Artificial hearts pretty much kill that premise outright. So do corrective lenses (contacts or glasses). So do artificial hips and legs. So do telescopes and microscopes and airplanes and helmets, all of which allow us to defy nature by seeing better than nature “intended” and flying contrary to nature’s “intention” and “fixing” nature by making our heads harder to break and our eyes less naturally defective. Indeed, we correct nature all the time: corrective surgery and prosthetics improve the lives of people born with missing or deformed body parts (or who suffer missing or deformed body parts through injury or illness); computers and books and pencil and paper correct for our “imperfectly designed” memories…

This piggybacks on his earlier bungle. Due to the Fall, humans are subject to illness and senescence. To some extent medical science is able to restore proper function. Indeed, it’s because humans were designed by God that there’s a way in which our body parts are meant to function. By contrast, if naturalistic evolution is true, then it’s not possible for a body part to malfunction, for the eyes weren’t made to see, ears weren’t made to hear, hearts weren’t made to pump blood, &c.

…logic and mathematics and the scientific method were invented to correct for the naturally slipshod “design” of our brain’s abilities to reason. Nature screwed up almost everything important to us. So we invented an advanced civilization to correct for all of her mistakes. (And the fact that we had to do that, entirely on our own, is pretty much argument number one against creationism.)

If logic is a human invention, then illogic is a human invention. Equivalent inventions. Carrier reduces logic to a social convention. But in that event, his arguments have no normative force.

Likewise gender expression and identity. It is the Christian (or more broadly the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic complex of religious thinking) that has singled out sex and gender as somehow special and thus different from preference in desserts or sports. For no objectively valid reason whatever. Only when people realize this will they be on the path to freeing themselves from the slavery of the real delusion that exists here, that of the religious believer (as I’ve explained in Are Christians Delusional?). The sad thing is that these delusions bleed over even to infect atheists who don’t even realize they have internalized purely religious notions about sexuality and gender (as I’ve noted in my article Sexy Sex Sex!! (for Cash on the Barrel!)).

I appreciate his candid admission that his fellow atheists are delusional.

Creationists, of course, obsess over what is natural, because they believe God made us, so if our bodies are born a certain way, for them that entails God’s endorsement, being the one who made us that way, and against our will to boot (ironically, considering how much Christians are usually obsessed with God’s need to give us free will…although Steve is a Calvinist, so maybe he doesn’t even believe in free will, much less that God would want us to have any). The problem, of course, is that things like AIS and chimerism put the kibosh on that kind of thinking. God clearly endorses some men being women and women being men.

From a Calvinist standpoint, God predestines some humans to be saints, and others to be sociopaths–to cite two extremes. That’s not a divine “endorsement.” Rather, the existence of sociopaths serves a purpose in God’s overall plan for world history–just like a novelist might include villains as well as heroes and heroines in his story.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the cultural expression and trappings of gender, the Christian cannot claim divine guidance at all. God (even the Christians’ own god, by their own account: again, Mark 7:8-9) could not plausibly have endorsed any one human tradition, and cannot honestly be imagined to have endorsed any concept of gender. Unless you are still living and dressing as the Old Testament God had commanded–in other words, as an Orthodox Jew–you’ve pretty much abandoned any notion of what could ever have been called “God-sanctioned culture.”

Obviously this behavior is not delusional any more than preferring broccoli to carrots, or reading to sports, or cowboy culture and attire to goth or steampunk or yuppy. When women like Dita Von Teese and Paloma Faith make themselves up in 40s or 50s hairstyle and clothing, they are creating an identity for themselves, that’s who they want to be. That’s a preference, not a delusion. And forcing them to be someone they don’t want to be would almost universally be deemed wrong, indeed bizarre (why would you even care?), at least in free communities in modernized democracies.

That fails to distinguish between culturebound dress codes and creational ordinances.

Which leaves us with brain biology. Which leaves us with no objective reason to claim God did not want Lana Wachowski to live and identify as a woman.

That’s like saying a novelist wanted a villain in his story. In a simplistic sense that’s true. Yet he doesn’t want the villain for the sake of villainy, but to place evil in a moral context.

But alas, since many Christians are obsessed with various forms of creationism and exaggerate the importance of free will, we can get more effect on them sometimes by using those irrational levers to convince them to finally treat their neighbors decently for a change.

Calvinists aren’t routinely accused of exaggerating the importance of freewill. But I guess there’s a first time for everything.

But this shouldn’t have to be the case with atheists, who, not being creationists, don’t believe in this naturalist fallacy (that all that is natural, and only what is natural, is moral), and who, by and large not being indeterminists, regard free will as nothing more than the expression of human desires, desires that can be good or bad whether free or not.

i) Actually, many atheists do buy into the naturalistic fallacy when they espouse evolutionary ethics.

ii) Conversely, natural law ethics is not a naturalistic fallacy for Christians inasmuch as God commands us to do what he made us to do. That’s not comparable to the byproduct or end-product of a mindless, amoral process.

Although fundamentalists do get their panties in a bunch over almost any conceivable cultural deviation anyway. The rest of us find it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to “choose” to be Goth or Cowboy or Steampunk or Yuppy or Preppy or Hippy or anything they like, conforming to any clothing, mannerisms, dialects, interests, that belongs to any sub-culture they prefer. No one challenges them by asking whether they were genetically predisposed to want to be that. No one condemns their choice because it was (gasp!) a choice, something they just preferred, something they were just happier living as. Well, except fundamentalist Christians maybe…who also think Goths and Hippies are abominations, but are arbitrarily okay with Cowboys or Preppies. As if the Bible laid out which sub-cultures were cool with God and which weren’t.

These subcultures are typically conformist. They have their own rigid social expectations which you must live up to to be accepted.

(Note to the wise: it doesn’t…except pages and pages of “You’d better adopt the immensely onerous and detailed culture of an ancient Orthodox Jew or else you are an abomination before God who deserves to die” rigamarole [see Leviticus and Deuteronomy], but no fundamentalist Christian obeys any of that, so they pretty much can’t appeal to the Bible here without getting themselves in super big trouble.

i) To begin with, I think Carrier is confusing halakhic or Hassidic customs with the Mosaic Covenant. The latter isn’t that detailed.

ii) The New Covenant minimizes the OT purity codes.

 They generally don’t even follow the New Testament’s requirements that women always cover their hair and never wear pretty dresses or jewelry.)

What Bible commentaries has Carrier read on 1 Corinthians or 1 Peter?

This point becomes all the more clear when we notice the fact that we all of us often transgender ourselves when we have “safe” opportunities to do so. For example, when we play another gender in video games, role playing games, and even on blogs and social networks. Suddenly transgenderism in that environment is all okay and not insane.

That reveals a lot about Richard Carrier. I’ve never transgendered myself.

Unanimous Consent Of The Fathers On Baptismal Regeneration?

On a recent edition of his webcast, James White referred to the problematic nature of Roman Catholic claims about a unanimous consent of the fathers. One of the issues he brought up in that context was baptismal regeneration. He didn't elaborate on the point much, so I thought I'd post some links here for anybody who's interested in reading more about the topic. See here for a discussion of some pre-Reformation extra-Biblical sources. And here's an index to many of our articles on issues related to baptism.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Weakness is the way


I likewise appreciated Carl Trueman's post about the book.

The Outsider Test of Nothing

Mere signs

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26).

There are liturgical churches that put great stock in the real presence. If you don’t believe in the real presence, you are said to reduce the sacraments to “mere signs” or “nude signs.”

Let’s talk about signs for a moment. The camera is a wildly popular invention. It’s become even more popular in the age of digital cameras, cellphone cameras, and Facebook.

Why do people like to take pictures? Well, there are different reasons. Some people are just narcissistic.

But there are other, better reasons. As timebound, spacebound creatures, we take pictures to make a particular place or moment available. If we take a trip to a scenic locale, we may take pictures so that when we’re no longer there, we can still see it. It’s not as good as being there, but it’s better than nothing.

When a husband is away at work, he may have pictures of his wife and kids on the desk. It’s a reminder of what he looks forward to when he gets off work and returns home.

Likewise, once an event is past, you can’t go back in time and see it again. So we take pictures to preserve the past. To make the past a bit more accessible in the present.

That’s one reason parents take pictures of their kids when they are kids. Kids grow up.

Sometimes pictures can assume an added significance. When your mother or father was still alive, having their picture may not mean as much to you as long as you can see them whenever you want to. But after they are gone, that picture may suddenly mean a lot more to you. You don’t have them in your life any more. You may have letters. And memories. And pictures. A picture may be the next best thing to having them. It’s a poor substitute for having them with you, but that’s what makes death so desolating.

Likewise, parents don’t always outlive their kids. Sometimes their child dies of cancer or cystic fibrosis, or dies in a traffic accident.

Imagine going into the home of a parent who lost a child. You see pictures on the mantle. Imagine saying, “But they’re just pictures!”

Well, in a sense that’s true. And you’re not telling the parent anything he or she doesn’t already know. Painfully so. Acutely so. But that would be a pretty callous thing to say.

Yes, they’re just pictures, but that’s all the forlorn mother or has left. It’s not much, but it’s better than total absence. It helps them retain some sense of connection with the child they lost. Those pictures are very precious. Mental images can fade.

In addition, when we’re dealing with Christians, where there’s the hope of reunion in the world to come, those pictures aren’t simply a memento of the past, but a token of God’s promised restoration. 

And that’s like what Paul says about communion in the passage I quoted. Communion is a ritual depiction that’s both prospective and retrospective. A commemoration of the Cross as well as a preview of the Second Coming.

Yes, it’s just a sign, but then, you might say the same thing about a picture of your late mother or father or grandmother whom you hope to see again in heaven. 


Decadent Lutheranism

Do Christians Make the Bible an Idol?

Bone of my bones

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen 2:21-24).

Why was Eve made from Adam’s side?

Matthew Henry famously said: “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

That’s a sweet sentiment, and it may even be generically true, but we shouldn’t confuse it with exegesis. There is definitely one, and maybe two reasons that Eve was made from Adam’s side.

i) The general reason is to stress the unity of man and woman. They were made for each other because they were made from each other. Like two halves a whole. That much is clear from the account itself, which stresses the fittingness of Eve, in contrast to the animals, to be the man’s companion and counterpart. The “one flesh,” “bone-of-my-bones” bond. Men and women have a natural, built-in rapport.

ii) But over and above the general reason may be a more subtle and specific reason for the choice of Adam’s side rather than some other part of his anatomy. As one scholar notes:

As we have already observed, the language of the garden scene is found in the tabernacle description; the term sela, here rendered “ribs,” appears frequently in the construction setting of the tabernacle, there translated “side.” K. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26 (Broadman 1996), 216.

So the narrator may be comparing the woman to a living tabernacle.

Matthew, Josephus, and the massacre of the innocents

Jason Engwer recently left an informative comment at Michael Brown’s site on why Josephus fails to mention the massacre of the innocents (Mt 2:16-18). I’d like to add a few observations of my own:

i) Children are a common casualty of war, and the ancient world was no exception. The death of a few boys in a small town by Herod’s henchmen would not be historically noteworthy.

ii) Josephus was born c. 37-38 AD. The Antiquities was published c. 93-94. So the event took place about 40 years before he was born–or about two generations before he was born. And his magnum opus was published about a century after the event.

iii) In the age of local and national newspapers, not to mention photojournalism, CNN, and so forth, it’s easy to have an unrealistic expectation of the kinds of events that would be newsworthy in the ancient world. But I think it’s safe to say that ancient people were remarkably ignorant of general history. They would have known about famous kings and conquerors, as well as having some knowledge of local lore (where they happened to live), but their knowledge of the past would be the exception rather than the rule.

iv) Matthew doesn’t record the massacre of the innocents because that’s a famous event; rather, that’s a famous event because Matthew recorded it. He made it famous.

To ask why Josephus failed to record this famous event presumes a frame of reference that Josephus never had. This is only famous in Christian circles. Known to readers of Matthew’s Gospel. From there it become more widely disseminated over the centuries by the church and Christmas celebrations.

Up next: “The Internet of Things”

Nike is leading the way to the Internet of Things
Strap on your Nike shoes and start running: they’ll monitor your position, your precise mileage, your heart rate, and more soon. Beyond that, the information will be stored “in the cloud” somewhere, and you’ll be able to track your progress on your iPhone.

It’s being called the “Internet of Things”:

The Internet of Things is bigger than we may realize. We are experiencing a shift from a world of inanimate objects and reactive devices to a world where data, intelligence, and computing are distributed, ubiquitous, and networked. My fellow analysts and I at Altimeter Group refer to the Internet of Things (IoT) as the Sentient World. It’s the idea that inanimate objects gain the ability to perceive things, perform tasks, adapt, or help you adapt over time. And, it’s the future of the Internet and consumer electronics.

In 2008, the number of things connected to the Internet exceeded the number of people on earth. By 2020, it’s expected that there will be 50 billion things connected.

A network of things creates an incredible information ecosystem that connects the online and physical world through a series of transactions. In a world where data becomes a natural b[y]-product of these exchanges, developers, businesses, and users alike are faced with the reality that data isn’t only big, its volume and benefits are also overwhelming…

Products such as Fitbit and also Nike’s FuelBand build upon the Human API by collecting the digital breadcrumbs of users and assembling them in a way that makes sense of daily activity and validates progress. Perhaps more importantly, these devices, the data they collect and present, and the social relationships linked by publishing this information in social channels drives the ongoing pursuit of goals, and brings people together to help one another live better. As these devices are connected socially, experiences become the epicenter of engagement and encouragement, inspiring people and networks of people through extended relationships along the way. Imagine if they could also talk to one another…across devices and also across the various contexts of usage, personal, professional, medical, etc.

That’s the point.

Time for oral condoms?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 relates that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”.

Now, in response to reports from actor Michael Douglas that his recent bout with cancer was caused by oral sex (“Experts say HPV is a growing cause of certain types of oral cancer”), it would seem that it’s time for a new product introduction: the oral condom.

Perhaps this should be the next big “liberal media” cause to espouse.

Checking Out Google+ “Authorship”

John Bugay, an Author on Google+
As I continue to look for a job, I’ve come across a number of different applications for “social media”. I mentioned yesterday, I check and contribute to the Twitter feed now (I’m “@johnbugay”). Yes, it’s dangerous. Yes, @Frank_Turk is “out there”. But we’ve got to keep up with the technology.

One of the things that I’ve found out about Twitter is that there are two kinds of people: those on Twitter, and those who find out later.

If you’re following enough people, the Twitter feed can be a torrent. Jump in, watch it for a few minutes, open 5000 tabs in your browser, then jump out and try to sort it all out.

I’ve met some fascinating people this way, one of whom is a business owner and a “social media” and “marketing technology” expert. She recently wrote an article “How Google Authorship Changes the Rules for your Search Results”.

As a marketer, I do see the value for what I’ve called “shameless self-promotion” on occasion. Jokingly, when people ask, I tell them “I’m a world-famous blogger”. (When Steve Hays first asked me to write for Triablogue, my response was, “it would be the dream of a lifetime”). Yes, I blog on topics that are somewhat arcane, but I’m also aware that I write about things that mean very much and hit close to home to people.

I’ve had a chance to check out “Google Authorship”. As the article recommends, I’ve gone in and updated my profile. You can find it here (and again, I’d like to invite Triablogue readers to connect with me – just please let me know who you are).

But notice that “Google Authorship” does what it’s advertised to do: I typed in “Pope Benedict” (and the Google-recommended top-searches also pop-down), and note whose photo comes up at the bottom of the graphic nearby. The link takes you to the Google+ page where the article appears in my profile.

(I’m not sure if Google just puts my article up for my own benefit, or if the rest of the world can see it. However, it was a pretty amazing thing to see my photo here).

Here is the original article. It’s not even an original article that I wrote; it’s a comment that I picked up from the Anglican Continuum blog.

In any event, I’ve had some encouraging interviews in the last couple of weeks. A job search is one of those things: “it ain’t over till it’s over”. Meanwhile, you just keep plugging away at it.

(I’m “@johnbugay”).

Follow Triablogue on Twitter: @triablogue.

Steven Hawking’s Moral Black Hole

Assistant books editor Sohrab Ahmari on Stephen Hawking’s decision to join the academic boycott of an Israeli conference.

Photos: Getty Images

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Women's lib

Ergun "Pinocchio" Caner

Nigel Styles on Ecclesiastes


6 Pillars of a Christian View on Suffering

A synopsis of Don Carson's "6 Pillars of a Christian View on Suffering."

Pope Francis says “Speak the Truth in Love”. But will he be honest with the early history of the papacy?

In the Twitter feed this morning, I found an article in the entitled Speak the language of truth in love, Pope urges faithful.

In it, Bishop of Rome Bergoglio says:

Catholics should speak “the language of truth in love”, not the language of hypocrisy, the Pope said at Mass this morning.

In his homily in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican, he said: “Hypocrisy is the very language of corruption. And when Jesus speaks to his disciples, he says: ‘Let your language be ‘Yes, yes! No, no.’ Hypocrisy is not a language of truth, because the truth is never given alone. Never! It is always given with love! There is no truth without love. Love is the first truth.

I have the first comment:

I am wondering, will this pope speak the truth about the early papacy? Vatican I says that “a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church of God was immediately and directly promised to the blessed apostle Peter and conferred on him by Christ the [L]ord” and that that primacy was “continual”, “permanent”, and “in every age”.

And yet, as historical research has better understood the early history of the church at Rome, it is clear that for the first 100 years of its existence, that church was fractionated, was led by a network of elders who frequently “fought among themselves as to who was greatest” -- that what we know now as the papacy “developed” from the ashes of those disputes, and didn’t take form until the fifth century.

What is held today as “the primacy of the successor of Peter” is not a historical reality; rather, it is a theological pre-commitment, that can be show to be seriously out of touch with the actual evolution of the church of the first three centuries.

Further, it should be noted, it is agreed that this “office” has led to more contention and division in the history of the church as a whole than any other theological disagreement. Its claims to authority have been rejected every time they have been made, whether Tertullian rejects the claims of Callistus, Cyprian and Firmilian reject the claims of Stephen, or Photius rejects the claims of Nicholas, or the Reformers who rejected the claims of the Medieval papacy.

This pope prefers the title “Bishop of Rome” and goes by his family name, Bergoglio. I wonder if he will remain true to his own calls for truth?

Monday, June 03, 2013

The story you’re about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles (Mt 10:17-18).

22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue (Jn 9:22).

One overlooked issue in Gospel harmonization is whether the Evangelists sometimes changed names and circumstances (or anonymize) to protect the identity of the innocent. Given that Christians were persecuted by both Roman and Jewish authorities, when a Gospel writer recorded an incident involving named individuals, he’d have to consider whether he was painting a bull’s-eye on their back. Depending on when the Gospels were written, some participants might have died by then, but others would still be alive, and liable to persecution.

The disciples are named. As official representatives of Jesus, they can’t evade public scrutiny or persecution. But what about private individuals caught in the crossfire? It’s possible that Gospel writers shielded some still living participants by altering details to make it harder for hostile authorities to finger them. As a rule, I don’t have the same right to expose others to danger that I have to put myself in harm’s way. I must make more allowance for their safety than my own.

Engage the Culture Through the Lens of Genesis

I'm currently teaching a class in my church titled "Engage the Culture Through the Lens of Genesis," addressing current subjects such as homosexuality, the sanctity of life, and Islam with a Biblical worldview, found in the opening pages of Scripture.

Here are the sessions we've done so far those who are interested:

On logic and atheism

Dr. Hector Avalos6/02/2013 3:05 AM

My statement refers to my inability to verify your claim with my five senses and/or logic, which are the instruments I normally use in my every day life to verify the reality of claims.

I am assuming that Steve, you, and I agree that our five senses and/or logic can give reliable data.

Hector’s appeal to logic raises a troublesome question. From a secular standpoint, what does Avalos suppose logic is? How does he ground logic? What’s his ontology of logic?

Does he regard logic as just a systematic description of how our finite, contingent, timebound simian brains happen to think? If so, how does he distinguish a logical brain from an illogical brain? Two different brains can arrive at opposite conclusions. If logic mirrors the brain, what adjudicates one brain from another?

What about a brain that’s high on LSD? Is that a reliable brain? He can’t very well say a brain that’s high on LSD is malfunctioning, for natural selection is not a goal-oriented process. Methodological naturalism banishes teleological explanations from natural science. 

Jesus draw me ever nearer (May this journey bring a blessing)

I look towards the wintering trees
To hush my fretful soul
As they rise to face the icy sky
And hold fast beneath the snow
Their rings grow wide, their roots go deep
That they might hold their height
And stand like valiant soldiers
Through the watches of the night

No human shoulder ever bears
The weight of all the world
But hearts can sink beneath the ache
Of trouble's sudden surge
Yet far beyond full knowing
There's a strong unsleeping light
That reaches round to hold me
Through the watches of the night

I have cried upon the steps that seem
Too steep for me to climb
And I've prayed against a burden
I did not want to be mine
But here I am and this is where
You're calling me to fight
And you I will remember
Through the watches of the night
You I will remember
Through the watches of the night

Jesus draw me ever nearer
As I labour through the storm.
You have called me to this passage,
and I'll follow, though I'm worn.

May this journey bring a blessing,
May I rise on wings of faith;
And at the end of my heart's testing,
With your likeness let me wake.

Jesus guide me through the tempest;
Keep my spirit staid and sure.
When the midnight meets the morning,
Let me love you even more.

Let the treasures of the trial
Form within me as I go -
And at the end of this long passage,
Let me leave them at your throne.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Martian chess players

Hector Avalos tried to leave some belated comments on my old “Conflicted atheism” post. I’ll respond here.

Dr. Hector Avalos6/02/2013 3:05 AM
Yes, God can still be the source of your standards like invisible Martians can be the source of your standards or like Zeus can be the source of your standards. Or Krishna could be the source of your standards even if you thought Yahweh was the source.
Merely listing or postulating possible supernatural sources tells us nothing about the source of your standards because they can be cancelled out by opposite propositions that are equally possible.

That’s an argument from analogy minus the argument. Avalos needs to show that claims about Zeus, Krishna, Martians, and Yahweh are equivalent. All we have is his stipulative comparison. 

It is just as possible that YOU are the source of your standards without violating anything you are calling the ontology of ethics.  Nothing about the ontology of ethics demands that a source be supernatural.

Objective moral norms demand a supernatural source–for reasons I’ve given elsewhere.

The point remains that, regardless of the source, once YOU MAKE A DECISION (presuming you believe in free will), then YOU do become the source of your standards for all practical purposes. And so you DO become a moral relativist just as is anyone else who chooses what the standard will be regardless of it origin.

Really? If Einstein uses Riemannian geometry to formulate the theory of relativity, Einstein becomes the source of Riemannian geometry? 

And if you ever justify your standards because of the source, it is still YOU who is justifying that justification.

How does that reduce to relativism? 

Actually, it is not that easy to distinguish what Ettore Maserati intended in any particular car from what his brothers or company engineers intended. Ettore may not have designed every item in a car that bears his surname. For example, he may have used a part that was designed by someone else.
If you read about the famous Type V4 Maserati engine, you will see that  The V4 (V stood for the cylinder formation and its 4 litre capacity) engine was projected by Alfieri Maserati and designed by Piero Visentini  (
More importantly, there is difference between entities whose existence can be empirically verified, and those whose existence cannot be empirically verified.

Other issues to one side, this confuses empirical agents with their intentions. Even if the agent is an empirical object, it hardly follows that his intentions are empirical objects. 

We can determine the purposes of human actors if we have enough information about how their plans matched the results. Presumably, we might have sketches of cars, for example, that then became reality. We can verify that human actors do have plans that are executed.

i) Although Ettore Maserati used to be an empirical agent, he’s been dead a long time.

ii) Does Avalos really think you have to compare sketches of cars with the results to infer design intentions? What if we had no independent knowledge of the designer? What if all we had to work with was the end-product: the sports car. Is Avalos suggesting that we can never reason back from the results to the intentions of the engineer? If I examine a Maserati, I can’t infer that this was designed to be a sports car rather than orange juicer? 

But, with God, you have a double problem. You are determining the intention of an entity whose existence cannot be verified in the same manner as that of Maserati.

Avalos is changing the subject. He originally alleged that my appeal was “circular.” Now he’s shifted the issue to verification. That’s a backdoor admission that his original objection failed.

People of different religions and philosophial orientations can verify the existence of Maserati using simple empirical tools that are not dependent on religious presuppositions.

i) Once again, Avalos is shifting the issue from identifying intentions to verifying the existence of the agent. Those are distinct issues.

ii) It’s unnecessary to directly verify the existence of an engineer. The car didn’t very well design itself. You can indirectly infer the existence of the engineer from the car.

In addition, Maserati is finite being with finite attributes that can be detected by human beings. But determining God’s purposes is not the same. He is said to have infinite attributes that I, as a finite being, cannot verify. I have no information about his purposes that I can verify.

i) I don’t know where Avalos comes up with the claim that God is said to have infinite attributes. Who says that? At most, God is said to have the attribute of infinity. Having infinite attributes and having an attribute of infinity are not convertible propositions.

ii) In addition, it’s a question of how divine infinity is defined in systematic theology. Usually it’s taken to mean that God is unconditioned by space and time.

Avalos seems to be using “infinite” in a quantitative sense, but Christian theology doesn’t predicate an infinite number of attributes to God. So Hector’s claim is ignorant.

iii) But let’s play along with infinity for the sake of argument. Is Avalos claiming that we can have no knowledge of infinitely complex objects? What about the Mandelbrot set (to take one example)? Is that unverifiable? Is that unknowable? 

So, no, I am afraid your analogy between determining the purposes of an infinite being, whose existence is questionable in the first place, is not the same as determining the purposes of a finite being whose existence and activities can be empirically verified.
My statement refers to my inability to verify your claim with my five senses and/or logic, which are the instruments I normally use in my every day life to verify the reality of claims.

i) What about reality claims involving abstract objects? These are not empirically verifiable. Yet they may be explanatorily indispensable.

Likewise, I can’t empirically verify my own mental states. Does that mean the existence of my mental states is questionable?

ii) Avalos appeals to logic, yet hasn’t he condemned subjective appeals as circular and relativistic? After all, it is Avalos who is using logic. 

I am assuming that Steve, you, and I agree that our five senses and/or logic can give reliable data.

As a Christian, I think the five senses are generally reliable because God designed them. If I were an atheist, if my brain and senses were the outcome of a mindless, hit-and-miss process, then my brain and senses would not be trustworthy. 

So, yes, any statement about your god (or whatever you call God) is unverifiable because I cannot verify it my five senses an/or logic and not because I simply say so.
So, it is no more circular than saying that I cannot verify that undetectable Martians are playing chess right now.

Suppose the first space probe to Mars discovered a chess set on Mars. Suppose the probe was unable to detect the presence or prior existence of Martians. Even so, would we not be able to infer intelligent life from the alien chess set? 

If I am wrong, then simply show me a way to verify those claims about God with our fives senses and/or logic.

There are both a priori and a posteriori theistic proofs. Likewise, you have the argument from prophecy. I could say more, but that’s a start.

Social climbers

Hector Avalos tried to leave some belated commented my old “Conflicted atheism” post. Let’s begin with this comment:

Dr. Hector Avalos6/02/2013 3:05 AM
Thank you for clearing up that confusion between the epistemology of ethics and the ontology of ethics. I must have missed that day in my philosophy courses, which I imagine are much better at RTS.

Avalos has a strange obsession with my RTS degree. What accounts for that obsession?

i) I believe Avalos started out life as poor Mexican. Folks who come from humble backgrounds are sometimes dogged by a persistent inferiority complex. They compensate for their sense of shame by becoming social climbers. Avalos is pitifully status-conscious.

By contrast, impressing others has never been the goal of my life. I grew up middle class. Most of my neighbors and classmates were middle class. We were average. And I never aspired to move higher up the social ladder. That’s not what I live for.

ii) Avalos is very proud of his Ivy League education. Keep in mind, though, that from an evolutionary standpoint, Avalos is just a college-educated monkey. At the end of the day, a monkey who struts around the quadrangle is still a monkey. Even though Avalos suffers from an emotional craving to rise above his humble socioeconomic origins, he can’t rise above his evolutionary origins. He’s just one notch above the Orangutan. An ape with an electric razor.

iii) For the record, I was already past 40 when I entered the RTS degree program, so it’s not as if that’s where I got my ideas. I had a fully-formed worldview long before I started RTS.



I nursed it in my bosom while it lived,
I hid it in my heart when it was dead;
In joy I sat alone, even so I grieved
Alone and nothing said.

I shut the door to face the naked truth,
I stood alone—I faced the truth alone,
Stripped bare of self-regard or forms or ruth
Till first and last were shown.

I took the perfect balances and weighed;
No shaking of my hand disturbed the poise;
Weighed, found it wanting: not a word I said,
But silent made my choice.

None know the choice I made; I make it still.
None know the choice I made and broke my heart,
Breaking mine idol: I have braced my will
Once, chosen for once my part.

I broke it at a blow, I laid it cold,
Crushed in my deep heart where it used to live.
My heart dies inch by inch; the time grows old,
Grows old in which I grieve.


I have a room whereinto no one enters
Save I myself alone:
There sits a blessed memory on a throne,
There my life centres.

While winter comes and goes—oh tedious comer! —
And while its nip-wind blows;
While bloom the bloodless lily and warm rose
Of lavish summer.

If any should force entrance he might see there
One buried yet not dead,
Before whose face I no more bow my head
Or bend my knee there;

But often in my worn life’s autumn weather
I watch there with clear eyes,
And think how it will be in Paradise
When we’re together.

Speak O Lord

Cultural renewal

How can we best live our lives for the Lord? Here is a brief post that might help.