Saturday, May 17, 2014

Attesting the Virgin Birth

One popular objection to the Virgin Birth is that only two Gospels mention it. By way of reply:

i) Not only do only two Gospels record the Virgin Birth, but only two Gospels even have nativity accounts. And it's not coincidental that the only two Gospels which record the Virgin Birth are the only two Gospels with nativity accounts. Since Mark and John don't even have nativity accounts, it's hard to see how they'd fit the Virgin Birth into their narratives. Conversely, since Matthew and Luke have nativity accounts, it's not surprising in that connection that they mention the Virgin Birth. But if a Gospel doesn't even have a general account regarding the childhood of Christ, why would we expect a it to have an account of the Virgin Birth in particular? 

Therefore, I think the presence of that specific detail in Matthew and Luke, as well as its absence in Mark and John, is hardly suspect.

ii) In addition, both Matthew and Luke have special reasons to include the Virgin Birth. In the case of Matthew, this would be of interest to his Jewish readers, not just because of the Isa 7:14 oracle, but more generally because of other OT figures whose conception was supernaturally mediated.

In the case of Luke, it's often thought that Mary was one of his sources. If so, it's only natural that he mentions the Virgin Birth.

Luke in also interested in parallels between Jesus and John the Baptist, including divine intervention regarding their respective conceptions. 

iii) Christians know about the Virgin Birth because we've read Matthew and Luke. But why think that would have been widely known absent Matthew and Luke? Mary and Joseph are the only two individuals with direct knowledge of Virgin Birth. 

iv) Even if Mark and John recorded the Virgin Birth, skeptics of the Virgin Birth are skeptical of Mark and John. They think Mark's fascination with miracles and exorcisms reflects legendary embellishment, and they think John's high Christology reflects legendary embellishment. 

v) If Paul mentioned the Virgin Birth, they'd discount that because they don't think Paul had any firsthand knowledge of the historical Jesus. And even if he did, that would be towards the end of Christ's life. His public ministry. Not the beginning of his life.

vi) In principle, if James and Jude mentioned the Virgin Birth, that would be significant, coming from close relatives of Jesus. But skeptics of the Virgin Birth typically think the letters of James and Jude are pseudonymous. So even if they mentioned the Virgin Birth, that would be discounted. 

Indeed, skeptics of the Virgin Birth generally use reported miracles as evidence for dating the Gospels late. So the argument is circular. 

Peter Enns on the Virgin Birth

Commenting on Jerry Walls' Facebook page, Peter Enns said:

  • Peter Enns I highly recommend Andrew Lincoln's recent "Born of a Virgin?" It deals at great length with this very issue from a position of both faith and commitment to historical criticism.

    Luke Van Horn
    Prof. Enns, does Lincoln's book address the question I asked, about why some people seem to think that denial of the virgin birth would require rethinking Jesus' deity?

    Peter Enns
    Yes. I think you would agree with what he says. He also tackles head on why only 2 Gospels mention the virginal conception, Paul never hints at it, and the reasons the early church had for holding to it as it did (based on a misconception--pardon the pun) of human reproduction.

Teresa of Avila

Tim Challies has been doing a series on false teachers. Of course, that's provocative. It rubs some people the wrong way. But, in principle, it's a useful series. 

However, he got himself into a bit of a bind in his post on Teresa of Avila:

There are two problems with his post:

i) He lifted his key supporting material whole cloth from a Wikipedia article, without attribution.

ii) However, I don't think that's the most serious problem. The deeper problem is not that he failed to credit his source, but the source itself. If he's going to critique Teresa of Avila, he needs to do better research. Wikipedia is not a serious resource for something like this.

iii) That doesn't mean Wikipedia is always bad. Problem is, Wikipedia is notoriously unreliable, so unless you're already knowledgeable about the subject, you're in no position to evaluate any particular Wikipedia entry. 

iv) That doesn't mean Wikipedia is useless. Sometimes you can follow up on the references given in the Wikipedia article. Indeed, it's prudent to double-check the references, when that's possible.

v) Some commenters have chided Challies for failing to read the primary sources. Teresa's actual writings. But I wouldn't say that's necessary. The problem is not with his reliance on secondary sources, but the quality of his secondary sources. (His post on Muhammad suffers from the same superficiality.) 

No doubt there are many excellent scholarly expositions and interpretations of her mystical experience. And to some extent it would be misleading to go straight to her books, for to properly understand the material you need some background information about 16C Spain, the Counter-Reformation, &c. 

Problem is that Challies thought he could wing it with minimal study. But he's a high-profile blogger and book reviewer for World Magazine. If he's going to post an assessment of someone as famous as Teresa of Avila, he must be prepared to make the necessary investment. 

Speaking for myself, when I read about Teresa's experiences, I can't help wondering if this doesn't reflect the sublimated frustration of a woman who lacked the normal emotional fulfillment of a wife and mother. This was her outlet. How much of this is a projection of her basic emotional deprivations? 

Frankly, it looks like he was using Teresa of Avila as a pretext to bash mysticism and lobby for cessationism. Once again, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. I'm highly dubious about cultivating mystical encounters. It's dangerous. You open yourself to who-knows-what. Be careful what you invite inside. It's easier to invite something than disinvite something.

But mysticism is a huge field. It's not something you can treat off-the-cuff. Here are some standard treatments:

Winfried Corduan, Mysticism: An Evangelical Option?

Nelson Pike, Mystic Union: An Essay in the Phenomenology of Mysticism

Joseph Maréchal, Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics


Center for Disease Control: Syphilis resurgence among gay men ‘major public health concern’:

According to [a new report from the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control (CDC)], “During 2005-2013, the number of primary and secondary syphilis cases reported each year in the United States nearly doubled, from 8,724 to 16,663; the annual rate increased from 2.9 to 5.3 cases per 100,000 population.” …“men … accounting for 91.1% of all … syphilis cases in 2013.” Most of the increases came from men who have sex with men(MSM), which were responsible for 77% of cases in 2009 but 83.9% in 2012, what the report calls “the vast majority of male… syphilis cases.” The report warns that the numbers in the new report are likely far less than the true number because only 34 states and the District of Columbia fully report sex of sex partners. The report raises a particular concern about what it calls “co-infection rates.” “There are reported rates of 50%-70% HIV co-infection among MSM infected with primary or secondary syphilis…”

‘The notion of co-infection follows closely a report just published by independent researcher Dale O’Leary in the prestigious Linacre Quarterly of the Catholic Medical Association, found at the bottom of this article. O’Leary reports that researchers understand the problems of health among MSM are now so vast and interrelated they are considered a “syndemic,” a linked set of health issues involving two or more afflictions acting in concert within a specific population. According to the medical literature, among MSM these would include diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV but also such pathologies as partner violence, drug abuse, and psychological disorders. Treating a single part of this puzzle would not solve the whole problem.

‘The HIV/AIDS infection rate alone is bleak. From 2008 to 2010 the new HIV infection rate grew 12%, from 26,700 to 29,800 cases reported. One in five sexually active MSM carry the AIDS virus, but nearly half of those don’t even know it. However, HIV/AIDS is not the only problem, as the new CDC report on syphilis makes clear. According to the Linacre paper, “MSM are far more likely to be diagnosed with other STDs, some of which have become resistant to commonly used antibiotics.”’

Keep in mind that when you see numbers that talk about "5.3 cases per 100,000 population", that's 100,000 of the total population. The concentration of numbers is much higher, at least by a factor of 10, because the number of homosexual men is a relatively small portion of the "total population".

HT: Robert Gagnon

De novo creation

Because Gen 1-2 conflicts with universal common descent, some "progressive evangelicals" contend that Gen 1-2 doesn't really teach that all humans descend from Adam and Eve. That's just how conservatives or "fundamentalists" interpret Genesis. Their literalistic interpretation.

In that regard, it's refreshing to see an outspoken theistic evolutionist admit that the traditional interpretation is correct. He simply disregards the authority of Gen 1-2. So this is not a question of interpretation, but inspiration. 

Did the apostle Paul believe that Adam was a real person? Yes, well of course he did. Paul was a first-century AD Jew and like every Jewish person around him, he accepted the historicity of Adam. In fact, he places Adam’s sin and death alongside God’s gifts of salvation and resurrection from the dead through Jesus. In Romans 5:12 and 15, he writes that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. . . . For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and gift that came by the grace of the One Man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Paul also claims in 1 Corinthians 15:21 that “since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a Man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” 
It is understandable why most Christians believe that Adam was a real historical person. This is exactly what Scripture states in both the Old and New Testaments.  
Like every account of origins, Genesis 2 is etiological. It offers an explanation for the existence of things and beings known to the Holy Spirit-inspired writer and his readers—vegetation, land animals, birds, and humans. And typical of ancient accounts of origins, the Lord God created these de novo; that is, they were made quickly and completely formed. But Genesis 2 focuses mainly on the origin of humanity. 
De novo creation is the ancient conceptualization of origins found in the Bible. This term is made up of the Latin words de meaning “from” and novus “new.” Stated more precisely, it is a view of origins that results in things and beings that are brand new. This type of creative activity is quick and complete. It appears in a majority of ancient creation accounts and it involves a divine being/s who act/s rapidly through a series of dramatic interventions, resulting in cosmological structures (sun, moon, stars) and living organisms (plants, animals, humans) that are mature and fully formed. 
Considering the limited scientific evidence available to ancient peoples, this conceptualization of origins was perfectly logical. As with all origins accounts, including those held by us today, the ancients asked basic etiological questions (Greek aitia: the cause, the reason for this). These included: Where did these things or beings come from? Why are they this way? Who or what is responsible for their origin? There was no reason for ancient peoples to believe the universe was billions of years old, and they were unaware that living organisms changed over eons of time as reflected in the fossil record. Instead, the age of the world was limited to the lengths of their genealogies, many of which were held by memory, and therefore quite short. Biological evolution was not even a consideration because in the eyes of the ancients, hens laid eggs that always produced chicks, ewes only gave birth to lambs, and women were invariably the mothers of human infants. Living organisms were therefore immutable; they were static and never changed. 
In conceptualizing origins, ancient people used these day-to-day experiences and retrojected them back to the beginning of creation (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw). Retrojection is the very same type of thinking used in crime scene investigations. Present evidence found at the scene is used to reconstruct past events. In this way, the ancients came to the reasonable conclusion that the universe and life must have been created quickly and completely formed not that long ago. And this was the best origins science-of-the-day.

Raising godless kids

Moving the football field

A few days ago The Herald News (serving Dayton, Tenn., and Rhea County communities since 1898) reported the next, and I suppose inevitable, development in the Bryan-College-brazenly-moves-the-statement-of-faith-goal-posts-as-a-way-of-weeding-out-dangerous-faculty-who-don’t-think-the-Bible-is-a-science-book saga.

Did the board of trustees move the goalpost? Or did the faculty move the football field? 

I think the goalpost is where it's always been. But some professors redrew the sidelines, so that what used to be out of bounds is no longer out of bounds. Wasn't Bryan College founded in  opposition to Darwinism? Isn't the mild revision to the original statement of faith consistent with original intent? Wasn't the original statement designed to exclude human evolution? 

Skin for skin

Why doesn't God do more to protect his people from harm? There are at least a couple of explanations:

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word (Ps 119:67).

As long as evil is just an abstraction, we don't take it seriously. Indeed, evil often has a short-term payoff. That's what makes it appealing. Unless we experience the undesirable consequences of evil firsthand, we don't appreciate the malignity of evil. 

9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:9-11). 
4 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 2:4-5).
There's the danger of following God for the wrong reasons. Following God for the benefits, and not because it is right, true, and good. 
Now, as needy creatures, there's nothing inherently wrong with an element of self-interest to motivate religious devotion. But that shouldn't be the only incentive. It's not like God ought to bribe us in exchange for our fidelity. 

The mark of the Beast

16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name (Rev 13:16-17).
Is affirming homosexuality the mark of the Beast? 
First they lost their television show. Now the Benham brothers say they are losing their business. 
SunTrust Banks is cutting ties with would-be reality stars David and Jason Benham after liberal activists attacked them for their conservative views on abortion and gay marriage, The Daily Caller has learned. (UPDATE: SunTrust Reverses Decision on Benham Brothers) 
In a statement provided first to TheDC on Friday, the Benham brothers confirmed that SunTrust Banks has pulled all of its listed properties with the Benham brothers’ bank-owned property business, which includes several franchisees across four states.
Like a contagion, it's striking how fast the witchhunt is spreading. We've gone from businesses supposedly discriminating against homosexuals to businesses legally forbidden to discriminate against homosexuals to businesses discriminating against customers who disapprove of homosexuality. 
SunTrust backed down, but it shows how potentially vulnerable Christians are to economic coercion. It can happen literally overnight. Inasmuch as most private businesses are dependent on the banking system, this kind of boycott would be devastating to the livelihood of Christian entrepreneurs. 

Forum of Christian Leaders

FOCL looks like a useful resource.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Predestinarian apocalypticism

To understand this, you have to enter into the “logic” of ancient theological thought, and especially “apocalyptic” thought.   I’ll sketch it briefly.  God doesn’t make up his game-plan as the game goes along, but has the plan (of world history, redemption, judgement, etc.) all laid out even before creation.  So, as God acts in revelation, each action is also an unveiling of his prior purpose and plan.  So, “eschatological” events were actually in God’s purpose from the beginning:  “final things = first things” (to paraphrase a scholarly formula).

Biblical astronomy

One objection unbelievers raise to Joshua's Long Day, the Star of Bethlehem, and the Crucifixion darkness, is the (alleged) absence of extrabiblical confirmation. If these were global events, visible worldwide or visible outside the Holy Land, we'd expect extrabiblical records. So goes the argument. 
Of course, how global these events really were is, itself, a matter of interpretation. But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that all three events would be visible outside the Holy Land. Does the absence of documentation commensurate with the extent of the phenomena cast doubt on the historicity of the Biblical record? Let's take a comparison:
On July 4, 1054 A.D., Chinese astronomers noted a "guest star" in the constellation Taurus; Simon Mitton lists 5 independent preserved Far-East records of this event (one of 75 authentic guest stars - novae and supernovae, excluding comets - systematically recorded by Chinese astronomers between 532 B.C. and 1064 A.D., according to Simon Mitton). This star became about 4 times brighter than Venus in its brightest light, or about mag -6, and was visible in daylight for 23 days. 
Some older sources had speculated that this supernova might have been as bright as the Full Moon (or mag -12). The reason for this assumption was probably the intention to fit its 23-day visibility with older model lightcurves. 
It was probably also recorded by Anasazi Indian artists (in present-day Arizona and New Mexico), as findings in Navaho Canyon and White Mesa (both AZ, found 1953-54 by William C. Miller) as well as in the Chaco Canyon National Park (NM) indicate; there's a review of the research on the Chaco Canyon Anasazi art online, including the full-size version of our photo, which was obtained by Ron Lussier. A similar photo of this possible Supernova Pictograph was obtained by Paul Charbonneau of the High Altitude Observatory. 
As Simon Mitton points out in his book (Mitton 1978), evidence for the plausibility of this interpretation arises from the fact that on the morning of July 5, 1054 the crescent moon came remarkably close to the supernova, as seen (only) from Western North America. 
In 1990, Ralph Robert Robbins of the University of Texas announced the discovery of additional records in pottery of the Mimbres Indians of New Mexico. The plate probably representing the supernova is e.g. shown on page 68 of Robert Garfinkle's book Star Hopping. As the author lines out, the art style of this plate was used only before 1100 A.D., and carbon-14 dating indicates that this plate was created between 1050 and 1070 AD, so that very probably the supernova is depicted, as a 23-rayed star. 
Strangely enough, it seems that at least almost no records of European or Arab observations of the supernova have survived to modern times.

Either this highly conspicuous, widely observable event wasn't generally reported, or most of the reports were lost. This, despite the fact that ancient observers took a keen interest in celestial prodigies and portents. 

Conservative punditry

Recently I was asked what conservative pundits I recommend. That requires some preliminary sorting.
i) On the one hand, certain issues are perennial issues. They crop up on a regular basis. On the other hand, news analysis is ephemeral and repetitious. 
ii) There are "generic" pundits who generally write well on a range of issues. 
iii) There's a difference between Christian conservative and non-Christian conservative pundits. Non-Christian conservatives can be good on economics, the Constitutional rule of law, &c. 
iv) Traditionally, conservatives tend to be hawkish, with a keen interest in geopolitics. But due to how the Bush and Obama administration bungled the "war on terror," the emphasis has shifted from foreign policy to domestic policy. 
v) Some pundits like Matt Walsh and Mark Steyn are as popular for their style as their content. 
vi) Some pundits specialize on particular issues. 
vii) Some categories overlap, so there will be some repetition in my list. 
vii) My selection criterion is largely based on what's available online.
viii) As an American, I focus on the American political scene. However, culture war issues and arguments are the same in the US, UK, and EU. 
Charles C. W. Cooke
Victor Davis Hanson
Charles Krauthammer
Ramesh Ponnuru 
George Will
Christian apologetic/culture war aggregator
Wintery Knight
Witherspoon Institute
Keith Burgess-Jackson
Lydia McGrew
Bill Vallicella
Denny Burk
Joe Carter
John Frame
David French
Albert Mohler
Justin Taylor
James White
Francis Beckwith
Robert George
Michael Brown
Mark Levin
Michael Medved
Dennis Prager
Jay Sekulow
Ben Shapiro
Ben Carson
Larry Elder
Thomas Sowell
Kevin D. Williamson
John Stossel
Daniel Pipes
Robert Spencer
David Wood
Larry Kudlow
Tomas Sowell 
Michael Brown

Denny Burk
Robert Gagnon
Wayne Grudem

Jim Hamilton
Helen Smith
Christina Hoff Sommers
Francis Beckwith
Robert George
Scott Klusendorf
Lydia McGrew
Wesley J. Smith
Religious liberty
Francis Beckwith
David French
Robert George
Jay Sekulow
Political demographics
Michael Baron
Voter Fraud
John Fund 
Global warming
E. Calvin Beisner

Habila Adamu

"Nigerian Christian Shot in the Face by Boko Haram Reveals Ordeal"

HT: Denny Burk.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Does Lourdes undercut the Resurrection?

Should we think that the general reliability of the early Christians who spread the Jesus story was greater or less than the pilgrims at Lourdes? I should think it would be much lower. The pilgrims are modern, educated, scientific era people. Many of them are doctors, lawyers, and scientists, people who are trained in making good decisions and being skeptical. They have the benefit of 2,000 years of investigations into the natural causes of allegedly supernatural events. The early Christians, by contrast, would have been largely illiterate, poor, uneducated. They would not have the benefit of the huge body of scientific and empirical knowledge that we take for granted.  
When people take the Jesus stories seriously and make comments like, “Why would the early Christians lie?” or “what incentive could that have for making it all up?” or “how could they have perpetrated such a deception?” they are simply ignoring the strength of the tendency in the human mind to see miracles or events of spiritual or supernatural origin at every turn. We don’t need to have a better, alternative explanation to be quite sure that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. The reliability of the information transmitted in those stories to us is just too low.
Several problems:
i) McCormick is using Lourdes as a wedge tactic. The gist of his argument is: if you don't believe miracles ever happen at Lourdes, why believe Biblical miracles? 
A problem with that analogy is that it's reversible. If you do believe there are credible reports of miracles at Lourdes, then by parity of argument, that lends credibility to Biblical reports. 
I'm not saying that's why Christians should believe in Biblical miracles. I'm just responding to McCormick on his own terms. 
ii) McCormick also muddies the waters by speculating on the percentages. The ratio of pilgrims to reported miracles. But that's a decoy. Atheism is a universal negative. Atheism disallows a single miracle. So the fraction, however small, is irrelevant. Even one well-attested miracle at Lourdes would be sufficient to sink his position.
iii) Likewise, raw percentages are irrelevant. You can only evaluate the claim on a case-by-case basis. The specific details in any given case. 
iv) I don't have any antecedent objection to the possibility of miracles at Lourdes. For one thing, it's not as if the Church of Rome has a monopoly on reported miracles. Moreover, I don't think the sole function of miracles is to corroborate doctrine. 
v) It's not that hard to call McCormick's bluff. Stanley Jaki researched two cases at Lourdes. I find them fairly persuasive: 

Does Cessationism Still Stand?

True religion

There's a danger in apologetics if we treat God as merely an explanation for reality rather than a worshipful reality.
Some will say Thomas Jefferson was a deist, not an atheist. Atheism, however, simply involves having no theism, and deism — belief that a celestial Clockmaker wound up the universe and set it ticking — is too watery a theism to count. Any religion worthy of the name explains, enjoins and consoles; undemanding deism merely explains, and does this minimally. Deism purports to explain the universe; so does the big bang theory, which is not a religion.

How Eating Meat Can Save the Planet

If they could, animal rights activists would ban meat production. But that's politically almost impossible due to the immense popularity of beef, pork, chicken, fish, &c. 

One strategy is to lasso the meat industry into global warming. Eating meat suddenly becomes an existential threat to the survival of the human race. 

Here's an interesting pushback from someone who hails from the vegan community:

Manhood deficit

So pro football player Don Jones was fined and suspended for expressing disapproval over Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend on national TV. A few observations:

i) I bet you far more football fans are offended by Michael Sam's action than Don Jones's reaction. So this reflects the contempt of Miami Dolphins' management for its core constituency. 

ii) Here's another point: football is supposed to be heteronormative. Traditionally, football is a symbol of masculinity. Jocks symbolize manliness. 

There are a few sports, like figure skating (assuming we call that a sport) which showcase femininity, but historically, sports is more of a guy thing.  

Football ought to be an arena in which natural masculine traits are valued. In that respect, football players can be role models. 

Of course, football players can behave badly in other respects. It doesn't make you a moral paragon. 

But the Dolphins management is sabotaging a traditional appeal of football. The Dolphins management suffers from a manhood deficit. They instantly capitulate to a subversive mentality that's the antithesis of football. 

Against abortion? Don't have one

This is an actual bumper sticker. You can buy one at

It has a certain libertarian appeal. And there are libertarians who support the legality of abortion on libertarian grounds.

Mind you, one could just as well oppose abortion on libertarian grounds. After all, this justification is only appealing to libertarian adults, not libertarian babies.

But many abortion advocates are the polar opposite of libertarians. Many abortion advocates are social engineers. They believe in banning actives they disapprove of. Do they apply their logic to other issues? Try these slogans:

Against assault rifles? Don't buy one

Against whale hunting? Don't kill one

Against animal testing? Don't test one

Against meat? Don't eat it

We could easily extend the list:

Against segregation? Don't segregate

Against genocide? Don't do it

Against date rape? Don't do it

Against child prostitution? Don't do it

Against trophy hunting? Don't hunt

And so on and so forth. 

Why Neil deGrasse Tyson is a philistine

"The popular television host says he has no time for deep, philosophical questions. That's a horrible message to send to young scientists."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How Not To Fight Calvinists

By an Arminian systematic theologian:

"Debate: Where Do Complex Biological Systems Come From? Stephen Meyer v. Oxford Physicist Ard Louis"


Special agent intention as an explanation

The aesthetics of evil

In deploying the argument from evil, unbelievers contend that if God could create a world in which everyone does right, then he ought to do so. Some Christians respond by invoking the freewill defense. However, even Christians who subscribe to libertarian freewill believe in the possibility (indeed, actuality) of a world in which everyone freely does right. They just postpone that for the world to come. 

Admittedly, that may be inconsistent with their philosophical commitments. It's just that their eschatology commits them to a position at odds with their philosophical commitments. So they affirm a contradiction. 

It's instructive to compare this atheist complaint with film and TV critics. Critics dislike movies and TV dramas in which the good guys are too good. They prefer characters that are morally grey. Characters that undergo character development. They find morally pristine characters simplistic and boring. Makes you wonder if they really want a world in which everyone does right. 

At the other extreme we have films and TV dramas in which all the characters are morally repellent. Some may be worse than others, but all of them are pretty bad. It's just a difference of degree. 

I think Christians like characters who are like them. We like characters who struggle with sin. Characters who are tempted by sin. Characters who are striving to do the right thing, sometimes fail, but repent and continue striving to do right.

Compare this to an android. An android isn't even tempted to commit sin. It can't feel temptation. Because it isn't human, it isn't drawn to things that humans find enticing. 

As a result, an android can never be a hero. Even if it always does the right thing, it's not a virtuous being. Doing right is effortless for the android, because there's no inner conflict. The android doesn't find evil appealing for the same reason it doesn't find goodness appealing. It's not in his makeup. 

Now, resisting temptation is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. In the world to come, the saints won't find sin alluring. But that's in part because, in this life, we've acquired a degree of moral fortitude. And we've experienced the consequences of sin. 

Untested decency is highly unstable. Someone may be decent simply because his decency has never been put to the test. And the moment his decency is tested, his moral shell collapses. 

Moral formation, strength of character, is the result of experience in the face of moral challenges.  

Simplicity is complicated

Alexander Pruss has been commenting on a post of mine. I'll reproduce our exchange, then respond to his latest comment, as well as a follow-up post of his:

Alexander R Pruss
Even on Calvinism we have the problem of how God knows what he decided to do. God's decisions are contingent. Do they affect God? Then we seem to get a violation of immutability or at least simplicity. An extrinsic model of divine beliefs, on which his beliefs about contingent things are partly constituted by the contingent truths, solves all the problems.


If those contingent truths are dependent on what humans will freely do (in the libertarian sense), then isn't God's knowledge (of those contingent truths) affected by our choices (pace impassibility)? 

Seems to me that you're now resorting to an idiosyncratic definition of impassibility. That's why I quoted from Brian Davies (the 3rd ed. of his intro to the philosophy of religion, p5).
So you're shifting ground from your original argument.
The fact that God's knowledge of his own decisions is "contingent" on his own decisions is entirely consistent with God being unaffected by the *world*.
And in what sense would he be *affected* by knowing what he decided to do? It's not as if there's a shift between prior ignorance and subsequent knowledge. If God is timeless, it's not even that he knew what he was going to decide before he made his decision. Rather, there was no prior state or prior moment of indecision in the first place. So God hasn't undergone any change by that relation.
How is a violation of simplicity equivalent to a violation of impassibility?
On the face of it, doesn't your statement that God's decisions are contingent violate divine simplicity? Given divine simplicity, aren't God's decisions as essential or necessary as God in himself?

  • It's true that those who are Calvinists in the strongest sense of thinking that we have no alternate possibilities ever (one could be a Calvinist in a weaker sense of thinking that we have no alternate possibilities with respect to salvation, but we have alternate possibilities with respect to less significant actions) don't have the impassibility problem. But Calvinists still have the problem that they have to admit that there is an order of explanation in God, even if not of time: first in the order of explanation comes a contingent divine decision (unless one takes Edwards' view that God's own actions are determined--which leads to trouble for omnipotence and God's sovereignty over his own actions) and then comes his belief that he has so decided.

  • Likewise, Calvinists who, like Calvin and Turretin, believe in divine simplicity -- and there is certainly good reason for them to do so -- will still have the problem.


I disagree with Edwards on that point. However, doesn't simplicity have the same consequences?
If God is actus purus, if there's no unrealized potentialities in God, then aren't all divine decisions and actions necessary/necessitated?
Likewise, if even divine decisions or actions are identical with God's essence, then God has no contingent relations, but only essential relations. So, once again, aren't all divine decisions and actions necessary/necessitated?

Alexander R Pruss5/12/2014 10:09 AM
It's true that those who are Calvinists in the strongest sense of thinking that we have no alternate possibilities ever (one could be a Calvinist in a weaker sense of thinking that we have no alternate possibilities with respect to salvation, but we have alternate possibilities with respect to less significant actions) don't have the impassibility problem.

i) Pruss has now conceded that his original argument, based on impassibility, fails against Calvinism.

ii) BTW, what he calls "strong Calvinism" just is Calvinism. That every event is predestined is normative, mainstream Calvinism.

There are some scholars like Muller and Crisp who are trying to broaden the definition of Calvinism.  But I think their personal sympathies betray them into historical revisionism.

iii) Just to be clear, Calvinism doesn't deny alternate possibilities. What it denies is that humans can access alternate possibilities. That's not to deny that there are alternative possibilities which inhere in God, possibilities which God could access, had he so chosen.

But Calvinists still have the problem that they have to admit that there is an order of explanation in God, even if not of time: first in the order of explanation comes a contingent divine decision (unless one takes Edwards' view that God's own actions are determined--which leads to trouble for omnipotence and God's sovereignty over his own actions) and then comes his belief that he has so decided. 

I don't see how that's a problem. There's a sense in which some divine beliefs are logically dependent on other divine beliefs. It's a necessary truth that every blue object is a colored object. Is that timeless order of explanation theologically problematic? If that's not a problem of necessary truths, why is that a problem for contingent truths? 

iv) In your post, moreover, you admit that "Thomists, and presumably some Calvinists as well, can reduce (3) to (2): God's decision is identical with his knowledge of his decision." So doesn't that dissolve the (allegedly) problematic distinction?

v) There are some philosophers who deny that God even has beliefs. They have a specialized conception of what it means to have beliefs. 

Likewise, Calvinists who, like Calvin and Turretin, believe in divine simplicity -- and there is certainly good reason for them to do so -- will still have the problem.

We need to unpack simplicity:

i) God has no spatiotemporal parts.

ii) There is no essence/existence distinction in God.

iii) God is not an instance of his attributes. God is the exemplar. He doesn't exemplify abstract properties.

iv) There is no potential/actual distinction in God.

v) There is no metaphysical complexity in God. Each attribute is identical with every other attribute. 

Speaking for myself, I grant (i-iii). 

(iv) needs to be finessed to preserve divine freedom. For instance, God is actually omnipotent, but the exercise of divine omniscience is selective. Hence, there are unrealized potentials. Unexemplified possibilities. 

I'm dubious about (v). For one thing, the distinction between justice and mercy is essential to Calvinism. 

(v) is in prima facie tension with divine freedom, and with the Trinity. There's also the question of whether it's even coherent. 

The appeal of (v) is that it automatically yields other values like divine timelessness. However, one can have divine timelessness without the baggage of simplicity.  

Moreover, that raises the question of whether simplicity really makes a distinctive contribution to the discussion. Is it something over and above the attributes it conglomerates? Or is it just an umbrella term? 

Even if we make both of these controversial moves, we still have the distinction between God's essential nature and his contingent decisions (which are then identical with his knowledge of the decisions and his knowledge of creatures' responses thereto).

Isn't that distinction necessary to maintain divine freedom? 

For those Christians who are unimpressed by the strength of the traditional commitments (in the pre-Reformation tradition, but also in people like Calvin and Turretin) to divine simplicity, and the arguments for divine simplicity, the natural solution will appear to be to deny divine simplicity, and then not worry about the problem.

Several issues: 

i) We need to distinguish between Reformed distinctive and Reformed essentials on the one hand, and Reformed traditions which are a carryover from the pre-Reformation church. Because Calvinism is historically conditioned, like every theological tradition, some elements of the traditional Reformed package are "historical accidents." They are not essential (much less unique) to Calvinism.

ii) So it's a question of theological priorities. If, say, simplicity is in tension with divine freedom, what gives? In the web of Calvinism, what is central and what is peripheral? In my opinion, divine freedom is more important than divine simplicity. If a Calvinist were to sacrifice divine simplicity (i.e. God is devoid of metaphysical complexity), I don't think he's lost anything essential to Calvinism. Divine simplicity is not, from what I can tell, a revealed truth. And it's not a sine qua non of Calvinism. 

Calvinism largely overlaps with classical theism, but that package isn't logically tight in every respect. 

They should still worry about the problem. For if one denies divine simplicity and holds that God has at least the two distinct constituents: his essential nature, N, and his contingent decisions, D, then one has to say something about the relationship between these two. Clearly, D is in some way explained by N: God acts as he does in part because of his essentially perfectly good character. The explanation is not a grounding-type explanation—to make it be a grounding-type explanation would be to hold on to a version of a divine simplicity explanation. In creatures, the corresponding explanation of decisions would be causal: the character causes (deterministically or not) the decision. So it seems that we have something very much like a causal relationship between N and D. And this in turn makes D be very much like a creature, indeed perhaps literally a creature. Since D is a constituent of God, it follows that a constituent of God is very much like a creature, perhaps literally a creature. But this surely contradicts transcendence!
Now perhaps one can insist that the relationship between N and D while being akin to causation is sufficiently different from it that D is sufficiently different from a creature that we have no violation of transcendence. Maybe, but I am still worried.
So if I am right, even if one denies divine simplicity, a version of the problem remains. And so the problem may not be a problem specifically for divine simplicity. 

i) I think this analysis has it backwards. If simplicity is true, God's decision is identical with his knowledge of his decision. However, even if simplicity is false, it can still be the case that God's decision is identical with his knowledge of his decision. I don't see that particular claim requires simplicity in general. 

ii) There's a difference between God acting consistent with his goodness and his goodness necessitating his action. To say God can't act contrary to his goodness is not to say his goodness singles out one particular course of action. 

iii) Must a dependence relation be cashed out in terms of causation? A triangle is dependent on its three-sideness. But it would be eccentric to claim the three sides cause a triangle. Although a triangle is constituted by its three-sideness, that's not a causal relation, that I can see. 

Same thing with logical implication. The conclusion is dependent on the premises. But that's not a causal relation. 

Pruss might object that I'm using abstract objects to illustrate my point, whereas he's referring to truth of fact rather than truths of reason.

To begin with, since contingent relations are the point in dispute, I'm using abstract objects in contrast to contingent relations because we need a different kind of comparison to avoid the issue in contention. And I'm using that to make the point that a dependence relation is not inherently causal. 

iv) One issue is whether causation involves time. Even if the cause is timeless, the effect is temporal. If, however, the relation is timeless, is it still meaningful to define it as causal?

v) Take the teleology of the divine decree. If vicarious atonement is a precondition of divine forgiveness, then you have a means-ends explanatory order. Forgiveness is contingent on vicarious atonement. A dependence relation. Specifically, a teleological relation. But the teleological order isn't, itself, causal, even if it will be implemented in a cause/effect relation. 

vi) Take the Father's knowledge of the Son? Isn't that dependent on there being a Son to know? Does the object of the Father's knowledge cause the Father's knowledge? 

vii) Finally, as a friend of mine pointed out, faithful Catholics are committed to the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit. But by Pruss's argument, doesn't that dependence relation make the Son and Spirit "creatures" of the Father? 

BTW, there are Calvinists (e.g. Warfield, Helm, Frame) who reject the monarchy of the Father. 

Swimming with sharks

I see Drake Shelton made it official last summer by formally renouncing the Christian faith. I don't keep up with his blog, so I hadn't noticed until now. Drake used to be a prominent undistinguished Scripturalist. 

His apostasy was facilitated by hobnobbing with Dale Tuggy (anti-Trinitarian) and David Waltz (former[?] Jehovah's Witness, religious pluralist, Islamic sympathizer). When you swim with sharks you may wind up on the menu.  

Intellectual pride was always Drake's Achilles heel. He feels the need to stake out eccentric positions to make himself stand out. He can't bear the thought of being average, ordinary. Plays into his white supremacist complex. But he's certainly a poor candidate for the Master Race. 

Sean Gerety finds it polemically useful to lump Ryan Hedrich (winner of the Trinity Foundation's Clark Prizes) with Drake Shelton, but Ryan is quite level-headed. I don't anticipate him going down the same path. 

Daniel Chew is one of the more intelligent and stable Scripturalists. I think he's still a Scripturalist. He's currently a student at WSC. Chew has an interesting background. 

During the Clark Controversy, I think Gordon Clark generally had the better of the argument. Of course, that was early Clark. Late Clark became increasingly erratic. 

Baptizing Martians

(Vatican Radio) "Who are we to close the doors " to the Holy Spirit? This was the question that Pope Francis repeated this morning during his homily at Mass at Casa Santa Marta, a homily dedicated to the conversion of the first pagans to Christianity. The Holy Spirit, he reiterated, is what makes the Church to go "beyond the limits, go ever forward." 
"That was unthinkable. If – for example - tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here... Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them... And one says, 'But I want to be baptized!' What would happen?"

Moving up the pecking order

Justin McCurry has made an interesting observation about the Tullian Tchividjian controversy:

Okay, I understand challenging Tullian to debate, but why not challenge someone else, like from Escondido? Tullian is a popularizer, why not challenge a scholar. Why go after low hanging fruit?

Ian Clary
Well, seeing that Carl Trueman offered to ride shotgun, Tullian could get R. Scott Clark to join him. That would make it all the more interesting.

Justin K. McCurry
Yes Tullian is wrong, but he just repeats himself. It would make more sense to move further upstream, and remove the dead deer from the water supply. 

Tullian is just reading the cue cards. Why not talk to the people writing them?

Justin K. McCurry
". Again, Tullian stuck his neck out and got called on it. "

Yes, but Escondido has been saying this for a long time, and there has been back and forth discussions all along with no debate challenges. (Except for the Tipton/Horton discussion on Reformed Forum). 

"Why would you not flock to him?" 

White Horse Inn has been on air for a long time, with folks like Horton, who has been the subject of complaint. People probably flock to Tullian. But I think folks at WSC get way more mentions, and are way more nuanced than someone like Tullian. I'm not saying don't debate Tullian, I'm just wondering why hasn't this happened with someone from the HQ.

"Second, he's the popularizer and a debate against him would show the people at the popular level why he's wrong"

To me, it's like an adult arguing with a child, to show him that he's wrong. But Tullian isn't the hinge of the issues going on in this whole discussion. By all means debate him. But this should have been done a long time ago, with someone else. It just doesn't appear to be the obvious solution at this point. 

"Plus, the academics won't debate--at least, not as easily as Tullian will."

I haven't seen anyone try. I've just seen books written from long distances.

Joshua Gielow
Scott Clark has said Tullian is freeing the masses with his law/gospel perspective.

Justin K. McCurry
I think if a couple of folks from WSC like Clark, Horton (Perhaps Hart?) would join and they discuss it in a forum setting, there would be something beneficial in it. Maybe a part 2 in The Future of Protestantism

Joshua Gielow
John Frame dealt with these guys and they just him off. It would be the same in a debate.

Joshua Gielow
And VanDrunen.

Justin K. McCurry "I think a much larger crowd would get interest because of a debate with Tullian rather than anyone else"

Why would it matter if more people got interested in a debate with Tullian? Is the goal to have a popular debate? Or is the goal to get to the truth of the matter? Do you really think Tullian would be the best representative of his law/gospel views? It just seems equivalent to swimming in the shallow end of the pool.

"but at least a debate needs to occur with him."

Again, I am *not*, I repeat *I am not* saying the debate shouldn't happen. 

I am *not* defending Tullian. 

My questions were meant to highlight what hasn't been done. There have been *no* debates, or attempts to debate with professors from WSC. Which as far as I've seen from constant criticism, is the center of the problem. 

Repeating "but it should happen" or "this will get more attention" doesn't address the thrust of my questioning. lol