Saturday, November 22, 2014

Three modern myths in interpreting Genesis 1

"Three Modern Myths in Interpreting Genesis 1" by Vern Poythress.

John Bugay speaks about the history of Roman Catholicism

My presentation on the history of Roman Catholicism 11/21/2014Here is a link to the slides I used in my Agora Forum discussion on Roman Catholicism Friday night.

There were about a dozen people in attendance, and the discussion lasted about 2.5 hours. It was not recorded.

My thanks to Dr. David Snoke for the invitation, and to all who attended and took part in the discussions. I had a great time.

2014-11 Agora Forum on Roman Catholicism.

Water witching

I've read that Joseph Smith was into water witching. I haven't studied that accusation in depth, and I haven't studied water witching in depth, so in this post I'll discuss the issue hypothetically.

If we assume that at least in some cases, water witching is more than randomly successful, two explanations present themselves:

i) The douser might be genuinely clairvoyant. By dabbling in the occult, he acquires extrasensory knowledge. Of course, that's a nice way of saying he's in league with evil spirits. 

ii) If a douser plants evidence, or if he's already familiar with the area, acquainted with spots where there's surface water, then he can "discover" what the client paid him to find. That's impressive…unless you consider the possibility that he went to places where he already knew what he was going to find.

In that case, the rod is just a prop. The rod points because the douser is manipulating the rod. 

Inventing apostolic succession

They began to be concerned with their own history…The Marcionite church had is beginning with Marcion…The Montanists went back to Montanus…All of these bore the names of founders whom people knew, while the Christian churches normally went back beyond the turn of the first century into the time of the apostles. Only that which can trace its history back into the earliest time, either directly or through fellowship with churches which are able to document it directly, can be genuine. In this way the concept of apostolic tradition developed and along with it, apostolic succession. 
In this context people sometimes proceeded quite liberally in building the chain of tradition...Then, as now, historical thinking was overlaid with wishes.  
The idea that both of them [Peter & Paul] first came to Rome after the church had already existed there for a longer time had no place in early Christian thinking, which in this case wanted to forge a connection between something they knew and the earliest and best-known men whose names they knew.  
In the first century and the beginning of the second, the Roman church was led by a college of presbyters, as we learn reliably from 1 Clement which we have frequently mentioned. We can no more speak about an apostolic succession, by which Peter passed on the episcopal office by a laying on of hands, than we can about many other things. This idea was a product of the second century when the idea of apostolic succession inevitably developed from the concept or requirement of apostolic tradition. Both existed only after the second half of the second century. K. Aland, A History of Christianity (Fortress 1985), 1:118-120. 

Science's incomplete metaphysics

"Thomas Nagel is not crazy" by Malcolm Thorndike Nicholson.

How Many People Were in the Exodus from Egypt?

OT numbers are often puzzling to modern readers. Sometimes they're round numbers, sometimes they're symbolic numbers, sometimes they're idiomatic descriptors.

Friday, November 21, 2014

BW3 reviews Interstellar


I just watched Interstellar, the new movie by director Christopher Nolan (of The Dark Knight, Memento, and Inception fame). Interstellar is a good flick, well worth watching, but isn’t quite the action flick that Nolan’s previous movies have been. It is a very cerebral movie, but in that regard it may have bitten off a little more than it could chew, even at nearly three hours long. Due to the length, it is the kind of movie that probably will not have as much mass appeal and may leave the normal fans of Nolan’s other works disappointed (as a corollary, the type of fans that love dissecting every movie Nolan has made will love this film). There will be a few minor spoilers in this review, but I will try to keep out any of the major plot points.

Interstellar is primarily a story about survival and the drive within nearly all human beings to live for as long as possible despite all the odds. Having it set in a science fiction universe helps Nolan to craft his universe as he sees fit for the story. Indeed, this is one of the powerful aspects of science fiction. As Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This enables a film maker to allow literally any possible universe by simply declaring that at some point in the future there will be technology that will enable it to be that way.

Because of this, we can capture a genuine glimpse of how Nolan views the world. When he creates his own universe, how do people behave in it? What does this show us of human nature in general? There is a scene early on in the film where the astronauts discuss whether or not nature itself is evil, and one of the characters (Amelia Brand, played by Anne Hathaway) concludes very strongly that nature is not evil—only man is. Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, disagrees. (This dispute actually leads toward one of the most on the nose metaphors of the movie involving a character named Dr. Mann, but I won’t put that spoiler in here. Believe me, if you watch the film you won’t miss the metaphor because it’s so obvious.)

While some reviewers have criticized Anne Hathaway’s acting, I actually thought she did a very good job with this movie. In fact, every actor in it was at least competent (there was no bad acting in it), and the leads turned in, pardon the pun, stellar performances. While the script could have allowed a little more breathing room (and probably should have cut about 10% of the material to get the movie to a more manageable time), there were only a few points that took me out of the suspension of disbelief. This is mainly because I’ve studied a lot of physics.

The first moment that broke the spell was when one of the characters claimed that in physics time couldn’t run backwards. This is actually the exact opposite of what the laws of physics state. Indeed, one of the conundrums of modern physics is trying to figure out precisely why time seems to have an “arrow” that consistently moves from past toward future. The laws of physics do not require this arrow of time.

The second moment that took me out of the film was when the astronauts wanted to fire a probe to skim just past the event horizon of a black hole in the hopes that, if the probe was moving fast enough, it would be able to transmit a little bit of the quantum information from inside the singularity out so people would know what to do with it. Of course, the event horizon is where photons cannot even escape the gravity of a black hole and they’re moving at the speed of light, so I wonder just how fast the filmmakers were thinking this probe would be going…

There was another glaring problem with the time distortion in relativity, but it would involve a couple of spoilers so I won’t get into that one here.

One final point that is quite interesting is Nolan’s take on love. Throughout the movie, love drives the main characters. Thankfully, it’s not so cliché that Cooper and Brand are in love with each other, but rather Cooper loves his children and Brand is in love with one of the scientists first sent to explore various planets for human habitability. At one point, Brand states how love is the one thing that can transcend space and time, since you can love someone after they have passed away with just as much intensity as when they were still living. And while Nolan never states anything about the existence of God, he does have the influences of love actually affect things in a way that is not scientifically verifiable. And of course, without knowing Nolan’s beliefs about God, it is interesting to note the emphasis on love given the Bible’s statement that God is love. I’m quite sure that Nolan was aware of that even though it was never discussed in the movie.

So for my final verdict, I would give the film overall an A-. I definitely plan on picking it up when it comes out on DVD, and would even watch it in the theaters a second time. If you like movies that involve a bit of thinking and some philosophical conundrums, Interstellar is well worth your time. And even if you don’t like that, the visual special effects are quite impressive.

More About Clement Of Rome

Steve Hays' recent exchange with a Catholic on another blog involved a discussion of First Clement. For those who are interested, here's a post I wrote last year about inconsistencies between First Clement and Catholicism. And here's something I wrote about the authorship of First Clement, the author's relationship with the apostles, and the significance of his letter.

Was there a Jewish Magisterium?

i) One problem for Catholic apologists is the fact that there was no equivalent to the Roman Magisterium in OT times or the Intertestamental period. But how can a Magisterium be essential to the new covenant community when it was inessential to the old covenant community?

Some Catholic apologists bite the bullet and say OT religion was inferior in that respect. Yet that fails to explain how Jews could even know what the Bible was, if a Magisterium is so indispensable.

Other Catholic apologists claim there was a Jewish Magisterium. They have two prooftexts: Mt 23:1-3 and Jn 11:51.

i) A general problem is the Catholic conundrum of proving Catholicism from Scripture. Except in the handful of cases where the Magisterium has given its "infallible" interpretation of this or that verse of Scripture, a Catholic apologist who ventures to prove Catholicism from Scripture must tacitly endorse the right of private judgment. The Catholic apologist is offering his personal interpretation of his prooftexts. But unless Scripture is perspicuous, and he has the right to exercise private judgment on the meaning of Scripture, he's conceding Protestant epistemology and hermeneutics. It's a self-defeating exercise. Frankly, it stalls at that point. There's nothing more we need to discuss. 

But for the sake of completeness, let's consider the two prooftexts:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice (Mt 23:1-3).
ii) Catholics take this to mean the scribes and Pharisees taught with the same authority as Moses. However, a glaring problem that interpretation is that Jesus frequently critiques the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. Indeed, in this very discourse, he calls them "blind guides." It would be wildly inconsistent for him to issue them a blank check. 
iii) As a result, commentators like France and Carson think the statement is a sarcastic set-up for what follows. And that's a reasonable interpretation.
iv) Nolland offers a different explanation. At a time and place, when literacy spotty and most Jews and Christians didn't own private copies of Scripture, the scribes and Pharisees were "walking copies" of the Torah. They had committed large portions of the OT to memory.
If you wanted to know what the OT said, consult a scribe or Pharisee. That's distinct from their understanding of what it meant–or how to apply it. And I think that's a reasonable interpretation. 
49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation (Jn 11:49-51).
What's the significance of his high priesthood in relation to his oracle? What's the intended link? 
i) Some Catholic apologists take this to mean that Caiaphas was prophetic by virtue of his office. Prophetic inspiraton came with the office.
A problem with that claim is that there's no evidence that prophetic inspiraton was associated with the high priesthood in general. At best, some individual high priests were credited with the gift of prophecy. 
Moreover, we must make allowance for our sources. Josephus was, himself, a priest–with prophetic pretensions–so he's biased. We'd expect him to make exaggerated claims about his own profession. 
ii) In context, the link is ironic and topical. As chief priest, Caiaphas is Christ's highest ranking religious opponent. Yet he is, unwittingly, vouching for the mission of Christ. 
There's a double irony. He's prescient, but blind to his own prescience. And he's corroborating the claims of Jesus. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Picking the wrong pope

...outgoing pope, Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:
I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. ... I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit's role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.
Then the clincher:
There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!
But if that's the case, then where does that leave apostolic succession?

Fact-checking Wikipedia on common descent

Banning abortion

From what I can tell, AHA's strategy is to drum up popular support for a national ban on abortion. I assume the objective is something like a Constitutional amendment. A counterpart to the 14th Amendment. 

At the same time, AHA repudiates cooperation with Catholic prolifers. if so, does that mean AHA would oppose a Constitutional ban on abortion if that process required Catholic votes (i.e. Catholic Federal and state lawmakers) to supply the necessary margin for passage and/or ratification? 

The process for amending the Constitution requires supermajorities (2/3) in the House and Senate, as well as ratification by 3/4 of the state legislatures. 

Must there be enough non-Catholic votes in Congress and state legislatures for AHA to endorse a Constitutional amendment to abolish abortion?

Flashcard apologetics

Over at Beggars All, I got into a long impromptu debate with a Catholic apologist. I'm reposting my comments here:

steve said...

People like Guy don't believe in the cult of the saints because they have direct, compelling evidence for the propriety of that practice. Rather, they believe it because they believe in the authority of the Roman Magisterium to promulgate dogma. Their real reason is indirect.

Hence, it's generally a waste of time to debate specific Roman dogmas with people like Guy. That's too far downstream. Their real reasons lie upstream: the alleged authority of the Roman Magisterium. Specific Roman dogmas are merely the effect of that source. If you're going to have a debate, then debate the cause, not the effect. 

steve said...
"I understand that John Piper does not pray that his own children be elect."

He doesn't quote Piper.

In any case, a Calvinist can, without inconsistency, pray that God elected his children.

"It seems to taint your view of the Sacraments too."

A tendentious non sequitur.

"However, when the question of a certain miracle was to be attributed to the intercession of St. Joan of Arc or to Mary, it was determined that since even a saint in heaven prays to Mary, both were to be thanked for their intercession."

How was it determined that Joan of Arc in heaven prayed to Mary in heaven? Was a seance held to question Joan of Arc on her postmortem activities?
steve said...
Notice that Guy still hasn't produced a direct quote from Piper to prove Guy's contention.

People like Guy don't argue in good faith. It's all drive-by shootings.
steve said...
A wildly confused statement about reprobation. I already corrected him on that point. God doesn't "simply" make people for hell. They serve a purpose in the here and now.

God doesn't first make people for hell, then change his mind and elect a "few" for salvation.

Moreover, the scope of election and redemption is conterminous. Those whom the Father elects, the Son redeemed (and the Spirit renews). Christ dies for the elect. Jesus is necessary inasmuch as election was for the purpose of redemption, and vice versa. They operate in tandem.

Papal error

Ignaz von Döllinger was the premier Catholic church historian of his generation. He penned a classic historical monograph against papal infallibility, which is available online:

Rome on limited inerrancy

The Law of Graduality

Roman Catholic Theology and Practice

OEC interpretations

i) One of the challenges for old-earth creationism is to specify what happened in Gen 1. Young-earth creationism has a straightforward position: everything happened in the way it's described. 

But for OEC, there's some distinction between what it describes and what it represents. And depending on the version of OEC, there are varying degrees of correspondence. For instance, some versions are sequential (day/age theory; analogical days) while others are nonsequential (framework hypothesis; revelatory days; cosmic temple interpretation). 

Part of the vagueness is due to the fact that OEC tends to treat Gen 1 as a thumbnail sketch whose details are pencilled in by astronomy and geology. But it balks at evolutionary biology. 

ii) One of the internal problems with the framework hypothesis is that it grafts a nonsequential arrangement onto a sequential arrangement. On the one hand, it views the days as a week of days. A 7-day week, based on a 6-day workweek, with one day off (the Sabbath). That's sequential, though it regards that as figurative schema.

On the other hand, it views the interrelationship of the days as nonsequential: 1 is to 4 as 2 is to 5 and 3 is to 6. The days match up in 3 paired days. Three sets of two days, in a staggered collation. 

Now one could be right, or both could be wrong, but they don't mesh. And that's even before you get to the baroque embellishments of late Kline's upper/lower register cosmology. 

iii) Let's turn to the cosmic temple interpretation. It's striking that, to my knowledge, proponents of this view, like John Walton, don't attempt to work it out systematically. By that I mean, if Gen 1 uses that architectural metaphor, then it's proper to ask what events correspond to what features of a temple. How does Gen 1 parallel the construction process of a temple? What items in Gen 1 correspond to parts of the temple? Items like a floor, walls, roof, doors, windows, interior furnishings. 

Let's give it a try:

Day 1. God creates light. A builder must have light to see by. (Anthropomorphic.)

Day 2. The sky corresponds to the ceiling or roof.

Day 3. The dry land correspond to the floor or foundation. Maybe hills and mountains correspond to walls or pillars. Flora are part of the interior decor or furnishings. 

Day 4. Stellar luminaries correspond to windows which admit light to illuminate the enclosed interior.

Day 5. Fish and birds represent the interior decor or furniture. 

Day 6. Land animals supply additional furniture. Man is like a statue of deity in the temple. The imago Dei.

a) There are, of course, some incongruities in this sketch. The order in which things happen doesn't reflect the order in which a temple is erected. Most obviously, you don't install the roof or ceiling before you lay the foundation or raise walls. So the order is backwards in that respect.

b) If flora correspond to decor or furniture, wouldn't a builder wait until the exterior was up? Perhaps, though, we could salvage that by saying they are like murals. Once the walls are in place, they are decorated. The temple had floral decorations.

I suppose you could say bodies of water correspond to the basin in the tabernacle or temple. Fish and birds are a bit of a stretch. 

There's also the enigmatic relationship between light on day 1 and lights on day 4. Part of the explanation is that you can't put lights in the sky before you make the sky. In that respect, day 2 must precede day 4. Likewise, it's the sky as seen in relation to the land, from the perspective of a ground-based observer. In that respect, day 2 must precede day 3, while day 3 must precede day 4–inasmuch as you can't see lights in the sky from earth until the earth (i.e. dry land) is made. 

Put another way, there's a distinction between light without land supplying the frame of reference (day 1), and light with land supplying a frame of reference (day 3). If the land is submerged, an observer can't see light overhead, because he has nowhere to stand. And that analysis of day 4 is true whether or not we endorse the temple interpretation.  

At the same time, I think this exposes some limitations of the cosmic temple interpretation. There's a lot in Gen 1 that doesn't correspond to a temple. Even if Gen 1 contains some temple motifs, the narrative doesn't use that an an extended metaphor to model creation. 

iii) Another possibility is if the the arrangement taxonomical rather than chronological. Based on different kinds of creatures. The day/night alternation is a way of grouping and demarcating different kinds of creatures. God creates one type of creature, then another type of creature. Or God creates several different kinds at a time. God creates groups of creatures.  

Even if God did this all at once, it can't be stated all at once. The narrator can only describe one thing at a time. On that interpretation, this isn't just an account of who made it, but what was made.  

Suppose, as an analytical exercise, we mentally we strip away the numbered 7-day schema. That's like muting the soundtrack on a movie to study the flow of images, as well as the transition from one scene to another. A soundtrack can impose a sense of continuity. 

Even without the day/night refrain, the sequence in Gen 1 still has a functional or teleological progression. Certain things must be in place before other things can be put in place. You can't have fish without bodies of water. You can't have land animals without dry land. You can't have trees without land. You can't have birds without a sky to fly in or trees to nest in or perch on. It's not just the explicit temporal markers (days 1-7) that give it a forward motion. 

So the arrangement isn't merely an abstract classification scheme by natural kinds. There's temporal succession. Mind you, OEC, as I understand it, doesn't deny that some things must happen first, as preconditions for other things happening. 

The oikos formula

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Handel’s Messiah: Biblical and Theological Perspectives

A whale of a tale

Apart from the above interview, which I think is well worth watching in its entirety, Berlinski also has other interviews which some may find interesting. For example, he has had two interviews with Peter Robinson over at the Hoover Institute. The first is titled "Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions" (2011), while the second is titled "Science, Philosophy, and Society" (2014). I've watched both, but I thought the 2011 was better, though the 2014 isn't bad.

Berlinski has likewise done at least one debate, but my opinion is he's far better when chatting one-on-one with someone where he has the time to flesh out his thoughts and musings than he is in a time-constrained debate format or similar situation.

Joe Carter reviews Fury

What's done can't be undone

Many of those opposed to the death penalty argue it's wrong to wrongfully execute an innocent person, because death would be an injustice which could never be undone. Short of a miracle, it's not as if the innocent person can be raised from the dead.

Of course, I trust most if not all of those on the opposing side would entirely agree it's wrong to wrongfully execute an innocent person. I take it we'd be agreed here.

However, is the fact that death is an injustice which cannot be undone when carried out against an innocent person (or any person) a good reason to oppose the death penalty?

If it is, then why not oppose lesser punishments in our legal system as well? After all, surely there are many wrongful punishments meted out against innocent persons in our legal system, and surely many if not most of these punishments cannot be undone once they've been administered.

Indeed, wouldn't it be generally wrong to wrongfully punish an innocent person, even if the punishment is less than death? Say someone has been wrongfully imprisoned for a year. Financial or perhaps other restitution might be given to the wrongfully imprisoned person. But it's still a year of freedom he or she can never get back. This, too, cannot be undone.

But let's say the person who is against capital punishment bites the bullet and argues we should do away with lesser punishments for this reason. If so, then what sort of a legal and penal system would we have left? There wouldn't seem to be much of one left, for it would seem to rule out punishing many if not most crimes.

Finally, I think there might be some tension (albeit perhaps a tension which could be relieved) for those who are against capital punishment for this reason but in favor of euthanasia, for it's possible the person who euthanizes themselves may come to regret the decision in the future if it were somehow possible for them to choose again. But, of course, it wouldn't be possible.

Comparing blueprints

i) A number of "evangelicals" or post-evanglicals are bailing on the historicity of Adam. The tipping-point is said to be genetic evidence for evolution. Supposedly, that cinches the argument for human evolution. 

One of the oddities about this appeal is that long before comparative genomics came on the scene, both naturalistic and theistic evolutionists assured us that the fossil record and comparative anatomy established evolution beyond reasonable dispute.

Now, however, we're told that it's really genetics which supplies the decisive evidence. Does that mean the fossil evidence and anatomical evidence was oversold? Were they stalling for time until better evidence came along?

ii) I'd like to discuss one alleged line of genetic evidence for human evolution. And that's how much DNA we share with the great apes, especially chimpanzees.

From what I've read, that's puzzling on its own grounds. What's puzzling to scientists is how chimps and humans can be so alike at the genotype level, but so unalike at the phenotype level. The more DNA we have in common, the harder it is to explain our radical dissimilarities (e.g. behavior). 

iii) However, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that genetics directs morphology.  

Say humans and great apes have similar faces. Say we discover that this is based on similar DNA. 

Does the genetic basis add anything to the alleged evidence for common descent? I don't see how.

If we think physical appearance is due to genetics, then we'd expect similar appearance to be due to similar genes–wouldn't we? If the DNA code programs for the expression of particular traits, then a common effect would be the result of a common cause. The morphology is encoded in the DNA. Am I missing something?

If so, then I don't see how that contributes any additional evidence to the alleged evidence for common descent based on comparative anatomy–for surely the operating assumption has always been that comparable anatomy had an underlying genetic cause. It was never a question of discovering whether there was such a correlation, but discovering what it was. 

Compare two sedans of the same year, make, and model–only one is a 2-door sedan while the other is a 4-door sedan. They are quite similar except for the number of doors, and certain correspondence adjustments. 

Suppose we discovered the blueprints for the 2-door and 4-door models. We'd see that this difference goes back to the original blueprints.

But would that really add any new evidence to our comparison? Didn't we assume all along that one model had two doors while the other model had four doors because they were built according to respective blueprints which specified that difference? The same comparison operates at a different level, that's all. You're comparing blueprints rather than cars. Blueprints of cars. 

If comparative anatomy is evidence for common descent, then comparative genomics doesn't really add anything to the evidence, because we already knew that the genotype dictated the phenotype. We just didn't know the details of how that happens. 

Conversely, if comparative anatomy is explicable apart from common descent (e.g. common design, convergent evolution), then comparative genomics would simply underwrite the alternative explanation.  

iv) Admittedly, there are other, more specific genetic arguments that are deployed against the historicity of Adam. There's the claim that one breeding pair can't produce that much diversity. There's the claim that a chromosome 2 fusion site between chimps and humans indicates a common ancestor. 

I've discussed that before, as well as linking to other discussions. 

Redeeming Philosophy

Redeeming Philosophy: A God-Centered Approach to the Big Questions by Vern Poythress is available to download for free.

John Bugay to speak on Roman Catholicism

Here's a little bit of shameless self-promotion. My church has asked me to speak to its Apologetics Group, the Agora Forum, on the topic of Roman Catholicism, and "how Roman Catholicism is different from Protestant Christianity". This coming Friday night, November 21, on the University of Pittsburgh campus. Email me, johnbugay [at] gmail [dot] com for questions or directions.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Whale evolution

Evidence for the evolutionary development of whales will be tougher for the creationist to handle. He will probably say that God may have used a similar design plan for aquatic mammals as for terrestrial mammals, and that their similarity therefore does not show evolutionary connection. We might think, however, that these similarities are more plausibly explained as due to evolutionary development of one from the other. Even then, that would at most show that the primal “kinds” were broader than at first envisioned by the Young Earther.  
Read more:

I'm not a marine biologist, much less a cetacean biologist, but I'll venture a few comments:

i) Craig's comparison is misleading inasmuch as whale evolution isn't simply an alternative to young-earth creationism, but old-earth creationism as well. 

ii) Darwinians typically allege that the only reason Christians would deny whale evolution is owing to their precommitment to Scripture.  Even if that were true, I don't think that's a damning indictment. 

That said, let's bracket Scripture for a moment. The evolution of marine mammals would be more plausible if marine mammals were poorly adapted to their aquatic environment compared to fish.

Indeed, if evolution is true, shouldn't we expect marine mammals to be poorly adapted compared to fish? If you begin with the bodyplan of a land mammal, you're starting with something that's fundamentally ill-suited to a completely different medium. Like trying to convert a Ferrari to a submarine. 

By contrast, if evolution is true, fish evolved in a marine environment from scratch. Or at least from microbes with precious little specialization. So they were very malleable at that stage.

Since that's their element from the outset, they ought to be perfectly adapted to their environment. Or at least as well-adapted as any trial-and-error process can be.

Yet, to my knowledge, marine mammals are exceptionally well-adapted to their environment. Marine animals are fully competitive with fish. Just as efficient as fish. To use theological terminology, they are wonderfully designed or engineered for their environment. 

In fact, if we were just judging them on their own terms, if there were no land mammals to compare them to, how would we arrive at the conclusion that they were ever anything other than marine creatures? 

iii) Apropos (ii), how could intermediate marine mammalian species become competitive with fish? If evolution is true, fish had a huge head start. Presumably, fish were well-developed, well-adapted to aquatic existence at a time when some mammals were first attempting to make the very awkward, very time-consuming transition from one medium to another. 

How could mammals which were initially ill-adapted to an aquatic existence have the opportunity to become well-adapted when they had to compete with fish–which were already fully acclimated to that medium? Fish were always in their element. 

iv) Finally, why would God create marine mammals as well as land mammals? One reason is to demonstrate his versatility and ingenuity. 

What evidentialism is not

Whining in the darkness

Woody Allen on godlessness: 
WA: Well, you know, you want some kind of relief from the agony and terror of human existence. Human existence is a brutal experience to me…it’s a brutal, meaningless experience—an agonizing, meaningless experience with some oases, delight, some charm and peace, but these are just small oases. Overall, it is a brutal, brutal, terrible experience, and so it’s what can you do to alleviate the agony of the human condition, the human predicament? That is what interests me the most. I continue to make the films because the problem obsesses me all the time and it’s consistently on my mind and I’m consistently trying to alleviate the problem, and I think by making films as frequently as I do I get a chance to vent the problems. There is some relief. I have said this before in a facetious way, but it is not so facetious: I am a whiner. I do get a certain amount of solace from whining. 
WA: I feel that is true—that one can commit a crime, do unspeakable things, and get away with it. There are people who commit all sorts of crimes and get away with it, and some of them are plagued with all sorts of guilt for the rest of their lives and others aren’t. They commit terrible crimes and they have wonderful lives, wonderful, happy lives, with families and children, and they have done unspeakably terrible things. There is no justice, there is no rational structure to it. That is just the way it is, and each person figures out some way to cope…. Some people cope better than others. I was with Billy Graham once, and he said that even if it turned out in the end that there is no God and the universe is empty, he would still have had a better life than me. I understand that. If you can delude yourself by believing that there is some kind of Santa Claus out there who is going to bail you out in the end, then it will help you get through. Even if you are proven wrong in the end, you would have had a better life.

This time next year

"By this time next year there will be hundreds and thousands of people gathering outside abortion mills every day in this country. There will be thousands and thousands of abolitionists taking to the streets and going to the high schools, colleges, and comfortable modern american churches in their cities to expose the evil of abortion and bring it into conflict with the Gospel of Jesus Christ every week. There will be hundreds, if not thousands, of consistently engaged, regularly active, autonomous yet unified, self-directed yet Spirit-led, incredibly powerful Abolitionist Societies spread out across this continent and around the globe. There won't be a person in the Western World who does not know about the presence of people fighting to Abolish Human Abortion on account that it is murder and seeking to end it by treating it like what it truly is: Child Sacrifice.
All of the rumors, assumptions, and slanderous accusations being made against AHA right now will have long been debunked, discarded, denied by all who have ears to hear and eyes to see and the world will be divided into two groups; Abolitionists and Abortionists.

Aside from the disturbingly oracular Messiah complex on display, this prediction does have one advantage: they've given us an acceptability-clock to judge their performance. If by this time next year they fall far short of their self-confident projections, then we can judge their movement to be a dismal failure. We'll be justified in hiding them to their own prediction.  

By this time next year, the jig will be up and the dance will be over. There will be no more hiding the fact that the only thing keeping abortion from being abolished is the failure of anti-abortionists to unify together and call for its immediate, unconditional, and total abolition. 
We are asking for pro-lifers to become abolitionists and unify together under Christ to seek the unconditional and immediate abolition of human abortion. This will not happen over night, but it will never happen if we do not all come together and call for it.

Uh-oh. Here's comes the escape clause. You always need to read the fine print. If their prediction doesn't pan out, that's not their fault. Blame the prolife movement. 

But why can't the prolife movement invoke the same escape clause? If there were more prolife volunteers, more prolife voters, more prolife gov't officials, then the cause would make greater headway. If AHA hadn't polarized the prolife movement, we'd achieve more. 

The war between opinions and platforms (pro-choice v pro-life) is coming to an end. The war of the future is between those who will act and those who will continue to wait. It is between those who have accepted the ways things are and those who believe in the power of God to do greater things now than He ever has before.

There's a difference between believing what God can do and believing what God will do. Since we have no divine promise that God will enable us to abolish abortion, leeriness doesn't reflect a lack of faith. 

This is why they accuse us of doing nothing and failing to have any successes to speak of. (They are hiding the fact that our success is measured by a decrease in their adherents and a growth in active abolitionists and societies).

Really? Success is measured by membership rolls? Shouldn't success be measured by the abolition of abortion? 

A general problem with their self-congratulatory ultimatum is that if they can actually pull it off, they don't need to talk about it. Just do it.

Don't tell us what you can do: do it! Show us what you can do. If you do it, you don't need to talk about it. It's done! The achievement will speak for itself. 

Extinguishing the light

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tim Staples' Book About Mary

Tim Staples, the Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers, recently published a book about Mary, titled Behold Your Mother (El Cajon, California: Catholic Answers Press, 2014). He's called his book "an exhaustive defense of the Marian doctrines". Al Kresta calls it a "Great, truly great, piece of apologetics." (back cover) Mitch Pacwa claims that the book "clearly answers every conceivable Protestant objection to Mary" (back cover). Actually, there's much the book doesn't discuss, and it's often wrong about what it does address.

Bonfire of the vanities

Alan Maricle posted a response to me at the AHA blog:

1. The fundamental problem with Alan's post is that he recasts the issue in terms of sin and forgiveness, whereas I framed the issue in terms of prudence. Having recast the issue, Alan then imputes his framework to me, as if that was my frame of reference–after which he expresses dismay at the scary image he sees in the mirror. Yet he's objecting to his own projection–like a cat picking a fight with its own reflection. 

What are we to make of this? Does Alan not know the difference between sinful policies and imprudent policies? Is his theological repertoire too cramped to allow for that important distinction? 

Likewise, does he lack the critical detachment to distinguish his own framework from the framework of his opponent? If you can't draw that distinction, you're burning a straw man.

Another problem is turning converts into trophies. Putting them on display. As I said recently, in response to another AHA commenter:

It's a question of prudence.

i) A former sex addict shouldn't be witnessing to streetwalkers or going into strip joints to evangelize the clientele.

A recovering alcoholic shouldn't be a bartender.

A compulsive gambler who got religion shouldn't return to the casino for lunch.

ii) A man with a background in terrorism shouldn't be an agitator. Given his background, that's an enticement. The fact that he gravitated to terrorism in the first place, and is now returning to radical activism, reflects an unhealthy appetite.

He needs to learn how to be an ordinary, garden-variety Christian. Hang out with regular Christians. Not get caught up in a new, edgy cause.

iii) Proving his repentance through ostentatious demonstrations is suspect.

iv) There's lots of Christian work that needs to be done. Neglected work. Thankless work. Boring work.

v) Not only is it bad for the individual, it's bad for the "movement." It's sending a signal to restless malcontents to infiltrate the movement and take it over–or use it to their own ends.

vi) A Christian is both saint and sinner. Indeed, that's a classic Protestant motto.

2. Evidently, Alan's commitment to AHA has become all-defining. Normally, you can fellowship with an ex-con or call him a brother without making him a member of your organization. At least, you can do that unless your organizational identity has become your sole identity. 

But if abolitionists only fellowship with other abolitionists in house-churches by and for abolitionists, then you're either in or out. If your circle of friends is increasingly confined to your "brothers" in the "movement," then friendship and fellowship are limited to members of the club. In-group loyalty and solidarity. In my observation, AHA is becoming very sectarian in that regard. You're either "for us or agin' us." 

Beneath the facade of inclusive rhetoric is a very exclusive condition: Agree with us. Join us. If not, then you're not one of us. You're not our kind of people. Take this statement, which is, by turns, Manichean and Millenarian:

By this time next year there will be hundreds and thousands of people gathering outside abortion mills every day in this country. There will be thousands and thousands of abolitionists taking to the streets and going to the high schools, colleges, and comfortable modern american churches in their cities to expose the evil of abortion and bring it into conflict with the Gospel of Jesus Christ every week. There will be hundreds, if not thousands, of consistently engaged, regularly active, autonomous yet unified, self-directed yet Spirit-led, incredibly powerful Abolitionist Societies spread out across this continent and around the globe. 
The war between opinions and platforms (pro-choice v pro-life) is coming to an end. The war of the future is between those who will act and those who will continue to wait. It is between those who have accepted the ways things are and those who believe in the power of God to do greater things now than He ever has before.

Unfortunately, this borders on religious megalomania. It's like Savonarola or the Zwickau Prophets. Our movement is the turning-point in history. The world was waiting for us. The end is near. Better get on board before the train leaves the station.  

It's frightfully easy to develop this mindset by belonging to a self-validating subculture, where the messenger and the community reinforce each other. That happens in politics and academia as well as religion.   

100 years ago, it was kind of like this

From Adweek: Sainsbury's Recreates Famous 1914 Christmas Truce in Stunning New Ad

the film really is stunning—it's as cinematic as any war movie, rich and evocative and entirely believable. The story, which Sainsbury's calls a "creative interpretation" of the events, shows a young British soldier who—as the enemies hear each other singing "Silent Night"—ventures into No Man's Land and offers friendship, and a football match, to the other side....Sainsbury's and the Royal British Legion tried to make the details as authentic as possible. They based it on original reports and letters from the time, and worked with historians throughout the process.

Yes, it's an advertisement. But thank God for the individuals with the funding and the creative genius to bring off this kind of historical moment.

HT: Tony Phelps

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How did Moses sin?

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy (Num 20:2-13).
Commentators puzzle over this passage. What exactly was the sin of Moses? The punishment seems to be disproportionate to the infraction.
i) Some commentators suggest it was sacrilegious to strike the rock inasmuch as the rock symbolized God. However, Moses was commanded to strike the rock in the parallel episode (Exod 17:5-6), so there's nothing inherently sacrilegious about that gesture.
ii) Moses is given specific instructions, which he disobeys. It's important for religious leaders to be just as accountable as the rank-and-file. Moses is not above the law. He must obey all God's commands, just like ordinary Israelites. 
iii) There's a sense in which many of the purity codes were artificial. Their significance is symbolic. It's wrong to disobey them, not because they are intrinsically obligatory, but because we have an intrinsic obligation to obey God. In addition, the symbolism was purposeful. So, by the same token, it's important for Moses to respect the emblematic connotations of his actions.
iv) By striking the rock without divine authorization, Moses was acting like a pagan sorcerer–as if he had the inherent power to extract water from rock. Using the rod as a magic wand. His action made himself appear to be the source of miraculous water, rather than God. That's probably the gravity of his offense. Had he been divinely commanded to strike the rock, the effect would be attributable to God, not Moses. 

Was Moses a murderer?

11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.

Most commentators are very judgmental about this episode. They accuse Moses of murder. They reprove him for murder. But does that reflect the narrative viewpoint, or is that a case of judging the incident by their own scruples? 

i) The context is similar to Exod 5:14. An Egyptian slavedriver beating or punishing a Hebrew slave. 

ii) Some commentators assume Moses is avenging the assault. That he waited until it was over with, followed the slavedriver, and killed him in an act of premeditated vigilante justice. 

Although that's possible, the text doesn't say that. It's at least as likely that he intervened during the assault, to protect the battered slave from further injury. We wouldn't automatically classify as murder defending someone who's being assault.  

Moreover, that doesn't imply intent to kill. As most, one might be prepared to use lethal force, if necessary. Again, we wouldn't automatically classify that as murder. Indeed, we naturally view that as admirable. Courageous. Putting yourself in harm's way to protect someone else from harm at the hands of a dangerous assailant. 

iii) Why did Moses check to see if the coast was clear before decided to intervene? It's possible that he was hoping someone else would intervene, but that's unlikely. Who else would intervene in a situation like this? An Egyptian wouldn't intervene to protect a Hebrew slave from a beating by an Egyptian slavedriver. And another Hebrew wouldn't dare interfere.

Moses knew he was taking a risk. His action would be viewed as treasonous by Egyptian authorities. He's not Egyptian. By intervening, he's shows where his true loyalties lie. 

That's also why he tries to cover-up the crime. Not from a guilty conscience, but because he rightly fears the legal consequences if his action is discovered. 

No doubt his intervention was a snap judgment. Perhaps he felt the assault was life-threatening. Or perhaps he was just incensed by the vicious brutality. 

Kaiser makes the odd comment that "the very impulse leads Moses to avenge wrongdoing apart from due process." But aside from the questionable assumption that Moses was avenging the misdeed, there was no legal remedy available to a Hebrew slave. It's not as if the Egyptian authorities were going to side with a Hebrew slave. From their perspective, the Egyptian slavedriver was just doing his job. And even if the beating were fatal, who cares about one more dead Hebrew slave? 

iv) However, this is a case in which a good intentions get you into trouble. Instead of keeping mum, the slave told his friends and family who came to his aid. Or maybe he ratted him out to shift blame. 

The rock that followed them

One of Peter Enns's prooftexts for denying the inerrancy/historicity of Scripture is his take on 1 Cor 10:4. Beale has a skillful rebuttal:

However, I'd like to approach the issue from a different angle. 

i) There's a circular quality to Enns's position. He regards Paul's interpretation as a fictional gloss on a fictional event. Therefore, he doesn't bother to ask what this would mean if, in fact, the Exodus really happened, as well as miracles by which God sustained the Israelites in the wilderness.

ii) The number of Israelites is disputed. But whatever the figure, the Sinai desert had insufficient food and water to naturally support the Israelites. They needed drinking water on a regular basis. What else did they have to drink? Wine production wasn't an option of a nomadic party in the desert. Maybe they could drink goat milk, but that wouldn't be enough. And, in any case, that only pushes the same problem back a step, for livestock required sources of water no less than the Israelites. Admittedly, livestock can drink water that's undrinkable for humans. 

There might be the occasional flashflood, but that's rare. Not a steady source of water. Same thing with seasonal wadis. Perhaps there were a few scattered oases in the Sinai. I don't know that for a fact. If there were, that would be prime real estate, jealously guarded by the locals. Not just there for the taking. That's my operating assumption.

On the face of it, it would take a miracle–indeed, repeated miracles–to supply the Israelites with enough drinking water throughout their 40-year slog. 

iii) In that respect, there's a parallel between a miraculous food supply and a miraculous water supply. Exod 16 records the onset of the manna while Josh 5:12 records the cessation of the manna. In-between, it's understood that God provided them with this miraculous foodstuff on a regular basis, without the Pentateuch having to chronicle that fact. 

iv) There are, moreover, tight textual parallels between the miraculous provision of manna (Exod 16; Num 11; Deut 8:3,16) and the miraculous provision of water (Exod 17:6; Num 20:8-11; Deut 8:15). Food and water go together. If the manna was a repeated miracle, so was the water. 

v) Finally, the two episodes narrating miraculous water from the rock (Exod 17; Num 20) bookend the wilderness wandering. The first episode occurs during the first year of the wilderness wandering while the second episode occurs during the last year of the wilderness wandering. The first episode concerns the first generation or Exodus-generation, while the second episode concerns the second generation or exit-generation. A distinction between entering the wilderness and leaving the wilderness. 

I think this framing device is a synecdoche. Like reading a book from "cover-to-cover," that's a way of saying the Israelites received a miraculous supply of water, not just on those two stated occasions, but on many occasions in-between, as needed. From start-to-finish, God provided water. 

vi) So, wherever they went, a freshwater supply was waiting for them. As if the water "accompanied" them or "followed" them wherever they went. No doubt they camped out at certain locations for extended periods of time. But whenever they were on the move, God would supply them with water. 

If you affirm the historicity of the wilderness account, as well as miraculous provisions, then I think that's a fairly necessary implication. That's something the implied reader would take for granted. 

Assuming there was a Jewish legend about a movable well, it has its basis in that underlying fact. And it's easy to see how that would be a poetic way of depicting a prosaic fact. If everywhere they go, they find a miraculous spring, then it's like the water goes whever they go. Not literally, but phenomenologically. Not that there was actually a movable well, but that's a poetic way of putting it. 

Are Catholics idolaters?

Catholics are often accused of idolatry. There are several grounds for this. One is veneration of the saints–especially Mary. Another one is Eucharistic Adoration. 

One way Catholics try to deflect the charge is to draw hairsplitting distinctions between dulia, hyperdulia, and latria. 

I'd just like to make a brief comparison. As I've often suggested, I think veneration of the saints is spray-painted syncretism: just replacing patron gods with patron saints. Different names, same function, same mentality. 

Now a pagan idolater can also distinguish between ascending or descending degrees of veneration. In polytheism, the pantheon has a pecking order. Not all gods or goddesses are created equal. There are high gods and low gods. 

If you're a sailer, you better pay your respects to Poseidon. If, however, you're a landlubber, you have little to fear from Poseidon. You're outside of his jurisdiction. 

You don't want to find yourself on the wrong side of powerful, vindictive gods or goddesses like Zeus, Juno, and Mars. However, Venus is not very intimidating. LIkewise, Vulcan isn't terribly threatening–unless you live in in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

In Hinduism, a pious Hindu typically becomes a devotee of a particular deity, like Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Durga, Kali, Rama, or Krishna. 

My point is that it's easy to draw parallels between pagan devotion and Catholic devotion in that regard. Both Catholics and pagans have a gradation in the degree of veneration they accord to numina. Drawing finespun distinctions fails to shield Catholicism from the charge of idolatry, for the heathen can and do the same thing regarding the divine hierarchy. 

The many faces of Mark Driscoll