Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tim McGrew v. Peter Boghossian

Arminianism in a nutshell

I have said that if it were revealed to me in a way I could not doubt that the God of consistent, five point Calvinism is the one true God over all, the maker of heaven and earth, I would not worship him because I would not think him worthy of worship.

That implicitly sums up the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism, but let's spell out the comparison:

Calvinism: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. I'm unworthy to worship you. And I'm eternally grateful to you for redeeming me and forgaving me in spite of how utterly unworthy I am to be called your son.

Arminianism: Now, Jesus, I summoned you to this interview to determine if you are worthy of my worship. You can start by filling out this questionnaire to see where you rank in my rating system. If you make the first cut, I will quiz you further to see if you deserve my approbation. 

No Exit

Three damned souls, Garcin, Inez, and Estelle are brought to the same room in hell by a mysterious Valet. They had all expected medieval torture devices to punish them for eternity, but instead find a plain room furnished in Second Empire style. None of them will admit the reason for their damnation: Garcin says that he was executed for being a pacifist, while Estelle insists that a mistake has been made. 
Inez however, demands that they all stop lying to themselves and confess to their crimes. She refuses to believe that they all ended up in the room by accident and soon realizes that they have been placed together to make each other miserable. Garcin suggests that they try to leave each other alone, but Inez starts to sing about an execution and Estelle wants to find a mirror. Inez tries to seduce Estelle by offering to be her "mirror" and tell her everything she sees, but ends up frightening her instead. 
After arguing they decide to confess to their crimes so they know what to expect from each other. Garcin cheated and mistreated his wife; Inez seduced her cousin's wife while living with them; and Estelle cheated on her husband and drowned her illegitimate baby. Despite their revelations they continue to get on each other's nerves. Garcin finally gives in to Estelle's attempts to seduce him, driving Inez crazy. He begs Estelle to tell him he is not a coward for attempting to flee his country during wartime. When Inez tells him that Estelle is just agreeing with him so she can be with a man, Garcin tries to escape. The door suddenly opens, but he is unable to leave. He says that he will not be saved until Inez has faith in him. She refuses, promising to make him miserable forever. Forgetting that they are all dead, Estelle unsuccessfully tries to kill Inez, stabbing her repeatedly. Shocked at the absurdity of his fate, Garcin concludes, "hell is other people."

How The Pro-Life Movement Is Doing

Here's a post by Michael New on recent Gallup polling regarding how Americans view abortion. We should keep in mind that movement to the left on one issue, like homosexuality, isn't always accompanied by movement to the left on every other issue. And a couple of decades can make a significant difference in public sentiment in either direction.

Disfellowshipping Calvinists as damnable heretics

I'm going to comment on this post:
Then you and I are different. I begin with Jesus. If God turns out to be radically different than Jesus, then he is not the God I worship. In that case, God would have been deceiving me through his self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

But Olson doesn't begin with Jesus. For instance, Jesus often began with the OT. But Olson doesn't begin with the OT. So Olson doesn't begin where Jesus began, in which case Olson doesn't begin with Jesus. 

Likewise, Jesus reaffirmed OT theism. But Olson repudiates OT theism. Olson refuses to believe that Yahweh said and did certain things which the OT attributes to him. So Olson doesn't believe in Yahweh. Yet, according to NT Christology, Jesus is Yahweh. When Olson disbelieves in Yahweh, he disbelieves in Jesus. 

Olson begins with his preconception of what is good. That's what he really believes in. His preconceived notion of goodness is what selects for his brand of theism.  

I have said that if it were revealed to me in a way I could not doubt that the God of consistent, five point Calvinism is the one true God over all, the maker of heaven and earth, I would not worship him because I would not think him worthy of worship. 

I don't have any problems with that statement inasmuch as it tells you a lot about Olson, but nothing about God. 

Because I have openly admitted here that consistent Calvinism turns God into a monster and makes it difficult to tell the difference between God and the devil, some have assumed I believe the answer must be no. However, I have never said that Arminians and Calvinists worship different Gods. 

Why not? Isn't our concept of God the object of worship? Worship is mediated by our concept of God. We worship our idea of God. What we think God is like. 

Perhaps they just see that he is courageous enough to say publicly what they must really believe in some corner of their minds--even if with most of their minds they deny it.

This is a malicious, conspiratorial narrative that Arminians like Walls and Olson are promoting. It's like liberals who say conservatives are really racists, even if they deny it. 

Arminians define "author of sin," then accuse Calvinists of dishonesty when we refuse to grant that God is the author of sin on their loaded definition. It's like liberals who accuse Christians of being "bigots" and "homophobic" if we oppose sodomy or lesbianism. They equate opposition to homosexuality with "hating" homosexuals.

Well, sure, if you allow them to define the terms. 

You completely miss the point. When Calvinists say God permits sin and evil they mean "efficacious permission" (God withdraws the grace the creature would need not to sin so that he certainly sins) and based on God's intentional design and ordination...i.e., that sin and evil are planned and willed and rendered certain by God. That is why I object to their using the language of "permission" with regard to God and sin/evil. It's misleading.

i) I'm not big on "permissive" language. However, as I've explained in the past, there's nothing misleading about a Calvinist invoking divine permission. If an agent has the wherewithal to prevent something from happening, but refrains from preventing it, then he permitted it. He allowed it to happen because he was in a position to disallow it. 

ii) Olson defines "God's intentional design and ordination of sin and evil" with three descriptors: planned, willed, rendered certain. 

Presumably, that's how he distinguishes Reformed permission from Arminian permission. I take it that he defines "intentional design" in terms of "planning" and "willing" while he defines ordination in terms of "ensuring." 

Let's consider these descriptors:

iii) Take Arminians who affirm divine foreknowledge. How did the Arminian God not plan or will the foreseeable consequences of his own actions? If he knew in advance that by making the world, humans would fall into sin, how did he not will that outcome? Likewise, if he saw it coming, as a result of his creative fiat, how could that still be an unplanned consequence of his actions? Keep in mind, too, that according to Arminian concurrence, God enables the sinner to sin. 

So, on Olson's own definition, the Arminian God "intentionally designs" sin and evil. 

iv) What does it take to render an outcome certain? Consider a few examples:

a) Suppose I see a little boy playing on the RR tracks, oblivious to the oncoming train. There's just time enough for me to rescue the boy. If I don't intervene, it's inevitable that the boy will be killed by the speeding train. My inaction renders certain his demise.

Notice that under this scenario, I didn't create the situation. I didn't cause the circumstances leading up to this life-threatening situation. I'm not responsible for the situation. But if I don't act, I ensure the boy's demise. At that point, I am responsible for the boy's demise.

b) Suppose I put a cobra in a nursery. Suppose the cobra bites the baby in the crib. The baby dies. 

I'm directly responsible, and culpable, for the baby's death. 

c) Suppose a cobra creeps into the nursery. Suppose I find the cobra in the nursery. Suppose I don't kill the cobra. I leave it there. As a result, the cobra bites the baby.

I didn't put the cobra in the nursery. I didn't make the cobra bite the baby. 

Yet my action ensured the baby's death by snakebite. 

In Arminian providence, there are countless sins and evils which God renders certain by divine nonintervention. For many sins and evils are certain to happen unless God steps in. Many outcomes are certain to occur if events are allowed to take their course unimpeded. Once a certain chain of events is set in motion, doing nothing will make it happen. Nothing further needs to be done to guarantee the outcome. 

v) But even if the outcome is not a dead certainty, so what? Suppose I let the child be run over by the train. I excuse my negligence on the grounds that, for all I know, it was possible for the child to jump off the RR tracks at the last moment. Suppose I let the child be bitten by the cobra. I excuse my negligence on the grounds that it wasn't a sure thing that the cobra would bite the child. Would those excuses be exculpatory?  

What makes God worthy of worship is God’s perfect goodness combined with his greatness. God must be both great and good to be worthy of worship. Garden variety Calvinists do believe God is good as well as great.
A few have stepped out of the pack and have said that God is the creator of sin and evil. I think they are more logically consistent than their fathers who are garden variety Calvinists. 

How does Olson define "creator" of sin and evil? If, in Arminian theology, God creates the initial conditions which eventuate in sin and evil, isn't he the creator of sin and evil? He may not be the sole creator, but he's a co-creator. Olson can introduce buffers, but so can the Calvinist. 

Of course, even they affirm God’s goodness but only by believing that God is freely good and that whatever God does is automatically good just because he is God. 

i) Olson fails to demonstrate that voluntarism is a logical implication of Calvinism. 

ii) Notice that Olson is imputing one horn of the Euthyphro dilemma to Calvinism. Does that mean Arminianism is hooked on the other horn of the Euthyphro dilemma?

Or, in some cases, they defend their belief in God’s goodness by appeal to a “greater good” that justifies God creating sin and evil. In that case, of course, sin and evil aren’t all that bad.

Isn't the freewill defense a greater good defense? Freewill theists defend their belief in God's goodness by appealing to the greater good of freewill. The evil consequences of freewill are offset by the superior benefits of freewill. A world with sinful free agents is better than a world with sinless agents who lack libertarian freedom. So by Olson's logic, sin and evil aren't all that bad given the freewill defense. 

The “crunch” comes with the question of whether God “designs, ordains and governs” sin and evil and everything else we consider awful, bad, horrendous, etc.—such as childhood death from agonizing illness or accident. From an Arminian perspective it’s difficult to see the difference between affirming that God is the “author” of all that and that God “designs, ordains and governs” all that.

How is the Arminian God not the "author" of accidents or illness? Do accidents have freewill? Do pathogens have freewill? 

Some illnesses are due to high-risk behavior, but many are not. 

To Calvinists this makes the human decision to respond positively to the offer of grace “the decisive factor” in salvation. Of course, Arminians never say that and we deny it.

In what sense are Arminians in a position to deny that human acceptance is the decisive factor in responding positively to the offer of salvation? 

I say the same about garden variety Calvinism. It is inconsistent. When they say, for example, God is not the author of sin and evil (and all their consequences) but that God “designs, ordains and governs” everything without exception I accuse them of inconsistency. It’s a “felicitous inconsistency” and I choose to focus on the fact that they believe God is not the author of sin and evil. Those who go so far as to say God is the author of sin and evil sully God’s character to the point that I cannot embrace them as brothers or sisters in Christ.

I appreciate Olson's candid admission that he refuses to acknowledge consistent Calvinists as true Christians. Is that a two-way street? Should Calvinists disfellowship Arminians?

Other Calvinists have said so in the past. When they say God created evil and is the author of sin and evil they make God evil. Or else they make evil not evil. Either way, it's damnable heresy IMHO.

Once again, I appreciate his candid admission. Do Calvinists get to return the favor? Is Arminianism a damnable heresy? 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Apologetic strategies

Austin Fischer

The Society of Evangelical Arminians has been touting Austin Fischer. He's a celebrity convert to Arminianism (from Calvinism). They parade him around the way Called to Communion hypes evangelical converts to Rome.
And the Arminians are welcome to have him. It says something about Arminian standards. Take this post:
In particular, I think it subtly implies that my de-conversion was rooted in a misunderstanding of Calvinism and if I had only stuck with it longer and understood it better, things might have been different. I call this a red herring because no one has been able to point out what I didn’t understand about Calvinism.
Be careful what you ask for. 
So I wanted to do justice to all of that while at the same time not getting so bogged down in the red tape and causal euphemisms that I failed to communicate what I found to be the inevitable conclusion of consistent Calvinism; namely, evil and sin and hell exist, ultimately, because God wanted (in a STRONG sense of the term) them to. To borrow the example DeYoung cites, I completely agree with him: no Calvinist believes God rapes people (of course!!!!). However much worse than that, I don’t see how a Calvinist cannot conclude that the overwhelming majority of humans who have ever existed will be damned, ultimately, because God wanted them to and to that end, set in motion events that would guarantee their damnation.
Notice how he's bundled two claims into one: 
i) God has damned the overwhelming majority of humans. 
But, of course, Calvinism has no official position on the percentage of the damned. Reformed theologians like the Warfield thought the elect were in the majority, not the minority. 
ii) Then there's his simplistic claim that God wanted "evil and sin and hell to exist." But, of course, that doesn't mean God wanted them to exist for their own sake, as if that's good in itself. Rather, they serve a purpose. 
ii) Keep in mind that the Arminian God wanted "evil and sin and hell to exist" more than he wanted them not to exist, for it was within his power to prevent it. God "permitted" them because that's offset by the compensatory goods. So the Arminian must also resort to a greater good defense. 
However, I do think that the New Calvinism has been very coy with the way it has cloaked the doctrines of determinism, compatiblism, and double predestination in euphemisms, neutering them of their intelligibility and substance. Since writing, I’ve received lots of emails from people who thought they were Calvinists and had no idea double predestination was a part of the package. That’s some pretty important fine print to be unaware of.
He doesn't say what "euphemisms" he has in mind. But while we're on the subject of euphemisms, about about the Arminian's euphemistic appeal to divine "permission"? 
And as noted in an earlier post (and in Kevin’s as well), I think Calvin would be with me here, because he himself admitted that the doctrine of double predestination was “terrible.”
That commits the schoolboy mistaken of reading the connotations of an English word back into the Latin original. 
Along these lines, I was on a podcast recently discussing the book with a very smart and consistent Calvinist and I noticed something interesting. We were asked what we thought about the recent spike in Calvinism, and he admitted that he was surprised by it and didn’t seem particularly thrilled about it. This got me thinking and I remembered that he has frequently admitted he thinks the hard doctrines of Calvinism render it a very offensive theology that is destined to be a minority opinion in the church. I didn’t ask him at the time (and I wouldn’t have wanted to put him in a spot), but I can’t help but think he might agree with me here. When Calvinism is preached honestly and consistently, with all of its hard edges showing instead of concealed in euphemisms, it is very difficult and offensive and it seems unlikely it would ever be as popular as it is now in western evangelicalism.
The Bible in general has many "hard edges" and "hard doctrines." There's something in Scripture to offend everyone. Since Fischer thinks people ought to be consistent, why doesn't he become an atheist?  
Fischer objects to Calvinism because it suggests that “the God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried is the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for things he had made sure they would do” (p.46)…[But] the sharp disjunction put forward by Fischer could just as easily be constructed out of the Arminian position: “how can the God who would stoop so low as to be crucified and buried be the same God doing the eternal crucifying of countless souls for things he knew they would do when he created them and could have easily prevented?” The Arminian position doesn’t really gain us any theodicy points. –DeYoung #3…Response I’ve bumped up against this question a few times. On the face of it, it seems to have merit, but it’s based in a misunderstanding of how foreknowledge works. 
Kevin suggests God is basically as culpable for Bob’s damnation in free-will theism as he is in Calvinism, because God knew Bob would end up in hell when he created Bob and yet did nothing to stop it. The assumption Kevin makes is that God could have used his foreknowledge to “easily prevent” Bob’s damnation. But these are two dots that simply won’t connect…a non-sequitur argument. 
How could God have used his foreknowledge of Bob’s damnation to prevent Bob’s damnation? I am not aware of any answer to that. It’s not as if God goes, “Hmm…if I were to create Bob, what would happen to him? [Cue foreknowledge] Oh I see—he would be damned. O well, I’m going to create him anyways.” 
No—God’s foreknowledge is foreknowledge of what WILL happen, not what MIGHT happen. So God can’t use his foreknowledge to see that Bob WILL be damned and then act to make sure Bob won’t be damned, for then God’s foreknowledge would have been incorrect (a.k.a. not foreknowledge). To be fair to Kevin, it’s an easy mistake to make and many people who believe in simple foreknowledge make the same mistake.
i) Fischer is too philosophically maladroit to distinguish between divine foreknowledge and divine counterfactual knowledge. The question at issue is the Arminian God wittingly "eternally crucifying countless souls" if he made them. "What would happen if God did X" is hypothetical or counterfactual. That's not the same as foreknowledge. Fischer commits an elementary modal blunder by treating foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge interchangeably. 
ii) In addition, Fischer ironically concedes that divine foreknowledge is incompatible with alternate outcomes. If God knows what Bob will do, then Bob can't do otherwise. God's foreknowledge dooms him to hell. 
The moral of the story is that intellectually lightweight ex-Calvinists like Fischer make the best Arminians. 

Blomberg on Isaiah

This is a sequel to my prior post:
Despite claims to the contrary, some who argue for a composite Isaiah do so not because they ca't believe that God could inspire a prophet to name an important king more than 150 years before his reign. They simply observe that detail after detail in the later chapters of Isaiah is written in the past or present tenses. In other words, they are not even couched as predictions but as circumstances in which the author of these chapters has lived. This observation, though, is complicated by the fact that the Hebrew perfect tense often can be used to refer to future events. Still, the most natural or "literal"reading of texts like these leads to the conclusion that their author is writing in the sixth century BC, in which case it cannot be the prophet Isaiah. C. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible, 161-62.
Unfortunately, Blomberg drastically understates the evidence for traditional authorship:
1. Visionary Revelation
Isaiah was a seer. A visionary:
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah(Isa 1:1). 
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem (Isa 2:1). 
The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw (Isa 13:1). 
A stern vision is told to me; the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys. Go up, O Elam; lay siege, O Media; all the sighing she has caused I bring to an end (Isa 21:2).

If God gave Isaiah a literal preview of the future, then how would we expect Isaiah to recount his experience? (I'd add that visionary revelation can include auditions as well as images.) What's the difference between describing what you see and what you foresee? If you can actually see into the future, you are observing the future as if it is present. If Isaiah literally foresaw the Jews in exile or literally foresaw the Jews returning from exile, would he express that in future terms or present terms? Although the event is future, the perception of the event is present. He's like a time-traveler who's transported forward. Like an immersive simulation. In his inspired imagination, the observer is simultaneous with event. An eyewitness to the future. 
2. Argument from Prophecy
The testimony of the book itself certainly insists on the reality of supernatural prophecy that focusses on the future. The whole case for the sovereignty of God in Isa 40-48 is built around the Lord's ability to say beforehand what he is going to do and the challenge to the idols to do the same. Therefore, the future focus that is spread throughout this section cannot be easily neutralized. A. Hill & J. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Zondervan, 3rd ed., 2009), 521-22. 
To claim that these are not prophecies at all, but  history written to appear as prophecy, does not appear to do justice to the polemic that Isa 40-66 is conducting. If those to whom this section of Isaiah was originally addressed knew that it was not prophecy, then the polemic against the idols' inability to predict becomes vapid and impotent. G. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway 2008), 151.
3. Palestinian Setting
There is virtually no evidence that the writer of this section had any familiarity with the situation and life in Babylon. When the prophetic texts do address the situation of the exiles (42:22; 51:14), they bear no resemblance to those texts that describe the life of the Jews exiled in Babylon (Jer 29; Ezekiel). To the contrary, mention is made of Jerusalem, the mountains of Palestine, and trees native to Palestine such as cedars, cypress, and oak, but not to Babylon (Isa 41:19; 44:14). Other passages such as 40:9 indicate that Judean cities were still in existence, and 62:6 speaks of the walls of Jerusalem standing, a fact incompatible with an exilic cultural setting for these oracles. E. Merrill, M. Rooker, M. Grisanti, The World and the Word (B&H 2011), 370. 
For example: (a) 40:12-31 does not say that the people are in exile, so the so-called complaints of the exiles in 40:27 could have arisen from any number of reasons and from almost any geographical location. There simply is no objective evidence that these people were in Babylon. (b) Since Judah and other nations had trade and political relationships with Babylon, it most likely that people throughout the ancient Near Eastern world had general information about Babylonian life and their religious practices; thus prophecies about the future defeat of Babylon (43:14; 46:1-47:15) do not require the conclusion that the audience was living in Babylon (any more than chaps 13-14 require the audience to be living in Babylon). Although isaiah spoke in detail about Egyptian life, religion, and culture in chaps 19 and 30-31, commentators do not put the author and his audience in Egypt. 
(e) Prophecies about what will happen in the future to Babylon, to the exiles, to those who return from exile, and the eternal kingdom of God do not require the audience to be in any one setting, for these prophecies could be given anywhere. The context of a future prophecy does not determine the present location of the audience. Ezekiel could talk about what was happening in Jerusalem in 8:1-18, but his audience was in exile, not in Jerusalem. Later he could talk about the eschatological situation in Jerusalem (chaps 40-48), but he was still talking to an audience in exile.   
These chapters (a) seemed to show relatively little knowledge about Babylonian culture; (b) mentioned trees that grew in Palestine rather than Babylon; (c) described making idols out of trees not available in Babylon and never referring to the popular Babylonian palm tree; (d) talked about enemies coming from the north and east, a sign that the people were in Judah; (e) conceived of Ur as the "ends of the earth" in 41:9, an unlikely statement if the people were living next door in Babylon; (f) spoke about people being taken "from here" (meaning Jerusalem) in 52:5; and (g) described those exiled by Assyria. Barstad argues for a setting in Judah, concluding that there was little Akkadian linguistic influence on Isaiah's writing…J. Motyer maintains that chaps 40-55 are Babylonian in orientation but not in setting. G. Smith, Isaiah 40-66 (B&H 2009), 43-44,46.
4. Literary Priority
John Walton has argued that since the exilic Book of Kings used the complete book of Isaiah as a source, that implies the preexilic date for Isaiah. Cf. "New Observations on the Date of Isaiah," JETS 28 (1985), 129-32.
5. Anonymity
It should be observed in this connection that an almost invariable rule followed by the ancient Heberws in regard to prophetic writings was that the name of the prophet was essential for the acceptance of any prophetic utterance…The Hebrews regarded the identity of the prophet as of utmost importance if his message was to be received as an authoritative declaration of a true spokesman of the Lord. G. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody, 3rd. ed. 1994), 388.

Americans Willingly Wasting Time

We often hear that people don't have time for religious activities, whether studying the Bible, apologetics, involvement in the church, or whatever else. One way of approaching the issue is to look at what people do find time for. We can also look at how much free time they have, such as how much of their time is actually taken up by their job. Derek Thompson has an article in The Atlantic about how Americans aren't as busy as they often claim to be. And I suspect he's right about some of the people who are working more hours on their job:

Policing sexual misconduct in the church

The Gospel Coalition has many enemies. Some fault for being too complementation. Some fault it for not being sufficiently complementation. Some fault it for being too Calvinistic. Some fault for including continuationists. Some fault it for not being dispensational. Some fault for lacking a Presbyterian accountability system. Some fault it for being too attuned to the culture wars.
In addition, it's been faulted for not condemning C. J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. SGM has been accused to covering up sexual abuse. 
I don't have an informed opinion on that issue. I don't have inside knowledge on that issue. So, in this post, I'm going to discuss the issue in general or hypothetical terms.
i) In the church, coercive sexual misconduct usually involves child abuse or sexual harassment. The latter involves adults (e.g. an elder sexually harassing a woman). 
ii) Allegations of sexual misconduct and institutional concealment have some plausibility because that does indeed happen from time to time. It plays into a preexisting narrative. Something we expect. 
iii) Is there some way to minimize sexual misconduct in the church? In principle, I suppose one way is to run background checks on applicants. In principle, that would screen out some offenders. 
iv) However, liberal policies have made it increasingly difficult to protect the innocent against sexual misconduct. To begin with, it's my understanding that the records of juvenile offenders are often sealed. So even if you did a background check, that wouldn't turn up a list of priors if the applicant had been a minor at the time. 
v) In addition, due to feminism, the definition of sexual harassment has become increasingly rubbery. LIkewise, the due process rights of the accused are negligible:
Even grade school boys are in the crosshairs for perfectly innocuous conduct. For instance:
As a result, it's increasingly easy for men to be falsely accused of sexual misconduct. A background check might turn up bogus allegations. 
vi) Conversely, transgenders have legal access to locker rooms of the opposite sex. 
vii) Child sexual abuse is real. However, that can be tricky to prove. Children are easily manipulated by adults. The Wenatchee sex-ring hoax is a classic example:
Likewise, allegations of sexual abuse are said to be the weapon of choice in some custody battles. 
By the same token, there are false rape allegations. The Duke Lacrosse case is a celebrated example. 
viii) Another problem is that trials aren't designed to find out really happened. Rather, under our current system, the legal priority is to ensure that the due process rights of the defendant weren't violated. Discovering the truth is a fringe benefit. 
ix) There's the question of how we should respond to allegations of sexual misconduct. I don't think there's any uniform rule. If you personally know the accused, if the accused is, to the best of your knowledge, an upstanding individual, then it's reasonable to give him the benefit of the doubt. Conversely, if there seems to be a fair amount of incriminating evidence, then you could justifiably conclude that he's probably guilty. Finally, if you don't know enough one way or the other, it's responsible to suspend judgment. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

On God and science

In the beginning

"The Washington Post Is Super Confused About Where Babies Come From"

Universal domestic espionage

The population bottleneck

Even conservative Christians, it seems, have trouble believing that Adam and Eve were the literal ancestors of humanity.  That historicity has become increasingly problematic since the appearance of new papers in population genetics, showing that over the last few hundred thousand years, the population of Homo sapiens could not have been smaller than about 12,250 (10,000 who remained in Africa and 2,250 who migrated out of Africa to populate the rest of the globe). In other words, the human population never comprised only two people.
From what I've read, the population bottleneck is based on no fewer that five interrelated assumptions:
Specifically, she offers a critique of the claim that "there is too much genetic diversity to have passed through a bottleneck of just two individuals." Gauger lists five assumptions that undergird "the equations used to reconstruct these trees, and to calculate ancestral population sizes." These assumptions are:
  • Fixed population size.
  • No migration.
  • Random mating.
  • Constant mutation rates.
  • No selection.
To my knowledge, all five variables must line up in the right direction for the genetic argument against Gen 1-2 to go through. 
Keep in mind, too, that this presumes the uniformity of nature. Methodological naturalism. If, however, there's a "divine foot in the door," then that complicates the extrapolations. And, needless to say, Genesis doesn't view natural history as a closed-system. 

Blomberg on Daniel

I'm going to comment on Craig Blomberg's new book Can We Still Believe the Bible? It's a useful book, but hit and miss. Some of his positions in chap. 5 are disappointing. For instance:

Understandably, the critical consensus has concluded that Daniel 11:2-35 contains prophecy ex eventu–after the events. The author has written up his account of his people's history in the guise of prophecy sometime in the mid-second century. Other Jewish apocalyptic writing, most notably the "animal apocalypse" of 1 Enoch 85-90, also probably written in the second century BC, does exactly the same thing. Once  again, the question is one of understanding the function of the literary genre or form at hand. No ancient reader was fooled or deceived by this convention. It was understood as a way of affirming God's sovereign hand of guidance throughout the whole process, his ongoing purposes for his people even in difficult times, and his coming vindication of his elect and his plans for them (163-164).

i) Blomberg's assertion notwithstanding, it isn't clear to me that no ancient reader was fooled or deceived by this convention. To begin with, I think that depends, in part, on the provenance of 1 Enoch. If this is sectarian literature which originated in a small, close-knit religious community, then I can well imagine devotees treating this as genuine revelation. Consider cults in which members abide implicit faith in the prophetic foresight of the cult leader. Even if his claims are implausible or absurd to outsiders, that doesn't mean insiders view his claims the same way.

As a leading commentator notes:

Different from 1 Enoch, the Book of Daniel gives no indication that it was written for a narrow exclusive community of the chosen. G. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, 68. 

After 1 Enoch passed into the public domain, readers may not have been taken in. But that reflects a different audience with a different viewpoint. Moreover, it isn't clear why 1 Enoch was so popular in some Jewish circles unless they took it seriously.

ii) But assuming for the sake of argument that Blomberg is correct, this generates a dilemma. If ancient readers understood this was a prophecy ex eventu, how would that affirm God's providence? A genuine prediction would evidence God's providence: God knows the future because he controls the future. But how does a retrodiction evidence God's providence? It's like the "absolute monarch" in The Little Prince who demonstrates his sovereignty by commanding the sun to go down at sunset and rise at sunup. 

[Quoting Ernest Lucas] Faced with the fact that all Daniel's visions focus on the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, Collins (1993: 26) gives expression to the theological issue: "There is no apparent reason…why a prophet of the sixth century [BC] should focus minute attention on the events of the second century [BC]. (164-65)."

i) That begs the question. Historically, Christians don't think Daniel's prophecies are confined to 2C BC events. In fact, as Collins goes on to admit in a footnote:

This problem is more acute in light of the modern view that the book refers to no historical events later than that time, Traditionally, however, Daniel's prophecies were thought to extend at least to the Roman era, because Rome was the fourth kingdom (26n260).

ii) In addition, even if Dan 11 is inspired by Antiochus Epiphanes, he can function as a type of Antichrist. The adversary in Dan 11 is a larger-than-life figure, over and above the historical Antiochus. 

[Quoting Lucas] One response to this is to argue that the reason is that, by giving a prediction so far ahead of time, God assures the people of the second century that he is indeed in control of history, including the situation in which they find themselves (165). 

It's worth expanding on this explanation. The survival of the Jewish people has always been precarious. In OT times, Jews had living prophets (e.g. Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel) to anchor them and usher them through an existential crisis. But by definition, Jews had no living prophets during the Intertestamental Period to play that role. Once again, they were facing martyrdom unless they renounced their faith. 

But even though Jews during the Antiochean crisis had no spoken word of prophecy to steel their resolve, they had the written word of prophecy. Some of Daniel's oracles, from centuries before, were coming true in their own time. That would encourage them to remain steadfast in the face of dire persecution, for God was in control. Their enemies would be defeated. 

Compare it to the situation of Frenchmen and Englishmen during WWII. We have the benefit of hindsight. Looking back on WWII, we know who won. But during the war, it wasn't clear which side was going to win. And that would affect your decisions. Is resistance futile? Do you surrender? Do you collaborate? 

[Quoting Lucas] However, an evangelical scholar, Goldingay (1977: 45), can argue that this is not consistent with the picture of God revealed elsewhere in Scripture. As he puts it,"He does not give signs and reveal dates. His statements about the future are calls to decision now; he is not the God of prognosticators. He calls his people to naked faith and hope in him in the present and does not generally bolster their faith with the kind of revelations that we are think of here" (165).

That's an odd statement. Pentateuchal history (e.g. the Exodus and wilderness wandering) is full of signs and wonders. Likewise, Isa 40-48 makes predictive prophecy a sign of the true God's existence and sovereignty. 

[Quoting Lucas] Both Collins and Goldingay appeal to what they see to be the balance of (theological) probability. Those who conclude otherwise should at least acknowledge that there is theological integrity on both sides of the argument (165). 

Goldingay espouses open theism while Collins espouses methodological naturalism (a la Troeltsch). So much for "theological integrity."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

N. T. Wright on miracles

Let’s give up the world miracle because the word miracle comes to us now in our culture from that Epicurean or deist worldview which envisages a God who is outside the process and occasionally reaches in and does something funny and then pushes off again. Now, that is not what the New Testament is talking about. So when people say can we believe in miracles I say no, because the word miracle gives us this sense of a normally absent God sometimes reaching in, that’s not the God of the Bible.

Wright's way of framing the issue is confused:

i) Metaphysically speaking, God is outside the process. God subsists apart from the world. Indeed, on a classical theistic view, God is timeless and spaceless.

ii) God created a system of second causes. Mundane events generally occur according to natural mechanisms. Physical causes producing physical effects. 

Physical processes are unintelligent. They do whatever they were programmed to do. They operate automatically and uniformly, if nature is allowed to take its course.

To a great extent, the natural world is like a machine. Of course, it takes wisdom to design the machine and power to build or maintain the machine. So that doesn't exclude God by any means.

iii) A miracles stands in contrast to this default process. There are basically two kinds of miracles:

a) Miracles which bypass natural processes. The effect is not the result of antecedent conditions. God causes the effect apart from the usual chain of cause and effect.

b) Miracles which utilize natural processes, but are more discriminating than blind natural processes. Where God has prearranged causally independent events to converge on a very specific and highly unlikely outcome. 

Deistic evolution

We at BioLogos believe that God used the process of evolution to create all the life on earth today.  While we accept the science of evolution, we emphatically reject evolutionism.  Evolutionism is the atheistic worldview that says life developed without God and without purpose. 
Supporters of Intelligent Design accept more of evolutionary science, but argue that some features of life are best explained by direct intervention by an intelligent agent rather than by God’s regular way of working through natural processes.
The BioLogos view celebrates God as creator. It is sometimes called Theistic Evolution or Evolutionary Creation. Theism is the belief in a God who cares for and interacts with creation. Theism is different than deism, which is the belief in a distant, uninvolved creator who is often little more than the sum total of the laws of physics. Theistic Evolution, therefore, is the belief that evolution is how God created life.
BioLogos differs from the ID movement in that we have no discomfort with mainstream science. Natural selection as described by Charles Darwin is not contrary to theism. Similarly, we are content to let modern evolutionary biology inform us about the mechanisms of creation with the full realization that all that has happened occurs through God’s activity.
BioLogos celebrates the reality of miracles, including the miracles of Scripture, but also those we experience in today’s world through answered prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives. However, the demonstration of such supernatural activity in the history of the natural world is, we think, unlikely to be scientifically testable.

This statement reflects the tensions in theistic evolution. Evolutionary theory operates with an essentially closed-system view of the universe. Events unfold according to a chain of physical cause and effect. There are roughly three ways in which this can be modeled:

1. Naturalistic evolution

This is thoroughly secular. No supernatural agent outside the universe plans the outcome, initiates the process, directs the process, or intervenes once the process is underway. 

2. Deistic evolution

There are basically two models:

2a. Frontloaded evolution

Like the acorn to the oak, God has programmed evolution to unfold according to a predetermined outcome. Once God puts the initial conditions in place, he doesn't intervene. 

2b. Stochastic evolution

God kickstarts evolution, but the process is autonomous. It has no predetermined outcome. No teleological progression. No back door for God to rewrite the code. 

Theistic evolutionists generally prefer the frontloaded model, but the problem with their preference is that, according to the standard evolutionary narrative, the origin and development of life are haphazard and wasteful. And theistic evolutionists have bought into the standard evolutionary narrative, since the alleged evidence for evolution is what makes them rejection fiat creationism. So they can't turn back at this point.

You can see the deistic cast of theistic evolution in their antipathy towards ID theory, with its interventionist model of divine action. God should't monkey with the natural mechanisms or causal continuum. At this point, their concession to miracles and answered prayer is ad hoc, for that kind of divine "interaction" tinkers or meddles with the uniformity of nature. 

Adam and Israel

There are two ways of looking at this parallel. You could say that the Adam story came first and then the Israelites just followed that pattern. But there is another way. Maybe Israel’s history happened first, and the Adam story was written to reflect that history. In other words, the Adam story is really an Israel story placed in primeval time. It is not a story of human origins but of Israel’s origins. 
The parallels between Israel and Adam that we see above tell us that the particular people in mind are Israel. Adam is “proto-Israel.”

Professing Christians who are desperate to reconcile Gen 1-3 with evolutionary theory might find this reinterpretation appealing. However, I'd like to draw attention to one of the many problems besetting this reinterpretation. The comparison between "the Adam story" and the Exodus is only as good as the historicity of the Exodus. Enns himself recognizes the issue:

Christianity is a historical faith, and so evangelicals have a vested interest in defending the fundamental historical character of the Bible…If the events surrounding Israel’s entrance to and deliverance from Egypt— which includes the events at Sinai and the wilderness—can be shown to be fiction, the heart of the Old Testament’s theological content is drained of its life force.

I daresay scholars who doubt or deny the historicity of Gen 1-3 generally doubt or deny the historicity of the Exodus. They don't think the Biblical story of Israel's origins is more factual than the Biblical story of human origins. They don't believe in the burning bush, rods turning into snakes, the Ten Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the Angel of the Lord, the pillar of fire, the Shekinah, the miraculous provision for Israel in the wilderness. 

So even if, for the sake of argument, we grant the parallel between Adam and Israel, that's comparing one fictional story with another fictional story. This wouldn't be a case of Israel's history happening first, then "the Adam story" written afterwards to reflect that history.  Rather, this would be a case of both written together with a view to each other, where the Exodus is the imaginary counterpart to "the Adam story," and vice versa. 

War on boys

American character

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

War in the Hebrew Bible

Richard Hess has an article titled "War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview" that's worth checking out. (I mentioned the article in a previous post, but it's worth highlighting on its own.)

A transcript of Hess' response to Avalos

Richard Hess responds to Hector Avalos on his lecture in the Religion and Violence Series: "Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence." Hess' response starts around the 1:07:00 mark.
I've made a transcript of Hess' response to Avalos (below). I didn't bother to double check it or anything so I could have made some mistakes. It should serve well enough as a rough transcript at least.
I started transcribing around the 1:11:00 mark. Prior to this point, Hess spoke broadly about the scarcity of resources, and I just took notes on this bit. In other words, I basically transcribed most of Hess' response except for the first maybe two or three minutes where he talks about scarcity in more general terms.
I should say I agree with Hess' response overall. The main disagreement I'd have with Hess' response is his apparent pacifistic inclinations.

Hillary's 3 AM phone call

Back when she was running for president, against then-candidate Barack Obama, Hillary's campaign ran a famous ad insinuating that she, unlike her greenhorn opponent, had the experience to handle a crisis:

It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing. 
Something’s happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call, whether it’s someone who already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military — someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world. 
It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?
Well, that was hypothetical, but later on, Hillary did, in fact, receive her 3 AM phone call. It was the Benghazi attack. And she bungled the crisis. 
Hillary may run for president in the next election cycle. Remember the ad. Remember how badly she performed when she was put to the test. 

Genesis and polygenesis

I'm going to comment on this post:

Genesis 1 describes the creation of human beings. (The process is put in pre-scientific or supernatural terms, and so doesn’t give us a scientific perspective on how this happened).
The human beings of Genesis 1 are not in a garden in Eden (there is no garden of Eden in Genesis 1; the command to “subdue the earth” would speak of the whole earth, wherever humans are, not Eden, which is nowhere in view).
Genesis 2 describes a distinct and separate creation of two humans. (Again, the process is put in pre-scientific or supernatural terms, and so doesn’t give us a scientific perspective on how this happened).
The two humans of Genesis 2 are in a garden in a place called Eden (which is clearly not synonymous with the earth since it has specific geography on the earth).
Since the two humans created in Genesis 2 are not the humans created in Genesis 1, the two humans in Genesis 2 cannot be seen as the progenitors of the humans of Genesis 1. The humanity of Genesis 1 was to image God in all the earth, not Eden, and so the Genesis 1 creation speaks of a divine origin (by whatever means) of human life on the planet. The humans of Genesis 2 are parallel to and consistent with those goals, but their story is more specific. They have a more particular purpose, which is revealed in Genesis 3.
This view does not require that all human beings come from a single pair of humans. Rather, there were humans on the earth along with the pair known as Adam and Eve. It therefore matters not if the human genome data requires more than a single pair of humans. This view also doesn’t require one specific view of how humans wound up here, so long as God is in the process.
ESV and other translations cheat here, translating ‘erets as “land” to avoid tension with Gen 1:11-12, where the same word is used when God did indeed have the earth bring forth the plants prior to the creation of humans.
The whole point is that someone COULD begin with entirely new presuppositions about Gen 1-2 and read the text in a different way. So, when I get questions in the comments, I’m answering like a person with those “other” presuppositions. And I’ve said that many times. What you really need to do is start thinking about what if the genetics material is correct. That’s far more useful. I don’t think the science is settled, but in another 5-10 years, as genetics keeps advancing, this may be at the level of something unassailable. At that point, as has been done for centuries, biblical scholars and theologians will need to re-assess the meaning of Scripture. That process isn’t at all new (a heliocentric solar system used to be thought heretical). This enterprise will either be done well, or not. It’s best to start thinking about it now.
The post was intended (as I keep saying) as an exercise in reading the text at face value in the event the statistical genetics argument put forth by Venema (and embraced by others).

i) I view the relationship between Gen 1-2 quite differently than Heiser. I think these are two distinct, but overlapping creation accounts. Gen 1 is a general creation account whereas Gen 2 is more specific. Gen 1 is cosmic or global whereas Gen 2 is local. 

Gen 1 sets the stage for Gen 2. We'd expect the Bible to contain a creation account that describes how the one true God is the Creator of all contingent beings. 

But Scripture takes a special interest in the origin and history of mankind. After sketching the creation of man in Gen 1, Gen 2 goes into more detail regarding the origin of man and his immediate environment. Humans didn't live everywhere. Since the human race began with a single breeding pair, their ancestral homeland is naturally quite localized. 

Gen 2 isn't about the origin of fauna and flora in generally, but about the first humans and their aboriginal habitat in particular. "Subduing" the earth is a long-range task.

ii) It isn't "cheating" to translate the same word differently if the context is different. 

iii) The relationship between Gen 1-2 is like the relationship between Gen 6-7, where Gen 7 circles back around and fills in more details.  

iv) To say "The human beings of Genesis 1 are not in a garden in Eden (there is no garden of Eden in Genesis 1" is a deceptive argument from silence. Gen 1 isn't meant to tell the whole story. Taken by itself, Gen 1 is intentionally incomplete. By design, it was meant to be supplemented by Gen 2, especially in reference to Day 6 (the creation of man). 

There's a difference between "Gen 1 does not say if humans were in the Garden" and "Gen 1 says humans were not in the Garden." Heiser is inferring a negation from silence. But that's fallacious. Gen 1 leaves it open. 

v) We can't directly compare the sequence of events in Gen 1 with Gen 2 because Gen 2 lacks the seven-day frame of reference. Likewise, Heiser fails to distinguish a sequence between different "days" (Gen 1) and a sequence within the (unspecified) timeframe of Gen 2. 

We wouldn't expect Gen 2 to be systematically synchronous with Gen 1, for Gen 2 doesn't cover all the same ground. Rather, it takes many of the prior stages in Gen 1 for granted.   

This view makes other passages in the early chapters or Genesis more comprehensible. For example, the classic “conundra” created by Gen 4:8-17 are now easily answered. The question of where Cain’s wife came from is not difficult — she came from the other humans out there in the world into which Adam and Eve were expelled. Other people were already there. When Cain worries (Gen 4:13-14) that someone will find him and kill him after he murdered his brother and is exiled, his worry becomes legitimate — there are lots of people out there in the cold, cruel world, and he has no family now for protection. When Gen 4:17 has Cain building a city (did his wife help?) this view handles that with aplomb — there were lots of other people already living to help him construct his city.
The traditional view has great difficulties in Genesis 4. It must either affirm that only Adam, Eve, and Cain are living after Abel is murdered (and that is the plain implication of Genesis 4) or posit (i.e., invent) long stretches of time for Cain to find a wife also born from Adam and Eve later on, and then more stretches of time to have enough people born and grown so Cain can build a city — something he obviously couldn’t do by himself. These have been classic dilemmas given a traditional approach to Genesis.
The traditional view DOES need to invent long stretches of time to avoid Cain building a city by himself. And is the text really saying that Cain feared people yet unborn would kill him in 20 years or so?! That’s special pleading if there ever was any. It’s a real problem, not an imagined one. In other words, regardless of the Adam issue, these are problems for a traditional view of Adamic humanity, and have been well traveled for centuries
You’d need a workforce of hundreds or thousands to build a city — and that doesn’t count all the mothers staying at home with kids. You are simply dramatically under-estimating.

i) We need to distinguish between what the narrator says and what a character within the narrative (e.g. Cain) says. The narrator's viewpoint is normative. What Cain says is not. Cain may just be imagining things. 

ii) Cain's statement is proleptic. Adam and Eve had other kids (Gen 5:4). The prediluvians lived for hundreds of years. The population would expand exponentially. Likewise, Cain's own offspring could help him build the "city."

iii) Why would humans who are unrelated to Adam's family avenge Abel's death? Cain envisions a blood feud, where murder dishonors the victim's kinfolk. But if the humans whom Cain alludes to aren't relatives of Abel, they wouldn't even know who Cain is, much less would they be motivated to execute him. A revenge killing only makes sense if the avengers are relatives of Abel. 

iv) Heiser exaggerates what is meant by a "city." As one commentator notes:

The city refers to some form of fortification. Hulst explains, "Any settlement, more-or-less permanently inhabited, protected by the erection of a 'fortress' or simple wall, can be called 'ir," B. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan 2001), 99. 

The deity of the Spirit

There are some neglected arguments for the deity of the Holy Spirit. One line of evidence is the role of the Spirt in the inspiration of Scripture. The agency of the Spirit is what makes the words of a prophet the word of God. He speaks the word of God because God speaks to him or through him in the person of the Spirit. The prophet has an instrumental role whereas the Spirit has a constitutive role. 

Another line of evidence is Paul's temple theology:

16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Cor 3:16-17). 
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:19-20).
Certain OT passages lie in the background:

11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people (Lev 26:11-12). 
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Exod 40:34-35). 
10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord (1 Kgs 8:10-11). 
3 Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. 4 And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord…18 Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim (Ezk 10:3-4,18). 
2 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. 3 And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. 4 As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, 5 the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple (Ezk 43:2,4-5).
This is an argument from analogy or a fortiori argument. The Shekinah is to the Spirit as the body is to the tabernacle or temple. The Shekinah was a theophany. A visible manifestation of God's presence. The Shekinah is what made the tabernacle or temple God's dwelling-place as well as the meeting place between God and Israel.

By analogy, the Spirit takes the place of the Shekiniah in the church. As the Shekinah indwelt the tabernacle or temple, the Spirit indwells the church (i.e. Christians individually or collectively). 

What is more, this is an argument from the lesser to the greater. The Shekinah was an empirical symbol of God's presence. An emblem of God dwelling among his people. 

By contrast, the Spirit's presence is invisible. That's because the Spirit doesn't merely represent God. Rather, the Spirit is God. The Shekinah was discernible. A sensory object. The Spirit is indiscernible, for God is indiscernible. Yet the indiscernible God can produce discernible effects (e.g. sanctification).