Saturday, May 02, 2015

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord

2 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
    and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore.
O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
    in the light of the Lord.
(Isaiah 2:1-5).

Should we interpret this oracle? Before we can begin to answer that question, we need to define literality. For the term is used in different senses, and that's often not distinguished in debates over Biblical interpretation:

i) Oftentimes, Christians use "literal" as a synonym for "factual" (or historical). To say you read Gen 1-3 "literally" is to say it really happened. It describes real people, real places, real time and real space. To say Jesus "literally" rose from the dead means he actually rose from the dead. 

Put another way, literal is an antonym for fictional. 

ii) On a related, but different note, literal is often used as a synonym for "representational." That the narrative describes an event the way it happened. A prosaic, matter of fact depiction. 

iii) This, in turn, segues to another sense, where literal is an antonym for figurative or allegorical. But in this sense, a description could be both literal and fictional. In addition, although it's fictional, it may have realistic analogues. 

Consider some illustrations. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Regress is fictional, but non-literal because the places and characters stand for something else. Same thing with Lewis's Perelandra, where the planet represents Eden, Random represents Christ, the Queen represents Eve, and Weston represents the Satanic Tempter. 

Likewise, Woolf's To the Light House and Bradbury's Dandelion Wine are both autobiographical insofar as they draw heavily on the childhood of the respective authors. In a sense, they allegorize their childhood. Even though both are fictional, they have a factual basis. 

In Linebarger's Norstrilia, by contrast, you have a self-contained fictional world. The world of the story is all there is. The narrative has no referential dimension. In that sense, C'mell is a literal character. She doesn't stand for anyone else. 

i) From a Christian standpoint, it's tempting to recognize the Second Coming of Christ in Isa 2:1-5. Strictly speaking, that's not what it means. Isaiah didn't have anything that specific in mind. It's a more generic Day of the Lord motif. But arguably, it has reference to the return of Christ, even if Isaiah's understanding of that event was less distinct than ours.

ii) On one definition of literality, even if we interpret the passage, literally, there are degrees of literality. The most literal interpretation might be taking Isaiah to mean that God will raise the elevation of Mt. Zion. Make Jerusalem a mountaintop city, higher than Everest. 

And, of course, it's possible for an omnipotent God to do that. However, that doesn't seem very practical. The air would be pretty thin up there. And frigid. Residents of Jerusalem would need to don oxygen tanks and arctic clothing. So this is arguably figurative. 

iii) In addition, the original audience knew nothing about the Himalayan range. So that could hardly be their standard of comparison. Therefore, one might dispute whether that's even the most literal interpretation. Presumably, the highest Middle Eastern peak would be a better frame of reference.

iv) Assuming this oracle refers to the Parousia, a literal interpretation would mean that Jesus will govern from Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be the world capital. And I think that's a live interpretive option. 

v) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that the center of gravity will shift to the New World. Suppose Jesus will govern from San Diego. If that were the case, would Isaiah say: 

For out of Coronado shall go the law,
    and the word of the Lord from San Diego.

a) Problem is, even if were true, it would be unintelligible to Isaiah's audience. San Diego didn't exist in the 8C BC. No ancient (or Medieval reader) would have any inkling what he was talking about. The names would be opaque. 

b) In addition, if Isaiah had named San Diego as the world capital in his oracle, that would probably sabotage the fulfillment, for many pioneers in the New World would name their settlement San Diego. If that place-name was used in Scripture, in a prominent prophecy, then in all likelihood the Californian city would have a different name because San Diego would have already been used to designate a number of other towns. 

So even if, at the Second Coming, Jesus was going to govern from Peking, San Diego, or Rio de Janeiro, it would still make sense for an ancient Jewish prophet to use "Zion" and "Jerusalem" as placeholders.   

vi) In addition, many commentators think this plays on the mythopoetic imagery of a cosmic mountain. But in that event, it isn't about Jesus ruling from one particular locality, but his global reign. "Jerusalem" is a synecdoche for the earth. Jesus will rule everywhere. His dominion will be world-wide. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Black on Asian violence in Baltimore

"Baltimore Unrest Reveals Tensions Between African-Americans And Asians"

Anti-Theists are Sure They Will Not Kill You This Time

Was Dr. Pulaski racist?

i) Recently I ran across a defense of Dr. Pulaski, the short-lived character in TNG. This post really isn't about Pulaski, but since that's the springboard, I'll make a few observations before moving onto the main point.
Apparently, a lot of Trekkies hated the character, and waged a successful write-in campaign to get it axed. They succeeded.
I myself don't share their antipathy towards the character. I think the characterization was somewhat heavy-handed. The way the screenwriters depicted her was rather forced. She was basically a type.
She was, however, a good foil for Picard. Tough, independent. A strong female character. 
She was replaced by Beverly Crusher, who was more likable in the sense of being more classical feminine in appearance and demeanor. However, Beverly was bland and essentially decorative. Like Counselor Troi, she was basically eye-candy.
ii) Now to the main point. Apparently, many Trekkies hated Pulaski because she belittled Data. What caught my eye is how they put it. They describe Pulaski as "racist." On the face of it, that's an incongruous way of characterizing her view of an android. It reflects the intellectual poverty of the general culture. A lack of conceptual resources. That's the only category they know to reach for.
iii) Evidently, they sense an analogy between racism and denying that an android is a real person or "sentient being." But is that an accurate definition of racism?
Take the Antebellum law against teaching black slaves how to read. That's racist, but is it predicated on the assumption that blacks weren't real people or sentient? 
To the contrary, it presumes that given a chance, blacks could learn to read just a well as whites–which was threatening to the Antebellum caste-system.   
Or take the Final Solution. Did the Nazis deny that Jews were real people or sentient? If anything, the Nazi antipathy towards Jews reflects a resentful envy for Jewish intellectual and cultural accomplishments. 
So the implicit or intuitive analogy is flawed. 
iv) But there's the deeper issue. There's the classic question of whether artificial intelligence is possible. But there is, if anything, the more interesting question of whether artificial intelligence is detectible. That is to say, even if a computer crossed that threshold, could we tell if it was truly intelligent? That's a legitimate and difficult philosophical question. Not at all "racist," or analogous to racism." 
v) There is, of course, the famous Turning test. But that's controversial.
The question is whether you can tell, by its behavior, whether a computer is actually intelligent, or simply mimicking human intelligence. A clever simulation: clever, not it itself, but cleverly staged. 
Does the computer have consciousness? Does it have a first-person viewpoint?
Even if it did, an outside observer isn't privy to that experience. Since the outside observer isn't a computer, he doesn't know what it's like to be a computer. That's directly inaccessible. So he has no basis of comparison. He can't compare and contrast his experience with the experience (assuming it has any) of a computer. 
So the question is whether that's inferable from computer behavior. And that's tricky because computers are extensions of human programmers. They are designed to approximate human problem-solving skills. So is that really coming from the computer, or is that ultimately coming from the programmer? 
vi) Some people might object that this is just a special case of the problem of other minds. But the analogy is equivocal at the crucial point of comparison: since I know, from direct experience, what it's like to be human, it's reasonable for me to interpret the behavior of other humans along the same lines. But it's precisely because a computer isn't human that the parallel breaks down. That's not something we know in advance.
vii) Of course, the question of artificial intelligence is bound up with the nature of human intelligence. Since a physicalist regards human reason as the product of physical interactions (the brain), the presumption is that, at least in principle, it ought to be possible for a sufficiently sophisticated machine to duplicate (or surpass) human intelligence. 
If, however, the mind/body relation involves the mind (or soul) using the brain, then the AI research program is doomed to fail, although it may generate useful spinoff applications. 
viii) The character of Data was plausibly intelligent because that's fiction. The character was written by human screenwriters. They made him a sympathetic character. And he was played by a human actor. But that's not a real test of AI. Some Trekkies are so invested in a fictional character that they forget this isn't real–or even realistic. They've been manipulated by the actor and screenwriter. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Who blinks first?

What we see in cities like Baltimore is a game of chicken. Who will blink first: the rioters or the authorities? 

The criminal element is always on the lookout for a sign of weakness. That's the cue they need to run amuck. 

Notice I'm not talking about "protestors" or "demonstrators." Rather, I'm talking about rioters. 

The obvious dilemma, especially for blue state mayors and governors, is that to prevent rioters from looting and burning buildings, the police must be prepared to shoot looters and arsonists. 

In principle, businessmen also have the right to protect their businesses. 

But, of course, if a black looter or arsonist is shot, much less killed, then that plays straight into the very narrative that blue state politicians endorse. So it's a vicious cycle.

In the meantime, you can have any number of innocent blacks murdered by black thugs. That's politically permissible. 

Now in one sense you can't blame the police. The establishment won't back them up if they defend homes and businesses during a riot. But in that event, what purpose do they serve?

Not only don't they protect the public in that situation, but they end up protecting looters and arsonists by threatening shopkeepers and homeowners who defend their property. 

This is not to deny that the black community in Baltimore may have legitimate grievances. From what I've read, there's evidence that the police force is corrupt. Mind you, a corrupt police dept. isn't just a problem for black citizens, but citizens generally.

Ultimately, though, it's a question of who the political establishment fears most: the electorate or the thugs. It's up to voters to demand officeholders who will protect innocent life and private property. 

I don't think civil unrest is intrinsically wrong. If the public has been denied legal means of redress, then what's the alternative? We also live in a time and place when the executive branch of the Federal gov't is brazenly lawless. 

But at the moment there are still legal means of redress. Moreover, looting and burning homes and businesses is not a legitimate form of protest.  

A Collection Of Apologetics Podcasts

Here's a good list of apologetics podcasts, which I saw J. Warner Wallace link.

Incidental confirmations of Scripture

A Review Article of Stephen L. Young, “Protective Strategies…”

Social justice in action

Good thing to see the protesters are targeting the political establishment:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Same-Sex Arguments Further The Case For Incestuous Marriage

A commenter at Slate who supports same-sex marriage presents some arguments against incestuous marriage:

State has legitimate interest in preventing consanguination because it can lead to and propagate genetic diseases….

Incest often involves someone who can't give consent or is coerced into consent. State has an interest in preventing that.

Not all incestuous marriages would biologically produce children or not involve consent, so he has to use qualifiers like "often". But if we can withhold state recognition of incestuous marriage based on what would often result from those marriages, why can't we also distinguish between the opposite-sex relationship and the same-sex relationship based on the opposite-sex relationship's often biologically producing children? It seems to me that the common argument used by advocates of same-sex marriage - to the effect that biologically producing children can't be used to distinguish between the opposite-sex relationship and the same-sex relationship, because not all opposite-sex couples biologically produce children - is inconsistent with the arguments those same-sex marriage advocates commonly use against incestuous marriage. If opposite-sex relationships can only be defined by what's universally true of them, then shouldn't the same standard be applied to incestuous relationships? To be consistent, same-sex marriage advocates ought to abandon these arguments they've been using against incestuous marriage. On what grounds would they oppose incestuous marriage, then?

We base laws on generalities rather than universals in many contexts (what's generally the best speed limit for an area, etc.). From a practical standpoint, allowing all opposite-sex couples to marry is the most efficient way to handle the child-bearing issue. Elderly people sometimes have children, but usually don't. Since even elderly people have the potential to produce offspring, though usually only minimal potential, an efficient way to handle the child-bearing issue is to have the state recognize the marital relationship of all opposite-sex couples. It would be impractical to have the state doing things like giving people fertility tests to determine whether their relationship will be recognized by the state as a marriage. By contrast, there's nothing impractical about making the judgment that same-sex couples can't produce children. Even though elderly opposite-sex couples only have a minimal chance of producing offspring, that's still sufficient grounds on which to distinguish their relationship from a same-sex relationship.

Besides, biologically producing children isn't the only reason we have for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex relationships. Opposite-sex relationships promote the unity of the genders in a way in which same-sex relationships can't, and we have good religious grounds for opposing same-sex relationships, for example. The child-bearing issue tends to get the most attention in these discussions, but it's not the only issue involved, and even that issue can't be dismissed as easily as same-sex marriage proponents suggest.

Alien science

It's commonly said that Christians should follow the evidence wherever it leads. And sometimes that's good advice.

However, Van Tilians have noted that raw data doesn't necessary point in any particular direction. We interpret the evidence in light of other beliefs about the nature of the world. Debates over methodological naturalism, the argument from silence, the burden of proof, the uniformity of nature, &c., illustrate the value-laden nature of assessing where the evidence leads. 

That doesn't mean it's subjective, so long as we can justify our beliefs about the nature of the world which feed into how we assess the evidence. Of course, there's a degree of circularity here. For our interpretation of the evidence figures in our beliefs about what is actual, possible, or impossible–just as our beliefs about what is actual, possible or impossible figure in our interpretation of the evidence. In that sense, there's no starting-point from one to the other. You must have a sense of both. 

This issue was forcibly impressed on my when I intercepted a communiqué between two aliens from Torona IV, one of whom was stationed here as a covert observer, in preparation for first contact. He was being debriefed by his supervisor. 

The covert alien observer was attempting to infer the rules of soccer (and related or analogous games) from watching soccer games. From observing players, fans, and the like, this is what he concluded. 

(I'm translating directly from the original Jaradan language.) 


Supervisor: What did you study?

Spy: Sports. Many earthlings are obsessed with games or athletic contests. Therefore, I thought that might be a good way of finding out what they value and how they reason.

Supervisor: What sports did you observe?

Spy: Mainly soccer, ice hockey, and golf. 

Supervisor: What did you discover?

Spy: To judge by their behavior, the objective of soccer is for a team to avoid kicking the ball into the goal. 

Kicking the ball into the goal is an error. Errors are displayed on the scoreboard. The higher the score, the more errors. The team with the highest score loses.

If a team begins to rack up a higher score in relation to the rival team, that makes it much harder for the high-scoring team to recover. 

Supervisor: How did you draw that conclusion?

Spy: Because they rarely kick the ball into the goal. 

Supervisor: It is possible that they are aiming for the goal, but simply miss most of the time?

Spy: I considered that alternative explanation. However, tens of millions of earthling boys practice soccer. Of that number, only the most talented become pro soccer players. They receive special coaching. They practice incessantly. 

It's inherently implausible that players who are supposed to be that good would miss that often. So it must be the other way around. They intentionally avoid kicking the ball into the goal.

Supervisor: Yet they sometimes fail?

Spy: On rare occasions they accidentally kick the ball into the goal. That happens when players on the rival team maneuver them into a position where they can't avoid it. 

Supervisor: Do you have any collaborative evidence for your interpretation? 

Spy: Yes. In soccer there seems to be a disqualification phase. The best team is the team that wins the very first time. It wins by having the lowest score. The fewest errors. 

Having won, it can sit out the rest of the season. Take it easy. 

But the losers must keep playing more games. That's because they need more practice in how to avoid kicking the ball into the goal. The worst teams, who are slow learners, end up in the finals. What earthlings call the World Cup. 

Supervisor: You said you studied other sports.

Spy: Yes. Golf is analogous to soccer. It's unmistakably clear from repeated observation that objective of golf is to not hit the ball into the hole. Indeed, it's set up to make that virtually impossible. A player begins by hitting a ball from a ridiculous distance. Earthlings have poor distance vision. The terrain is uneven. The turf is soft. There are obstacles along the way: ponds, sand traps. The implements they use ("gold clubs") are singularly inefficient. 

As an earthling statesman once quipped: "Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose."

If the objective was to get the ball into the hole, they'd simply pick it up and drop it into the hole. They'd enlarge the holes. And if they insisted on using clubs, they'd at least have hard flat surface. 

For instance, Tiger Woods used to be the world's worst golfer. He took the fewest stokes get a ball into the hole. But with diligent practice, he's gotten ao much better. 

Mogadishu in America

I'll use the Baltimore rioting to make some general observations:

i) Democrats believe their own propaganda. They think rioting (e.g. looting, arson) is a legitimate form of black protest. This goes back to the obsolete notion that blacks have no other remedy since they are shut out of the system. 

ii) Now that position has some merit in principle. By that I mean, if you have an oppressed underclass with no legal or nonviolent means of redress, then you could argue that the authorities left them with no other recourse. Illegal and/or violent resistance is their only available option.

I don't necessarily disagree in principle. After all, Protestant political theorists developed a theology of revolution. 

iii) However, even where illegal or violent resistance is justifiable, that doesn't mean it's justifiable to loot and burn businesses. Destroy cars, &c.

For one thing, that's not counterattacking the political establishment. Rather, that's attacking your own community. 

iv) In addition, that's not a political protest. Rather, that's just a pretext to steal and go on a rampage. It gives thugs a chance to do what they've been spoiling to do all along. 

v) In addition, it's based on a false premise. In America, there are two groups that typically riot: blacks and anarchists. 

There is, however, no excuse for blacks to riot. Blacks have direct access to the levers of power. They can vote. There are black mayors, councilmen, police chiefs, policemen, judges, prosecutors, Congressmen, a president of the US, and the Attorney General (to name a few). 

So this is not a legitimate form of protest, even in principle. Not to mention that burning cars and buildings and looting stores is not a political statement in the first place. 

The other group are anarchists who riot on May Day or riot at WTO conferences. These are generally young white radicals. Some of them seem to be professional agitators. Someone subsidizes their travel expenses. 

vi) This happens because Democrats, including prominent black leaders, pander to a false narrative. They do that in part for cynical reasons, and in part because they really do view the world through their victimology. 

They send a message to would-be rioters–with predictable consequences. If you permit thugs to commit mayhem without fear of reprisal, that's exactly what they will do. It's not the thugs, but the politicians, who are running scared. 

It this is allowed to continue, Mogadishu will be a microcosm of America. 

Theological Study in the Reformation and Post-Reformation Years

Models for Study in the Era of the Reformation:
Andreas Hyperius’ massive De theologo, seu de ratione studii theologiae carries on this model for theological study in vast detail. Hyperius understood theological study as a carefully constructed discipline but also as a spiritual or pious exercise, not merely a form of knowing or scientia, but also a wisdom, sapientia.

Study ought to be grounded in the recognition that “the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge (scientia)” (Prov. 1:7) and the student should “prepare [his] soul for the diligent reading of sacred letters” through prayer for personal humility and spiritual illumination. This piety is to be the foundation for a rigorous course of study.

Hyperius’ catalogue of the kinds of study “necessary” to theological training is daunting: grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the trivium), arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (the quadrivium), philosophy, physics, ethics, politics, oeconomics, metaphysics, history, architecture, and agriculture, and above all Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

In theology itself, he distinguishes a series of subdisciplines: Scripture and its interpretation, doctrine as gathered in the loci communes, and practice as identified in the history and governance of the church, its polity, worship, and preaching.

From Catechesis to Academics: Matters of Motivation. For the Reformed Orthodox:
The study of theology was an enterprise intended for all Christians—and the detailed academic study of the subject was to be the practical foundation for sound study on all levels.

Mastricht notes that this theological “knowledge of the truth according to piety” (cognitio veritatis secundum pietatem) is studied by teachers (doctors) and ministers whose office is to understand, teach, interpret, propound, and apply theology.

It is also to be studied by magistrates so that they might be acquainted with the Law, as demanded in Scripture (Deut. 17:18–20; Josh. 1:8; Ps. 19:7–14), that they might rightly order the lives of their subjects, guard the church from its adversaries, and govern wisely recognizing the Lordship of Christ.

Even so, all Christians should study it so that they might have access to Christian truth, and might advance more and more in it, support their lives by it, and make it known to others.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd Ed., Pp. 210–211). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

“We have no right to have minds of our own”

HT: Tim Roof

Monday, April 27, 2015

Is crime dropping?

I'm going to repost some comments at left at Victor Reppert's blog:

steve said...

I think critics, both here and at the Secular Outpost, are missing the point of Reppert's argument.

As I construe it, his argument involves a contrast between something and nothing. Some religions have a deterrent to evil. They have a distinctively religious deterrent to evil.

In the nature of the case, that religious deterrent is entirely absent in atheism.

Whether or not some (or even most) religionists are actually deterred by that prospect is not a counter to his argument. For atheism doesn't have the same principle *at all*. It simply doesn't exist in atheism. Atheism removes that deterrent in toto. It differs in kind, not degree.

Moreover, atheism has no secular equivalent. Nothing that takes the place of that religious deterrent.

At best, an atheist can try to offset that principle by saying that just as religion can offer a distinctive disincentive to evil, it can also offer a distinctive incentive to evil, if, say, certain kinds of evil reap eternal rewards. Say the suicide bomber who commits mass murder to get his 72 virgins.

Keep in mind that that's not a direct rebuttal to Reppert's argument.

Now, Reppert's argument is too coarse-grained to address that objection. It would require a more fined-grained argument that distinguishes and evaluates different religious eschatologies.

steve said...

Dan Gillson:
"You're providing quite the gloss on Dr Reppert's short argument. Unfortunately, what Dr Reppert implies in the first sentence is that the doctrine of eternal accountability works, but atheists don't appreciate that fact. The people who have pointed out that the doctrine of eternal accountability doesn't work refute are still playing on the same field as Dr Reppert."

I don't see him suggesting that it must have a 100% success rate to "work." So pointing out exceptions does nothing to obviate the principle. Even if it had a deterrent effect just 10% of the time, that doesn't "work" for atheists. So his argument stands.

steve said...

"That's absolutely wrong. There is a natural deterrent to bad or anti-social behavior. We call it guilt. Guilt is a naturally evolved emotion that we experience when we do things that are not conducive to group cooperation and cohesiveness. Guilt is the very thing that forms the basis of superstitious beliefs about theistic morality. And it obviously isn't perfect, but it has functioned well enough to enhance survivability for groups of humans that have passed it along to their descendants."

A predictably clueless objection:

i) To begin with, that would only have a deterent effect if you're unaware of the fact that your sense of guilt is like an irrational phobia. But once you become conscious of your evolutionary conditioning, you can override the program. At that point you realize that you have no reason to feel guilty. That's just the mindless, amoral process of naturalistic evolution guilt-tripping you.

ii) Likewise, once a human has achieved that degree of objectivity, there's no reason why he should opt for altruism at the expense of self-interest.

steve said...

im-skeptical said:
"Steve, On what basis do you make this claim? The fact is that guilt is a powerful deterrent regardless of our intellectual understanding of how it arises. Do you have evidence that people can easily ignore their emotional responses?"

Since you need to have the obvious explained to you, let's take a comparison: supposed I've been brainwashed by a mad scientist to feel guilty about eating cheeseburgers.

However, I discover that I was brainwashed. I realize that there's no rational basis for my guilt-feelings.

Even if I can't stop feeling guilty, I can still override my conditioning in the sense that it doesn't prevent me from eating cheeseburgers. My feelings don't control me to that extent.

steve said...

I'd like to venture a few observations about whether crime is declining. I'm not a sociologist or criminologist, so I don't claim to be an expert, but that could be said for other commenters:

i) To my knowledge, crime stats are kept by law enforcement agencies. But the same agencies have a vested interest in touting their success in combating crime. It would be gullible to assume a police chief or FBI director will advertise official failures.

ii) Crime is a technicality. Depends on what is illegal. If, say, pot is legalized, then you will see crime go down in relation to pot possession or pot sales. That, however, doesn't mean the activity has declined. Indeed, it might spike.

iii) Ironically, I daresay that crime can be underreported in some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods. If police avoid certain neighborhoods because it's too dangerous, those crimes won't be reported. If police let crime slide in some neighborhoods because they wish to avoid the bad publicity of a police shooting, riots, national TV coverage, &c., those crimes won't be reported.

iv) Likewise, if people in crime-ridden neighborhoods stop calling the police, either due to slow response time or fear of reprisal for being "snitches," those crimes won't be reported.

v) When prosecutors offer defendants a chance to plead to a lesser offense, the crime stats will go down for more serious crimes, even though, in reality, those actual crimes have not declined.

vi) I think it's possible that certain violent crimes were more prevalent when babyboomers came of age. When you had a larger percentage of young men, crime spiked. It naturally went down when the percentage of young men declined.

That, however, doesn't mean crime is lower within that demographic. Rather, the overall demographic profile may have changed.

vii) The more offenders you incarcerate, that may lower crime. But that doesn't reduce the number of criminals. It merely reduces the number of criminals on the streets. What you've done is to quarantine criminals. 

DJC said...
"Prokop and Steve, There is no doubt that violence and crime is declining on the whole. But rather than go into the full scope of the evidence, I have a suggestion: please continue making the claim that violence and crime are increasing but do it in Christian forums and among Christian company. I believe you'll learn more about it that way."

i) If it makes you feel better to misrepresent what I actually said, that evinces the weakness of your own position. I didn't claim that crime and violence is increasing. I didn't take a position on that.

ii) As far as the evidence goes, there's different kinds of evidence. There's reading crime stats. But there's also living long enough to observe social changes.

I attended suburban junior high and high school in the 70s. We didn't have student ID badges, metal detectors, or security guards. 

I don't recall news coverage of schoolyard snipers and lockdowns (although I may have missed it).

My junior high had an open campus. In principle, anyone could walk right off the street and into the school buildings. Security was nonexistent. 

It was torn down a few years ago. The new facility is built like a youth detention center, with a single entrance. 

My old high school now has lots of fenced in areas it never had when I was a student there. And it has uniformed policemen as security guards.

If crime has been dropping like a rock, when are public schools increasingly built and staffed like prisons? 

Another Ill-Advised Christian Movie

Aaron Adair has written a post about a potential Christian movie. The script on which the movie might be based, as described in an article here, features "an 11-year-old girl and her father who go up against a politically correct school system to prove the science behind the Star of Bethlehem". Adair explains some of the reasons why that's a bad idea for a movie. My review of Adair's book on the star of Bethlehem argues for my view of the star and discusses why scientific attempts to explain the star are problematic. If the script in question becomes a movie, I suspect it will create a lot of embarrassment for Christians, wasted time, misinformation, and opportunities for non-Christians to make Christians and the Matthew 2 account look bad.

What is gender reassignment surgery?

"What Is Gender Reassignment Surgery?: A Medical Assessment with a Biblical Appraisal"

Edward John Carnell

Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew

This is dry and technical. However, the general approach might be useful in defending the traditional dating of OT books:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dating the Gospels

There are different dating schemes for the canonical Gospels.

i) One common approach is to treat it like the domino effect. Assuming Markan priority, and the literary dependence of Matthew and Luke on Mark, if we have a date for Acts, then Luke's Gospel predates Acts, and Mark's Gospel predates Luke. So you work back from Acts as your chronological benchmark.

Likewise, it's sometimes argued that John's Gospel takes the Synoptic accounts for granted, making passing references that would be unintelligible apart from knowledge of those prior accounts ("undesigned coincidences"). 

According to one stock argument, Acts ends at that juncture because Luke takes the action up to the present. He says nothing more because nothing more had happened–at least nothing more of consequence. 

I think that's easily the most plausible explanation for the abrupt ending, which leaves things up in the air. 

a) Why would Luke devote a quarter of his church history to Paul's arrest/trial/appeal, only to say nothing about the final disposition, if this was written after Paul's execution? That's quite a build-up. He knew his readers would be curious about the outcome.

b) Moreover, Luke already mentions the martyrdom of two Christian leaders (Stephen, James), so why would he avoid mentioning the martyrdom of his hero (Paul), if it was written after the fact?

ii) Given (i), scholars date Acts to 62-64. But that in turn pushes Luke further back in time, and Mark further back in relation to Luke. 

iii) In addition, scholars like R. T. France have argued that Matthew refers to many topical Jewish customs and controversies which would be moot after the fall of Jerusalem. Would Matthew's selective account preserve information irrelevant to his audience?

iv) Admittedly, dating is less significant than authorship so long as a later date doesn't preclude traditional authorship.

However, a potential casualty of dating one or more Synoptic gospels to sometime after 70 AD is the argument from prophecy. In the nature of the case, prediction and fulfillment are more impressive if the prediction was publicly known in advance of the event. If, however, both the prediction and its fulfillment are recorded after the fact, then is that a prediction or retrodiction? 

If all three Synoptic Gospels were written after the fall of Jerusalem, then the prophecy of its impending downfall loses some evidentiary value. That invites the charge of prophecy ex eventu. 

There can, of course, be a significant gap between the time a prophecy is uttered and the time it's written down. The prophecy itself may be in circulation. Be remembered by the original audience who heard it, and, by word-of-mouth, for others who were not in attendance at the time. Oral tradition can precede a historical record. So it could still be common knowledge for people living before the event. In principle, they could vouch for the oracle. But, of course, later readers of the Gospel have only the Gospel accounts. We live on the other side of the event, looking back. 

In principle, Mark could be pre-70 AD while Matthew and Luke could be post-70 AD. In one respect, their record of the prophecy would be dependent Mark insofar as they copied and edited Mark's version, rather than independent corroboration.

If, however, they lived before the event, then even though they only wrote after the fact, that would still constitute independent attestation. And, indeed, Matthew and Luke do use earlier sources. So we need to distinguish between the date of their Gospels and the date of their sources.

If, however, all three antedate 70 AD, then that simplifies the argument from prophecy. In that case we clearly have priory and multiple-attestation alike. 

v) Here's a classic case for the earliest possible date of Mark:

vi) Some commentators object that it's a dubious inference because Mark also has an abrupt ending. That, however, is a poor comparison, for the ending of Mark is, itself, considered to be problematic, requiring a special explanation.

vii) Some scholars think Mk 13 reflects a Roman setting, with specific reference to the Neronian persecution of Christians, which would date Mk to the late 60s. However, that's been challenged:

The linguistic data, for example, have come under fire from Theissen (Gospels, 244-49) and Marcus ("Jewish War," 443-46), who have argued that in 12:42 and 15:16, Mark is not substituting western terms for eastern equivalents but explaining imprecise Greek words by means of precise Latin ones.  
More importantly, although the persecution of the Roman Christians under Nero is the best-attested case of persecution of Christians in the first century, it is not the only such instance (for surveys, see Beare, "Persecution," and Potter, "Persecution"). Acts, the Pauline correspondence, and later church sources attest sporadic persecutions before Mark's time, in Judaea (Gal 1:13,22), particularly in Jerusalem (e.g. Acs 5:40; 7:54-8:3; 12:1-5; 21:27-36; 23:12-15; Josephus Ant. 20.22); in Damascus in Syria (2 Cor 11:32-33; Acts 9:1-2,23); in several cities in Asia Minor (Acts 13:50; 14:19; 19:24-34); and in Greece (Acts 16:19-24; 17:5-9,13; 18:12-13). Some of these persecutions seem to have been spontaneous acts of mob violence (cf. "hated by all" in Mk 13:13); Josephus, for example, mentions that James, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem church, was killed by a Jewish mob in 62 C.E. (Ant. 20:200), and in Acts the Christians' antagonists are often simply called "the Jews" (Acts 9:23; 12:3; 13:50; 14:19, etc.), though this term may sometimes denote Jewish authorities rather than the general populace (e.g. 13:50.  
In any event, some of the actions against Christians involved rulers as well (cf. the reference to trials before kings and rules in Mk 13:9). In Acts 12:1-5, for example, we hear of the involvement of Agrippa I of Palestine, sometime before his death in 44 CE., in the execution of James the son of Zebedee and the incarceration of Peter in Jerusalem, and in 1 Cor 11:32-33 we are told of an attempted arrest of Paul by agents of the Nabataean King Aretas in Damascus. Official persecution of some sort is also implied…by Paul's arrests of Judaean Christians before his conversion (Acts 8:3), by the letters he obtained from the high priest in Jerusalem to authorize the arrest of Damascene Christians (Acts 9:1-2), and by the punishment meted out against him after his conversion by the magistrates of Derbe in Asia Minor (Acts 16:22-24). Examinations of Christians before rulers, moreover, are described as taking place in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17), Jerusalem (22:30-23:10), and Caesarea (23:33-26:32), and beatings in synagogues or other Jewish venues, similar to those mentioned in Mk 13:9, are referred to as occurring in Jerusalem (Acts 5:40) and unspecified locations (2 Cor 11:24). The persecutions described in Mark 13:9-13, therefore, do not necessarily point toward Rome or the events under Nero. 
Indeed, it may even be questioned how well Mk 13 fits the circumstances of the Roman persecution described by Tacitus. If this chapter really reflected those events, in which Nero was such a dominating presence, would we not expect a Nero-like figure to be prominently featured in the Markan "prophecies"? Tacitus makes it clear that the persecution of 64 C.E. was instigated by Nero himself and that he played a central role in it, even using his private gardens for the slaughter of Christians. This information is intrinsically credible, since Nero would have had a plausible motive (scapegoating the Christians for a crime of which he himself was suspected) and since Tacitus himself had no love for the Christians and thus would probably not have invented the charge merely to slander Nero. But Mk 13 does not concentrate disproportionately on the wickedness of a Nero-like pagan king; there is only an incidental reference to hearings before rulers in 13:9, not the sort of preoccupation with regal wickedness that we see, for example, in the descriptions of the "beasts" in Dan 7 and Rev 13. And Nero is an unlikely candidate for the "abomination of desolation" in 13:14, since he never visited or even planned to visit Palestine, and the "abomination" is probably some sort of desecration of the Jerusalem temple. If Mk 13 really came out of the Neronian persecution, would we not expect it to focus more, as in Daniel and Revelation do, on a bestial, anti-God figure? Joel Marcus, Mark 1:8 (Yale U, 2002), 32-33.