Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dreaming of a white Christmas

Megyn Kelly, this year's prom queen in the Fox News lineup, generated a blizzard in the snow globe of chattering class by some remarks she made about Jesus and Santa. I don't know that this is worth commenting on. Since, however, the godless try to equate Fox News with with all things rightwing, perhaps a comment is in order.

Let's begin with a bit of background. This is what go the whole flap going:

When I was a kid, I knew two different Santa Clauses. The first had a fat belly, rosy cheeks, a long white beard, and skin as pink as bubble gum. He was omnipresent, visiting my pre-school and the local mall, visible in all of my favorite Christmas specials.Then there was the Santa in my family’s household, in the form of ornaments, cards, and holiday figurines. A near-carbon copy of the first one—big belly, rosy cheeks, long white beard: check, check, check. But his skin was as dark as mine.Seeing two different Santas was bewildering. 
For one thing, making Santa Claus an animal [i.e. penguin] rather than an old white male could spare millions of nonwhite kids the insecurity and shame that I remember from childhood. Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, Santa is one of the first iconic figures foisted upon you: He exists as an incredibly powerful image in the imaginations of children across the country (and beyond, of course). That this genial, jolly man can only be seen as white—and consequently, that a Santa of any other hue is merely a  “joke” or a chance to trudge out racist stereotypes—helps perpetuate the whole “white-as-default” notion endemic to American culture (and, of course, not just American culture).

Here we have the notion that children must be protected from the "bewildering," indeed "shame"-inducing experience of seeing two different Santas–one white and one black. Yes, that's just too much to process. That fosters "insecurity."

I find Aisha's experience odd because, to my knowledge, there's nothing new about black Santas. I believe that goes back to the Harlem Renaissance. So I guess she cut Black history class. 

I've read some critics of Kelly accuse her of saying it's a verifiable fact that Jesus was a white man. But according to the transcript I saw, that's not what she said. Rather, she said it's a verifiable fact that Jesus as a historical figure. Here's a partial transcript:

MEGYN KELLY: They have a piece that Santa Claus shouldn't be a white man anymore. Yet another person saying it's racist to have a white Santa. By the way, for the kids at home, Santa just is white but this person is arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. Santa is what he is and we are debating this because someone wrote about it.Jedediah, when I read the piece, the author seems to have -- you know, she's African-American. She seems to have real pain at having grown up with the image of a white Santa. She speaks honestly saying I didn't understand why that had to be. 
JEDEDIAH BILA, Fox News contributor: She wants Santa to be inclusive. I had the same reaction. Initially I was thinking this is more politically correct nonsense, hyper sensitivity in the culture. It's a tribute to her writing. You realize if you were a young African-American kid and your Santa Claus was white, maybe you wouldn't feel a part of the tradition. She suggested a penguin should be Santa. 
KELLY: I have given her due on where she was going with it. Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That's a verifiable fact -- as is Santa. I want the kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy of the story and change Santa from white to black.
Kelly has since said she was speaking tongue-in-cheek. That's possible. It's also possible that she said something really dumb on national TV, and is trying to fluff it off after the fact.
Kelly is also correct that just because something makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. On the other hand, Santa Claus has been constantly mutating. 
Now let's zero in on some of the things she definitely got wrong:
i) St. Nicholas is a historical figure. Even at that level, I don't know how much is obscured by hagiographic embellishment. But it may well be true that he was Caucasian. 
By contrast, Santa Claus is basically a fictional character. An evolving cultural construct. A pastiche of history, myth, legend, folklore, Hollywood, and marketing. Santa has no fixed identity. Santa has whatever attributes we assign to him. 
ii) Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, Jesus was (and presumably still is) a semite. By conventional racial classifications, that would make him non-white. Certainly not Aryan, Caucasian, or even European. 
iii) Of course, Jesus is often portrayed as a white man in European art. That's because European painters were…European. Just like Italian painters make everybody look…Italian. 
By contrast, Rembrandt modeled Biblical characters on members of the Jewish community in Amsterdam. 

Chris Pinto in Meltdown and Damage Control after Dismal Debate Performance


Friday, December 13, 2013

Die, selfish gene, die

"Selfish Gene, RIP" by David Klinghoffer.

Monkey's uncle?

An everyday miracle

We read in 2 Kgs 20:7:

Then Isaiah said, "Prepare a poultice of figs." They did so and applied it to the boil, and he [Hezekiah] recovered.

According to John J. Bimson in the New Bible Commentary:

The use of a poultice of figs for the king's skin disorder (7) is typical of the practices of ancient 'folk medicine'. It would therefore be surprising if such treatment had not been tried on Hezekiah earlier. Perhaps we should assume that it had, but that it was ineffective until Isaiah delivered God's promise of recovery.

According to The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament by Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton:

20:7 poultice of figs. Fig cakes may have been used as condiments and for medicinal purposes at Ugarit. Both later rabbinical Jewish and classical sources (e.g., Pliny the Elder) shared the belief that dried figs had medicinal value. Poultices were sometimes used for diagnosis rather than for medication. A day or two after the poultice was applied, it would be checked for either the skin's reaction to the poultice or the poultice's reaction to the skin. One medical text from Emar prescribes the use of figs and raisins for such a process. They helped determine how the patient should be treated and whether or not he would recover.

As far as I'm aware, we don't know what specific disease Hezekiah had. But, of course, the opening verses of the chapter tell us the disease would eventually prove fatal for Hezekiah.

Hezekiah did not take his impending demise well, and "wept bitterly" (v3). The Lord responded and told Isaiah to deliver the following message to Hezekiah:

"Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, 'This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life....(2 Kgs 20:5-6a)

And Hezekiah was healed after the poultice of figs was applied to his boil(s).

If we hadn't been able to peek behind the curtains to know Hezekiah would die from his illness, as well as that it was the Lord who would spare Hezekiah's life, then we could very well have concluded ordinary medicinal remedies, i.e., the "poultice of figs," worked to effect healing for Hezekiah. However, we know the truth is God stood behind this otherwise ordinary looking medicinal remedy. Had God not granted Hezekiah's prayer, then Hezekiah would not have had an extra fifteen years of life. Had God not granted Hezekiah's prayer, then no medicine would've worked to cure Hezekiah.

Now, as far as I can tell, only Hezekiah and Isaiah knew Hezekiah should've died from his illness. And Hezekiah only knew because Isaiah told him what God told Isaiah. In addition, again as far as I can tell, only Hezekiah and Isaiah knew God had heard Hezekiah's prayer and spared Hezekiah's life. And Hezekiah again only knew because Isaiah told him what God told Isaiah. Hezekiah had to trust Isaiah's word. (Perhaps that's why Hezekiah wished for an additional sign, in spite of the prophet's word, which was God's word which Hezekiah should've trusted.)

Others like those who prepared and applied the poultice of figs may have known. But they just as well may not have known. After all, it doesn't sound like Isaiah had a compelling reason to tell anyone else God's plans for Hezekiah. So it seems plausible only Hezekiah and Isaiah would've known Hezekiah's recovery was at all a miraculous answer to prayer. It seems plausible this miracle would've been a private miracle. It seems plausible it wouldn't have been verifiable by outsiders. No one outside Hezekiah and Isaiah would've been able to rigorously examine and demonstrate it was a bona fide miracle. And, arguably, perhaps not even Hezekiah or Isaiah would've been able to do so. "All" they had was God's word.

In short, it most likely would've appeared to outsiders that Hezekiah fell sick, "a poultice of figs" was applied to him, and he was healed. On the face of it, there wouldn't have seemed to have been anything miraculous about any of it at all. There would've been at least some expectation the poultice of figs could work.

Men on strike

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Imported manhood

I haven't kept a running tally, but nowadays, Hollywood seems to be importing manhood from Down Under to fill tough guy roles for which there used to be a surfeit of American actors. Russell Crowe is practically the default choice for this niche, but more recently there's been Robert Taylor in Longmire and Chris Hemsworth in Thor. Liam Neeson is another example. I'm sure the list is longer. 

It wasn't so very long ago that Hollywood had a regular stable of American actors who played the tough guy roles in Westerns, WWII films, gangster films, sports films, film noire, Cold War thrillers, &c. I don't mind the competition, but do contemporary Hollywood casting directors tend to discriminate against American actors who are too macho? 

By contrast, there are lots of Canadian actors is American TV dramas–which is not surprising given how Vancouver has become North Hollywood. But they tend to be male fashion model types. It's as if Hollywood looks to Australia for tough guys and Canada for pretty-boys–which is hardly fair to Canada (I'm sure Canada has more than its fair share of tough guys). 

Shifting blame

For those who still care:

IRS attack dogs

Thor baptized

I recently saw Thor (2011). (I haven't seen the 2013 sequel–which is reputedly better.) 

Roger Ebert panned it:

By contrast, Brian Godawa liked it:

Ebert later defended his review:

It's like Ebert and Godawa saw two different films, and–in a sense–that's true. That's because they focus on different things in the same film. They bring different interests and priorities to the film. 

In that respect, I can agree with both reviews. Ebert is judging it in more purely cinematic terms, whereas Godawa is more attuned to the ideological aspects. I'll make two observations of my own:

i) Because many Superhero movies cater to the youth culture and the teen/twenty-something demographic, the lead is often played by a boyish twenty-something actor who could pass for a high school student. In that respect, Thor is refreshing. Chris Hemsworth is clearly  a grown man. He has a football player's physique. Like many men with his build, he's comfortable in his own skin. Projects a natural, easy, unforced masculinity–like John Wayne. That's a throwback to what used to be more customary in Hollywood movies. What is normal becomes abnormal in our morally distorted culture.

ii) The Nordic gods are projections of the Viking warrior culture. Scaled up combatants. 

But the character of Thor in the Branagh adaptation is only superficially like a Viking. Rather, he had more in common with a Medieval knight. Thor baptized. That accounts for his chivalric honor code. I don't know if this reflects the Shakespearean background of the director. But, once again, it's nice to see an adventure flick where the male lead acts like a normal, protective, gallant man and the female lead acts like a normal woman.  

Never mess with the Antichrist


This is why I pour salt around entry points and have devil's traps (e.g. pentagons) painted on ceilings. You can never be too careful when Obama's demonic reptoid shapeshifters come knocking. 

Sancho, saddle up Rocinante

I'll comment on the latest deluded claims by Ed Dingess. He's a guy who likes to make stuff up. 

In this blog, I am going to attempt to point out the fallacious reasoning for the continuationist argument employed specifically by Stave Hays over at Triablogue.

Dingess is the Don Quixote of cessationists:

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, "Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.""What giants?" asked Sancho Panza."Those you see over there," replied his master, "with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.""Take care, sir," cried Sancho. "Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone."

Here are some of the windmills he charges after:

Repeatedly, Hays refuses to draw any line of demarcation between the special revelation of Scripture and the general affairs of everyday life. 

Demonstrably false.

Steve has continually argued what is good for Moses is good for us. 

Demonstrably false

If Paul could heal the sick, then we should be able to as well. 

Demonstrably false.

He has gone so far as to adopt the causative-faith argument of charismatics, asserting that James 5 teaches that any prayer of faith ought to be able to produce healing. To my knowledge, he has not qualified God’s will in the process…

Demonstrably false.

In addition to this, Hays has consistently accused cessationists of employing the argument’s of atheist merely on the ground that we contend that such claims ought to be subjected to rigorous examination and proof.

Demonstrably false.

Steve has reasoned that Jesus and the apostles performed miracles. Scripture does not say that miracles will cease after the apostles, therefore we should expect miracle workers to continue.

Demonstrably false.

Hays has also made the uncharitable argument that atheists deny miracles, and cessationist denies miracles, therefore cessationists argue like atheists.

Demonstrably false. 

What kind of claim then is the claim that miracle workers are still present? What kind of claim is it to say that God is performing miracles today? Steve Hays and other continuationists seem to think it is an exegetical claim. They are wrong. It is not an exegetical claim. There is nothing in Scripture that provides the clear teaching that miracles will continue right up into the Parousia. Hence, this claim cannot be justified on purely exegetical grounds. 

Truth by assertion. 

In principle, these are the logical alternatives:

i) Scripture teaches the continuance of charismatic miracles

ii) Scripture teaches the discontinuance of charismatic miracles

iii) Scripture is silent on their continuation or discontinuation

If you opt for (iii), that, in turn, generates two more logical alternatives:

a) Absent Scriptural statements to the contrary, there's a presumption to the continuity

b) Given the silence of Scripture, we should suspend judgment. Be open to their continuance or discontinuance 

Burden of proof arguments shift the issue to which side shoulders the onus. Is there a presumption to overcome? Or should we withhold judgement, barring confirmatory or disconfirmatory evidence? 

What are we observing? Are we actually observing miracles? We hear some reports, but what we need is something we can actually verify.

Ed simultaneously demands and disregards evidence.

Jesus healed in such a way that His miracles were self-verifying. He didn’t sneak off to someplace else, claim to perform a bunch of miracles and then come back with fancy stories about it all.

Many Biblical miracles occur in private settings. 

A basic Christian belief is that the Bible and all it contains is the self-justifying word of God. Hence, belief that all the contents of the word of God are true is a self-justifying belief. All biblical miracles are infallible records contained in the Bible and given by God Himself. Therefore, belief in Biblical claims of miracles is a self-justifying belief. 

Unfortunately for Ed, he has the cessationist argument exactly backwards. According to cessationism, biblical claims are not self-justifying or self-verifying. Rather, biblical claims must be justified or verified by miracles. Miracles are necessary to verify the claimant. The Bible doesn't verify reported miracles. Rather, miracles verify Biblical reports. 

You may disagree, but if so, you disagree with the classic cessationist argument. 

Plantinga tells us that any proposition is properly basic for an individual if and only if such proposition is incorrigible for the individual or self-evidence. 

Really? To my knowledge, that's not at all how Plantinga defines a properly basic belief. Rather, a properly basic belief is a defeasible belief which enjoys prima facie justification. You can find yourself in an epistemic situation where it's reasonable to believe something without benefit of argument. That's warranted, but it can be overcome by counterevidence. 

There are lies and then there are lies

Even when presidents are caught in lies, they often get away with it. Likewise, many presidential scandals lack traction at the voting booth. 
Obama lied about Benghazi, but that didn't cost him reelection because it happened half a world away. The very name sounds foreign. So, for many voters, that's just an abstraction. They don't see the relevance to them.
Likewise, NSA snooping isn't overly intrusive. Not something you're normally aware of. So for many voters, out of sight–out of mind. 
Likewise, the very fact that the IRS selectively targeted conservative groups means most voters don't pay attention. 
By contrast, Obamacare is lie that sticks. It affects too many voters. It affects them drastically. And it affects Democrat voters as well as Republicans. So that's not something that Obama can talk his way out of by giving another speech or interview. Words won't make it go away. Tens of millions of cancelation notices go out. 
It's more like a freeway pile-up that keeps getting worse. A chain-reaction.
You have the dysfunctional exchanges. That makes a very bad first impression.
In addition, if, due to the technical difficulties, only the most desperate individuals are prepared to log in the necessary hours to get through, that means the sickest, most expensive individuals are signing up first, which (so I've read) will spike premiums and deductibles for those who wait later to sign up.
Lack of security protocols will further alienate the electorate. 
But in a way, the dysfunctional exchanges mask the deeper problems. When you successfully enroll, that's when the trouble begins in earnest. The system is lowballing enrollees on the actual cost. So they are in for a rule surprise when they find out what the premium and deductibles really amount to. 
If that wasn't bad enough, not only are enrollees generally paying much more (they are frequently ineligible for the subsidies), but many doctors and hospitals are opting out of Obamacare. So you're paying more while losing access to the best doctors and hospitals.   

The incredible shrinking papacy

No doubt some Catholics are crowing over the fact that Pope Francis was named "Person of the Year" by Time magazine. But if you think about it, that's quite a comedown. Typically, it's only significant when a social superior confers an honor on a social inferior, thereby raising his status. Popes used to be king-makers and king-breakers. 

Keep in mind, too, that Time magazine isn't the pop cultural icon it used to be, back in the heyday of Henry Luce. Time magazine is hemorrhaging sales and subscriptions. Going the way of other jurassic media like newspapers and network news anchors. 

So you have a diminished pop magazine honoring a diminished papacy. 

NSA minders

Quest of the historical Buddha

In one sense the quality of our historical sources about Buddha are irrelevant. Even if we had reliable firsthand accounts, he was just a fallible, shortsighted sinner with no special insight into ultimate realities. Still, it's useful to compare and contrast our information for this religious founder with Christ:

Person of the Year?

Person of the Year?
Person of the Year?
I didn’t want to let this slip past without comment. The Time Magazine selection of “Pope Francis” as “Person of the Year” is a non-event of irrelevant proportions, especially given the decline of that magazine/brand in recent years.

Keep in mind the following:

1. The selection is not a comment on the person’s greatness, but rather it “features and profiles a person, group, idea or object that ‘for better or for worse, ...has done the most to influence the events of the year.’” Note that “the tradition of selecting a "Man of the Year" began in 1927, with Time editors contemplating newsworthy stories possible during a slow news week.”

2. As part of this totally subjective (based on the whims of the editors) competition he was competing against President Barack “You Can Keep Your Health Care” Obama, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, “gay rights” activist Edith Windsor, Edward Snowden, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and twerking singer Miley Cyrus.

3. Nobody has a clear understanding of what he really represents, and virtually everyone is taking away from his “messaging” only what they want to hear. This process of self-selection (“I craft my own messaging”) is very appealing to people who end up thinking, “Gee, I’m really smart”.

A Quick Look at Roman Catholic History, Part 1

Darrell Bock and his colleagues Scott Horrell and Michael Svigel from Dallas Theological Seminary have produced a video entitled “Catholicism and Protestantism: The History and Organization of the Roman Catholic Church” as part of their “TheTablePodcast” series.

I’d give it a B+, and certainly I appreciate the effort of making Roman Catholicism more understandable to a broader Evangelical and Protestant audience, but I continue to be amazed that Protestant Seminary Professors can get some basic things wrong such as when Horrell, in a discussion of the 1950 dogma on the Assumption of Mary, says things such as “Mary did not die” (which is not part of the dogma and is a question that is open to discussion) or when he includes theologians as part of the Magisterium (they have no authority and only serve as advisors). Not to pick on DTS, but I’ve also heard Donald Fortson RTS make some faulty claims about the efficacy attributed to purgatory, a claim that was more recently repeated by my own pastor in a sermon.

That is to say, for as far as Protestants have come toward understanding Roman Catholicism, many still don’t quite have a mastery of the subject matter – which leads me to say that, in spite of these certain weaknesses and small factual errors, I’m grateful for their efforts to put Roman Catholicism into perspective for a broader Protestant audience.

Part 2 is here.

HT: Steve Hays

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Betting on science

About the multiverse, it is appropriate to keep an open mind, and opinions among scientists differ widely. In the Austin airport on the way to this meeting I noticed for sale the October issue of a magazine called Astronomy, having on the cover the headline “Why You Live in Multiple Universes.” Inside I found a report of a discussion at a conference at Stanford, at which Martin Rees said that he was sufficiently confident about the multiverse to bet his dog’s life on it, while Andrei Linde said he would bet his own life. As for me, I have just enough confidence about the multiverse to bet the lives of both Andrei Linde and Martin Rees’s dog. 
– Steven Weinberg

How the ATF Manufactures Crime

What makes a miracle miraculous?

5 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold. 6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors (1 Sam 5:1-6).
Since the Bible nowhere define a miracle, philosophers and theologians come up with their own definitions. Two popular definitions are a "violation of natural law" and an effect which bypasses natural processes. 
Up to a point, these can both be useful definitions. There are some biblical events which fit those definitions. But there are many "miraculous" events in Scripture which slip through the sieve. 
The issue is important in debates over cessationism. Cessationism requires a very narrow definition of what constitutes a miracle. Problem is, the definition is so tightly drawn that it excludes many Biblical events which are impressive candidates for the miraculous. Shouldn't that inform our concept of the miraculous? 
Consider the example from 1 Samuel:
i) An idol tipping over doesn't violate any law of nature, does it? Likewise, it doesn't necessarily bypass second causes. By the same token, an idol breaking on contact with a hard surface isn't clearly a violation of natural law. And that doesn't necessarily (or even probably) bypass natural processes. It's not unusual for things to fall over or break. 
By the same token, the punitive pestilence doesn't violate a law of nature or bypass natural processes. To the contrary, it seems to exploit preexisting pathogens. Redirects them. 
ii) So should we demote these events to something less than miraculous? We could say it's providential. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with that classification.
But that fails to distinguish between events that happen automatically, and events that swim against the current (as it were). Left to its own devices, natural cause and effect wouldn't be that discriminating. 
iii) What makes this miraculous is twofold:
a) The specificity in time and place. It's not idols falling down generally, or idols breaking generally. Rather, this happened when a rival religious object was brought into the heathen temple.
And this happened back-to-back. Even if the first occurrence was merely coincidental, what about two nights in a row? Notice, too, that the second occurrence doesn't merely repeat the first occurrence, but intensifies the result. 
Not only the timing, but the placement. The idol falls down right in front of the ark. 
b) This, in turn, brings us to the symbolism of the event. Minimally, the posture of the fallen idol signifies a pagan "god" worshipping the one true God. That's quite ironic.
In addition, it probably represents the true God subduing a false god–like a conqueror who subjugates the defeated king. Public humiliation. This is further reinforced by mutilating the idol. 
Finally, the fact that the idol is decapitated and amputated symbolizes the ignorance and impotence of pagan divinities. Know-nothing, do-nothing deities. 
This could all happen through natural mechanisms, yet it can still be miraculous. 

The sensus divinitatis

I'm going to discuss an objection to the sensus divinitatis (hereafter SD):

Contemporary demographic data illustrate the lopsided distribution of theistic belief. The populace of Saudi Arabia is at least 95 per cent Muslim and therefore at least 95 per cent theistic, while the populace of Thailand is 95 per cent Buddhist and therefore at most 5 per cent theistic. The approximate total populations are 26 million for Saudi Arabia and 65 million for Thailand.
The demographics of theism, I claim, make unlikely the existence of any such innate human capacity, however corruptible it may be when exposed to sinfulness. Innate human capacities, such as hearing or the capacity to learn spoken language, tend to be spread evenly across the human species. Again, however, the kind of belief in God that this innate capacity is allegedly designed to produce is quite unevenly distributed among human societies. Its defenders will reply that original sin prevents the capacity from accomplishing its purpose and that only God’s regenerating grace can restore the capacity to good working order. But that reply only pushes the question back a step : why has God bestowed this restorative grace so unevenly, contributing to a pattern of non-belief that, coincidentally, social scientists say they can explain entirely in terms of culture?

i) Suppose Maitzen's objection is sound. What does that amount to? At most it means that Calvin's theory and/or Plantinga's theory of a SD is false. But I don't see that Maitzen can get much mileage out of that concession. It's not like he successfully removed one theistic proof from the list of theistic proofs. The theory of a SD is not, itself, a reason to believe in God, but an explanatory description.

ii) Maitzen's statistics are naive. As I pointed out in a previous post, Maitzen fails to draw an elementary distinct between folk Buddhism and philosophical Buddhism. Even if the latter is atheistic, the former is not. Maitzen needs to show that most Thai are philosophical Buddhists rather than folk Buddhists.

iii) In addition, he is comparing two countries that have state religions. That tells you precious little about what people naturally believe. Rather, the ruling class imposes that on the masses. That may involve a historic event, where a past ruler decreed mass conversion, resulting in a particular national religion. Or it may be currently enforced. 

It isn't even clear how the statistics were gathered. Is this how Thai self-identify? Or is it an inference based on ethnic identity along with the official religion? 

iv) Maitzen fails to distinguish between Calvin's version of the SD and modern exponents like Plantinga. And he doesn't take time to carefully exegete Calvin's version. Consider Paul Helm's exposition in chapter 8. of John Calvin's Ideas. For instance, Helm construes Calvin to mean:

Calvin, no more than Locke, claims that we each have an innate idea of God, nor even an innate idea of some god or another. Rather, as we have seen, according to Calvin the SD is an innate endowment triggered by factors which are not innate, namely the features of the external world and of ourselves. It would have come as no surprise to him to be told that where two people occupy different environments, for example where they have teachers with different ideas of God, then the ideas of God which they form will also be  different.
Calvin is clearly not saying that all those who have a sense of God have a sense of the same God…It is just possible that Calvin may be best interpreted as arguing that the SD gives all men a confused knowledge of the true God. Even the atheist, according to Calvin, is able to distinguish right from wrong and may believe that there is something which enables us to make these discriminations (230,233).

That also combines with Calvin's position on the noetic effects of sin. As such, one's specific religiosity or irreligiosity is very sensitive to cultural conditioning. And cultural conditioning is highly variable. 

v) Apropos (iii-iv), believing in Allah is not equivalent to one's natural predisposition to believe in God. Rather, believing in Allah is due to historical particulars rather than natural inclinations. We wouldn't expect that to be universal. It's less about faith in God than faith in Muhammad. Believing that Allah disclosed himself to Muhammad via the angel Gabriel. That goes back to one man's alleged experience. That's historically conditioned rather than naturally conditioned. Having its point of origin and epicenter at a particular time and place. Same thing with Buddha and Buddhism. Or Hinduism. Or Marxism. 

In principle, there's a basic difference between a natural propensity to believe in God and a historical religion. Those are not equivalent theisms. They don't have the same underlying causes or theistic referents. So the comparison is equivocal. Believing in Allah or Vishnu has no direct or necessarily indirect connection with believing in the God of natural revelation. Rather, the former is a cultural construct or social artifact.  

Bergoglio’s Gig: Shuffling the Deck

Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic?
Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic? 
The Bergoglio-inspired decentralization at the Vatican is occurring at a far more rapid pace than anyone ever would have predicted. The Vatican-based journalist Sandro Magister is reporting “tremors in the Congregation for Catholic education, from which Pope Francis has removed nine cardinals.”

The “Congregation for Catholic Education” has the following functions:

The Congregation for Catholic Education (in Seminaries and Institutes of Study) is the Pontifical congregation of the Roman Curia responsible for: (1) houses of formation of religious and secular institutes; (2) universities, faculties, institutes and higher schools of study, either ecclesial or civil dependent on ecclesial persons; and (3) schools and educational institutes depending on ecclesiastical authorities. Until Friday, January 25, 2013, it was in charge of regulating seminaries, which prepare those students intending to become priests (seminarians) for ordination to the presbyterate. However, that day, Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio (done on his own initiative), in which oversight of seminaries- and all other related formation programs for clergy (priests and deacons)- are to be transferred from the Congregation for Catholic Education to the Congregation for the Clergy, which regulates already-ordained deacons and priests. The Congregation for Catholic Education will still regulate other education for clergy and religious not relating to ordination or done after it, and it will still regulate non-seminary programs of study and have administrative oversight of pontifical universities, faculties, and institutes (even if some of these institutions are now involved in priestly formation), and oversight of Catholic education in general religious education programs. It already works closely with the Clergy Congregation.

What does this mean?

Disappearing evidence

Science or naturalism?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Heart Will Go On

A few years ago I saw an episode of the Supernatural series entitled "My Heart Will Go On." Here's an overview:

I'm not plugging the Supernatural series in this post. I bailed on the series some time ago. Initially, in a good TV drama, the series exists for the sake of the story. They begin with some good story ideas. But the danger of a successful series is that there comes a point where the story exists for the sake of the series. They scratch their heads and wonder what to write about for next week. How to keep the series afloat for its own sake. 

But this episode unwittingly contains a theodicy. This is despite the fact that there's nothing Christian about Eric Kripke or most of his screenwriters.

This episode is set in an alternate timeline where the Titanic never sank. The episode probably borrows from other similarly themed movies like Final Destination and The Butterfly Effect. The episode is a tragicomedy. 

The sinking of the Titanic was a tragedy. On the fact of it, a world in which that never happened would be a better world. 

But that's shortsighted. For instance, some people will be born in a world where the Titanic sank who wouldn't be born in a world where the Titanic never sank. Conversely, some people will be born in a world where the Titanic never sank who wouldn't be born in a world where the Titanic sank. So you have winners and losers on either scenario. 

Likewise, some people live longer that was in their best interests. They'd be better off had they died sooner. Some lives end badly. When someone's life is cut short, we don't know how their life might have turned out, so we can't compare both timelines. It's asymmetrical. We only know what happened, not what didn't. 

Perhaps you had a married couple on the Titanic, of whom the husband was a wife-beater. Frankly, she's better off when her abusive husband goes down with the ship.

In general, the sinking of the Titanic was a tragedy for the drowned passengers, as well as grieving survivors who lost a parent, spouse, sibling, child, or friend. But if you consider that event from a diachronic perspective, it has both good and bad ramifications down the line. 

A world in which the Titanic never sank is better in some respects, but worse in others. Better for some, but worse for others. Even if a world in which the Titanic never sank would be a better world overall, a world in which the Titanic sank will include some goods which the alternate history fails to capture. 

The Supernatural episode is a vivid pop cultural illustration of a Christian theodicy–even though that wasn't the intent of the director, producer, or screenwriter. 

Dealing with demons

Reason and atheism

Divine hiddenness and freewill theism

One popular argument against God's existence is the divine hiddenness argument. The basic argument goes something like this: If God exists, he'd do everything he reasonably could to make as many people believe in him. Since that hasn't happened, God doesn't exist. 

There are many sophisticated formulations and variations on this basic argument, as well as many sophisticated counterarguments–which reflect the varied theological commitments of the philosophers in question. Here's a more detailed version:

The second version starts with a more particular premise concerning the God described by the New Testament, especially on the evangelical Christian interpretation of that text.3 According to this version of ADH, the (evangelically interpreted) New Testament makes it clear that God wants all of God’s human creatures to believe the truth of ‘the gospel message’, one of whose crucial elements is that ‘[t]he ruler of the universe sent his son to be the savior of humanity’.4 The particularity of that initial premise allows the second version to go more quickly than the first: the God described by evangelical Christianity would see to it that all cognitively and affectively capable human beings believed the gospel message. Yet only a minority of all cognitively capable human beings have ever believed the gospel message, including the claim that the ruler of the universe sent his son to be the saviour of humanity. So no God of the kind described by evangelical Christianity exists.
Contemporary demographic data illustrate the lopsided distribution of theistic belief. The populace of Saudi Arabia is at least 95 per cent Muslim and therefore at least 95 per cent theistic, while the populace of Thailand is 95 per cent Buddhist and therefore at most 5 per cent theistic. The approximate total populations are 26 million for Saudi Arabia and 65 million for Thailand.
Why on earth (literally) should the territory of Thailand harbour a high proportion of souls predestined for damnation and that of Saudi Arabia or (better, for Calvin) post-Reformation Europe a much smaller proportion?
But even if one concedes the value of the world’s religious diversity, response (6) does nothing to explain why this diversity manifests itself so often in clusters of believers, many of which exist in isolation from one another; why doesn’t this valuable diversity flourish within the cultures of Saudi Arabia and Thailand? Theistic explanations must account for this geographic patchiness in terms of reasons God might have for allowing it, and such reasons seem hard to find. 

One response is that God doesn't make himself more evident to more people to avoid permanent rebuff from immature believers who might become resentful over evils they or their loved ones are made to suffer and blame God (Travis Dumsday). However, that fails to explain why God allows them to die in unbelief. 

i) I think the divine hiddenness objection is a powerful argument against freewill theism. It's trivially easy to think of examples by which God could lead more people to believe in him. So the very fact that we resort to theistic proofs undercuts freewill theism. Theistic proofs would be unnecessary if God directly manifested himself to more people. 

ii) The hiddenness argument lacks the same traction when it comes to Calvinism. Calvinism denies a key premise of the argument. God never wanted everyone to believe in him. So the fact that there are many unbelievers is consistent with Calvinism. Indeed, that's an implication of Calvinism, given reprobation. 

iii) Still, that, of itself, doesn't explain the demographic disparities. What about that? 

To begin with, Maitzen's comparison between Muslims and Buddhists is theologically clueless. From an eschatological standpoint, Muslims are no better off than Buddhists. Believing in a false god is no improvement over believing in no god. Idolatry is no better than atheism. Both Muslims and Buddhists are hellbound. 

iv) To suggest, as Maitzen does, that Buddhists are atheists is simplistic. Folk Buddhism is not atheistic. And folk Buddhism is more demographically representative than philosophical Buddhism. 

v) More to the point, we need to consider the demographic distribution in time as well as place. Over the centuries, there's been an exponential growth in human population:

It wasn't until around AD 1800 that the total population crossed the 1 billion threshold. And it's currently about 7 billion. So historically unreached people-groups could make up for lost time in a hurry. That's because there's a far larger percentage of humans living in the recent past, present, and projected future.  Hence, Africans, Indians, and Asians could overtake Caucasians in the sum total of Christian adherents. Given the rapid acceleration in population growth, it takes less time than you might imagine for unreached people-groups to catch up with 2000 years of church history, and surpass the northern hemisphere.  Cumulative totals must take time and well as place into account. 

Win Corduan on the problem of evil

Corduan has apparently completed his miniseries on the problem of evil:

Frozen souls

From Doug Groothuis:

Unfortunately, I think there are many factors currently conspiring against the disabled. TV and advertising promotes perfect bodies. Pumping iron. Cosmetic surgery. The youth culture. 

Ultrasound and amniocentesis promote eugenic abortion of disabled babies. So the disabled are becoming rarer. Hence, less tolerance for those that remain. 

There are increasing strains on the healthcare system, further aggravated by Obamacare. Since the disabled make greater demands on the healthcare system, they are viewed as a drain on the system.

Combine that with militant secularization, and the future is very bleak for the disabled.  

The truth is out there

I'm going to comment on Fred's latest unresponsive response to me:

Before getting specific, I'll make a basic observation. Fred disregards the distinction between evidence for an event and the interpretation of an event. Take folk remedies like herbal medicine. Suppose a primitive tribe resided in the Amazon jungle for several centuries. By trial and error, that tribe might well discover the medicinal properties of certain fauna and flora. However, the tribe couldn't offer a scientific explanation for its folk remedies.

Indeed, the medicine man is usually a witchdoctor. The witchdoctor could have some genuine remedies which operate according to natural principles. Yet he'd ascribe their efficacy to magic. 

Now, a pharmacologist could confirm the medicinal value of these folk remedies without buying into the folkloric explanation. The evidence for the event is independent of the interpretation. An observer can be a reliable eyewitness, but an unreliable interpreter of what he observed. 

Although I used a hypothetical example, there are real world counterparts. For instance: 

A prescientific culture can hit upon some genuine remedies, even if the explanation it offers for their efficacy is pseudoscientific. Don't confuse the discovery with the interpretation. 

None the less, UFO believers still claim they have evidence. Not only their very own eye-witness testimony, but also photographic and video evidence and even in some cases, tangible evidence in the form of debris, or landing spots, or even implants that have been removed from abductees.Yet, even with that weight of crushing evidence, I still remain unconvinced that what UFOs there may be jetting around in the atmosphere, they are extraterrestrial in origin.
i) Fred's analogy involves a disanalogy. If extraterrestrial visitors were real, they'd be natural creatures using physical technology. So, at that level, that's a case of comparing one natural explanation with a natural alternative.  Which natural explanation is more plausible? That we are visited by aliens from outer space, or some other natural explanation? That's not comparable to a miraculous healing, or premonitory dream. 
ii) Also, the true identity of UFOs doesn't preclude a supernatural explanation. Indeed, I've suggested that some cases are probably a hitech variation on Old Hag syndrome. To that extent, Fred's comparison backfires, for some abduction stories invite a supernatural explanation–which is analogous to a miracle. 

I can also say the same about all the claims of the miraculous that are said to be happening. I remain unconvinced that a major portion of it is the Spirit of God working through gifted individuals.
Notice how Fred subtly skews the issue. Why must it be the Spirit of God working through a gifted individual? If the Spirit of God works through an individual who is not gifted, is it not miraculous? Is miraculous healing in Jas 5:14-15 indexed to a "gift of healing"? 
None the less, charismatics attempt to challenge us MacArthurite naysayers with the evidence. They trot out the countless eye-witness, baffled medical doctors, and in some cases the before and after X-ray pictures to document the proof that such-and-such a person was healed or healed some other person.
That's the kind of evidence that cessationists often demand. So how do they respond when we rise to the challenge? They move the goal post. 
The current go to charismatic apologist for such “evidence” is quasi-evangelical, Craig Keener, professor of NT at Ashbury Theological seminary.
How does Fred define a "quasi-evangelical," in distinction to a mere evangelical? 
Charismatics and their sympathizers elevate Keener’s books on miracles to almost an infallible status.
Hold your breath while Fred burns a straw man.
In the online discussions leading up to and after the Strange Fire conference, whenever us MacArthurites even dared to question the legitimacy of modern day faith healing claims, someone would always drop Keener’s name thinking it would silence cessationist opposition immediately.  I guess folks believe when they ask “what about Keener’s books on miracles?” cessationists are to just bow their trembling heads and confess that they have no answer.
Fred is rewriting history. What actually happens is that MacArthurites reflexively deny any evidence for charismatic miracles. They don't even bother to familiarize themselves with the best literature on the subject. Fred himself had to be bullied into reading Keener's monograph.
Yet, as I have noted on previous occasions, Keener’s work is fraught with some problems. The most glaring in my mind is the fact that he attributes miracle working power and miraculous happenings to heretical individuals and aberrant groups. For example, Roman Catholics, metaphysical cultists like the Bethel Redding group, and false teachers like Oral Roberts.
Yes, that's Fred's pat answer. And he passes over in silence my counterarguments. I do appreciate his tacit admission that he has no rebuttal to my counterarguments. All he can do his push the replay button. 
He goes on to write how he believes God, being the benevolent deity He is, will work miracles among theologically unorthodox people, even among non-Christians, because God is loving and compassionate on His creatures desiring to alleviate suffering and misery among humanity. Sort of a continuationist ecumenism. I am not as accommodating as he is.
i) In Scripture, God often shows mercy to non-Christians. In theological jargon, that's called common grace. For instance:
…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Mt 5:45). 
16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness (Acts 13:16-17).
ii) In Scripture, God sometimes performs miracles among non-Christians. For instance:
4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them (Exod 7:4-5). 
21 And the Lord sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword (2 Chron 32:21; cf. Isa 37:36-38). 
11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,    and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,    until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel (Josh 10:11-14). 
When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.6 The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. 7 And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.” 8 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath.” So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. 9 But after they had brought it around, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.” 11 They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. 12 The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven (1 Sam 5). 
iii) To take one more example, God healed Naaman when Naaman was still a pagan (2 Kgs 5:1-19). As a result, Naaman converted to the true faith. But that wasn't a precondition of his healing. 
Notice, that I'm just responding to Fred on his own grounds. That doesn't mean I think God works miracles through Oral Roberts or the Redding cult. 
When someone raised the specter of Keener’s work against cessationism on some Facebook forum, I left a remark asking if the commenter agreed with Keener’s affirmation of the miraculous happening among those heretical groups. Steve, always alert to such online obscurities, wrote a head-wagging response chastising my even raising this problem. He noted Kathryn Kuhlman as an example, because Keener has an extended section in his book on her specifically and he lays out the “medical evidence.”
Fred is rewriting the history of the thread. I didn't offer Kuhlman as an example. Rather, I was responding to Fred. He likes to bring up Kuhlmann because he thinks that she really proves his point. This is how the exchange actually went down. 
Fred Butler11/07/2013 2:10 PMWhat is my narrative? I'm lost. Both Peters and Tada sought to be healed by continuationists. A particular continuationist that your hero Keener even documents in his book. Both Peters and Tada left their encounter with the continuationist unhealed. Along with a scores of other individuals who were in their same condition. What happened? Why? Oh sure, some third world kid somewhere dipped in the river and was healed of her cholera, so you can't deny the continuation of the gifts. 
steve11/07/2013 2:34 PMFred,
i) What makes you think continuationism has a single narrative on this issue? What makes you think continuationism is that monolithic?

ii) You're evidently taking the position that if the "gift of healing" continues, then a healer can heal any patient the healer tries to heal.

if so, what makes you think that's the continuationist narrative rather than your own interpretation of what the "gift of healing" entails?

Some continuationists stress the sovereignty of God. Others claim the sick must exercise faith. On either interpretation, a healer would not be able to heal every patient they lay hands on.

So that's something you're putting into the continuationist narrative rather than something you're getting out of the continuationist narrative.

iii) Since you allude to Keener's discussion of Kathryn Kuhlman, Keener furnishes documentation of medically verified healings. So that's not "some third world kid somewhere dipped in the river and was healed of her cholera."

Continuing with Fred:
Those individuals Keener never mentions, but he does provide, as Steve points out, “medical evidence” of Kuhlman’s claims. But it really isn’t “evidence;” It’s more like eye-witness testimony from medical doctors, a lot of it taken from Jamie Buckingham’s hagiographies on Kuhlman’s career.
I'd point out that you can read that section for yourself in the Google book edition of Keener's monograph:
Just input Kuhlman in the search box, and it will pull up the pages. Study the documentation for yourself. Draw your own conclusions.
Kuhlman first equated the natural ability of the human body to heal itself with the “miraculous.” Certainly we can all marvel at the human body’s capability to heal itself and recover from some of the most catastrophic injuries. But that is not the supernatural gift of healing. Certainly not in the supernatural, miracle type Keener is suggesting.
That confuses the evidence for an event with the explanation of an event (see above). Kuhlman's interpretation is irrelevant to what happened. And that's where medical corroboration is useful. 
Moreover, while she paid lip-service to the medical profession as “miracle workers” like in the setting of a bone for example, she did so only for the purposes of covering her failures, or in the broader case, the victim’s failure.
Even if we accept Fred's jaundiced characterization, that's irrelevant to what the doctors actually said. 
You see, it’s that sort of “evidence” that is compelling to me, the kind brushed off by Keener and his fans.
This is Fred's exercise in misdirection. Evidence that something didn't happen in one case doesn't cancel out evidence that something happened in another case. A nonevent isn't counterevidence. If there's evidence that something happened in one case (e.g. a miracle), the fact that something didn't happen in a second case isn't evidence to the contrary in the first case. Those are two independent events. If Jesus healed no one outside the borders of Palestine, does that negate his healing anyone inside the borders of Palestine? 
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we concede all of Fred's examples. Suppose we say Kuhlman was a charlatan. Suppose we say all reported miracles among Roman Catholics are bogus. 
That doesn't create any presumption against other cases that Keener documents. How does Fred imagine that falsifies the evidence in cases that don't fall under his strictures? His inference is patently illogical.