Saturday, March 01, 2014

The paradox of faith and infidelity

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened (Heb 3:7-9,18; 4:2).
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen… 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar… 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible (Heb 11:1,3,7,13,27).
Heb 11 invites an implicit comparison and contrast with Heb 3-4. I think the author likely intends us to read Heb 11 against the backdrop of Heb 3-4. These are two groups of people. In a sense, two types of people. 
And the author presents a paradoxical twofold contrast between them. On the one hand, the Exodus generation did far less with greater evidence while the faithful did far more with lesser evidence.
In other words, it's not that both groups basically had the same evidence, but one responded in faith while the other responded with disbelief. It's not just a contrast between the faithful and the faithless. For there's an irony to the contrast. Those who do so much less with so much more over against those who do so much more with so much less.
On the one hand, the Exodus generation witnessed God's miraculous works over a span of 40 years. The plagues. Passage through the Red Sea. Manna from heaven. Water from rocks. The pillar of fire. Signs on Mt. Sinai. As well as miraculous judgments when they sinned. They had sustained exposure to God's existence, presence, and power. God's public miracles. Spectacular miracles. Repeated miracles. Yet they remain faithless from start to finish.
On the other hand, the faithful generally have less evidence to work with. Oblique evidence. Or even apparent counterevidence.
The Exodus generation saw plenty, but believed little. The faithful see nothing directly, yet they forge ahead, one step at a time.
For instance, the creation is visible, but the Creator is invisible. The source of the world is the invisible word of the invisible God. 
And even though words are audible, the author's audience wasn't present during the creation week to hear God's creative word. They can only judge by the effect as well as the written record.
Even more to the point, they live by hope and faith in God's promise. But the reward is invisible. That's because the promised reward is a postmortem reward. The living cannot see it. It is out of sight because you must die before it comes into view. 
They live in the present with a view to the future. But the future is naturally unforeseeable. You can't see the future with physical eyes. By revelation, God can give you a preview, yet most Christians must muddle along without that foresight. Instead, they live in hope. 
But it's not just the inevident nature of the reward. There are obstacles to faith. Challenges to the faithful. Persecution. Set-backs. 
But unlike the ill-fated Exodus-generation, the faithful press ahead. Persevere. Cross the finish-line. 

Where is the battle of Armageddon?

To my knowledge, modern dispensationalists generally concede that the Bible routinely depicts the future in terms of the past. The futuristic depictions are anachronistic in the sense that they tend to project the ancient setting into the far future. Take depictions of eschatological warfare, with their archaic military technology. Astute dispensationlists don't think Armegedon will be actually be fought with archers, charioteers, and warhorses. 

Rather, that's a divine accommodation. Depicting eschatological warfare in terms of futuristic military technology would be unintelligible to the historical audience. So a modern reader should make allowance for that fact. We should mentally update the depictions. Precisely because they think prophecy is realistic, they also think the terms of fulfillment should be in keeping with technological progress. 

I suppose you could try to get around this by postulating one of those post-apocalyptic scenarios in which the power grid was destroyed, so that civilization reverts to a preindustrial stage. That, however, mixes two different approaches. Advanced military technology resulting in the destruction a hitch society. It's not consistently archaic.

If, however, prophecy is temporally accommodated to the parochial outlook of the original audience, that raises the question of whether prophecy is spatially accommodated to the parochial outlook of the original audience. If it depicts time in provincial terms, does it depict place in provincial terms? Indeed, spatial accommodation would be a kind of temporal accommodation. 

Take an eschatological battle that's set in the Mideast. Take, for instance, the fate of the Antichrist in Daniel:

40 “At the time of the end, the king of the south shall attack him, but the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships. And he shall come into countries and shall overflow and pass through. 41 He shall come into the glorious land. And tens of thousands shall fall, but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammonites. 42 He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. 43 He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the precious things of Egypt, and the Libyans and the Cushites shall follow in his train. 44 But news from the east and the north shall alarm him, and he shall go out with great fury to destroy and devote many to destruction. 45 And he shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him (11:40-45).
If we don't think he's actually defeated by chariots and warhorses, or ancient people-groups and defunct empires, then why assume the geography is unaccommodated to the purview of the original audience? 
Suppose it really takes place in North America? But because the original audience didn't have a mental map of the New World, the battle is depicted closer to home. A settling familiar to ancient Jews. What if it's really urban warfare in a modern metropolis (complete with skyscrapers) rather than a desert battlefield? 
Let's take an extreme example. Christian settlers named some American towns after Biblical sites, viz. Bethel, Canaan, Carmel, Hebron, Jericho, Jordan, Lebanon, Moab, Mount Hermon, Mount Zion, Ninevah, Salem, Shiloh, Tyre. 
When Bible prophecy refers to a Biblical place-name, how does a dispensationalist know if that's referring to the original site or its North American counterpart? After all, futuristic prophecy anticipates future developments. Why not future designations? 

Outlaw Prometheus Books!

Let’s say that my religious beliefs don’t allow anyone in my taxi cab who will be going to a gambling casino in Iowa or is carrying a bottle of French champagne. My religious belief is that gambling and alcohol are immoral, and I should not be forced by the government to contribute to immoral behavior. 
So, can I refuse service to gamblers and wine drinkers because I am exercising my religious freedom? 
For example, in Minnesota there already have been numerous complaints about Muslim taxi cab drivers who refuse service to passengers carrying wine bottles or other types of containers with alcohol. 
According to a Fatwa (Islamic legal opinion) issued on June 6, 2006, by a local chapter of the Muslim American Society in Minneapolis, Muslim cabbies can refuse service to those carrying alcohol “because it involves cooperating in sin according to Islam.” 
Many conservative Christian groups denounced such actions as an effort to impose Islamic Shariah law on America, and look upon the actions of those cab drivers as a threat to American religious freedom.
Several issues:
i) I don't believe in accommodating Muslims because Muslims demand that everyone accommodate them while they refuse to accommodate everyone else. Sharia isn't about religious liberty. Just the opposite. So the comparison is disanalogous. 
ii) I 'm no expert on the taxicab business, but whether or not a cabby has the right to refuse a customer depends on whether he's self-employed. If so, then I'd say he does have the right to refuse a customer for whatever reason–short of a medical emergency. 
But in my observation, cabbies are usually employed by large taxicab companies. As such, it would be a question of the employer's policy. Employees don't make policy-decisions. 
In principle, you could have a small taxicab company with a discriminatory policy. If so, that's an opening for competitors.  
I also don't know if airports have contracts with taxicab companies. If so, then airports have a say.
iii) The persuasive power of these arguments depends on the illustration. Does Avalos think cabbies should never have the right to refuse a customer? What if the customer fits the description of a suspect who murdered another cabby?
iv) But let's take a different example. Avalos is a militant atheist. Indeed, that's the hidden agenda for his article. 
Like other atheist writers, Avalos publishes some of his monographs through Prometheus Books. It's the in-house publisher for atheists. It was founded by Paul Kurtz to promote atheist literature. That's its mission. It exists by and for atheists. For the benefit of the atheist community. 
Does Avalos think Prometheus Books should be required to publish Christian writers like Robert Gagnon, Albert Mohler, and William Lane Craig? Does he think it should be illegal for private publisher to discriminate against Christian authors by automatically rejecting their MS submissions? 

All the Evidence Against Ergun Caner Compiled

Outlaw hypocrisy!

Opponents of religious liberty take a twofold position: They accuse Christians who refuse to sell wedding cakes to homosexuals or photograph homosexual weddings of hypocrisy. They are hypocritical because they allegedly single out homosexuals. They apply a double standard by discriminating against homosexual sinners rather than heterosexual sinners.
Because such Christians are allegedly hypocritical, their hypocritical behavior should be illegal. They should be put out of business through fines, lawsuits, &c. 
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the Christians in question are hypocritical. Very well, then. Let's extend the principle to other cases. Let's just pass a law against hypocrisy. Anyone convicted of hypocrisy should lose his job or livelihood. Maybe face incarceration. 
Failure to apply the principle would, itself, be hypocritical. It would be hypocritical to single out Christian or Jewish vendors while giving other hypocrites a pass. That would be discriminating against Christian or Jewish vendors, but refusing to apply the same standard to other hypocrites. If only some hypocritical behaviors are against the law, then the law hypocritically discriminates against some hypocrites to the exclusion of other hypocrites. How inequitable! How unfair! 
Nothing is worse than exempting a protected class of hypocrites from the general principle. That would be an egregious double standard. So, in the interests of moral consistency–and avoidance of hypocrisy is all about moral consistency–it's imperative that we criminalize hypocritical behavior across the board. To prosecute some hypocrites while exempting other hypocrites would be…hypocritical. No hypocrite should be immune to prosecution. That's the essence of hypocrisy. Failure to apply a universal standard to each and every individual. Under the law, all hypocrites should be treated equally.
This will, of course, require a massive expansion of the prison system. A massive building project to house all the hypocrites who hitherto eluded justice. 
Unfortunately, this also generates a bit of a logistical dilemma. If every hypocrite is jobless or jailed, there will be a dire shortage of morally qualified prosecutors, judges, policemen, prison guards, and prison wardens to enforce the law. Sadly, the recruiting pool for non-hypocrites is vanishingly small. 
Perhaps we can finesse this dilemma by rotating hypocrites. You're a hypocritical prison guard Monday through Thursday, but a hypocritical inmate Friday through Sunday. Admittedly, even that's a moral compromise.
I suppose the only morally consistent procedure would be to turn the whole ting over to computers. Computers would charge us and convict us. Computers would run automated prisons for convicted hypocrites. 

Eternal God and God in time

HT: Patrick Chan

Friday, February 28, 2014

Some Honest Questions for Andy Stanley

Lesbian supports Arizona religious freedom bill

Recipe for idiocy


I'm going to comment on a few recently claims by Catholic apologist Scott Windsor.  
I found the article interesting, and even almost Catholic in many places, however... you knew that was coming :-) ... when it comes to Onan's sin - the writer makes a very definitive statement that Onan was not slain for spilling his seed, but in reality - it is precisely for what Onan DID (spilling his seed) and not his MOTIVE (not wanting to produce children for his brother). 
i) Evangelical converts to Catholicism like Windsor and Dave Armstrong resort to traditional prooftexting. A more sophisticated Catholic apologist would skip the fanciful prooftexting and justify his denomination's teaching by appealing to the theory of development as well as attempting to mount a natural law argument.
ii) As is typical of evangelical converts to Rome, Windsor is out of touch with Catholic scholarship on his locus classicus. This, again, betrays the fact that apologists like Windsor and Armstrong remain outsiders to their adopted denomination. But here's some examples of modern Catholic scholarship on the issue at hand:
Onan is commissioned to raise seed to his brother's wife, according to the levirate law; cf. Deut 25:5-10. Oanan's offense is obvious: he selfishly refuses the responsibility of fulfilling his duty to his brother, as the law provided. That is the point of his offense. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall 1990), 38.  
Moreover, from the biblical author’s point of view, Onan’s sin was his refusal to fulfill the important responsibility involved in the levirate law (cf. Dt 25:5-10). New Catholic Encyclopedia (CUA, 2nd ed., 2003), 9:315b. 
In common usage often taken to mean improperly completed intercourse or even masturbation. The word is taken from the story of Onan in the Book of Genesis...This was in accordance with the custom of Levirate marriage...Popular usage of the term onanism is based on the assumption that the evil for which the Lord took Onan’s life was his unchastity. This, however, is by no means clear from the text, in which his refusal to conform to the prescribed marriage custom can be seen as the wickedness that brought vengeance upon him. Consequently, no certain argument can be based upon this text to prove the sinful character of either improperly completed intercourse or masturbation. Evidence for this must be sought elsewhere. Ibid. 10:600a.

iii) Windsor shortsightedly excludes Onan's motivation. Yet that runs contrary to Catholic teaching on contraception, where intent is a key consideration. Conjugal relations should always be open to the possibility of conception:

2366 it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life.
Continuing with Windsor:

It was here that for the first time a major Protestant communion opted for some limited use of contraception, so long as the motives were not selfish, based in luxury or mere convenience.  Now, honestly ask yourself, for what other reason, outside of a personal health issue, would have been considered acceptable by such limitations?  Not many, if any!  Yet less than 100 years later it is precisely for selfish, luxury or mere convenience reasons that contraception is practiced!  Today's practices by most who participate in contraception would be condemned by the 1930 Lambeth Conference!  It should be noted as well, than more than a third of the voting members of this conference voted against acceptance of the resolution.

The church of Roman supports "limited use of contraception." It simply draws a makeshift distinction between "artificial" contraception and "natural" methods of birth control. 

Well, as an article in Salon puts forth, the anti-contraception movement (primarily Catholic) had not caught hold among Evangelicals, but that all changed in 2011.  The "HHS Mandate" was passed on July 19, 2011 and according to Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, on July 20 said: “HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has recommended mandatory coverage for ‘emergency contraception,’ which is a euphemism for the morning-after pill, which often kills a newly conceived child by not allowing the embryo to implant on the wall of the mother’s womb.”  In September of 2012 the founder of Hobby Lobby sued Kathleen Sebelius and based on the fact that his company was founded upon Christian principles, they should be exempted from the mandate.

Passage of Obamacare was made possible by support from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, colluding with Catholic politicians like Bart Stupak and Nancy Pelosi. Sebelius is another Catholic official. 

While recognizing the abhorrent sins here, the Catholic Church has recognized, perhaps moreso recently than previously, that we must recognize the sinner and the sin are not the same.  While the Church has more openly embraced sinners - she has not changed her position on the sinful acts and/or lifestyles.  While the cliche may be a bit overused, it does ring true - "Love the sinner; hate the sin."  Pope Francis relates the Church to a "field hospital," and you really can't treat those who need you if you don't first bring them into the hospital!
Well, you can read the exchange yourself and see - but essentially, I can only assume here, that those respondents are supporters of ABC and/or participants in it - and thus have a vested interest in arguing for such methods, but do they realize they are so, so much in the minority of the historic Christian viewpoint?  Even among their own fore-fathers (for which they can only go back about 500 years, at best) ABC was by and large condemned.  In their relatively short history, only the last (less than) 20% of their existence as protesting (Protestant) Christians can be seen as supportive of the modern (or Modernist) views on ABC.  One would think this SHOULD cause them at least SOME concern! 

To the contrary, Rome used to take a very different position on the nature of conception. Based on Aristotelian embryology, abortion before ensoulment wasn't deemed to be homicide. That's documented in John Noonan's classic monograph on Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists (Belknap Press, enlarged edition, 1986). 

By Windsor's nostalgic logic, we should return to the good old days when abortion in the first trimester wasn't classified as homicide by Rome's leading theologians and canon lawyers. 

Why I Love John Frame's "Biblicism" & You Should Too

You, Triablogue reader, need to read every word of this

You, Triablogue reader, need to read every word of every link that's contained in the link below. You need to understand it, to own it, to share it, to tweet it. Google+ it. To spread this understanding as far and wide as possible in this great and free country of ours.

Here is the premise:

On a daily basis I’m deluged with great commentary, research and analysis via the World Wide Web. On every topic imaginable there is an enormous amount of good information available authored by those who believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and work to support and defend the Constitution (especially the Bill of Rights).

The problem is that very little of this material ever sees a large enough audience. Until we all learn how to reach more of the uninformed with the facts we will see neither political nor policy reform.

This, of course, applies to Christianity, to the Great Commission. But as we read Steve complain, "Here we go again", we can realize that this is the nature and root of so much of what we find to be wrong with the culture around us.

Abortion and Christianity

Word studies

Adventures in evolutionary psychology

Jeff can't seem to make up his mind on whether evolutionary psychology is a reliable or unreliable belief-producing process. 

On the one hand:

 HADD is an acronym which stands for “Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device.” HADD is a theory in the cognitive science of religion which says that most humans seem to be hard-wired to believe that agents explain various facts; this tendency seems to include all sorts of invisible agents, including God, gods, ghosts, and so forth. 

Here’s one reason to think (3) is true, what I call the “HADD Produces Many False Positives” argument. This argument focuses on the letter “H” in the acronym HADD: most humans not only have a mental tool called an “agency detection device” (ADD), but this device is literally hypersensitive. Given ambiguous information, most human brains have a tendency to err on the side of assuming that an agent–maybe even an unseen or invisible agent–is responsible for the ambiguous information. This mental tool has survival value because it causes people to be on guard against potential predators. Furthermore, it’s better for ADD to err on the side of false positives than on the side of false negatives. So because HADD generates so many false positives, it is unreliable. On the assumption that naturalism is true (and humans are the result of unguided evolution), this is just what we would expect. If naturalism is true, nature is “blind” and so is indifferent to our beliefs about a non-existent God.

On the other hand:
This is Plantinga’s well-known “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” (EAAN).
1. The basic problem with the argument is that it’s false that “Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.” Rather, as Draper pointed out in his debate with Plantinga, “More generally, the long term survival of our species is much more to be expected if our cognitive faculties are reliable than if they are unreliable, and that entails that the long term survival of our species is strong evidence for R.”
2. Furthermore, “In addition, it is very unlikely that belief-producing mechanisms that do not track the truth would systematically promote survival in a very diverse and often rapidly changing environment.”

The golden calf

I'm going to preface this post by saying that where their standard of living is concerned, I don't have a different yardstick for clergymen and laymen. I don't think it's acceptable for laymen to live like the Vanderbilts but unacceptable for clergymen to live like the Vanderbilts. 

In the church we sometimes witness cash cows mating with sacred cows to produce golden calves. Offhand, the two kinds of scandals to which religious institutions are liable are financial and sexual scandals. Of course, that's hardly unique to religious institutions. But in the case of, say, government, you can add abuse of power–among other things.

Some religious figures found empires. There's then the question of who they bequeath their empire to. Many treat their "ministries" like estates, which they will to their sons, viz. Frankin Graham, Gordon Robertson, Richard Roberts, Jonathan Falwell, Robert Schuller, Jr.

This invites two types of corruption. To begin with, there's the vice of nepotism. Despite its pejorative connotations, nepotism is not inherently wrong. There's nothing wrong with a family business. There's nothing wrong with families employing relatives.

The problem is when a church is treated like a family business. And that's a problem for non-profit institutions generally. It's not your personal piggyback. 

A related problem is when a relative receives an exorbitant salary. Again, I'm not talking about a family business, but a religious institution or nonprofit generally. In both cases, that's a misappropriation of donations. Tithes and offerings. 

And some of the aforementioned individuals illustrate both problems. 

On a different, but related front, we're been treated to the "plagiarism" scandal involving Mark Driscoll. Actually, I think the plagiarism charge deflected a related, but more serious issue. Normally, an author is entitled to the revenues from his books. If, however, the book was actually ghostwritten by his "research assistant," then that creates an ethical problem. The church pays the salary of the research assistant, yet the pastor receives the revenues. 

Another different, but related front, is the recent case of Steven Furtick and his McMansion.  I don't know if Furtick is technically a prosperity preacher. But you don't have to preach the prosperity gospel to have that standard of living. 

Which brings me to the final comparison. A couple of years ago, the Bayly brothers did a post on John MacArthur:

Tim and David Bayly are vigorous complementarians who took great exception to the fact that MacArthur was going to use the NIV for his study Bible. I think they regard the NIV as a very insidious and effective way of infiltrating the evangelical church with feminism. That's their core objection.

But they then speculated on what would motivate MacArthur to use the NIV. I take them to mean that proceeds from his study Bible would help to secure the long-term solvency of MacArthur's empire after he retires or dies with his boots on. Like an endowment. I'm open to correction if my interpretation is not what they intended.

Phil Johnson took strenuous exception to their conjecture:

In an effort to justify the original allegation, Tim Bayly recently followed up with two additional posts on financial aspects of MacArthur's ministry:

In one respect it's a repetition of the previous allegation, with regard to alleged royalties–which Phil Johnson disputed. But it involves some additional allegations:

so after negotiating royalties (which unlike John Piper's royalties, remain a secret)... 
The national source of their non-profit's profit is the reason our IRS requires these men to divulge whether they fly first class (MacArthur does) and whether they have their own relatives on their governance boards (MacArthur does) and whether their organization pays a relative money as a business transaction (MacArthur pays his son-in-law $650,000 per year for video work) and how much they get paid by their non-profit ministry (MacArthur's non-profits pay him just about $500,000 per year, and this amount doesn't include his church pay or royalties). 
2010            2011          John MacArthur's Income 
$47,000       $103,000     (108% one-year increase) 40 hrs p/week at Masters College 
$222,000     $402,000     (81% one-year increase) 20 hrs p/week at Grace to You 
Add to the above John MacArthur's other personal income, speaker's fees, etc.: 
$200,000    $200,000      conservative estimate of Grace Community Church salary 
$200,000    $200,000      conservative estimate of royalties 
$669,000    $905,000      TOTAL ANNUAL INCOME (projected)

Then consider this increase in the annual contract John (GTY) pays to his son-in-law: 
$658,000    $694,000     Grace to You paid The Welch Group for video work (an example)
To my knowledge, these additional allegations have not be rebutted. 
Of course, if the royalties are secret, then I don't know the basis for estimating royalties, if any. But if the royalties are, indeed, secret, then that itself is problematic. 
As I read it, there's also the accusation that MacArthur is triple-dipping by collecting three salaries. 
And there's the question of his son-in-law. Is he on the payroll? Does he now receive nearly 700K per year? 
I haven't done any independent research on these accusations, but then, I could say the same thing about Franklin Graham, Steven Furtick, &c. All I know is what I read.
It would be ironic if MacArthur, scourge of charismatic prosperity preachers, emulates (or exceeds) their standard of living. Perhaps the danger of wielding a broad brush is having it splatter on the painter. 
But perhaps their documentation or analysis is inaccurate.  
I can't help noticing that the usual suspects who were defending Janet Mefferd against Mark Driscoll are now attacking Tim Bayly. But shouldn't we apply a consistent standard?  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Heckler's veto

If Jesus did it, it must be okay for me to do it too!

One of the "Christian" arguments against laws which protect religious liberty against the homosexual lobby is the oft-cited example of Jesus hanging out with sinners. There are, of course, many problems with that comparison. The difference between free association and forced association. The difference between association and validation. But I'd like to draw attention to another flaw in the comparison.
The underlying assumption of the argument is that it's okay for me to follow Christ's example. Whatever he does licenses me to do the same thing. But is that the case? 
Because I'm a sinner, whereas Jesus was impeccable, Jesus could engage in certain associations which wouldn't be morally or spiritually safe for me. For instance, Jesus could visit a strip club without succumbing to sinful lust. That doesn't mean I can do the same thing.

Or take other comparisons like a recovering alcoholic going go a bar, with no intention of drinking. But once he's inside...

So, for instance, it would be good for a church to have an outreach ministry to strip clubs, but it should be the women of the church who do that. 

Likewise, it's good to have an outreach ministry to local taverns, but recovering alcoholics shouldn't be the evangelists in that setting. It places them under undue temptation to fall off the wagon. 

Freedom of association

This is germane to the current debate over forcing Christian businesses to celebrate immorality:

Notice that the analogy with Jim Crows laws (a la Kirsten Powers) is the polar opposite of their actual design.

Angry at Arizona

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

ID might be wrong, but not the way you think

More From Giulio Fanti On Dating The Shroud Of Turin

I just saw Dan Porter link an interview with Giulio Fanti, by Vatican Insider, concerning Fanti's recent book on dating the Shroud of Turin. The interview is a rough English translation of Italian, but it's easy to follow the general thrust of what Fanti is saying. For those who don't know, Fanti is an Italian scientist who recently applied three new dating methods to alleged material from the Shroud. All three methods gave a date consistent with Jesus' lifetime, much earlier than the carbon dating results of 1988. Here's a post I wrote last year about the initial reports of Fanti's work. And here are some of Fanti's more recent comments:

Abuse of power

Here we go again:

There are several problems with her line of argument:

1) To begin with, hypotheticals cut both ways. It's child's play to reverse her hypotheticals. For instance:

i) Suppose a woman fled Yugoslavia after her relatives were raped and/or murdered by Muslims. She comes to America, where she runs a motel. Suppose Muslims want to book her motel for a Sharia convention. Should she be prosecuted if she refuses?

ii) Suppose a skinhead goes into a tattoo parlor run by a black tattoo artist, demanding that he get a swastika tattooed on his arm. Should the black proprietor be prosecuted if he refuses?

iii) Suppose Wesboro Baptists offer to pay a homosexual photographer to film one of their "God hates fags" protests. Should he be prosecuted if he refuses?

2) It doesn't occur to Kirsten that there's a little thing called capitalism. The free market. If a business refuses to supply a product or service that's in demand, that's a business opportunity for a competitor to fill the gap. Paying customers will take their business elsewhere. 

3) It doesn't occur to Kirsten that there are tradeoffs between liberty and tyranny. Sure, you can one-sidedly focus on individuals who abuse their freedom, but what about governments that abuse their power? In fact, the Obama administration is a perfect illustration. The harm that individuals can do is trivial compared to the harm the state can do. 

Minds and brains

Lightweight theologians weigh in

I'm going to comment on this post:

It's a pity we have to waste so much time on this issue, but we don't always have the luxury of choosing our battles. 

David Garland is professor of Christian Scriptures and dean at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary and author of the Baker Exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians. He said that he thought using this passage 1 Corinthians to justify refusing service for a same-sex marriage is difficult to square with the text, especially when you consider the entire context of the passage: 
Paul’s argument actually goes from chapter 8 through ten. In chapter 9, the emphasis is on how to ultimately win unbelievers. The argument here is actually about giving up one’s right out of love for others and the sake of the faith. The goal in 8 and 9 is answering the question, ‘How do you win people over?’

Is it loving to celebrate a physically and psychologically self-destructive lifestyle, not to mention a hellbound lifestyle? How does participation in a homosexual wedding win people over? 

When asked what he thought Paul would say to the Christian church on these issues, Garland replied, “I think Paul would say, ‘How can you witness to someone to whom you will not serve?’ That doesn’t mean you condone, but you can serve without condoning.”
i) To begin with, what does Christian service mean? If you refuse to give your teenager money to buy cocaine, is that a disservice? Isn't Christian service about helping others rather than hurting others?
ii) This isn't about "service" in general. A wedding cake is specifically designed to celebrate the marriage. So, yes, that does condone the marriage. 
iii) Finally, there's an elementary distinction between what people should do and what they should be made to do. Every time you pass a new law, you take more power away from the people and give more power to the state. Do we want to live in (or under) a totalitarian police state? 
The question isn't in the first instance what Christians should do, in the sense of a moral or spiritual obligation, but what they should be required to do by law. 
Also, this isn't just about Christians. 
When I asked him [Richard B. Hays] about whether or not he thinks it’s okay for a Christian to refuse to bake a cake for a gay or lesbian person who was getting married, he responded: 
“Jesus was condemned by the scribes and Pharisees for associating with people of whose conduct they disapproved. The charge of eating and drinking with them tells us that Jesus’ enemies did regard him as complicit in their behavior. But he did it anyway,” Hays said. “I worry that the people who can’t bake a cake for people are putting themselves inside the bubble of Pharisaism. I just can’t go there.”
i) Once again, this isn't about "associating" with sinners. Rather, this is about participation in activities specifically intended to validate sin. 
ii) Furthermore, this is about compelling participation by force of law. 
And what of those vendors who refuse services to same-sex couples but turn a blind eye to other kinds of unbiblical weddings? Should we be concerned about the apparent double standards of our brothers and sisters? 
Craig Blomberg thinks so. 
“Do the people involved regularly inquire about such things? If not, why would you change things just because someone happened to volunteer the information that they are gay and this is for a wedding,” he said. “I try to look for consistency of application no matter what principle you’re following. Whatever principle you’re applying for heterosexuals who you may not approve of, you should do the same.”
What if a Muslim was placing an order for a wedding cake with a Jewish baker. What if the Muslim volunteered that this was for a child marriage, viz. a wedding between an adult male and a prepubescent girl? Does Blomberg think the Jewish baker should be required by law to bake a cake celebrating pederasty? 
McKnight agrees.  He said, “There is a fair charge of hypocrisy since it concerns itself with only one kind of sin.”
What's hypocritical is for the liberal establishment to celebrate and elevate only one kind of sin to the moral issue of our time, then accuse Christians of hypocrisy when they respond to the fact that the liberal establishment is singling out homosexuals for special treatment, as a protected class with super rights. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Yes, of course a business owner should have the right to refuse service to gay people

Thankfully, there's been a vigorous pushback on this issue. Although there's a risk of overloading on responses, Christians do need to have arguments at the ready:

Casting the Devil Out of the Jesus Story

Does intelligent design provide a plausible account of life’s origins?

Parsing perspectivalism

Since John Frame's triperspectivalism is controversial, I'd like to briefly expound and analyze his position. Let's begin with a bare-bones statement of his position:

First, the normative perspective considers the norms for human intellectual activity: the standards, laws, principles, and criteria that apply to our truth-gathering and truth-utilizing. Second, the situational perspective considers the situation or circumstances in which the human knower is placed. In particular, it concerns the external objects or matters of fact toward which human thoughts are directed. Finally, as a necessary complement to these two outward-oriented perspectives, the existential perspective considers the subjective, internal, personal aspects of human knowledge.  
First, there is the classical distinction between the subject of knowledge (that which knows), the object of knowledge (that which is known), and the relation of knowledge (that by which the knower knows the known). These can be seen to correspond directly to the existential, situational, and normative perspectives. Second, triperspectivalism is reflected in the distinctions between the three basic sources and objects of human knowledge: knowledge from and about God (the Creator), knowledge from and about nature (the created external world), and knowledge from and about self (the created internal world). 
His three perspectives arise in various places in ethics— for example, in the distinction between the standard (normative), the goal (situational), and the motive (existential) for human actions, each of which must be taken into account when determining whether or not a particular action is “moral” or “good.”

What role, then, does the Bible play in our knowledge of God and of his world? As we have seen, the Bible is the covenant constitution of the people of God, the highest authority, which we may not question. As such it is natural to consider it part of the normative perspective. But it is also part of our situation (the fact that illumines all other facts) and of our experience (the experience that illumines all others). So the Bible should not be identified with the normative perspective or vice versa. Each perspective includes everything, as we have seen. But the Bible is a particular fact that governs all perspectives and determines how we should use them. 
Our understanding of the Bible is multiperspectival. To understand the Bible, we must understand it in its historical environment (situational) and we must understand its relevance to us today (situational and existential). But once we come to a prayerful, thoughtful, settled understanding of Scripture’s teaching, that teaching must take precedence over knowledge from any other source. 
Remember: the normative, situational, and existential perspectives are mutually dependent, and so relative to one another. So some critics of perspectivalism sometimes think that this approach makes the Bible relative to other forms of knowledge. But that is an error. The Bible is not the normative perspective (or the situational or the existential). It is a particular object within all three perspectives given to us by God to serve as the ultimate standard of human thought and life.

A good starting point is to ask what motivated Frame to develop triperspectivalism. Frame noticed that in the history of ethics and epistemology, different schools of thought amount to half-truths. Each major alternative captures an element of truth. And that's why these are perennially debate. They never go away because there's enough truth to each major alternative to make it defensible and indispensable. 

But because each school of thought is one-sided, it loses important truths as well as capturing important truths. Triperspectivalism is, in part, an attempt to combine what's best in each major alternative. 


Virtue ethics

This value theory stress the cultivation of a moral character. What motivates ethical action. Acquiring virtuous attitudes and emotions while avoiding, resisting, or rooting out bad character traits. 

Teleological ethics

This value-theory is goal-oriented. Right or wrong is determined by the probable beneficial consequences overall. The cost/benefit analysis is the sole consideration. Securing the common good is the objective, and that ends justifies the requisite means. The double-effect principle also fits into this framework. 

Deontological ethics

This value theory stresses objective duties. Ethical action is measured by doing your duty. Following the rules. 

This includes moral absolutes. Some actions are intrinsically obligatory without regard to their deleterious consequences, or impermissible without regard to their beneficial consequences. 

However, this can allow for a distinction between actual and prima facie duties. Not all obligations are equally obligatory. In case of conflict, higher duties suspend or supersede lower duties. For instance, there's a general duty to keep your promise, but that may sometimes conflict with a higher duty.

Deontology is not indifferent to consequences. But they aren't the sole consideration. They don't override inherent duties. The ends, however, beneficial, can never justify certain means. 

i) From a Biblical standpoint, all three positions have some merit. Biblical ethics includes obedience to divine commands and prohibitions. Some actions are intrinsically right or wrong. That roughly corresponds to deontological ethics. And the normative perspective.

ii) But there's more to Biblical ethics than externals. Scripture is concerned with what motivates behavior. Outward conformity is morally insufficient. External compliance needs to be complemented by circumcision of the heart. Sanctification. A desire to honor God.  That roughly corresponds to virtue ethics. And the existential perspective.

iii) Finally, Biblical ethics is goal-oriented. Even in this life, prudent men and women prepare for the future. Have contingency plans for a rainy day. By contrast, the fool is shortsighted. Lives for the moment. Is heedless of long-term consequences. 

Likewise, the Mosaic law punishes those who fail to take elementary safety precautions. Who expose others to unnecessary risk. Leaving a well uncovered. Not fencing your roof. Having a roving ox with a vicious reputation.

Most of all, believers are heavenly-minded. They set their sights on eternal life. By the same token, we are motivated to avoid hellbound behavior. All that roughly corresponds to teleological ethics. And the situational perspective.


Theories of knowledge include:

Criteria. The rules of argument. Facts (true premises) and logic (valid inferences). Factual correspondence and logical coherence. That matches the normative perspective, although facts include the situational perspective. 

Empiricism claims knowledge is a posteriori and dependent upon sensory experience. Observation, testimony. Sense-knowledge. Knowledge by description. That corresponds to the situational perspective. 
Rationalism claims that some or all of our concepts are gained (or innate) independent of sensory experience. Intuition. Introspection. Logical inference. That corresponds to the existential perspective. 
In addition, there's a debate over the nature of epistemic justification or warrant. What counts as knowledge? What converts belief into knowledge? There are two competing positions:

Process reliabilism is the most common type of reliabilism. The simplest form of process reliabilism regarding knowledge of some proposition p implies that agent S knows that p if and only if S believes that p,  p is true, and S’s belief that p is formed by a reliable process. A truth-conducive or reliable process is sometimes described as a belief-forming process that produces either mostly true beliefs or a high ratio of true to false beliefs. Process reliabilism regarding justification, rather than knowledge, says that S’s belief that p is justified if and only if S’s belief that p is formed by a reliable process.
That corresponds to the situational perspective. And objective process. Something that happens to us.
The alternative makes knowledge by acquaintance the key:

This first form of internalism holds that a person either does or can have a form of access to the basis for knowledge or justified belief. The key idea is that the person either is or can be aware of this basis. Externalists, by contrast, deny that one always can have this sort of access to the basis for one's knowledge and justified belief. A second form of internalism, connected just to justified belief but probably extendable to knowledge as well, concerns not access but rather what the basis for a justified belief really is. Mentalism is the thesis that what ultimately justifies any belief is some mental state of the epistemic agent holding that belief. Externalism on this dimension, then, would be the view that something other than mental states operate as justifiers. A third form of internalism concerns the very concept of justification, rather than access to or the nature of justifiers. This third form of internalism is the deontological concept of justification, whose main idea is that the concept of epistemic justification is to be analyzed in terms of fulfilling one's intellectual duties or responsibilities.
i) One version corresponds to the existential perspective. Subjective discernment. 
ii) Another version corresponds to the normative perspective. Discharging your epistemic duties. 
i) The interpreter should be a truth-seeker. Be motivated to ascertain what the author meant. Make a good-faith effort to understand the message. So there's an ethical dimension to hermeneutics. That has an existential aspect as well as a morally normative aspect. 
ii) There are rules of interpretation. For instance, many interpreters view authorial intent as a guide to correct interpretation. That reflects the normative perspective.
iii) Finally, a text, unless it's fictitious, is referential. About the real world. That's the author's intent. To make claims about what the world is like. 
This can include the audience. The message may be occasioned by the situation of the audience. And the author writes with the intention of being understood. So what the audience is capable of understanding, will figure in the meaning of the text. That reflects the situational perspective. 
i) Some apologists stress truths of reason, viz. Anselm, Augustine. That has a normative aspect as well as an existential aspect–with its appeal to intuition or introspection. 
ii) Some apologists stress truths of fact, viz. Eusebius, John Warwick Montgomery. That has a situational emphasis.
iii) Some apologists stress personal or subjective experience, viz. Calvin, Os Guinness. That's existential. 
Theistic proofs:
i) Some theistic proofs are based on truths of reason, viz. ontological argument, Leibnizian cosmological argument, kalam cosmological argument. A priori theistic proofs have normative as well as existential dimensions, with their intuitive appeal to abstract metaphysics. 
ii) Some are based on truths of fact, viz. the teleological argument. That's situational. 
iii) Some are based on subjective or personal experience: the argument from consciousness, the argument from religious experience. That's existential. 
iv) A posteriori theistic proofs can be situational, existential, or both. Some theistic proofs may combine elements. The moral argument relies on abstract norms as well as concrete human nature. 

Thanks for your continued prayers for my brother

My brother had surgery yesterday for Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, a metastasization of a cancer of the appendix that affects the whole lower abdomen. It begins in the appendix and basically is just a slow growth of gunk, which frequently lasts over a period of years. It is not an aggressive cancer, but it is persistent, and it does damage in two ways, first by affixing itself to organs and hardening into them, and second, just by simply taking up a lot of space and squeezing a person to death from the inside.

Surgery yesterday lasted about 11 hours; the doctor said they took “buckets and buckets full” of the stuff out. So it had been building up for a while (he was otherwise in very good health). In addition, they removed his appendix, spleen, gall bladder, nerves around his stomach, and parts of his diaphragm, all of which had become affected by the material. Along with the surgery, they irrigated his internal tissues with a heated chemotherapy. If any of the cancer cells remain alive after this process, they have the ability to start the whole thing all over again. The bottom line, however, is that now that they know he’s got this, they can monitor him (the disease is apparently detectable via CT scan), and smaller patches of it can be removed over time.

He is awake this morning, and seems to be in good spirits. He will have to spend a few days in the ICU, but it seems possible that his life can be back to normal in just a few weeks.

Psalm 139:14: I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Playing poker with a cardsharp

Liberal fascists raise the issue of how a Christian photographer should respond to a homosexual "couple" who seeks to retain his services for their wedding. I'm using "should," not in the sense of what's obligatory, but what's permissible. I can think of three options which may be permissible:

i) He could refuse. That would be a strong Christian witness. And if he's prosecuted, that would also be a strong Christian witness. 

Of course, that's the toughest option. Even if he could win a law suit in the long run, he might well be ruined in the short term. And there's no guarantee that he'd win, given the current political climate. It's a great personal risk.

There are, however, Christian legal agencies like ACLJ which takes cases like that. 

ii) Especially if he has dependents, he has to balance competing obligations. On the one hand he has a duty to support his dependents. On the other hand he has a duty to maintain a Christian witness. If society puts him in a bind, where he has no good options, he might agree to photograph the ceremony in order to discharge his prior obligations to his dependents.

If, on the other hand, he's an unattached male, then that might shift the relative force of the conflicting duties.

iii) He might lie. Say he has a scheduling conflict for that day. Claim he's already booked.

There are some Christians who think it's always wrong to lie. I've addressed that contention on several occasions (see below). I disagree.

If society puts Christians in a moral dilemma where they have no good options, then society is to blame if Christians must resort to exceptional measures. To take a military comparison, it's normally wrong to shoot into a crowd of women and children. If, however, the enemy is shooting at you from behind the crowd, by using the crowd as a human shield, then you have the right to defend yourself by returning fire. Although innocents will die, the enemy is at fault for putting you in that untenable position. You can only choose from the available options. 

To take another illustration, must we play by the rules? Fair play presumes that both sides play by the same rules. What if the game is rigged? If the dealer is a card sharp, if the deck is stacked, then it's not cheating for you to take countermeasures. Rather, that offsets the cheater. He no longer has an unfair advantage. That restores the imbalance. 

A book, not a movie

Some Christians are taking preemptive strikes at the upcoming Son of God movie. Some of them trot out the Puritan objection to images of Jesus. There's nothing wrong with raising this issue. However, it gets to be tedious. Critics who raise the Puritan objection always act as if no one has heard that argument before. 

I'd also like to comment on a post by Tim Challies:

i) I agree with him that a movie is not substitute for Scripture. I agree with him that the way Gibson's film was promoted by some churches represents misplaced resources and misplaced priorities.

ii) He mentions a survey by George Barna which indicated that the evangelistic impact of Gibson's film was negligible. It might be useful to speculate what that's the case.

a) For one thing, I assume it was mainly Westerners who saw his film. Most of us have grown up with movies and TV dramas. Many of us have seen thousands of movies and TV dramas (or episodes thereof). Given our saturation exposure to the cinematic medium, it's very hard for any one film to have a dramatic impact. It's diluted by the competition. The sheer volume. 

b) Moreover, most of the films and TV dramas we watch are fictional. I think that conditions us detach it from reality. Even for films "based on a true story," you have to consciously remind yourself that it has a historical basis. And, for most of us, films are entertainment. If, when you watch a film, you're saying to yourself, "This is based on a true story," then the film is an artistic failure inasmuch as you should be able to forget that you're watching a film. It's supposed to draw you into the illusion. 

To make the same point differently, compare Tombstone to The Unforgiven. The former has a historical basis (no doubt artistic liberties were taken) whereas the latter is imaginary. yet watching one doesn't feel any different from watching the other. The Unforgiven doesn't feel less real than Tombstone. So films have that leveling affect.

c) Finally, what makes the passion of Christ theologically significant is not merely the raw event, but the theological interpretation of the event. God's intent behind the event. 

That's why the Gospels are, in large part, a long preamble to the passion of Christ. That provides the theological context. That lays the foundation for what makes the suffering and death of Christ theologically significant.

Otherwise, just watching a reenactment of his death isn't essentially different from watching J. B. Books die in The Shootist. The significance of Christ's suffering and death depends on who he is, the nature of sin, penal substitution, and so forth. 

Because Gibson is Roman Catholic, the passion of Christ for him is like the Mass. That's the main event. 

Challies then says:

The first caution is that The Passion caused us to look away from Scripture. This is ironic, of course, since The Passion was based on Scripture (plus a bit of imagination and a dash of Roman Catholic tradition). The fact is, though, that God saw fit to give us the Bible written, not displayed. He chose to give us a book, not a film.
That's catchy, but overstated:
i) It's a false dichotomy. Although we tend to classify film as a visual medium, most films also have a thing called dialogue. A script as well as a plot. They aren't just pictures in motion.
Films about Jesus can, and usually do, contain extensive quotes from the Gospels. Speeches and dialogues.
ii) At the risk of stating the obvious, it's anachronistic to say God gave us a book rather than a film. The technology didn't exist back then.
Moreover, although it's possible for God to jump-start technology, you really can't have, say, a film crew shooting Pharaoh's charioteers pursing the Israelites. That's because, in a world where cameras, movie theaters, and dvd players exist, you wouldn't have charioteers to film. Everything would be up-to-date.  That entails an alternate timeline. An alternate past and future. Retrojecting modem technology into the past demands corresponding socioeconomic readjustments across the board.
iii) From what I've read, The Jesus Film has been an effective tool in foreign missions. Because film is a mass medium, where one film can reach an audience of hundreds or thousands, it can have a penetration that Bibles don't. It's the difference between a one-to-one medium (one Bible per reader) and a one-to-many medium (one movie to many viewers). 
Keep in mind, too, rates of illiteracy in some parts of the third world. 
Finally, it can be easier (as well as more cost-effective) to smuggle a dvd into a closed society than a truck full of Bibles. 
The Jesus Film needs to be supplemented with discipleship. But it's somewhat idealistic, if not elitist, to think missionaries necessarily have the financial wherewithal, or gov't approval, to make Bibles available to everyone. 
The Jesus Film may be more effective if some unreached people-groups in the third world have less exposure to film than we do. We so jaded by watching so many movies and TV dramas–most of which are fictional to begin with.
I'm not commenting on the quality or orthodoxy of the Son of God film, since I haven't seen it or read reviews.

"Deconstruct Heterosexuality"?

Is Sexual Orientation Analogous to Race?

Irrational atheism

I'm going to comment on this post by atheist Jeff Lowder:

While I agree that atheism (the belief that God does not exist version) does have a burden of proof, atheism doesn’t have nearly the same burden of proof as theism. Why? Because theism has a lower prior probability than naturalism and naturalism entails atheism.

He doesn't explain or defend his claim that theism has a lower prior probability than naturalism. Perhaps, though, he intends the reader to infer that his subsequent reasons in this post bear out the claim. 

His “two dozen or so” theistic arguments, philosophically speaking, consist of practically everything but the kitchen sink as evidence for theism. 

There's a grain of truth to that, but it's misleading. These are lecture notes. They don't profess to detail the arguments, but to give the audience an overview. Even in the text, Plantinga refers the reader to more detailed expositions. 

Plantinga knows very well that atheists have offered serious arguments for atheism, including the argument from nonculpable nonbelief (aka “divine hiddenness”),

And what's the argument? Schellenberg begins by claiming:

This claim is not hard to substantiate, and is not itself resisted by many. As support, consider those who have always believed in God and who would love to go on believing in God but who have found, as adults, that serious and honest examination of all the evidence of experience and argument they can lay their hands on has unexpectedly had the result of eroding their belief away. These are individuals who were happy and morally committed believers, and who remain morally committed but are no longer happy because of the emotional effects of an intellectual reorganization involving the removal of theistic belief. 
Perhaps even more convincing support for the existence of nonresistant nonbelief is provided by all those--both at the present time and throughout the past--for whom theistic belief has never been a live option. In some such individuals, quite other beliefs, supported by authority or tradition or experience, have held sway instead of theism.
Unfortunately, this interprets the motives of the atheist or apostate from the biased viewpoint of an atheist. A very charitable interpretation which credits the apostate or atheist with the best of intentions. But, of course, that begs the question. That's hardly how the Bible views unbelievers.  

Schellenberg goes onto claim:

In others, the basic conceptual conditions of so much as entertaining the idea of a being separate from the physical universe who created it, and who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good and loving in relation to it, have never been satisfied.
Once again, that claim takes for granted an atheistic view of the natural evidence (or lack thereof) for God.  

Schellenberg goes onto claim:

If there is a perfectly loving God, all creatures capable of explicit and positively meaningful relationship with God who have not freely shut themselves off from God are in a position to participate in such relationships--i.e., able to do so just by trying to.

Readers will notice, first of all, a link being forged between perfect divine love and the availability of relationship with God…A perfectly loving God--if those words mean anything--would, like the best human lover, ensure that meaningful contact with herself was always possible for those she loved.
That description is generally consistent with freewill theism. However, it lacks traction for Reformed theism, where God's redemptive love is confined to the elect. In Calvinism, not only does God not intend to make everyone have a positive relationship with him, but he intends that some (the reprobate) not have a positive relationship with him. He predestined them to be unbelievers. So, in Schellenberg's formulation, the divine hiddenness argument is, at best, an argument against freewill theism rather than Reformed theism. It doesn't even scratch the surface of Reformed theism. 

the evidential argument from biological evolution

And what's the argument? Jeff says:

Many conservative Christians and lay atheists alike claim that if biological evolution is true, then God does not exist. 

Really? The actual claim of many conservative Christians is that biological evolution (e.g. macroeverolution, universal common descent) is incompatible with biblical theism, not theism in general. So Jeff presents a false dichotomy. If his actual target is biblical theism, then he needs to reformulate his argument.

and the evidential argument from mind-brain dependence

And what's the argument? Jeff says:

All healthy human beings have minds, including rich conscious experiences and personalities.

What about Jerry Coyne's contention, shared by many many secularists, that our sense of self is a "neuronal illusion"? What about Alex Rosenberg's eliminative materialism?  

Scientific evidence shows that human consciousness and personality are highly dependent upon the brain. In this context, nothing mental happens without something physical happening. That strongly implies that the mind cannot exist independently of physical arrangements of matter. In other words, we do not have a soul.

i) That ignores evidence for mind/brain independence, viz. veridical NDEs, veridical OBEs, psi, postmortem apparitions, the hard problem of consciousness. 

ii) In addition, even if embodied minds are dependent on brains, it hardly follows that minds are still dependent on brains when they are separated from brains. 

And this is exactly what we would expect if naturalism is true.

What about Christian physicalists like Kevin Corcoran, Joel Green, Peter van Inwagen, Trenton Merricks, Nancey Murphy, Lynne Rudder Baker? 

(I'm not endorsing physicalism. I'm just drawing attention to another one of Jeff's stimulative expectations.) 

But if nothing mental happens without something physical happening, that is evidence against both the existence of souls and the existence of any being who is supposed to have a disembodied mind, including God. 

Notice the blatant equivocation, where he fallaciously moves from nothing mental happens without something physical happening in reference to humans to God. Jeff's analogy might be valid for Mormonism, but it's hardly valid for Christian theism. 

Naturalism is logically incompatible with disembodied minds, e.g., souls, ghosts, spirits, demons, angels, gods, God, etc. 

Now he expands the candidates for discarnate minds to include angels and demons. But what if there's evidence for angels (e.g. angelical apparitions) and demons (e.g. possession)? 

If human minds were independent of the physical brain, then brain injuries should not have much, if any, impact on mental activity since, ex hypothesi, mental activity does not occur in the brain to begin with. 

If you damage a receiver (e.g. a television), you can't access the signal, even though the source of the signal is independent of the receiver. An outside observer has no way of knowing if mental activity is still occurring, inasmuch as the patient's brain/body is the medium by which he observes mental activity in the patient.

As Paul Draper has argued, “if theism does make it likely that some human beings have a properly functioning sensus divinitatis, then it makes it likely that everyone has one or at least that everyone who is not resistant to belief in God has one, which, pace John Calvin, is not what we observe.”

But in Calvin, the senses divinitatis is offset by the noetic effects of sin. 

Furthermore, as Draper goes on to point out,… the cognitive science of religion is not wholly supportive of Plantinga’s position. Human beings instinctively believe in all sorts of invisible agents, not just in gods and certainly not just in a single creator-God let alone the specific creator-God of metaphysical theism. So we seem to have a broad sensus actoris instead of a narrow sensus divinitatis.

Since the Christian worldview includes other invisible agents besides God (i.e. angels, demons, ghosts), how does that observation count against the senses divinitatis? 

As Keith Parsons has argued, the non-existence of the sensus divinitatis is evidence for the non-existence of God.My argument is simple. I think that Alvin Plantinga is right. If God exists, humans will very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a God-detecting faculty, which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, will present us with warrant-basic (both warranted and epistemologically basic) awareness of his existence. If this is so, and if God does exist, then humans, provided that their sinfulness has not impaired the proper functioning of their sensus, will have a warrant-basic awareness of God’s existence. On the other hand, if there is no God, it is extremely unlikely that humans would possess a cognitive faculty that would produce the warranted (but false) belief that God exists. In this case, evidence that belief in God is not caused by a warrant-conferring cognitive faculty, but rather is generated by a noncognitive process that does not confer warrant on that belief, will, ipso facto, constitute evidence against the existence of God. An atheological argument can therefore be set out semi-formally like this:1) If God exists, then humans very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a cognitive faculty which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, produces the warrant-basic belief that God exists.2) If there is no sensus divinitatis, then God probably does not exist, unless the background probability of his existence is very high.3) It is not the case that the background probability of God’s existence is very high.4) There is no sensus divinitatis.5) Therefore, God probably does not exist.

That argument is obviously vulnerable at two keys points:

provided that their sinfulness has not impaired the proper functioning of their sensus 

It is not the case that the background probability of God’s existence is very high

Persons needs to defend both assumptions. 

First, the only intelligent life we know of is human and it exists in this universe. As Paul Draper explains:“while it may be true that on single-universe naturalism the existence of anything as impressive as human beings is very unlikely, it is also true that on theism the existence of intelligent beings as unimpressive and flawed as humans is very unlikely. 

Draper needs to explain in what sense humans are unimpressive and flaws. According to Christian theology:

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being[d] might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor 1:27-29). 
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Cor 4:7). 
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Cor 12:9).
Continuing with Draper:

There are indefinitely many different kinds of creatures that an omnipotent being would have the power to create and that, other things being equal, would be more valuable to create than humans. 
Angels are more "impressive" than humans. 

Further, given that human beings do exist, it is certain on single-universe naturalism, but not on theism, that they exist in this universe (i.e., in the one universe that we know to exist).”

There are Christians (Don Page, Jeff Zweerink) who subscribe to a multiverse.

Second, intelligent life is the result of evolution. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that it developed as a result of biological evolution is more probable on naturalism than on it is on theism.

What about theistic evolutionists like Don Page, Rupert Sheldrake, Francis Collins, Alexander Pruss, Alister McGrath, Michael Behe, Michael Denton, Karl Rahner, Conway Morris, Stephen Barr, Zach Arden, Dennis Venema, B. B. Warfield, Nicholas Rescher, William Hasker, Richard Swinburne, and Peter van Inwagen–to name a few? 

(I'm not endorsing theistic evolution. I'm just pointing out that what's obvious to Jeff isn't obvious to many very intelligent theists.)

This argument assumes the truth of biological evolution; for a defense of that assumption, see the Talk.Origins archive. To be sure, biological evolution is logically compatible with theism; God could have used evolution to create life. But if theism were true, God could have also used many other methods to create life, methods which are impossible if naturalism is true. 

Which is precisely what young-earth creationists and old-earth creationists argue for: fiat creation, special creation. 

In contrast, if naturalism is true, evolution pretty much has to be true. 

In the contingent sense that given naturalism, then naturalistic evolution is the only game in town. That, however, isn't evidence for either naturalism or naturalistic evolution. 

supernatural person: a person that is neither a part nor a product of the physical universeperfect person: perfect in power (omnipotent), perfect in knowledge (omniscient), and perfect in moral goodness (morally perfect). God: a perfect supernatural person

That's not a definition of theism, per se. Rather, that's a definition of classical theism or perfect being theology.  

Logical Form
(1) Evolution is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.(2) The statement that pain and pleasure systematically connected to reproductive success is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that evolutionary naturalism is true than on the assumption that evolutionary theism is true.(3) Therefore, evolution conjoined with this statement about pain and pleasure is antecedently very much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true. [From 1 and 2](4) Naturalism is at least as plausible as theism.(5) Therefore, other evidence held equal, naturalism is very much more probable than theism. [From 3 and 4](6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.(7) Therefore, other evidence held equal, it is highly probable that theism is false. [From 5 and 6]

How is premise #2 much more probable on the assumption of naturalistic evolution rather than theistic evolution–much less fiat creation or special creation? If God designed the human race to sustain its existence through sexual reproduction, then making sex enjoyable will incentivize reproductive success. 

Third, so much of the universe is hostile to life. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that so much of our universe is highly hostile to life–such as containing vast amounts of empty space, temperatures near absolute zero, cosmic radiation, and so forth–is more probable on naturalism than it is on theism.

Unfortunately, Jeff fails to explain how his conclusion follows from his premise. It's like saying that because Antarctica or Death Valley is inhospitable to human life, therefore, naturalism is more probably than theism. 

What is lame is Plantinga’s rather uncharitable representation of the evidential argument from the history of science

Here Jeff falls back on his old discredited post, which he had to patch up several times in the face of trenchant criticism. 

This ignores the evidence from the testimony of other atheists, including myself, who say that they wish that theism were true.

What's the evidence that Jeff wishes theism were true? He spends all his time attacking theism. 

This is Plantinga’s well-known “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” (EAAN).1. The basic problem with the argument is that it’s false that “Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.” Rather, as Draper pointed out in his debate with Plantinga, “More generally, the long term survival of our species is much more to be expected if our cognitive faculties are reliable than if they are unreliable, and that entails that the long term survival of our species is strong evidence for R.”2. Furthermore, “In addition, it is very unlikely that belief-producing mechanisms that do not track the truth would systematically promote survival in a very diverse and often rapidly changing environment.”

i) Why does Jeff think most organisms even have beliefs or cognitive faculties? If they can survive without beliefs or cognitive faculties, then they can survive without true beliefs or reliable cognitive faculties.

ii) What about Darwinian philosophers (e.g. Daniel Dennett, Alex Rosenberg, Paul and Patricia Churchland) and evolutionary biologists (e.g. Jerry Coyne) who deny that humans have beliefs or cognitive faculties? 

iii) Don't Darwinians like David Raup believe species have an extremely poor survival rate?