Saturday, February 28, 2015

A pop mythological touchstone of friendship


Star Trek has become a fixture of the American mythos. I suppose Star Trek is to the American pop cultural lexicon what Homer was to the Greeks. A source of so many illustrations and catchphrases. Far more than Star Wars or Lord of the Rings

The Western is the only rival in that regard. But Star Trek is far more of a one-man vision than the Western genre. Mind you, Roddenberry was a limited storyteller. He himself ran out of material early on. Others had to pick up where he left off. 

I'm old enough to have seen the premier broadcast. I wasn't really into Westerns as a kid. I watched episodes of Bonanza, The Big Valley, and the Rifleman, but that was basically filler. They weren't my favorite shows. I don't think I ever saw Gunsmoke

The only Western I really liked was The Wild Wild West, because of the retro science fiction elements and the rapport between Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. 

I was more into shows like Star Trek, Time Tunnel, The Invades, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Green Hornet, the Prisoner, and the Avengers

As a teenager I once made the mistake of reading a book by a Trekkie. I just wanted more background about Star Trek. But I got more than I bargained for. Reading it I was suddenly and temporarily inducted into the world of Trekkies. I thought to myself, "These people take it really seriously. It's unhealthy!"

The author, a woman (forget her name) would compare Kirk/Shatner with Spock/Nimoy. Some viewers, she said, bonded with Kirk while others bonded with Nimoy.

Can't say I bonded with either character. 

I thought McCoy/Kelley was the most likable actor/character. But he was underutilized. Scotty/Doohan was another underutilized actor/character. I liked Sarek/Lenard as well. 

It's interesting that Shatner, Nimoy, and Lenard are all Jewish. 

I think Spock caught on in large part because his character dovetailed with the Sixties. The counterculture. 

Nimoy had to cope with the dilemma of typecasting. Would you rather play one memorable character or play dozens of forgettable characters? 

I do remember him in some other roles. He was good in Brave New World. Good in a remark of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I remember him in A Woman Called Golda, although he was eclipsed by Ingrid Bergman. 

But, of course, Spock was his signature role. Technically, Shatner was the star and the lead character, but he was quickly overshadowed by Nimoy. 

Shatner was, himself, a replacement for Jeff Hunter. Although he's hardly a great actor, Shatner does have starpower. Had the dominating stage presence that Hunter lacked. I think the series would have bombed if they kept Hunter.

I think Nimoy was convincing, in part, because he had an unusual face. A good face for a humanoid alien. He used to have a great speaking voice, but that became very frayed over time.

As he himself said, he modeled the character's isolation on the Wandering Jew motif. The consummate outsider and observer.

There are people who become very attached to certain TV characters. But I can never forget that it's fiction. It's not the world I have to live in. It's not my present, and–more importantly–it's not my future.

Nimoy enjoys the immortality that the world can confer. But the immortality which a dying world confers is ephemeral and delusive. 

I'm not emotionally invested in the life and death of actors. They are strangers. There's an illusory sense of familiarity that comes from watching them. And if we were introduced to them at a certain age, there's an element of nostalgia. But I don't have a personal connection with celebrities. That's make-believe fellowship.

Nimoy's death is just another reminder of my own mortality. I was just a kid when I saw it for the first time. Now I'm 20+ years older than the actors were at the time. And they are dying off. 

Overdosing On Fiction

One of the reasons why people are so interested in the death of somebody like Leonard Nimoy is that they enjoy thinking about imaginary worlds, like the imaginary world of Star Trek. There's a lot they don't like about real life. They want a better world. That's also one of the reasons why people are interested in science fiction books, romance novels, and video games, for example. While that sort of fiction is acceptable and useful up to a point, our culture is far too focused on it. There's not much interest in real evidence about how real people will really live in a real afterlife with a real God. People prefer their fiction. When they're interacting with relatives, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers, they'd rather discuss the fake world of Star Trek than the real heaven. Behind that preference is the presumptuous wishful thinking that God is like them and that the afterlife will be what they want it to be. They ought to spend more time in non-fiction and less time pursuing their fictional preferences.

Gregg Allison addresses Rome’s “Nature-Grace interdependence”

Gregg Allison on Roman Catholicism
You can purchase this work here.
As was shown in my last three blog articles on “the Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace” (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), this “interdependence” serves as a foundational tenet of Roman Catholicism, and virtually every Roman doctrine is shaped and underpinned by it.

Finally, here, Allison gives his opinion of this “interdependence” – the source of it, and the reason why its source is flawed. What follows is from Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 1006-1073). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pgs 52-55 in the printed edition.
Each of the above doctrines and practices will be assessed in due time in the remainder of this book, but an appraisal of the first pillar on which they are built—the nature-grace interdependence—will be undertaken now.

Evangelical theology disagrees strongly with its counterpart concerning the interdependence between nature and grace. One objection is that the Catholic system’s concept of nature owes more to philosophical traditions—the Neoplatonism at the heart of Augustine’s theology; the Aristotelian philosophy to which Thomas Aquinas’s theology was wedded—than to Scripture.

Because Catholic theology defines “nature” philosophically, rather than shaping this concept according to Scripture, evangelical theology considers its notion of nature to be fundamentally flawed.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Is Gen 6:1-4 about ETs?

It's a silly question, but some people take it seriously. A few quick observations:

i) Gen 6:1-4 doesn't say the "sons of god[s]" were sky people. It doesn't say they came down from the sky.

ii) The syntax is ambiguous. It doesn't say the Nephilim were the offspring of union between the "sons of god[s]" and human females.

iii) Even if you think aliens exist and made contact with humans, there's no reason to think they'd find human females sexually attractive–any more than we find other species sexually attractive. Isn't it pretty egotistical to imagine that ETs lust for human females? 

iv) And if it's aliens, why just male aliens mating with human females? What about female aliens mating with human males?

v) Moreover, it's wildly improbable to think that aliens, who (ex hypothesi) developed independently on a planet with a different atmosphere, different ecosystem, would be anatomically compatible with humans–much less genetically compatible to the point of interspecies reproduction, resulting in hybrid offspring. 

I suppose a committed ufologist could salvage that thesis by appealing to genetic engineering. That, however, strays far from the text.

vi) Isn't the alien abduction trope about humans going up rather that aliens coming down? That humans are transported to a spacecraft to undergo experimentation? 

vii) To me, the text invites a far more mundane explanation. Isn't this a familiar scenario? Raiding parties to abduct women from a neighboring tribe or village. That happens in lots of primitive cultures. An invading army where officers have the pick of the women. Sex-starved sailors who discover the Polynesian islands and help themselves to the bounty, including–or especially–native women. 

If it weren't for one or two enigmatic designations (nephilim; "sons of god[s]), surely we wouldn't take it any other way. 


I'm going to take the Alexander UFO Religious Crisis Survey:

1. “Official confirmation of the discovery of an advanced, technologically superior extraterrestrial civilization would have severe negative effects on the country’s moral, social and religious foundations.” 

We need to distinguish between what would happen and what should happen. If that happened, I don't think that discovery ought to have any negative effect on the foundations of Christianity. 

But in reality, it would become a new religion for many clueless people, including nominal Christians. They'd seek moral and spiritual guidance from the wrong source.

2. “My congregation would perceive any contact made with a technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization, direct or indirect, as a threat.”

Of course, that's hypothetical. It would only be threatening of the aliens were threatening. A hostile invasion. That scenario. 

But in principle, contact with an alien civilization would not be intrinsically threatening. Mind you, it would certainly be disruptive. 

3. “The discovery of another intelligent civilization would cause my congregation to question their fundamental concepts regarding the origin of life.” 

That's a non sequitur. If they exist, they're creatures–just like us. God made them. 

4. “If highly advanced intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, the basic tenets of religion would be present.” 

If they're unfallen aliens, then they'd worship the same God as Christians do. Mind you, that depends in part on how much divine revelation they are privy to. It's possible that God reveals himself more extensively to fallen, but redeemed creatures like us.

5. “Genetic similarities between mankind and an advanced extraterrestrial civilization would challenge the basic religious concepts of man’s relative position in the universe.” 

That's no different than the issue of genetic similarities between mankind and other terrestrial lifeforms. So that wouldn't add anything new to the issue. 

6. “If an advanced extraterrestrial civilization had religious beliefs fundamentally different from ours, it would endanger organized religion in this country.” 

No, that would simply mean they're a fallen race–or evil spirits in alien guise.

7. “Scientific confirmation of contact with an advanced extraterrestrial civilization is probable in our lifetime.” 

I doubt it. 

8. “It is unlikely that direct contact with an advanced extraterrestrial civilization has occurred or is currently ongoing.” 


9. “My congregation would question their beliefs if an advanced extraterrestrial civilization had no system of religion.”

Same answer as #6. Again, though, assuming that they even exist, there's no presumption that God revealed himself in the same detail to every alien race. 

10. “If an advanced extraterrestrial civilization proclaimed responsibility for producing human life, it would cause a religious crisis.” 

Same answer as #6. 

A Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace Part 3

How the Roman Catholic view of nature and grace intersects with a variety of Roman Catholic doctrines and practices.

See also:

A Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace Part 1.

A Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace Part 2.

Aquinas was the problem; the Reformation was the solution.

I’m continuing to work through Gregg Allison’s work, “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment”.

A proper evangelical assessment of Catholicism will treat Catholic theology as a coherent, all-encompassing system with one of its two key tenets being the nature-grace continuum that underscores the less-than-devastating impact of sin on nature, which, as a consequence, retains some capacity to receive, transmit, and cooperate with grace.

Specific theological doctrines and practices in which the outworking of this understanding of the nature-grace continuum can be seen are:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Former Roman Catholic Priests and Nuns who have left “the Church”

“The real problems lie in the doctrines embedded in the Roman Catholic faith itself”.

This is somewhat dated (1991), but this video produced by James McCarthy takes on some eclectic topics such as “the Mass”, transubstantiation, “statues”, “Tradition”, and others (I haven’t finished it because I had to run to another appointment), but it's unique in that there is a large number of former priests and nuns who talk about “why they left”. If you check out the YouTube page, there seems to be a large number of similar videos.

HT: Vincent Artale Jr.

Immoral consent

i) Ethical debates typically involve a search for common ground. One method is to use examples of something morally obligatory, permissible, or impermissible which both sides agree on.

When Christians debate atheists, this can be elusive. Secular ethics is an elevator. It has no moral floor. An atheist can instantly lower the moral floor at the touch of a bottom. As secular ethics becomes increasingly and systematically anti-Christian, it's hard to come up with examples that an atheist will balk at. 

ii) Secular ethics generates a dilemma. On the one hand, an atheist demands the freedom to do whatever he wants to do. He rankles at anyone imposing on him. 

On the other hand, he wants everyone to respect his freedom. So he imposes on them. No one has a right to obligate him, but everyone is obligated to respect his rights. That's the conundrum. 

iii) Homosexual and transgender apologists resent it when Christian ethicists compare their position to something like pedophilia. Here's how one ethicist frames the comparison:

It's not true that there's never any room for such comparisons. It might be that certain standards for loosening laws will (by the same standard) require loosening them in other ways. If the pedophilic sexual orientation is out of someone's control, and that's the reason we reject arguments against homosexuality, then by the same standard we reject arguments against pedophilia. 
Many issues about pedophilia as a sexual orientation are analogous. I haven't seen any argument from anyone that pedophilia is not a sexual orientation. It's usually dismissed out of hand. I also haven't seen any strong arguments that the formation of sexual orientation is different in the two cases. If the only argument given for accepting homosexuality as perfectly legitimate is that it's a sexual orientation that one can't control, then more work needs to be done to exclude pedophilia as a sexual orientation as a perfectly legitimate way to be. 

iv) From what I've read, homosexual and transgender apologists usually invoke consent as the differential factor. Let's consider that. From a Christian perspective, I think consent is often a morally relevant factor. 

However, that's not a universal principle. Consent doesn't ipso facto make a transaction morally permissible. Conversely, lack of consent doesn't ipso facto make a transaction morally impermissible. 

v) For instance, if someone is mentally ill, they may be in no condition to give informed consent for treatment. Suppose psychotropic drugs can restore their sanity. In that situation, I don't think it would be wrong if, say, their brother authorized medication against their will. If the patient is not in his right mind, you are protecting him from himself or others–just as you might take the car keys away from a drunken friend and drive him to your own house until he dries out. Once he sobers up, you return the car keys. It might then be a question of whether maintenance should be a matter of consent. 

vi) In a pilot episode ("Eyes") of Night Gallery, Joan Crawford plays a wealthy heiress blind from birth. She procures an eye-donor who's hard up for money. Of course, the eye transplant will leave him blind. 

He consents to the operation. Still, the viewer is supposed to regard the woman as a villain. She's exploiting his financial desperation. She's harming him to benefit herself. The fact that the transaction is consensual doesn't make harvesting his eyes morally permissible. Even if somebody consents to be harmed, that doesn't automatically give you the right to harm them. Indeed, that may be taking advantage of his weakness. 

In an episode ("Queen of Heaven") of I, Claudius, Tiberius has designs on the nubile daughter of belly dancer. To spare her daughter, the mother (Lollia) offers to take her daughter's place. She thereby subjects herself to his depravities. Later, she commits suicide. 

Even though she volunteered to take her daughter's place, the fact that the transaction was consensual doesn't make it morally permissible.  

It's easy to come up with other examples. Unbelievers who support homosexuality but oppose pedophilia need a more discriminating criterion than consent to warrant their dichotomy. 

Roman Catholic Warlords

Who would believe it, but Roman Catholic bloggers are said to have become "self-referential warlords"? 
Yet here is the ugly truth nobody wants to confront.  By its very nature, the Catholic blogosphere is an insular echo chamber.
The way the Catholic blogosphere is designed is so that you will never have to get any news you don't want to.  Blogs typically link only with blogs they agree with.  Patheos in particular is mostly an insular community:  they spend time congratulating each other in front of a mostly friendly audience.  Very rarely do people link to an alternative viewpoint, because a lot of times that alternative viewpoint is spiritually dangerous
Why is this happening?  
Whether we like it or not, the Catholic Church, especially in America, is undergoing an institutional collapse.  This collapse did not happen as a result of splendid leadership.  While some of it was out of the control of Church leaders, many of the declines the Church in America faces were conscious choices that had the opposite result of what was predicted.  
When an institution collapses, a power vacuum occurs.  As nature abhors a vacuum, various personalities will attempt to undertake the mantle of authority.  Since none of them are strong enough to provide centralized leadership (as the leaders themselves are normally products of the culture behind such a collapse), what you typically get is the equivalent of commentator warlords who carve up their own little niche kingdom. In their kingdom, they are the guardians of orthodoxy. 
They will tell their subjects what is true, and what isn't.  They will also remind them (in ways subtle and not so) that without them, it's a pretty scary world out there.  If you don't have their commentary, you have to get it from themThey will lie to you. "Pope Francis" [then-Cardinal Bergoglio] called it something else.  He called it "The Self-Referential Church." 
When we descend into warlordism, we are too busy trying to defend our little fiefdoms, and only give glory to members of the same tribe.

HT: Steve Hays 

A Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace Part 2

The source of synergistic justification and holy water

I’m continuing the Gregg Allison’s explication of “nature and grace” in Roman Catholicism that was started here:

In one sense, these two divergent views reflect in part the different models of the nature-grace relationship as developed by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas: “[W]hereas the Augustinian tradition has stressed the concept of natura vitiate [spoiled or fallen nature], therefore underlining the pervasive and corrupting reality of sin and the utter primacy of grace, the Thomistic tradition has instead insisted on the inner resources of nature’s capacitas dei [capacity for God], giving a more positive account of its intrinsic disposition towards the elevating operations of grace” (citing De Chirico, pg 228. See footnote [1] below for more information).

On this issue, [following the Reformers] evangelical theology follows the Augustinian tradition, with its pessimistic view of nature because of the devastating impact of sin on it, while Catholic theology follows the Thomistic tradition, with its relatively optimistic perspective on nature and its openness to and capacity for grace.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is Mary the woman in Rev 12?

Who should we believe–lay Catholic pop apologists or their religious superiors? I'll side with the bishops:

[12:1] The woman adorned with the sun, the moon, and the stars (images taken from Gn 37:910) symbolizes God’s people in the Old and the New Testament. The Israel of old gave birth to the Messiah (Rev 12:5) and then became the new Israel, the church, which suffers persecution by the dragon (Rev 12:6, 1317); cf. Is 50:1; 66:7; Jer 50:12.


Another point that young-age creationists would raise is the idea of the universal Fall.  Creationists (like me) believe that human sin altered creation so that now "the whole creation has been groaning" (Rom. 8:22).  That groaning came from the curse placed on creation because of Adam's sin.  So if there is intelligent life on another planet, then that would seem to be part of the creation that is groaning, which means they've also been cursed because of human sin.  That seems unfair.
We could also look at the passages of the New Testament that emphasize that Christ died once for sin (I Pet. 3:18, Heb. 9:28, Rom. 6:10), which is taken to imply that there would be no redemption available to intelligent life on other planets, since Christ died here and not there.  Otherwise, He would have died twice, and that's not what the Bible says.  This flows into the exclusivity claim of Christianity: Christ is the only way to God.  Religious pluralism is false; therefore, there can be no alien Jesus, because that would be a second way to God.

This is a very outre debate. I have no stake in the answer. The question is purely speculative. And I have no opinion regarding the existence of other physical lifeforms elsewhere in the universe. If they exist, they too are the product of divine creation. 

The question holds some hypothetical significance because you have Christians who imagine that this scenario would falsify the Christian faith. 

i) In my opinion, the fall directly impacts the human condition and the angelic order. Angels are not alive in the biological sense. Strictly speaking, the "universe" denotes the physical cosmos. Angels are not a part of the universe, although they are able to interface with the universe.  

ii) I think the basic error is hermeneutical: overextending passages whose intended scope concerns life on earth (or fallen angels). I don't think Biblical language speaks to the issue of extraterrestrials one way or the other. It has a terrestrial orientation. Not "universal" in the cosmic sense. 

iii) If there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, they didn't fall in Adam. Adam wasn't their progenitor or federal head. 

iv) In principle, I don't think Biblical language precludes the Son from becoming incarnate at more than one time or place to redeem fallen aliens, if such exist. For the intended range of reference concerns the unrepeatability of the Incarnation with respect to God becoming human (more precisely, the Son assuming a human nature) to redeem fallen humans. In context, he died once for all time for human sinners. It's unique in that regard. The status of aliens falls outside the purview of that discussion. 

v) Christ is the only way to God because humans are sinners who require a mediator. A redeemer. Unfallen aliens don't require a mediator or redeemer. 

In an E.T. context, there's still the same God, the same Trinity, the same eternal Son. That is universal, in the cosmic sense–or even a multiverse.

Does God play dominoes?

While God’s plan for your friend’s parents included the fact that they would die in this airline crash, He did not causally predetermine it. His will for their lives was evidently, not that they should die years apart after lingering battles with illness or pain, but that they should be taken together quickly to His side. Their deaths fit into God’s providential plan for human history, which is to establish His Kingdom among men. God has good reasons for permitting them to die in this crash, otherwise He would not have allowed it. But as you know from reading The Only Wise God, God’s sovereign providence over human history does not imply His causally determining everything that happens. This event was the result of an incomprehensible multitude of free human choices which God did not determine. If her parents had decided not to travel on this flight because of a dream, then God’s plan would have taken a different course. His providential planning would have to have taken into account that free choice instead of the choices He did have to work with. God’s providential plan does not override human free choices but rather takes account of them.

That's a strange argument. God cannot prevent a plane crash without overriding our freewill? 

Let's grant libertarian freedom for the sake of argument. Let's play along with that assumption. Let's consider some causes of plane crashes:

i) Terrorism would be the most direct example. A passenger smuggles a bomb onboard. A pilot deliberately crashes the plane. A mechanic sabotages the plane. In each case, the agent intends the (dire) outcome. According to the freewill defense, God must respect human choices. 

But even on its own grounds, there's a problem with that argument. Take the Air France model of the A1380, which seats 538 passengers. You have one terrorist who wills the plane to crash over against more than 500 passengers and crew who will the opposite. God can't respect everyone's will in the case of conflicting volitions. Why does he side with one terrorist?

ii) A less direct example would be human error (e.g. pilot error, air traffic controller error, a design flaw, faulty maintenance). These involve free choices. However, in this case, the agent doesn't intend the outcome. The plane crash is an unforeseen consequence of human choices If the agent knew in advance the end-result of his action, he'd be appalled. He would avoid that error. 

How does it violate human freewill for God to correct a short-sighted or uninformed choice which the agent never intended? 

iii) Then there are impersonal causes (e.g. metal fatigue, bird strikes, lightning strikes, downdrafts) that don't involve human choice. Why is God not allowed to override metal fatigue or windshear? He's not overriding the freewill of the weather or machinery, is he? 

Sure, Craig can say that if passengers hadn't chosen to board the doomed plane, they would not have died. But if God mustn't override human choices at all, then how can he ever answer prayer? Nearly every answered prayer will intersect with a multitude of human choices at the time or down the line. How can answered prayer be consistent with every human volition that's impacted by answered prayer? Isn't Craig's position Deistic? God flicks the first domino (creation), but after that he can't interrupt the domino effect (i.e. actual human choices). Once he flicks the first domino, his hands are tied thereafter. He just watches them fall.

Some standing here will not taste death

27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (Mt 16:27-28). 
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches (Rev 1:12-16,20).
Mt 16:28 is a familiar "problem passage." Did Jesus mispredict the future? 
It's instructive to compare the Matthean prediction with Rev 1. John was one of the disciples whom Jesus addressed on that occasion (in Mt 16). Before John died, Jesus came to him. His appearance is glorious. There's even the angelic motif. Jesus comes with angels (i.e. stars=angels). 
This is a personal appearance. But it is, of course, distinct from the Second Coming–which is a global, one-time, endtime event. So John did not taste death until he saw Jesus come to him, in royal imagery that parallels the Matthean prediction. (By the same token, Jesus came to Paul [Acts 9, 22, 26], to instigate his conversion.)

Likewise, in his dictated letters to the seven churches (Rev 2-3), Jesus threatens to "come" to some of them in judgment. But in context, that hardly seems to be the end of the world. It simply marks the demise of that particular fellowship. 
We need to distinguish at least two different ways in which Jesus can come to people. There's a local, individualized appearance, and then there's a global return. Both are personal. But the former is repeatable whereas the latter is climactic. Between Jesus coming within church history (i.e. objective visions) and Jesus coming at the end of church history (i.e. the return of Christ). 
Some Protestants misunderstand sola scriptura. They treat the Bible as an encyclopedia. Unless they can find something in Scripture, it never happened. This often leads to very creative prooftexting. But the Bible does not intend or pretend to record everything that exists. 
Jesus may well have appeared to other disciples in the same way he appeared to John. It's just that John wrote about it. 

"The intercession of the saints"

Fundamentalists often challenge the Catholic practice of asking saints and angels to pray on our behalf. But the Bible directs us to invoke those in heaven and ask them to pray with us.
Not only do those in heaven pray with us, they also pray for us. In the book of Revelation, John sees that "the twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Rev. 5:8). Thus the saints in heaven offer to God the prayers of the saints on earth.
A glaring problem with this appeal is that Rev 5:8 doesn't say that Christians on earth were praying to Christians in heaven. The prayers of the saints in 5:8 (par. 6:9-11; 8:3-4) are prayers of martyred Christians in heaven. They aren't taking requests from Christians on earth. That's not in the text or context.

"Soon" or "suddenly"?

The "Church" or the "church"?

Selfish genes

A Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace Part 1

When Protestants think of the various topics or loci that comprise the various systems of “systematic theology” that have been studied over the centuries, the lists of these loci might include the “prolegomena” (which might encompass a discussion of philosophy and a doctrine of Scripture or a doctrine of “revelation”) – and following that we might find the doctrines of God, the Trinity, creation, humanity, sin, the person of Christ, the atonement, the Holy Spirit, soteriology, “the church”, “last things” – we tend to see these things as inter-related, but each having their own “self-contained-ness” as well.

In Roman Catholicism, which (following De Chirico and Allison) may and should be thought of as a “system”, there are two “core doctrines” or ideas or themes which underlay all of the other loci -- these two are what Allison has referred to as the nature-grace interdependence.

Now, one of the first things I’ll say is that, as Reformed believers, we tend to think we know what is meant by “grace” – after all, we talk about things like “salvation by grace” and the “doctrines of grace”.

But the word “grace” in the context of all of church history has a long and convoluted history and meaning, and we do need to be careful of context if we are to understand what is meant by “grace” in any given instance. For example:

Minimal facts not enough

The Top Ten Scientific Problems with Biological and Chemical Evolution

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Universalism and atheism: separated at birth

Universalists and atheists share this in common: apologists for each position devote enormous amounts of time, passion, and energy to attacking opposing positions and laboring to make everyone agree with their viewpoint–even though, if they are right, what anyone happens to believe or do in this life makes absolutely no ultimate difference in the long-run.

What does AHA stand for?

AHA has become terribly schizophrenic of late. On the one hand you have statements which tell us what AHA stands for and differentiates AHA from the prolife movement, on the one hand, and violent agitators on the other hand. For instance:

On the other hand, you have this recent disclaimer:

Important note regarding relationships and various goings-on taking place between and among various abolitionists.
Please understand that "AHA" is not some sort of an organization that can make official pronouncements about who is and is not an abolitionist, or Christian, or sinner or anything like that.
When individual abolitionists or groups of abolitionists do make such pronouncements they are not to be take as though they represent some sort if official "AHA" position, decision, or pronouncement.
This is not to say that all such pronouncements are right or wrong, it is just to say that this is not how AHA works.
There isn't some kind of board or group of leaders that gets together and decides to practice some sort of top down church discipline or Christian accountability with any and everyone who adopts the abolitionist ideology.
Individual abolitionists and abolitionist societies can and should hold each other accountable to live God honoring Christ following lives because that is just something that Christians are called to do, but there is no AHA overboard or leadership in existence to determine or approve all the interactions which go on among individual abolitionists. Similarly, there isn't some sort of list describing who is and is not a part of "AHA."

That's the reductio ad absurdum of refusing to be an "organization":

i) The disclaimer is self-refuting. An anonymous spokesman for AHA assures us that no one can really speak of AHA in general. But he thereby disqualifies himself from representing AHA.

ii) That's how AHA loses control of the message. An abolitionist becomes whatever any particular abolitionist thinks, says, or does. The answer varies depending on who you ask. 

iii) AHA can't have it both ways. Either it stands for something, in contrast to something different, or else it stands for nothing in general inasmuch as every abolitionist is free to define the movement's ideology for himself. 

iv) AHA seems to suffer from growing pains. I assume the founding chapter or mother chapter (Norman, OK?) originally gave it direction and definition. But since every chapter is equal to every other chapter, at best the founders can only speak for their own chapter. In fact, it's unclear if there's even a leadership structure within each chapter. 

For the moment I'm not saying if that's good or bad. I'm just pointing out that AHA has no core identity. It continuously evolves or metastasizes. It calls itself an "ideology," yet it has no board of directors or group of leaders who can make authoritative pronouncements about the ideological content or boundaries. 

In a sense, that may give AHA plausible deniability, but at the cost of becoming increasingly indefinable and contradictory. 

Intolerant universalism

What's ironic about this is that Keith DeRose is a prominent universalist. For a universalist, Keith sure is intolerant. Shouldn't a universalist be more inclusive? Why is he so judgmental? In realty, Keith is a knee-jerk academic first and a universalist second. In common with most Internet Arminians, he simultaneously preaches universal love while compiling an enemies' list:

One could have a lot of fun here with the many things one doesn't really know about Scott Walker, but I'm too disgusted to have fun

Just a day after refusing to comment on whether President Obama loves America, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he didn't know...

Keith DeRose
I don't know. Giuliani made his stupid comments at a dinner featuring Walker. In fact, I read Walker was just a couple of seats away from Giuliani at the time. Reporters who wouldn't ask if he agreed would probably be not doing their jobs.
" The question came following comments by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), who said he believes President Obama doesn't love America. Giuliani made the comments Wednesday night during a reception for Walker in Manhattan. "
February 21 at 8:51pm · 

Keith DeRose " [Scott!] Walker also told the paper that, “no,” Giuliani wasn’t out of line with the comments. "
February 21 at 9:20pm · Like  

Is Obama Muslim?

My operating assumption is that Obama is either a religious pluralist or a closet atheist. He may act just Christian enough not to alienate black voters, many of whom are churchgoers. 

It's a tricky balancing act inasmuch as many Democrats are anti-Christian. Of course, many Democrats will vote for the Dem candidate no matter what. 

However, KBJ makes some good points:


In DC we have the annual game of chicken over funding bills and a threatened gov't "shutdown." Will Congressional Republicans be blamed if Obama vetoes the bill?

i) It's harder for Obama to defend a veto that's predicated on his legally dubious and deeply unpopular refusal to enforce immigration laws. 

ii) Even if Congressional Republicans are blamed, the 2016 election will be dominated by presidential politics. How many voters will remember a temporary DHS shutdown? 

iii) A shutdown of DHS is very different from a general shutdown of the Federal gov't. 

Keep in mind, too, that voters who panic over Federal gov't shutdowns rarely vote Republican anyway.

iv) When I mouse over to the DHS website, what do I find? It includes "Immigration Services" and "Border Protection," as well as ICE (fair amount of duplication right there).

That would be significant if, in fact, these agencies were actually enforcing the law rather than breaking the law. Under Obama, they are funneling illegal immigrants into the country. Indeed, these Federal agencies have become major official traffickers of illegal aliens.

Then there's TSA. Again, that would be significant if in fact TSA was protecting passengers from hijackers. But due to political correctness, TSA harasses passengers least likely to hijack a plane while ignoring passengers most likely to hijack a plane. Also, it repeatedly fails random security tests. 

Then there's the Secret Service. Somehow I doubt the President will lose his security detail in a temporary shutdown. 

Mind you, under Obama, the Secret Service was falling down on the job, anyway. 

There's also a thing called Office of Intelligence and Analysis. However, between the NSA, CIA, FBI, and military intelligence, we already have tremendous duplication vis-a-vis domestic and foreign intelligence collection and analysis. 

Then there's FEMA. However, that's been criticized as a bungling bureaucracy. 

So what do we have to lose in a temporary shutdown of DHS? Heck, why not make it permanent?

Momentary afflictions

Before we an assess the problem of divine hiddenness, we first need to disambiguate the problem.

i) For atheists and agnostics, this problem constitutes evidence for God's nonexistence.

But I think that's off the mark. I think it poses a problem, not for God's existence, but God's benevolence. 

To illustrate: suppose I'm hiking in a remote, unpopulated wilderness. I stumble across a log cabin. There's no doubt that a human being built it. This is not a natural phenomenon.

Suppose, moreover, that it's not an abandoned or dilapidated cabin. To the contrary, it's well-maintained. In fact, there's smoke coming from the chimney.

So I naturally infer that it's occupied. Yet, when I repeatedly knock on the door, no one comes to the door. Surely someone is inside. Or even if they stepped out briefly, they should return shortly. Are they deaf? Are they afraid to open the door to strangers? 

I think there's abundant evidence for God's existence, as well as God's ongoing activity in human history. That's not the nub of the problem.

ii) I think the problem puts great strain on freewill theism, with its commitment to God's general benevolence or omnibenevolence. If God wants everyone to believe in him and have a "relationship" with him, then surely he could do more to reach out to each individual.

One stock explanation is that if the evidence was unassailable, then that would overpower our freewill. But that's an implausible counterargument:

a) For one thing, if the evidence for his existence is ambiguous, then we're justified in not believing in God, in not having a "relationship" with him. In that case, his means are counterproductive to his ends.

b) Moreover, this fails to distinguish between intellectual  belief and Christian faith. Even if the evidence compelled us to believe in God, that doesn't compel trust in God. There's more to Christian faith than mere belief. Even if the evidence was rationally "coercive," whether or not we accept the invitation (as it were) is a separate question.  So the problem remains. 

By the same token, this is not a particular problem for Reformed theism inasmuch as many Calvinists deny that God wills to save everyone. Indeed, God wills for some people to disbelieve. 

iii) From a Reformed standpoint, this is a problem for believers, not unbelievers. It calls into question, not God's existence, but his benevolence towards them (i.e. believers). 

iv) Although the problem of divine hiddenness was only formulated in the late 20C, it's been around for millennia. Indeed, the OT prophets, Psalter, and Wisdom literature bear extensive witness to this problem. This is nothing new or surprising.

In that respect, it's consistent with Biblical theism. This is something Scripture has taught us to expect.

v) It does, however, pose a prima facie inconsistency in another respect: God commands us to pray, encourages us to pray, promises great things if we pray.

In that respect, Scripture fosters an expectation that God will intercede. This is not just a case of Christians being presumptuous. Rather, God gets our hopes up, only to dash our hopes. 

vi) This, of course, goes to the familiar problem of unanswered prayer. Scripture speaks in generalities. But divine threats and promises are often implicitly qualified, and sometimes explicitly qualified–which, in turn, implicitly qualifies the otherwise unqualified statements. So that's not fundamentally inconsistent. It does, though, create a practical tension–by leaving the believer in a state of uncertainty. 

vii) We need to distinguish between the conceptual problem of divine hiddenness and the existential problem of divine hiddenness. Even if a philosophical theologian could solve the conceptual problem, that wouldn't solve the existential problem inasmuch as most Christians and Jews don't have access to his brilliant solution. So they continue to wander in the darkness.

viii) Moreover, there's probably a sense in which we're not meant to understand it. It's just a fact that God sometimes chooses to behave in ways that believers find frustrating and aggravating. Behave in ways that provoke resentment. Deliberately leaving them to stumble in the dark. Behave in ways that cause them to ask "Why?" while simultaneously robbing them of any discernible answer. 

As I say, this is widely attested in the Bible. It's not just the raging apostate. 

God puts us in that predicament. If we knew the answer, it would cease to be so challenging. It's the cluelessness that makes it such a trial. 

ix) Some philosophical theologians appeal to a soul-making theodicy to address the problem. However, a difficulty with that move is that, in many cases, the effect is the opposite of sanctification. It makes believers bitter. Less worshipful. At least in many instances. There are some saintly exceptions.  

x) To some extent, or perhaps entirely, the eschatological compensations will simply moot the problem. At that point, maybe we won't even care what the answer is. It will melt away, like fleeing shadows in the rising dawn. 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom 8:18). 
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17). 
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,Nor have entered into the heart of manThe things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9).

We live in a meaningful world; God gives it meaning.

Herman Bavinck on the Proper Roles of Creation and Grace
Creation and Grace
Stephen Wolfe makes this argument:

If Protestants want to reject modernity, then they ought to reject the nominalist assumptions that go into religious observance outside of revelation. This means rediscovering the regulative principle of worship as the means of reconnecting oneself to God’s creation. Only through this principle will one properly join the choir of creation.

Think of C.S. Lewis’s “Great Dance”. Although Lewis is perhaps guilty of the thing that Stephen argues against here:

How the Regulative Principle of Worship Affirms, Supports, and Ensures a Meaningful World.

I think this is one of the most clear and important things he has written. In fact, this piece helps us to think through God’s program in this world, for man and creation, from beginning to end. He says:

This argument is directed at Protestants. For I can see how Roman Catholics can answer this. They would simply say that the Church has the divine authority to recognize and make certain ceremonies meaningful, and by this authority God becomes active in the event. So I think that Roman Catholics are consistent in this regard.

Of course, the idea that the [Roman Catholic] Church has such authority is false, but at least they are consistent. Protestants, on the other hand, do not have the [JB note: I would put the word “benefit” in quotes] benefit of such authority. We could form fuzzy notions of pursuing “catholicity,” but this suffers for want of clear criteria and it cannot legitimately be anything more than an attitude toward pre-reformational traditions.

In making this argument, I think Stephen is showing the difference as well between what we might call “God’s metaphysic” [my term] vs the “classical metaphysics” of Aristotle and Aquinas. Because in truth, “God’s metaphysic”, however that is characterized, is based on that which is given in his own special revelation, and not from the cobbled-together thoughts of human philosophers over time.

The principle is evident in what follows:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Creation and miracles

Lydia McGrew interview

Anachronistic Assumptions and the Documentary Hypothesis

In retrospect

A striking feature of Biblical narrative is the omniscient narrator. Unbelievers treat this as evidence that Bible stories are fictional. How could the narrator read their minds? On top of that, how could he read the minds of people who lived and died centuries before he was born?

The orthodox explanation is divine revelation: God shared some of his knowledge with the narrator. 

I'd like to illustrate that principle with some analogies. In fiction, there are two kinds of suspense. One is where the audience doesn't know the outcome in advance. An example would be a whodunit. That's why a murder mystery is the kind of thing you typically watch or read just once. As soon as the mystery is solved, as soon as the suspense is dispelled, it loses interest. 

But another kind of suspense is just the opposite: dramatic irony. That's where the audience knows something a character doesn't. For instance, the audience may be acutely conscious of the fact that a character is in danger, while the character is obvious to the danger. A viewer is tempted to yell at the screen to warn the hapless character. 

Although this is a literary convention, it has real-world analogues. Take The Diary of Anne Frank. What makes this so poignant is the ominous fact that the reader knows something she doesn't. 

This is a coming-of-age story. She's young and hopeful. If they can just wait out the Nazis, she has so much to live for.

But the reader knows that she is doomed. It's as if the reader knows how the story ends before she does, even though we're reading this decades later. And that's because, at the time of writing, she didn't know how her own story was going to end. 

The reader is like a time-traveler from the future who has a conversation with her before her family goes into hiding. We know it's futile. But we smile politely. 

Another example is Becky Lynn Black's "Our Cancer Journey." She's the late wife of David Alan Black. She was a missionary, and the child of missionaries. 

She chronicles her battle with cancer. Her first entry is 9/9/09. Her last entry is 7/4/13. 

In a sense, the reader knows that she's dying long before she does. We know when it ends. We read the earlier entries with the benefit of hindsight. She, of course, didn't have that retrospective outlook at the time of writing. She was looking forward while we are looking back. We know her situation as hopeless from the outset. That casts a shadow over the entire reading experience. 

In situations like this, the reader has a kind of God's-eye view of the proceedings. Almost as if we're above time. 

There's a classic X-Files episode ("Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose") in which a character knows the future. And it makes him miserable. Fatalistic. In a fallen world, it's a terrible thing to see the future. 

That's fiction, but as I've noted, this perspective as real-world counterparts, even apart from inspiration.