Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vines v. Brown debate on homosexuality

"Philosophy and The Edge of Tomorrow"

Prof. James Anderson reviews The Edge of Tomorrow.

(In the past, I've also enjoyed his review of Minority Report.)

Plenary verbal inspiration

I'm going to examine a potential objection to the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture. According to this objection, prooftexts for the verbal inspiration of Scripture describe the way God inspired OT seers or prophets in distinction to false prophets. A true prophet repeats the words God spoke to him. He's like a stenographer or mouthpiece.

Mind you, proponents of this view regard dictation as a metaphor. But they think that's the effect of verbal inspiration. As if God dictated the message to a scribe. 

But according to the potential objection I'm examining, the theory of plenary verbal inspiration overextends that model. Not every Bible writer is a prophet in that sense. A prophet underwent an altered state of consciousness to receive divine revelations. But (so goes the argument) there's no reason to apply that particular model to a historical narrator or letter writer. 

Let's evaluate that objection:

i) On the face of it, the objection is fairly self-contradictory. OT prophets were typically seers. They received revelatory dreams and visions. But these are not essentially or primarily verbal in nature. 

Revelatory dreams and visions can include auditions. There can be a speaker (e.g. God, an angel) within the dream or vision whom the seer overhears, or who addresses the seer directly. But, at most, that's just a part of visionary revelation. It's mostly imagistic scenes. 

Of course, this experience can be translated into verbal propositions. The seer describes what he saw. So, minimally, prophetic verbal inspiration would be a two-stage process. Even if it didn't originate in words, it resulted in words. 

In that respect, what makes verbal inspiration verbally inspired isn't an altered state of consciousness. It's not as if the seer is still in a trance when he writes down what he saw.

ii) Apropos (i), there was more to prophecy than receiving the message. Prophecy was also about delivering the message. That's why God gives the prophet a message in the first place. And the prophet is not in a trance when he delivers the message.

Does inspiration only extend to the revelatory experience, but not the delivery? That would be counterproductive. Imagine Jeremiah saying, "To the best of my recollection, here's the gist of what God revealed to me." 

iii) It isn't clear that a prophet has to be in an altered state to receive a message from God. Presumably, God could speak to him directly, in an audible voice. 

iv) There's also the distinction between subjective and objective visions. If some theophanies or angelophanies are external phenomena, rather than a private psychological experience, then that doesn't require an altered state of consciousness. 

v) In principle, a Bible author could write under inspiration without being aware of his inspiration at the time of writing. Inspiration could be a subliminal process, where God subconsciously implants ideas and "hypnotically" suggests the choice of words.

vi) In the organic theory of inspiration, especially with a strong doctrine of providence, inspiration doesn't require a special state of mind. God can prearrange all the variables so that a Bible writer will naturally choose certain words to express correct beliefs.

vii) Moses was the paradigmatic prophet, yet he was not typically a recipient of visionary revelation (Num 12:6-8). 

viii) Paul ascribes verbal inspiration to his teaching (e.g. 1 Cor 2:13; 1 Thes 2:13). Even though Paul was a seer, we need to distinguish between visionary revelation and verbal inspiration. Once again, it seems to be a two-stage process. His written word was ever bit as authoritative as his spoken word. 

ix) When quoting the OT, the author of Hebrews attributes all statements directly to God, even though God wasn't the immediate speaker. That equivalence only makes sense given verbal inspiration. 

x) Jesus, the apostles and/or NT writers prooftext their claims by appeal to OT books without regard to genre. So inspiration was not confined to the prophetic genre. 

My flesh will dwell secure

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption [or the pit]
You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Ps 16:9-11).

24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,“‘I saw the Lord always before me,    for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;    my flesh also will dwell in hope.27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,    or let your Holy One see corruption.28 You have made known to me the paths of life;    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption (Acts 2:24-29).
Liberals think Peter is quoting Ps 16 out of context. They also think Peter's argument relies on the distinctive wording of the LXX. Some evangelicals agree, but think this is a case of sensus plenior. If so, that weakenes the appeal to prooftext the Resurrection. What are we to make of these objections?
i) Peter didn't necessarily, or even probably, quote the LXX. More likely, Luke substituted the LXX when he translated Peter's speech. We need to distinguish between Peter's audience and Luke's audience. 
ii) How we should render Ps 16:10b is disputed. "Corruption" is a defensible rendering. But based on Hebrew parallelism, where v10b is the counterpart to v10a, most scholars think it means "the pit." That creates a synonymous parallel between the grave and the pit.
"Sheol" could either be a prosaic word for the grave, or a metaphorical word for the grave which trades on Netherworld connotations.
iii) Whether Peter's argument turns on the rendering of the Hebrew word depends on what we think Peter is attempting to prooftext. Even if it means "the pit" rather than "corruption," that doesn't ipso facto invalidate Peter's argument.
iv) Liberals assume the original context has reference to deliverance from premature death rather than the afterlife. In other words, they assume it's about God sparing the Psalmist from dying, rather than God rescuing the Psalmist from Sheol after he dies. 
There is, however, nothing in the text itself that singles out that mundane interpretation. Rather, the liberal interpretation is based on the presupposition that at the time the Psalm was written, Israelites didn't believe in the afterlife. Their outlook was this-worldly. Liberals assume an evolutionary view of OT theology, where belief in the afterlife is a later development. 
However, belief in the afterlife was widespread in the ancient world. That antedates the OT. So it would be odd if Israel was the one ANE culture that didn't espouse the afterlife. Cf. E. Yamauchi, "Life, Death, and Afterlife in the Ancient Near East," R. Longenecker, ed. Life in the Face of Death: The Resurrection Message of the New Testament (Eerdmans 1998), 21-50. 
What's distinctive to ancient Israel wasn't belief in the afterlife, but belief in the general resurrection or resurrection of the just. In that regard, that's what set it apart from other ANE cultures.
v) Is Peter using Ps 16 to prooftext the Resurrection, the incorruptibility of Christ's body, or both? If he's only using Ps 16 to prooftext the Resurrection, then his argument doesn't depend on whether we render 16:10b be as "corruption" or "the pit."
vi) In addition, there's the question of what prevents his body from undergoing decay. In context, that would be the Resurrection. Absent the Resurrection, his body would be subject to decay. Of course, that's a gradual process. 
Not to "see corruption" doesn't necessarily (or even probably mean) no decay whatsoever, but rather, an inexorable process of decay–inasmuch as the only thing which would halt or reverse that process is the resurrection of the body. 
If Christ's body was incorruptible, it's unclear how that's an argument for the Resurrection. In fact, that's in tension with an argument for the Resurrection, for in that event, it doesn't require the Resurrection to preserve it intact. If it's incorruptible, it could remain in the tomb for millennia without undergoing dissolution. 
But that's hardly germane to Peter's argument. To the contrary, the point is not that God will preserve the body in the grave, as if the grave is the decedent's final resting place, but that God will restore the decedent to life–"in the flesh." 
vii) Liberals don't regard Ps 16 as a Davidic Psalm, much less a Messianic Psalm. In the evangelical interpretation, David prefigures Christ. In typology, the type is both analogous and disanalogous to the antitype. Peter highlights the contrast. A thousand years have passed since David wrote this hopeful psalm, yet David is still dead! His mortal remains are in the tomb. His body undoubtedly underwent progressive decay, until only bones are left. 
So this psalm refers first and foremost, not to David, but to Christ. Yet this will circle around. Because Christ rose from the dead, eventually David will rise from the dead. God will not ultimately abandon him to Sheol. It will be fulfilled in David because it was fulfilled in Jesus. 
In sum, we needn't appeal to a sensus plenior to salvage Peter's argument. He didn't rip the passage out of context. 

Servant song

(Not the best singing voice, but appears to be the original songwriter.)

Brother, sister let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace,
to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are family on the road.
We are here to help each other,
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you,
in the night-time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh I'll laugh with you.
I will share your joys and sorrows,
till we've seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven,
we shall find such harmony.
Born of all we've known together,
of Christ's love and agony.

Brother, sister let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace,
to let you be my servant too.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Learning to lament

SEA can't say if Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God

[Editor's note: Dr. Olson's position that he would not worship God if he were as Calvinist doctrine depicts him is not representative of all Arminians or a question on which SEA itself has a formal position.]

What a wonderfully noncommittal disclaimer. Talk about hedging your bets!

How Parents And Churches Produce Apostates

Wintery Knight recently put up two threads I recommend reading, here and here. He addresses some recent cases of the apostasy of professing Christians who had been raised in Christian homes. Read the comments after the initial posts as well. A lot of good points are made about parenting, apologetics, apostasy, what it's like for students to attend universities in today's world, the role of the local church, and other, related topics.

For those of you who don't want to have much involvement in apologetics, but instead want to just pray, study the Bible, entrust your children to God, etc., I would ask whether you take the same approach toward other areas of life. Just as you don't teach your children about matters like apologetics and church history, don't teach them ethical standards or things like how to tie their shoes or brush their teeth either. Don't work a job. Don't pay your bills. Don't shovel the snow off your driveway or cut your grass. Don't go to a doctor, watch your diet, or exercise. Don't do any research about finances or saving for retirement, for example. Instead, just trust God, pray, read your Bible, and so on. Don't make the most of the resources God has given you, such as the mind he's given you and the opportunities he's given you to do research and reason with people. Instead, just pray, read the Bible, etc. (the same approach you take toward apologetic matters) and wait for God to pay your bills, cut your grass, and set aside money for your retirement. See what happens.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Video-Vulture Culture

Apparitions and deadbed visions

In this post I'm going to discuss the question of apparitions and deathbed visions. One response to these claims is to bury your head in the sand. The problem with the ostrich posture is that it doesn't protect Christians. If a Christian, or someone he knows and trusts, has the kind of experience you told him can't happen, then you shot your only bullet, and it missed. It's better to provide an explanatory framework, consistent with Christian orthodoxy.

There are roughly two kinds of (alleged) apparitions: 

1) Induced apparitions

In this situation (i.e. seance), a medium tries to conjure the dead. 

i) I expect most mediums (and psychics) are outright frauds, although a handful are deeply invested in the occult, and may be the real deal. 

ii) Since necromancy is, at best, forbidden knowledge, I think such "communications" are inherently suspect. I say "at best" because, in many cases, I doubt it even counts as knowledge. 

iii) Assuming for the sake of argument that necromancy is sometimes successful, who among the dead would we expect to be accessible via a seance? Since this is a forbidden, occultic activity, I figure that would normally be the damned.

A counterexample is 1 Sam 28. But that's arguably exceptional. The scene is deliberately ironic. Saul regards Samuel as his last best hope, but it backfires. Samuel denounces Saul. 

I'd also like to comment on an exchange between Michael Sudduth and Michael Prescott. I think Sudduth and Prescott are both wrong in different ways. This is unintentionally comical. On the one hand, Prescott regards necromancy as a reliable source of information about the afterlife. On the other hand, Sudduth assumes the role of skeptic in this exchange. But considering the fact that Sudduth is a Jungian Zen Hare Krishna, hasn't he disqualified himself from playing the skeptic? Sudduth's outlook is more septic than skeptic.  

Here are some specific examples. At least as far back as Richard Hodgson's investigations of Leonora Piper, it has been noted that newly deceased communicators speaking through mediums often exhibit feebleness and confusion; their messages are brief and muddled. But with the passage of time (usually just a few days) the communicators improve noticeably; the confusion is largely dispelled, and the messages become clearer and more lengthy. Moreover, with continued practice, some communicators seem to hone their skills, and some just seem better at it than others; certain individuals come through a variety of mediums with consistently good results, while others never seem to get the hang of it.
Hodgson and other survivalists argue that these developments are just what we would expect if the communications are genuinely coming from discarnate individuals. The trauma of the dying process leaves these persons fatigued and befuddled for a short time, but with the opportunity to rest and orient themselves to their new environment, they grow stronger and shake off their lethargy. Furthermore, practice improves their abilities in some cases; and just as some incarnate individuals have a gift for mediumship and others don't, some discarnates are better able to communicate through mediums than others.

I can think of an alternative explanation. Prescott is clearly referring to repeated visits to a medium. Clients who keep returning to the medium to contact their departed loved ones.

An obvious reason why the "communicators" improve is not because the decedent has recovered from the trauma of death and adjusted to his/her new condition. Rather, the more often a medium meets with a client, the better acquainted the medium becomes with the client. That familiarity enables the medium to better impersonate the client's departed loved ones. 

For his part, Stephen Braude explains these "communications" by appeal to "living agent psi." He thinks the medium has telepathic access to the client's memories of the decedent. 

I suspect Braude favors this explanation because he's an atheist who's hostile to theological explanations. Hence, he prefers a a naturalistic, this-worldly explanation to one about souls passing into the next world. So there may be a secular bias. 

2) Spontaneous apparitions

In this situation, the dead (allegedly) appear to the living of their own accord. No one summoned them into the presence of the living. 

This is a widely reported, well-attested phenomenon. (On a related note are deathbed visions.) For instance:

D. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus (T&T Clark 2005, 273-77.

Reported spontaneous apparitions are theologically problematic if they suggest that unbelievers go to heaven. So what are we to make of this evidence?

i) One needs to distinguish between evidence that there is an afterlife, and evidence for what the afterlife is like. 

ii) Apparitions of the dead aren't direct evidence for their eternal fate, inasmuch as the final judgment lies in the future. Christian eschatology distinguished between the intermediate state and the final state. 

iii) Accounts about spontaneous apparitions may lack information regarding the religious beliefs of the decedent. 

William Lane Craig was critical of Allison:

Allison’s familiarity with the literature is daunting. Pages 279-82 of his essay contain only 16 lines of text and nearly 200 fine lines of references! But his very strength as a bibliographer becomes a weakness, since he tends to accept all reports uncritically, lumping together serious studies in journals of psychology with New Age popular books and publications in parapsychology. Most of the so-called veridical visions of deceased persons are gathered from parapsychological literature of the late nineteenth century. What is wanting is a careful sifting of the evidence and a differentiated discussion of the same.

I) I agree with Craig's specific contention that apparitions are not a plausible alternative explanation for the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ. 

ii) It's true that Allison needs to be more discriminating in his sources.

iii) I don't see anything inherently unreliable about 19C sources.

iv) Allison also cites more up-to-date evidence, viz. widows/widowers.

v) Craig draws an invidious comparison between serious studies in journals of psychology and publications in parapsychology. But that begs the question.

vi) Because evangelical scholars don't generally bother to investigate certain paranormal phenomena (e.g. apparitions of the dead), they vacate the field, thereby leaving that to often less reliable investigators. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Finally, I think this is one reason why secularism will never succeed. Atheists assume that belief in the supernatural is the result of ignorant superstition and religious indoctrination. Humans don't actually experience the supernatural. That's an extrinsic narrative. 

But because uncanny experiences are so widespread, secularism en masse is doomed to fail. The secular elites may win political battles by muscling their way into public policy. Atheists may succeed in imposing a degree of outward conformity on the general public. But it won't be convincing. There will be many closet supernaturalists.  

Like the way people used to pay lip-service to communism long after most of them no longer believed in it (and some of them never espoused it in the first place). They didn't dare publicly dissent, but just under the surface was massive disaffection, which is why communism fell so hard and so fast.

If you have an experience like this, then secularism just isn't very persuasive. Of course, a fanatical atheist will explain away his own experience. But most folks aren't that dogmatic.  

"Gnostic creationism"

Last year, SEBTS prof. Kenneth Keathley published a critique of YEC: "Confessions of a Disappointed Young-Earther":

He describes his transition from YEC to OEC. Keathley is one of the better-read critics of YEC. In his article he interacts–albeit rather glancingly–with many of the best YEC scientists. It's a fairly sophisticated critique. So it's worth examining:

1) Keathley's article involves a two-part analysis in which he compares and contrasts the YEC model of The Genesis Flood with contemporary creationism. He points out that contemporary creationists have abandoned many of the arguments in The Genesis Flood. Keathley seems to be insinuating that this undermines YEC. That YEC has been in retreat ever since The Genesis Flood.  If that's his point,  I don't see how that proves his point. 

i) Naturally the newer generation of YEC scientists will appeal to models and evidence which reflect current science. The scientific landscape has changed a lot since The Genesis Flood was published back in 1961. Suppose you compared a 1961 textbook on astronomy, biology, cosmology, physics, or medical science with a 2014 counterpart. There'd be some drastic changes. 

For that matter, sometimes the very same scientist (e.g. Stephen Hawking, E. O. Wilson) will retract positions he took at an earlier point in his career. 

Keep in mind, too, that due to the interdisciplinary nature of YEC, Henry Morris was often writing far outside his field of expertise. By contrast, contemporary YEC scientists pool their respective specializations. 

ii) Moreover, it's not just a case of withdrawing old arguments. For instance, on his blog, Jay Wile periodically posts new lines of evidence for YEC. Keathley might take issue with the new evidence, but the point is that it's not as if YEC has simply been backpedaling ever since The Genesis Flood.  

Snelling concedes that much of the geological evidence cannot be reconciled with any interpretation that uses the physical laws, properties and relationships as they presently are. He postulates that God miraculously changed the laws of nature during the Flood.

This raises several issues:

i) I agree with Keathley YEC explanations often seem to be ad hoc. I'm admittedly skeptical about many of the scientific explanations proposed by YEC. I have no reason to believe that's how it happened. I don't mean the Biblical description–I mean the scientific explanation. 

However, my skepticism isn't confined to YEC. Fact is, when reconstructing the distant past, our explanations are often just an educated guess. We don't know how it really happened. We don't know the actual cause. Because scientific explanations of the distant past are necessarily ex post facto, they are often ad hoc. 

ii) YEC scientists oscillate between natural and miraculous explanations. Again, that sometimes seems to be, or sometimes is, fairly ad hoc. But it's not that simple:

As an OEC, Keathley's own position commits him to alternating between miracles and providence. A natural causal continuum punctuated by discrete acts of fiat creation. So the difference between YEC and OEC is a difference of degree rather than kind.

The same holds true for Bible history, where many natural events are the effect of second causes, but some natural events are the direct effect of spiritual agency. 

There is no uniform principle. No consistent modality. For, as a matter of fact, things happen in two or three different ways. 

It is not ad hoc in principle to distinguish between miracle and providence. To the contrary, that distinction tracks reality. 

It's only ad hoc to arbitrarily assign some events to miraculous agency and other events to providential agency when we are in no position to know how they actually came about. 

Appealing to a change in the laws of nature marks a remarkable change in YEC strategy, and in many ways it also makes a significant admission. As a strategy, it indicates an end to any real attempt to empirically establish the historicity of a global flood. Miracles, by definition, cannot be scientifically examined. The appeal also admits that the scientific evidence does not support the YEC model.

That's a very problematic claim:

i) What is Keathley's justification for claiming that "miracles, by definition, cannot be scientifically examined"? Suppose we could take our scientific equipment back in time to the marriage at Cana. We could scientifically verify that the water was H2O. We could scientific verify that the wine was fermented grape juice. Our continuous, high-speed camera footage, from different angles, could scientifically verify that no one substituted wine for water through sleight of hand.

In principle, our equipment could scientifically verify that Jesus was clinically dead. We could go into the tomb on Saturday and scientifically verify necrosis. On Sunday, we could scientifically verify that he was alive. Fingerprints, DNA testing, and dental records, before and after the fact, could scientifically verify that it was the same person who died and revived.

Take sticks becoming snakes (Exod 7). We could scientifically verify that the staff was made of real wood. We could scientifically verify that the snake was a real snake. Our continuous, high-speed camera footage, from different angles, could scientifically verify that no one swapped the staff for a snake.

In principle, many kinds of miracles can be scientifically examined. Of course, in practice, that might only be feasible in the case of some contemporary miracles. But Keathley is asserting as a matter of principle ("by definition") that miracles can't be scientifically examined. Yet it's easy to come up with hypothetical (not to mention real) counterexamples. 

ii) Also, how does a change in the laws of nature prevent us from empirically establishing the historicity of a given event? Is a miracle intrinsically undetectable to all five senses? Even if the cause is empirically indetectable, that doesn't make the effect indetectable. Surely Keathley believes many Biblical miracles were observable events. That our records go back to eyewitness testimony. So the scope of his claim is unclear. 

If a historical account include one or more miracles, does Keathley think the historicity of the account in general can't be empirically established, or just the miraculous incidents embedded within the overall flow of recorded events?  

As I noted before, presuppositionalism recognizes that all approaches to truth begin with certain assumptions that are taken on faith. However, there is one important caveat at this point. The presuppositionalist believes that the validity of one’s presuppositions must eventually be tested by using the laws of logic, and be demonstrated by a consistency with the evidential findings. Fideism, by contrast, does not believe one’s presuppositions can be tested. Like the presuppositionalist, the fideist believes that one starts with certain presuppositions. But unlike the presuppositionalist, the fideist does not subject his starting assumptions to any type of feedback or check. The fideist operates by “blind faith.”

That's a valid distinction. How he deploys it is a different question (see below).

The Only Recourse Left: The Omphalos Argument

Is that the only recourse left to YEC, or is that a supplemental argument?

As an OEC, isn't Keathley committed to selective mature creation? So, once again, isn't that a difference of degree rather than kind?

First, an appearance of age is an appearance of a non-actual history… If the original creatures were created fully grown, then they were created with an apparent history. By extension, a universe created fully mature will, by necessity, give signs of a history that did not actually happen.

Why is that a problem? Take a movie about the Gunfight at O.K. Corral. The movie set depicts the Old West, circa 1881. An instant past. Buildings look like they were in place well before October 1881. The appearance of a non-actual history. 

Suppose the movie includes a period newspaper, dated Oct 25, 1881. The newspaper recounts some events from last month. Yet September 1881 doesn't exist in the movie. The newspaper gives signs of a history that didn't happen in the movie. 

What if the divine origin of the world is like a historical drama which actually begins later than the past it takes for granted? I don't see how that's antecedently objectionable or improbable from a theological standpoint. Don't we need to leave our options open?

Second, the mature creation argument is unfalsifiable. This means it can be neither proven nor disproven. As Bertrand Russell observed, “We may all have come into existence five minutes ago, provided with ready-made memories, with holes in our socks and hair that needed cutting.”57 Since there is no way to prove the theory, we have moved from the realm of science into the realm of metaphysics. The mature creation argument truly is a fideistic position, since it places creation beyond investigation.

i) We need to distinguish between scientific theories and scientific presuppositions. Even if a scientific theory ought to be falsifiable (which is hotly contested in the philosophy of science), that doesn't mean a scientific presupposition is falsifiable. The existence of an external world is a scientific presupposition. But is that falsifiable? If idealism is true, then that's indistinguishable from a physical world. 

ii) What if the truth happens to be unfalsifiable? Should we stipulate in advance that the truth must be falsifiable? But how do we know that? And if that's something we don't know and can't know, is it reasonable to make that a requirement of scientific theorizing?

iv) Isn't verification more fundamental than falsification? If something is verifiable, then falsification is superfluous. Perhaps Keathley thinks verification and falsification are linked. If so, we'd need to see the argument. 

v) Suppose cyberneticists succeeded in developing artificial intelligence. But in the nature of the case, an artificially intelligent consciousness can't be a blank. The designer must give it something to start with. Software. A program. A self-identity. 

Suppose the cyberneticist gives it memories. An imaginary past. What if that's necessary to kick-start AI consciousness? 

What if, at some point, the AI machine came to realize that its original memories were simulated? But by that point it had acquired actual memories. An actual past. It no longer needed the ersatz memories. 

Third, the appeal to an appearance of age is an admission that the evidence is against the young earth view. Gosse conceded this over 150 years ago.58 If the overwhelming preponderance of empirical data pointed to a recent creation, then YEC advocates would not bother with such a difficult hypothesis as the omphalos argument. The very fact that YEC proponents find it necessary to appeal to the mature creation argument is a concession.

I think it's more accurate to say YEC scientists believe the evidence is equivocal. That there's apparent scientific evidence for the antiquity of the world as well as scientific evidence for the recency of the world. 

Fourth, the mature creation argument seems almost to embrace a denial of physical reality. Certain advocates of the argument do not hesitate to describe the universe as an illusion. Gary North declares, “The Bible’s account of the chronology of creation points to an illusion...The seeming age of the stars is an illusion...Either the constancy of the speed of light is an illusion, or the size of the universe is an illusion, or else the physical events that we hypothesize to explain the visible changes in light or radiation are false inferences.”59 At this point the arguments for the appearance of age seem uncomfortably Gnostic.

Does Keathley feel the same way about paintings? Painters often depict nonevents. They paint a scene that never happened. Is that "uncomfortably Gnostic"? 

What if God is like an artist? Just as a painter can depict a scene which he saw in his imagination, why can't God create a physical image of a supernova which only exists in the mind of God? 

Fifth, a consistent application of the mature creation argument will conclude that there are no evidences of a young earth. The universe has been coherently, uniformly created with the appearance of age. 

I think that's an overgeneralization. Suppose God makes some fruit trees ex nihilo. These instant, first-generation fruit trees are undatable. They, in turn, disperse seeds which produce second (third, fourth, fifth) generation fruit trees. Because second-generation fruit trees are the product of a cyclical process, they are datable (e.g. tree rings, the lifecycle of fruit trees). 

Sixth, Gosse arrived at the conclusion that we should study the earth as if it were old.

Why is that a problem? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Adam had a heart defect. A cardiologist would treat him as if that was a congenital heart defect. Even though his heart defect is not an actual birth defect, its origin is irrelevant to the outcome or the treatment. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction

What makes the resurrection important?

There's a trend in evangelical apologetics that's been evolving ever since John Warwick Montgomery. Montgomery stressed historical apologetics and the Resurrection. There are several reasons for this:

i) There's the intrinsic importance of the Resurrection.

ii) Apologists of this stripe consider the Resurrection to be the best-attested Biblical miracle. 

iii) Apropos (ii), they think they can make a good case for the Resurrection without presupposing the inspiration of the Bible. Even if you just treat the NT as "basically reliable" historical documents, that will get you the Resurrection. And once you've got the Resurrection, you can use that to retroactively validate other Biblical claims (so goes the argument).

Now, we can debate the merits of this approach as an apologetic strategy. Although I think this approach is deceptively simple, I don't think questions of apologetic strategy are all-important. There are different ways to defend the Christian faith, and it's useful to have more than one tool in our toolbox. 

The problem is when what started out as a particular apologetic strategy ends up defining the Christian faith. Prioritizing Christian doctrine.

Let's take a step back and ask, why is the Resurrection so important? Although Christians who've been conditioned by this apologetic strategy might be shocked to hear me say this, from a theological standpoint, the resurrection of Christ is less fundamental than the death of Christ.

No doubt the Resurrection is a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith. But the significance of the Resurrection is contingent on a prior event. if the Resurrection were an isolated event in the life of Christ, it would lose its larger significance.

The resurrection of Christ is important to Christians because Christian immortality is grounded in the immortality of Christ. The resurrection of Christ anticipates the resurrection of the just. Because he rose from the dead, we will rise from the dead–to enjoy eternal happiness.

But here's the catch. The resurrection of Christ, all by itself, is not a sufficient condition to cement that linkage. A necessary precondition is the remission of sin. Unless Christians (as well as OT saints) were forgiven and justified, they'd face eternal judgement rather than eternal bliss.

For Christians (and OT saints), the resurrection of Christ would be otiose apart from the death of Christ. Unless Christ died to redeem your sins, the resurrection of Christ would not entail the resurrection of the just. 

Absent penal substitution, Christians couldn't benefit from the resurrection of Christ. Absent vicarious atonement, there'd be no carryover from the resurrection of Christ to the resurrection of the just.

iv) Some apologists are oblivious to this connection because they approach the issue as historians rather than theologians. Their narrow historical methodology leads to a compartmentalized view of the Resurrection, as if the significance of the Resurrection is separable from penal substitution. But the theological significance of Easter Sunday is contingent on the theological significance of Good Friday. In that respect, the Crucifixion is more fundamental than the Resurrection. Unless Jesus atoned for your sin, you have no share in his Resurrection. 

A dangerous trend in evangelical apologetics

From a Christian perspective, my faith rests in the historical life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The faith doesn't rest on the historicity of particular OT events. 
Moreover, even if Jesus did think Jonah was historical, that doesn't mean we should. See my article on Jesus' errant theological beliefs. 
Perhaps some of the miracles in the Gospels did not happen. The incarnation and the resurrection are really the only two biblical miracles that must have happened in order for Christian faith to be true. Whether other miracles in the NT are true can be debated. 
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. 
Karl Giberson I refer to the study by Larson and Witham, considered definitive. Also some more recent work by Elaine Ecklund. Miracles are more complicated and less relevant. Loads of Christians reject virtually all miracles save the resurrection and even define that in a different way. 
Robert Firestone At what point is the word "Christian" even meaningful without the bodily resurrection?

Karl Giberson You should read Hans Kung or other leading theologians who explain that. I am not a theologian. I was once, rather provocatively, asked to "draw the trajectory of the ascension." Try it....

i) One aspect of Rauser's statement is how the essence of Christianity boils down to certain events in the life of Christ. On this view, the teaching of Christ is expendable. What's essential to Christian faith is not anything Jesus said, but only what he did–or what was done to him. This can take two different forms:

a) They may deny that Christ actually said many of the things attributed to him in the Gospels. They think Gospel writers exercised great creative license by inventing speeches and sayings which they put on the lips of Christ.

b) They may grant that Jesus actually made a statement attributed to him, but dismiss the statement as erroneous. Jesus was a child of his time, holding many ignorant, primitive, superstitious beliefs. 

ii) Even their emphasis on events is deceptive. For instance, Rauser, like some other prominent Arminians (e.g. Joel Green), is a strident critic of penal substitution. So even at the level of dominical events, he demotes the cross of Christ.

iii) In addition, just as liberals are skeptical about the sayings attributed to Christ, they are skeptical about the deeds attributed to Christ–especially his miracles. 

Obviously, these opinions reflect a liberal outlook. The view of "progressive evangelicals." As long as this stayed within liberal confines, it wouldn't be any particular concern. However, it's seeping into evangelical apologetics. 

Increasingly, you have some evangelical apologists who stake everything on the Resurrection. The Bible can be wrong on many other counts, but as long as the Bible is right about the Resurrection, Christianity is true. 

One basic problem with that perspective is that it makes certain redemptive events nonnegotiable whereas revelatory events are negotiable. That vandalizes the Christology of the Gospels. On that view, we could strip away the teaching ministry of Christ in toto. The Christian faith is reducible to some events in the life of Christ.

Moreover, by overemphasizing the Resurrection, to the detriment of so many other events in the life of Christ, an apologist of this ilk could, in principle, lop off most of the events in the life of Christ. The Resurrection is essential, but what else is essential–given this outlook?

The Genteel Duplicity of Roman Catholic Apologists at the Highest Levels

A Roman Catholic Cardinal, Professor,
lazy scholar and spreader of lies.
Typical even today.
Roman Catholicism, which claims to be “infallible”, is, on the contrary, probably the greatest disseminator of “urban legends” in history. For centuries, following the Reformation, absolute lies and untruths were told by Roman polemicists, and repeated, and repeated, and continue to be repeated down to this century. Here, for example, is one for which the source was “from an ‘ex-Calvinist’ turned Roman Catholic” – (I wonder where that came from?) – no doubt a person seeking to do “due diligence”, but who is most likely to pick up and pass on more of these lies and untruths, which were started and disseminated by the “princes” of “the Infallible Church”.

James Swan has made a career out of untangling these falsehoods. (There is no other way to describe them.)

In this his most recent blog post, James sorts out a quote from the work “The Bible and the Rule of Faith” (1875), by the French Theology Professor and later Cardinal and Archbishop of Quebec.

From this “Doctor of Theology, Theological Professor in the University of Laval”, Louis Nazaire Bégin, James provides this quote:

As to the heads of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, I do not wish to judge them myself, for fear of being accused of partiality. I prefer only quoting some short passages of their writings, and repeating the polite speeches they make about one another; the reader can then pronounce for himself as to the sanctity of the origin of Protestantism. The sincerity of Luther is well described in this confidential letter to his friend Melanchthon, August 30th, 1530: 'When once we have nothing more to fear, when we shall be left in peace, then will be the time to rectify our deceits, lies, and errors. 'Peter,' he says elsewhere, 'the greatest of the Apostles, lived and taught contrarily to the Word of God.[58] 'Moses, he says, had a tongue, but a hesitating tongue, which stammered—a tongue of death, of anger, and of sin. Collect all the words of wisdom of Moses, of the gentile philosophers, and you will find that they only express idolatry or hypocrisy. [pg 216]

Here is James’s commentary on that:

Upon checking the source I discovered that it wasn't simply one quote, but three strewn together in the typical Roman Catholic polemical style that has so characterized their treatment of Luther throughout the centuries. While the Cardinal claims an attempt to avoid "partiality," any writer that simply throws a bunch of quotes together without a context or historical background is indeed being "partial." Notice in the first quote (the letter), Luther is presented as a behind-the-scenes liar. In the second quote, Luther characterizes the life and teachings of the apostle Peter as contrary to the Word of God. In the third quote, Luther says all of the words of Moses amount to idolatry. In one short paragraph, the impartial Cardinal has presented the lying, apostle-slandering, law despising Martin Luther.  Elsewhere in the book Bégin says Luther was "a real chameleon" in doctrine and modified his opinions day to day (pp. 49-50). Given Bégin's overall treatment of Luther, I would posit he hadn't actually read much Luther but relied on the opinions and citations of secondary sources.

For more details and actual sources, read the rest of this post here.

It is a very lazy thing indeed to do what this Roman Catholic Cardinal and Professor has done – to re-hash old polemics. That has been the method of Roman Catholics apologetics since the time of the Reformation. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Where Are the Muslim Doctors and Nurses?

"Where Are the Muslim Doctors and Nurses?" by Prof. James Anderson.


Handicapping the Iraq war

Now might be a good time to assess the Iraq war.

i) We might begin with a bit of preliminary history. Until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the GOP used to be more dovish and non-interventionist. I don't know if that was philosophical, partisan, or both. Naturally the GOP tended to be opposed to a Democrat incumbent in the White House. And the GOP undoubtedly had genuine philosophical disagreements with FDR on domestic policy. 

ii) Support for both the Cold war and the Vietnam war was initially bipartisan. That changed when Eugene McCarthy and the anti-war movement swung the Democrat Party in its direction. 

iii) The Iraq war is often framed in terms of "neocons." This is an amorphous designation. In its most specific sense, "neocon" designates Jewish-American hawks. They used to be Democrats, but when the Democrat party became dovish, they switched to the GOP. Sometimes it includes disaffected Marxists. 

However, "neocon" is often used for lifelong Republicans who were never Jewish, but always hawkish. It seems to be used to designate people who share a common foreign policy outlook: American exceptionalism, support for Israel, promoting democratic institutions abroad, &c.

Oftentimes, "neocon" is just an antonym for libertarian foreign policy. 

iv) There are different way of assessing the Iraq war. One approach prospective. Given pre-invasion intelligence, was the Bush administration justified in invading Iraq? In this framework, the question is not whether they were right, but whether they were reasonable.

v) That involves a risk assessment. To begin with, you had people like Cheney who were always dissatisfied with how the Gulf War ended. To some extent they used 9/11 as a pretext to "finish the job." When I say "pretext," I don't necessarily mean that was a trumped up rationale. Rather, they took advantage of the heightened security concerns, post-9/11, to redress what they thought all along was a dangerous festering problem. When the political climate shifted in their favor, they seized the moment.

The "neocons" thought our containment strategy was unstable. The sanctions regime would end, at which point Saddam would reconstitute his WMD program. 

vi) There's the question kind of threat, if any, Saddam posed. Keep in mind that right now I'm discussing the pre-invasion outlook. 

One issue is whether there was reason to believe he had WMD. To some extent, that's overstated. For another issue is whether he had a WMD program which he was planning to reconstitute after the sanctions ended. 

vii) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that he had a WMD program, did that make him a threat? If so, to whom? Was he a threat to the US? To Israel? To Iran? To Mideast oil-producers?

Assuming that he was free to develop WMD, did he intend to use them offensively or defensively? For instance, was his intention to keep them as a deterrent to Iranian aggression? Or to blackmail Mideast oil producers?

Whether or not we think the Iraq war was justified depends, in part, on whether we think he posed a direct or indirect threat to our national security. The theory that he was a threat to the US involved the specter of WMD proliferation. 

viii) One theory is that "neocon" advisors and pundits packaged the Saddam regime as a threat to the US, to galvanize support for military intervention, when their real concern was with the threat posed to Israel. There may be a grain of truth to that, although it assumes that "neocons" are monolithically pro-Israel. 

ix) On a related note is the theory that Bush was a simpleton manipulated by advisors who were more intellectually dominant than he. There may be a grain of truth to that theory as well. 

x) Also, there's the allegation that the Bush administration simply lied about WMD. That's an endlessly debated issue. 

On the face of it, it's implausible that Bush would lie about the presence of WMD in Iraq to mobilize support for invading Iraq to disarm when, when the direct result of that action would expose the official lie. But if you're conspiratorial, I suppose you could say the "neocons" used Bush as the fall guy. 

xi) Another way of assessing the Iraq war is retrospective and counterfactual. Did we have the right cause, but the wrong strategy? 

Notice that I'm framing the analysis as a staged argument, in which one thing presupposes another.

If, say, you don't think Saddam ever posed a credible threat to our national security, then your assessment of the war begins and ends further upstream. You reject a key presupposition. If, on the other hand, you take a different view of the pre-invasion intelligence, your analysis continues further downstream. 

xii) One familiar argument is that we failed because we didn't have enough "boots on the ground." We followed an air force strategy rather than an infantry strategy. 

For all we know, that might have made the difference. However, there's a complicating factor. Because Iraq didn't attack us, we had to package the intervention was a war of liberation. If, however, you have too many boots on the ground, that resembles an oppressive, heavy-handed occupation force. Conquerors rather than liberators.

xiii) Another complication is that Iraq wasn't a self-contained theater. The "insurgents" were supplied by Iran and Syria. So there's the problem of mission creep. To successfully fight on one front, you must simultaneously fight on several fronts.  

xiv) Apropos (xii), I think the mission was doomed from the outset. In a traditional war, you win by defeating the enemy. You crush the enemy into submission. Sometimes you leave the country in smoldering ruins. Sometimes you install a puppet gov't. 

That's what we did to the Japanese in WWII. But that's because the Japanese attacked Pear Harbor. Since, by contrast, Iraq didn't present the same provocation, it became an exercise in nation-building. Winning "hearts and minds."

The problem with that strategy is that you cede control of the outcome to the other side. Success or failure depends, not on what you can unilaterally impose through overwhelming force, but on how cooperative the locals are. If they don't play ball, you lose. 

The "neocon" theory was to create a democratic ally in the heart of the Arab world. A regime friendly, or at least not hostile, to US interests. That's nice in theory, but Pollyannaish in practice. 

The Iraq war might have succeeded had we had more limited strategic objectives. But that's in tension with the "war of liberation." If the objective is regime-change, what replaces the regime? it becomes a tar-baby. 

One alternative was to partition Iraq. But that's easier said than done. You must forcibly relocate "sectarian" populations, then enforce the new borders. And it's harder to sell the war on humanitarian grounds. 

xv) In hindsight, and to some extent in foresight, I think it's fair to say the Iraq war wasn't worth it. As it actually played out, it resulted in high causalities (dead, disabled) for US troops. It was catastrophic for Iraqi Christians. It let the Iraqi Muslims out of their cage. And it removed a counterweight to Iran. 

And it plunged the country into civil war, although that's harder to judge, since the Saddam regime had many victims, and sooner or later Iraq was bound to face a post-Saddam regime. That might lead to civil war all by itself. Or, if Uday had been able to maintain power, that might have been just as cruel–or worse. 

In theory, there may have been more efficient ways to prosecute the mission, but as I've noted, these involve their own tradeoffs or complications. It's unclear to me that there was a better way to do it. 

Is God active in the world today?

What's wrong is right

The United States is left with a single viable strategy in Iraq

From today’s Stratfor

The Complexities of Iraq

Iraq consists of three major groups: Shia, Sunnis and Kurds. The United States left Iraq in the hands of the Shiite-dominated government, which failed to integrate the Kurds or the Sunnis. The Kurdish strategy was to create and maintain an autonomous region. The Sunnis' was to build strength in their region and wait for an opportune moment. That moment came when, after the recent election, Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki failed to quickly form a new government and seemed intent on recreating the failed government of the past.

The Sunnis did not so much invade as arise, taking control of Sunni areas and to some extent coordinating activities throughout the region. They did not attack the Kurdish region or predominantly Shiite areas. Indeed, the Shia began to mobilize to resist the Sunnis. What has happened is the failure of the central government and the assertion of regional power. There is no native power that can unite Iraq. No one has the strength. The assumption is that the United States could hold Iraq together -- thus the demand by some in Iraq and the United States that the United States massively intervene would make sense.

As in Ukraine, it is not clear that the United States has an overriding interest in Iraq. The 2003 invasion was more than a decade ago, and whatever decisions were made then belong to historians. The Sunni uprising brings with it the risk of increased terrorism and obviously gives terrorists a base from which to conduct attacks against the United States. By that logic, the United States ought to intervene on behalf of the Kurds and Shia.

The problem is that the Shia are linked to the Iranians, and while the United States and Iran are currently wrapped up in increasingly complex but promising negotiations, the focus is on interests and not friendship. The 2003 invasion was predicated on the assumption that the Shia, liberated from Saddam Hussein, would welcome the United States and allow it to reshape Iraq as it desired. It was quickly discovered, however, that the Iraqi Shia, along with their Iranian allies, had very different plans. The U.S. invasion ultimately failed to create a coherent government in Iraq and helped create the current circumstance. As much as various factions would want the United States to intervene on their behalf, the end result would be a multi-sided civil war with the United States in the center, unable to suppress the war with military means because the primary issue is a political one.

That, of course, leaves the possibility of an increased threat of terrorism. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and some of them are prepared to engage in terrorist activity. It is extremely difficult, however, to figure out which are inclined to do so. It is also impossible to conquer 1.6 billion people so as to eliminate the threat of terrorism. Given the vast territory of the Islamic world, Iraq may be a convenience, but occupying it would not prevent Sunni or Shiite terrorism from arising elsewhere. Defeating an enemy army is much easier than occupying a country whose only mode of resistance is the terrorism that you intend to stop. Terrorism can be defended against to some extent -- mitigated, observed perhaps -- but in the end, whether the Sunni regions of Iraq are autonomous or under extremist rule does little to reduce the threat.

The Kurds, Sunnis and Shia are hostile to each other. Saddam controlled the country through the secular institutional apparatus of the Baath Party. Absent that, the three communities continue to be hostile to each other, just as the Sunni community in Syria is hostile to the Alawites. The United States is left with a single viable strategy: to accept what exists -- a tripartite Iraq -- and allow internal hostilities to focus the factions on each other rather than on the United States. In other words, allow an internal balance of power to emerge.

Christless Christianity

Two birds of a feather

Nathan Rinne points to this podcast in which Chris Rosebrough commented on Joel Osteen’s recent meeting with the pope, and the ways many things that these men share in common. Both men are advocates of some sort of “cosmic quid-pro-quo” works-based methods of salvation: “If you do particular things correctly, you earn things from God…” – and they explicitly teach and function in ways that “the Word of God” is insufficient.

Further, they don’t merely represent themselves. They represent “theological systems” that share and propagate these ideas.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare

I haven't read this book, so I'm not vouching for it. Even if I had read the book, I'm in no position to independently confirm the anecdotes. 

However, the author has prima facie credibility. He's a confessional Lutheran academic and missionary. So, for those who take an interest in the subject, this might be a fairly reliable source:

Here's more background info: