Saturday, May 09, 2015

How to talk to a neo-Nazi

N.T. Wright, Bigot Par Exellence

"So now you know — for Wright, Marcus Borg was a Christian passionately devoted to Jesus, despite his denial of the resurrection, and someone who believes in an historic Adam made from the dust of the ground is a literalistic and gnostic goon show. So note again that this is not a fundamentalist attempt to draw hard heresy lines — this is N.T. Wright doing it."

The Wood/Loftus Debate On The Resurrection

David Wood and John Loftus debated the resurrection on April 20. A video of the debate is now available. Wood won the debate by a wide margin, and I won't attempt to summarize the many good points he made. You can watch the debate yourself to get Wood's side of it. Here are several problems I noticed with Loftus' portion of the debate, among a lot of other problems that could be mentioned (the references in parentheses are to minutes within the YouTube video linked above):

Friday, May 08, 2015

"Be warmed and filled "

I'll comment on Alan's reply:

Interestingly, as far as I can tell, Steve blogs or talks (in his capacity as employed by a seminary) an amazingly high amount of time. 

Not that it's any of Alan's business, but I generally write in the morning, then do other things in the afternoon. Sometimes I do a bit of writing at night, but oftentimes not. So I don't spend an "amazingly high" amount of time at this.

It's not as if he's in the thick of the fight, actually loving his preborn neighbors who are being ripped apart in his own locality.

Several issues here:

i) It's revealing how abolitionists think their agitation gives them bragging rights. That's precisely the attitude which Jesus warned against (Mt 6:1-18).

ii) Abortion isn't the only important issue that Christians need to be involved with. Other issues include euthanasia, parental rights, the Bill of Rights (esp. 1st, 2nd, 4th amendments), the queer/transgender mafia, school choice, &c. These are interrelated. We need to resist secular totalitarianism in its various manifestations. 

iii) Alan has a deficient ecclesiology. As Paul explains, the church has different body parts. Different members have different gifts. All Christians don't have the same duties or calling. 

There's a need for Bible scholars, ethicists, and apologists.  

There's a need for Christian lawyers to defend religious liberty. 

There's a need for Christian physicians and Christian civil magistrates (e.g. lawmakers, judges, governors, mayors).

Anti-abortion activism isn't the only way of loving your neighbor. Visiting shut-ins and nursing home residents is a godly activity. Or caring for enfeebled parents.  

Moreover, it's very time-consuming just to be a breadwinner, as well as a husband and father. But that's a godly Christian vocation. 

You actually have no idea whether it does.

Sure we do. Restrictions on abortion save babies covered by those restrictions. 

The astute reader will note I never made that positive claim. I'm responding to Steve and other incrementalists on their own grounds - the claim that immediatists abandon babies and that they save more. I ask for evidence that this claim is true. They respond with "You can't show that YOUR way saves more EITHER!"
Thus proving my point.

In the nature of the case, legal restrictions on abortion save babies who'd otherwise be aborted absent those restrictions–just as the legal drinking age reduces the number of alcohol related accidents by minors. It doesn't prevent some people from breaking the law, but you'd still have a worse situation absent a legal drinking age. 

Alan's intellectual evasiveness on this point is telling. 

Moreover, if Alan doesn't think legal restrictions on abortion reduce abortion, how would a legal ban on abortion reduce abortion? It's a matter of degree. If he's that skeptical about what the law can prevent, then that's a tacit admission that the goal of abolitionism would fail even if it succeeded.

Hmmm, I don't see why it's "utterly irrelevant". It might not map automatically onto what we do now, but then again it might. Does God change His prescriptions for how people are to deal with individual or corporate sin based on how many years have passed?

This is an example of arguing in bad faith. I was responding to Alan's own argument, as he chose to frame the argument. Now he's changing the subject. Yet the question at issue, as he originally cast the issue, was the claim that "Incrementalists have no idea how many babies would have been saved if they had pushed for immediate abolition from the beginning."

That involves a counterfactual claim: how many babies would be saved had abolitionist methods been deployed from the start. And I explain why appealing to an alternate history scenario is irrelevant to how we should act at present, given our real historical situation. In his response, Alan ditches his own framework, ignores my supporting argument, and shifts ground.

Disanalogous for the same reason the burning building analogy is.

Once again, Alan isn't paying attention to the argument–which is ironic, considering the fact that he's not paying attention to his own argument. The issue I was responding to this time is not whether it's better to same some lives rather than let everyone die if you can't save everyone. 

Rather, the issue goes back to Alan's alternate historical scenario, viz. incrementalists aren't really saving babies, because, for all they know, more babies would have been saved if, on some alternate timeline, abortion opponents practiced abolitionism all along. Therefore, that counterfactual consideration should affect what we do now. So Alan's link is irrelevant.

We have also already dealt with this. 

Once more, Alan isn't paying attention. I'm using Wallenberg this time to illustrate a different principle. The question at issue this time around isn't whether to save as many as you can, but whether incrementalism actually saves lives, in contrast to a hypothetical past. 

Why does Alan fail to engage the actual argument–especially when I'm responding to him on his own terms? Perhaps because abolitionists are poor listeners. So convinced are they of their own rectitude that they can't believe their critics have anything worthwhile to say. 

However, it was of such poor quality that we decided ignoring it would be a better use of our time. It breaks no new ground, responds substantively to none of our points, and trades on numerous strawmen, the likes of which Steve has repeated over and over in talking about AHA and immediatism, sadly.

So we're treated to Alan's triumphalist rhetorical bravado. It's fine with me if that's the best that AHA has to offer. 

That's what we keep saying!

It's true that AHA keeps repeating the same push button buzzwords. This despite the fact that it's been corrected on its deceptive terminology. AHA doesn't feel any obligation to be truthful when representing its critics.

"effective" - Pragmatism again, relying on human action and will rather than trusting in the providence of God.

i) Now we're treated to a tendentiously lopsided appeal to divine providence. So doubting the efficacy of abolitionist methods betrays a lack of faith in divine providence, but denying the efficacy of prolife methods is consistent with faith in divine providence. Alan's special pleading is flagrant.

ii) This also illustrates the shell-game that abolitionists constantly play. On the one hand, they disdain the prolife movement for its allegedly ineffectual efforts. And they contrast that with the more successful methods of abolitionism.

On the other hand, when you dare to question the efficacy of abolitionist methods, they do an about-face and say that's "pragmatic" and worldly. They constantly careen back and forth between these two opposing principles. They judge the prolife movement by "pragmatic" standards (has it succeeded?), but refuse to apply the same metric to themselves. 

PROVE that rather than asserting it.

That's a disingenuous question. Abolitionists demand evidence, but when their demands are met, they brush it away. To take the most recent example, in his debate with Russell Hunter, Cunningham cited studies by Prof. Michael New, documenting the fact that incremental laws are indeed saving lives everywhere they are passed. 

But abolitionists don't want to hear that. They aren't open to the possibility that that's true, for they can't afford to admit it. That concession would be too damaging to their own position. Hence, the preemptive dismissal ("studies of men"). 

That's why Hunter kept ducking the question: "Would you let these babies die?" That's the AHA dilemma. 

And again, Steve and Jill need to prove they're saving a significant number of babies, not just assert it. 

A "significant number of babies." That's a very telling phrase. Suppose incremental legislation only saves an "insignificant number of babies." That doesn't meet Alan's threshold. Life is cheap. You must have enough babies before it becomes worthwhile endeavor to save any. Tough luck for those who didn't make the abolitionist cut.

Duty belongs to us; results belong to God.

As if abolitionists hold the copyright on that motto. But, of course, prolifers can say the same thing. 

If by "wishful thinking", Steve means that I believe…

When we compare prolife activism to abolitionist activism, we're comparing something to nothing. Prolife activism saves lives here and now.

By contrast, abolitionism issues I.O.U's. Abolitionism is the poker player who begs off his bookie by assuring him that he will pay it all back after he wins big in the next game. Problem is…it's aways the next game, never the last game. Abolitionism is betting on the future. Abolitionists only save babies right now by imitating long-standing prolife methods. 

Why is it bad to remain morally pure?

Few things are more spiritually perilous than fake moral purity.

It's not "alleged". It's ACTUAL.
Also James 1:27Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Actually, AHA is more like this verse:

15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (Jas 2:15-17).
AHA sees babies who could be saved, but refuses to do what's possible and necessary to save them. It merely says, "Best wishes!" then leaves them to die. 
AHA might object that they do turn away some mothers from abortion clinics. But, of course, that's not an AHA distinctive. Prolifers have done that for decades. 

The Rushdie affair

To some extent, today's libertarians are yesterday's liberals. (By that I mean, there used to be an overlap. Of course, liberals were always enamored with big gov't.)

The liberals I grew up with in the 60-70s generally viewed themselves as patriotic defenders of the Bill of Rights. Anthony Lewis (of the NYT), Henry Steele Commager. the American Library Association, and the old ACLU, &c. But we've seen a sea-change in liberalism. 

Now, there were always cracks in the liberal dam. You had far leftists who defended totalitarian regimes so long as these were communist. But in general, many liberals prided themselves on championing free speech and 4th amendment protections.

But in some measure this came into tension with the civil rights movement, because it was politically easier to do an end-run around the democratic/legislative process by going to the courts. That was the corrupting temptation. Cut out the electorate. Have judges decide. 

There was another crack in old-fashioned liberalism. They were always conflicted about the Bill of Rights. They loved the 4th and 14th amendments. They always disliked the 2nd amendment.

They were conflicted about the 1st amendment. They loved right to free speech. They reinterpreted the establishment clause. Turned it on its head to make it into a disestablishment clause. They merely tolerated the free exercise clause. 

But the real wedge issue was freedom of association. They couldn't accept that because it collided with segregation. 

Mind you, from what I've read, a lot of businesses resented Jim Crow because it was bad for business. It's not as if businesses were spoiling to discriminate against customers. I'm sure some were, but the very existence of Jim Crow laws testifies to the fear that, without them, businesses would, in fact, cater to blacks:

And, of course, hate crimes laws are antithetical to equal protection under the law, so they jettisoned the equal protection clause. 

I'm old enough to vividly recall the Rushdie affair. It's striking to contrast how he was defended with the abject capitulation that's now so routine:


Salman Rushdie is remembering Margaret Thatcher with the same complicated feelings he had for her while she was alive: disagreement with her politics, but gratitude for her support when he was forced into hiding in 1989 after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini called for his death.

"She had a great life, and offered protection for me when I needed it," said Rushdie, interviewed Monday morning during a promotional tour for the film adaptation of his Booker Prize-winning novel "Midnight's Children."

Politically, he was far to the left of Thatcher and mocked her before 1989, naming one character "Mrs. Torture" in his novel "The Satanic Verses" and at times using unprintable language when referring to her. But when "The Satanic Verses" led to accusations of anti-Muslim blasphemy and to the Ayatollah's decree, Thatcher's government gave Rushdie round-the-clock supervision.
Rushdie, 65, said he met Thatcher just once, at an annual Scotland Yard gathering held for those being protected.

"She was very considerate, and, surprisingly, touchy-feely," Rushdie said. "She would tap you on the arm and say, `Everything OK?' I hadn't expected that touch of tenderness."

 It is true that during the early years of the fatwa, the British government was not entirely valiant in its defense of Rushdie. Margaret Thatcher, who had been depicted in The Satanic Verses as “Mrs. Torture,” was not a Rushdie fan, and members of her cabinet made it clear in their public pronouncements that they considered him a disagreeable and inconvenient fellow. Nevertheless, they recognized their duty to protect the free speech of a British citizen—even one they did not like—against the death threats of a foreign cleric. And this, by and large, indicates something rather heartening about those times. Certainly, it presents a more reassuring situation than one in which a citizen’s safety depends upon a monarch’s arbitration of his literary talent.

Peter Sissons 
Presenter, Channel 4 News, 1982-89
There was absolute outrage in the Channel 4 newsroom when the Ayatollah Khomeini declared his fatwa: we had a very motivated group of journalists, who couldn't believe that someone could effectively be sentenced to death for something he'd written. I was dispatched to do an interview with the Iranian chargé d'affaires, Mr Akhondzadeh Basti, at the embassy in Kensington.
I was as shocked as anyone by the reaction of the ayatollah and I did let my feelings show in the interview. I think the question that really got to the regime was, "Do you understand that we don't regard it as civilised to kill people for their opinions? Do you understand that people in this country fought a world war to protect themselves and others from being murdered for their beliefs and what they believe to be right?" So it was a pretty combative interview, and Mr Basti was very defensive, but quite polite. He replied that the command to kill Rushdie was based on the purely religious opinion of a religious head. It was very unfortunate, he said, that it was going to be interpreted politically. I think what got up my nose was that he said the British people also had their fanatics. When I asked who they were, he said "football hooligans". We ran 12 minutes of the interview on  Channel 4 News that evening. I felt I'd asked the tough questions and given him a tough time, but afterwards I thought nothing more of it.

David told me that I was going to have 24-hour personal protection for me and my family until further notice – the arrangements had already been made. My new best friends, the men who were to be my family's constant companions for the next few months, were already waiting to look after me.

Clearly ex-soldiers, probably ex-SAS, these two guys lived in our attic for almost two months, and I was chauffeured to work every day. I got to know what it was like to be someone under threat. God knows how people live with it for years. If you go out for a meal they are at the next table, and if you want to go to the toilet, they go in first to make sure it's safe. Eventually I said, I just can't go on like this. They gave me a thorough briefing on how to look after myself, I had a hotline to the local police station, and was trained to look under my car and to vary my route to work every morning.
During that time I had to interview Margaret Thatcher. After the interview she took me to one side and said she was aware of the threat to me and that they would do all they could to protect me. She was very maternal. I thought: gosh, I really do have to take this seriously.

Trust in God, and keep your powder dry

"Nigel Biggar on Nuclear Deterrence" by Prof. James Anderson.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

A time to love, and a time to hate

Was abolitionism a failure?

AHA invokes the movement to abolish slavery in American as historical precedent to show that we can do the same thing with respect to abortion. 

Aside from the fact that some key abolitionists are methodological incrementalists, the comparison also suffers from the further fact that, according to this historian (see below), the success of the abolitionist movement depended on certain quirky contingencies. Change a variable here and there, and you get a different outcome:

Another clueless atheist

Isn’t it amazing that God’s commands as reported by holy books just happen to reflect the views of the culture in which they were written? It’s almost as if the authors of those books took their own opinions about morality and said they were God’s opinions. - See more at:

Isn't it amazing that apostate Jeff Lowder never noticed that many Biblical commands and prohibitions are countercultural? That they tell Christians and Jews do to or not do things which cut against the cultural grain? Injunctions that are diametrically opposed to the social mores of their pagan neighbors? 

Why is OT history a history of national apostasy? Is that because divine commands happened to coincide with ancient Israelites wanted to do? Or because they rankled and rebelled? 

Why does the NT have household codes which warn against assimilating with Greco-Roman mores? 

In a sense, Jeff's ignorance is predictable. Biblical illiteracy is one reason some nominal Christians become apostates in the first place. 

Alternate historical escapism

Alan Maricle 

[Steve Hays] AHA mortgages the lives of babies here and now in the hopes of saving every baby’s life in the future – except for all the babies they sacrifice in the interim in the furtherance of their long-range goal.
Which is utter nonsense. Incrementalists have no idea how many babies would have been saved if they had pushed for immediate abolition from the beginning. Y'all HAVE to start saying foolish things like that. 

Let's try to untangle Alan's convoluted argument. 

i) He's making a counterfactual claim about the past in relation to the present. Incrementalists aren't really saving babies here and now–because they don't know how many more babies might have been saved by pursuing an alternative strategy (abolitionism) "from the beginning."

So that's a hypothetical exercise in alternate history. How would the present be different if the past was different? And how should we act in the present given that alternate historical scenario? Having set the stage, what are we to make of that contention?

ii) At best, his proposal cuts both ways. Since that counterfactual never played out, he has no idea how many babies his preferred alternative would have saved. For all he knows, that would sacrifice even more babies.

iii) Alan doesn't specify what he means by "from the beginning." Is that an allusion to Roe v. Wade? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Alan is right. Even if abortion opponents had deployed abolitionist tactics from the start (i.e. 1973), that's utterly irrelevant to what should be done at present. Consider a few illustrations:

a) Suppose a ferry hits a sandbar and capsizes because the captain was drunk. I can swim, but many passengers can't. I can rescue some of them, but not all of them. 

However, as I proceed to rescue the ones I can, Alan objects: "You're not really saving any drowning passengers. If the captain hadn't been inebriated, it would be unnecessary to fish any of them out of the water. Had he stayed sober, that would save them all."

Well, that's true–but entirely irrelevant to what I should do now. I'm not the captain. I'm not privy to his drinking habits. I have no control over his drinking habits.

How should a fatal mistake in the past dissuade my action in the present? I can't change the past, but I can change the future, depending on what I do or refrain from doing. 

b) Suppose Raoul Wallenberg is about to issue passports to Jews and set up safe houses to protect them. But Alan objects: "You're not really saving any Jews that way. For if somebody had assassinated Hitler in 1938, that would save far more Jews than your rearguard actions."

Once again, that's true, but irrelevant. Since no one assassinated Hitler in 1938, why sould that nonevent hinder Wallenberg from doing whatever he can in 1944? Why should his interventions here and now be constrained by a rosier hypothetical past? 

iv) We could just as well say that if only presidents nominated social conservatives to the court in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade, that would have saved far more lives than prolife efforts after the fact. But even if that's true, so what? How does that alternate history have any bearing on what prolifers should do right now? It's too late to revisit that fork in the road. That's behind us. We can't go back–we can only go forward. Counterfactual improvements to the past have no bearing on our present-day options or duties. We must deal with the consequences of what really happened.

v) How old were Scott Klusendorf and Jill Stanek in 1973? It's not as if they were in a position to do something different 42 years ago, right after Roe v. Wade–or 60 years ago, before Roe v. Wade, when nominees for the Supreme Court came before Congress. 

vi) Alan's claim suffers from another misstep. Even if some action might have been more successful had it been tried earlier, it doesn't follow that it would still be effective if attempted at a later date. Sometimes that window of opportunity closes. For instance, an oncologist may well have more or better options if cancer is detected early on. If, however, the cancer goes undetected until stage 3, it may be a lost cause. 

Historical contingencies vary over time. If you changed one variable in 1938, WWII might have a very different outcome. It doesn't follow that changing the same variable in 1944 will have the same effect. Likewise, 2015 America isn't 1973 America. 

Further, you are the ones mortgaging the lives of babies in the future just so you can make some short-term "gains", many, most, or perhaps even all of which are not gains at all even in the short-term, and are definitely losses in the long-term, for they compromise with evil as Gregg Cunningham said he'd happily do if it would save a baby, and they inform the culture that we are not really actually Gospel people. Your "gains" are chimæræ.

Now Alan switches to a hypothetical future. But consider the comparison:

i) On the one hand, incremental legislation is actually saving lives. Restrictions on abortion save real babies who'd otherwise die absent any restrictions whatsoever. That's not hypothetical. That's what's happening. Concrete results. The babies aren't "chimæræ."

ii) On the other hand, Alan is opposing that to his unverifiable, optimistic conjecture about the fate of future babies if absolutionist tactics are pursued. In the nature of the case, he has no scintilla of evidence to substantiate that speculation. He doesn't know that AHA will succeed. In fact, he has no tangible evidence that it will probably succeed. It's all wishful thinking. 

iii) In addition, notice the bait-n-switch. He swaps out saving babies and swaps in "compromise with evil." Did you catch that legerdemain? The hand is quicker than the eye! 

But that's equivocal. The "gains" had reference to saving babies, but he redefines the "losses" as "compromise with evil." So he's not defining gains and losses the same way. Indeed, his equivocation is a backdoor admission that incremental legislation does save babies. Because he can't deny that, he changes the subject. In effect, he says "Yes, that does save babies, but that's offset by compromise with evil." 

So saving babies is not AHA's priority. Rather, saving the imaginary moral purity of abolitionists is the real priority. Not to be tainted by alleged moral compromise is their ultimate objective.

And, of course, to say prolife methods are morally compromised is, itself, morally confused–as I've already discussed.

I double dare you!

Unsurprisingly, there's lots of moral confusion regarding how to respond to the jihadist attack in Garland. The kneejerk liberal response is that the organizers of the event are to blame because they incited Muslims to violence.

Of course, this treats Muslims as if they have no impulse control. If, in fact, that's the case, then Muslims are dangerous. You can't have a functional society in which a significant block of adults lack impulse control. 

Then you have Christians who are conflicted because they think it's wrong to give unnecessary offense. But that's confused.

i) To begin with, there's an elementary difference between what I might do, and defending the right of somebody else, even if what he did isn't something I'd do. 

It's not a question of whether he should do it, but whether he should be free to do it. 

ii) Relatedly, if somebody draws a line in the sand and dares you to cross it, sometimes it's necessary to call his bluff. If we don't do that, we embolden people, empower people, cede power to people, who will abuse that usurpatious power to dictate to the rest of us what we're allowed to say, think, or do. 

If they dare us not to do something, and we capitulate, we've given them power over us. Power to tyrannize us.

So, yes, sometimes it's necessary to make them back down. Sometimes it's necessary to force the issue. They need to lose. 

iii) That doesn't mean we do it all the time. We should pick our battles.

Suppose I don't normally frequent Chick-Fil-A. Suppose, though, the power elite declares a day in which customers should boycott Chick-Fil-A to protest its adherence to Christian sexual ethics. 

In that event, I might go out of my way to patronize Chick-Fil-A on that day to express soldarity with the beleaguered business and foil the boycott.  

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

To hell and back

Predictably, John Loftus tries to make hay of David Wood's conversion story. This begins with feigning shock. He's shocked! Or so he says (twice!). Is Loftus really that naive about the ways of the world?

He descends into the subway as he tells his dark past. Then he emerges topside when describing his conversion.

That plays on Plato's allegory of the cave as well as Dante's Inferno. In addition, Victor Reppert thinks the subway is based on the Green Witch incident in the Lewis's Silver Chair

For anyone who thinks my deconversion story away from faith is a bit shocking (it isn't much at all) just compare David's conversion story towards faith, as seen in the video link below. If someone wants to discount my deconversion story due to my personal experiences, then how much more should they discount David's conversion story due to his personal experiences. After all, if personal experiences led us each to adopt different conclusions about God, then the personal experiences leading me to change my mind pale by comparison to his. 

That's such a simpleminded contention. Who says experience has no bearing on truth-claims? What about the argument from religious experience? 

There's no uniform principle here. It depends on the nature of the experiences and the inferences we draw from that experience. 

If David adopted his faith due to the experiences he describes in the video--experiences which show him to be an irrational angry young man--then how rational could this irrational angry young man have been when he adopting his faith at that time?

i) To the contrary, David explains that he was striving to be a rationally consistent atheist. Since atheism entails moral and existential nihilism, that implicates a behavioral counterpart.

At the same time, David explains that atheism generates an insoluble dilemma. How can you be a rationally consistent atheist when atheism is irrational at rock bottom?

ii) There's also the question of mental illness. David mentions, at the time, his mom's abusive boyfriend and a dad who was living out of town (or out of state). If I were going to play armchair psychologist, I'd suggest his social alienation and imaginary social life (e.g. communicating with animals) was a defense mechanism which took the form of dissociation. 

iii) BTW, some abilities he said he thought he had at the time (telepathic communication with animals, controlling the weather) are things I've read about in connection with witchcraft among Eskimos and Africans. He may have been off his rocker, but there may also be an occultic element to it. That's not the first explanation I'd reach for in his case, but I know next to nothing about his childhood. 

iv) Another question is how representative "sociopathology"  is in the general population. For instance, Vikings is a popular TV drama. Yet the characters do on a regular basis what David did on one occasion. Hacking old men, women, and children to death. 

And even though that's fictional, throughout history you have many men who get a thrill out of killing people. They kill people for fun. And not just killing, but doing so in the most brutal ways they can imagine or devise. 

Fact is, a sociopathic streak lies just beneath the sociable facade of many humans–especially men. It doesn't take much provocation to bring that to the surface. It's a question of whether people think they can get away with it. Look at warrior cultures. Look at all the atrocities committed around the world, past and present. 

A Christian can chalk that up to original sin. A Darwinist can chalk that up to our predatory animal ancestry. 

If atheists succeed in secularizing our culture, we may well revert to the unbridled savagery of our pre-Christian forebears. There will no longer be a moral or spiritual restraint on our baser impulses. 

Aside from what I've said above, consider three more sets of questions: 1) With such a past how damaged of a person do you think David is? Would you like to be married to him (or work with him) and have a fight that most close people do?

I've never felt the slightest inclination to marry another man. 

2) How likely is it David would return to his former hatred and behavior if he rejected his faith now at a later age?

In other words, if David reverted to atheism, with its moral and existential nihilism, would he take that more seriously than Loftus?

The sky vanished

The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place (Rev 6:14).

i) What kind of astronomical phenomenon would ancient readers associate this with description? Modern commentators aren't very helpful here, because they don't ask that kind of question. They're more into literary allusions or literary parallels. They treat the text as a mural rather than a window. 

ii) I asked a Christian astronomer, who suggested that I consult ancient commentators on that passage. But the ancient commentators aren't very helpful in that regard, for they interpret the passage allegorically. The earliest extant commentary is by Victorinus, who construes the passage allegorically:

6:14. “And the heaven withdrew as a scroll that is rolled up.” For the heaven to be rolled away, that is, that the Church shall be taken away.

Tychonius takes a similar view, according to which it symbolizes the underground church, which withdraws from public view during times of persecution. Oecumenius thinks it refers to angels. 

Andrew of Caesarea construes it allegorically: 

"That heaven is rolled out like a scroll symbolizes either that the second coming of Christ is unknown...or that even the heavenly powers grieve for those who have fallen from the faith as though they experience a certain rolling out through sympathy with grief. However, this image symbolizes also taht the substance of heaven does not disappear. but as though by a kind of unrolling changes into something better." 
William C. Weinrich, ed. Revelation (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 98-99.

So none of them construe the astronomical image realistically. 

iii) One might try to cut the knot by saying the passage is figurative. But even if that's the case, we still need to ask what figurative image the passage is meant to conjure up in the minds of the reader.

iv) Moreover, I doubt it's accurate to say the passage is figurative overall. The bit about the scroll is figurative, but that's epexegetical. The simile is used to illustrate the prosaic statement that "the sky vanished." If, therefore, the vanishing sky is compared to a metaphor, the vanishing sky is not, itself, a metaphor. 

v) Admittedly, this is something John saw in a vision. So it may not be realistic. It may be dream-like. But there's still the question of what John saw. 

vi) Moreover, the vision has a referential dimension. It signifies real-world events of some sort or another. That may or may not be astronomical in reality, but the question is worth exploring. 

viii) Since, in Bible history, God does sometimes use real prodigies, we shouldn't rule that out. 

ix) The Greek verb is ambiguous. It could mean the sky was "split" apart or split in two. Is one rendering preferable to another in context?

x) To say the sky "vanished" (or "disappeared") could either mean the sky ceased to exist or else the sky ceased to be visible. On the latter interpretation, the sky still existed, but could no longer be seen. 

xi) Liberal scholars suppose ancient Jews and gentiles thought the sky was a solid dome. Let's play along with that identification for the sake of argument. On that view, to say the sky "vanished" might mean God removed the dome separating what's under the dome (the earth) from what's behind the dome. 

What would be the consequences of that action? Well, on that view, wouldn't removing the dome cause everything above it to come crashing down? The cosmic sea would empty onto the earth. The celestial palace or temple would fall to earth. Likewise, earthbound observers could see God, the saints, the angels, and so forth. 

But Rev 6 doesn't say that's the effect of v14. And, indeed, if all that happened, there wouldn't be much left to recount after the dust settles.  

xii) On that view, the sky splitting has similar consequences. If the dome split apart or split in two, everything behind the dome would become visible. The cosmic sea would inundate the earth. But that's not the aftermath of what happens in Rev 6. So much for the solid dome. 

xiii) Perhaps it means the sky disappeared from view. It was still there, but invisible to the naked eye. Is so, what does that mean? 

There's a bit of a paradox here. If they can't see the sky, what do they see in its place?

We might start by asking what makes the sky visible in the first place. Illumination and contrast. Seeing the sky in relation to the horizon. 

You can't see the sky in a blizzard. You can't see the sky on a foggy day. 

Likewise, if you look in a mirror, you don't see the mirror itself, but whatever it reflects. If the sky became reflective, you'd see the earth when you gaze overhead. But the text doesn't say that. 

By the same token, you don't see clear glass; rather, you see through clear glass. If the sky became transparent, it would become a window. You could see everything beyond the sky. But the text doesn't say that.

Another possibility is if the sky goes dark because the sun, moon, and stars go dark. If God were to miraculously shield the earth from their light (or at least the visible spectrum), then the sky would disappear from view. Indeed, the entire earth would be plunged into darkness–apart from firelight (or electrical lighting, if we construe this futuristically). 

And that could be a realistic scenario. Perhaps God will block out the light. 

xiv) What about the sky splitting in two? That could be the opposite effect. If something brighter than the sky appeared in the middle of the sky, like a brilliant band, it would visually bisect the sky. Because the sky would be darker on either side of the luminous boundary, it would appear as though the sky was splitting apart (or splitting in two), to reveal something behind the sky. An optical effect. Something emerging from the sky, like a bright line or crease in the sky. The edge of something incoming. Long and luminous.

Nowadays, we're used to seeing contrails. That's another, albeit modern, atmospheric phenomenon that bisects the sky. 

The upshot is that we don't know for sure what the text depicts. But we can consider a range of options. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Josephus on portents and prodigies

We have comparable examples even within the very same century that saw the development of the Gospels. Josephus wrote the Jewish War between 75 and 79 CE, in which he relates the following obvious legends, which "occurred" only ten to fifteen years previous (in or around 66 CE): it was a bright as midday for half an hour around the Altar and Sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple–at three in the morning!; during the usual sacrifices a cow gave birth to a lamb "in the middle of the Temple courts"; a bronze gate, requiring twenty men to move, unbolted, unlocked, and opened itself at midnight–right in front of the temple guards!" and last but not least, chariots and armies were seen marching through the skies and encircling all the towns of Judaea. Josephus finally remarks, "I would have dismissed it as an invention, had it not be vouched for by eyewitnesses, and followed by disasters that bore out the signs." R. Carrier, "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb," R. Price & J. Lowder, eds. The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Prometheus 2005), 173-174.

For Carrier, this is proof positive that Josephus was a credulous and superstitious man. And since he moved in the same thought-world as the Gospel writers, we should lend their accounts no greater credence. There are, however, some basic problems with Carrier's comparison:

i) To begin with, the logic is circular. He presumes that since the miraculous portents in Josephus are incredible, then by parity of argument, so are the Gospels. 

However, I, for one, don't automatically discount miracle reports outside the Bible. The fall of Jerusalem was a turning point in Jewish history. It wouldn't surprise me if there were some authentic marvels that portended that fateful event.

That doesn't mean I give equal weight to every item on his list. Assuming this is actually based on independent information, there's no reason to think that if one report is true, all are true; if one report is false, all are false. These come from different sources. Different reporters. 

ii) But I'd also like to consider a different approach. Ironically, it may not be Josephus, but Carrier's who's gullible. Carrier takes it for granted that Josephus believes what he's saying in this regard. But surely that's naive.

To begin with, accounts of portents and prodigies were a stock feature of Roman historiography. This was typically associated with major events and major political figures in Roman history. So Josephus, in writing to and for a Roman audience, may be adapting himself to that contrivance.

That consideration is reinforced by the fact that Josephus is writing as a Jewish apologist to his Roman overlords. As such, he's motivated to wow them with his own account of portents and prodigies. In other words, it's highly possible that he's regaling them with tall tales to impress his pagan Roman patrons regarding the reality of Yahweh–the one true God. 

Indeed, his ingenuous profession that "I would have dismissed it as an invention, had it not be vouched for by eyewitnesses, and followed by disasters that bore out the signs," is the kind of calculated protestation that you'd expect from an author who's endeavoring to pull the wool over the eyes of the reader. "I'd scarcely believe it myself, were it not for the fact that…"

That's a familiar rhetorical gambit to win the confidence of the audience. "See, I'm just as skeptical as you are! I believe this against my will!"

I'm not saying that interpretation is necessarily correct. But I think it's quite plausible that Josephus is pandering to Roman sensibilities at this juncture. And he may well have hoodwinked an unsuspecting atheist in the process! 

Parents–check your privilege!

The demands of social justice require parents to deprive their kids:

Has the Left peaked?

Is heaven a society of solipsistic consciousnesses?

Methodological moral relativism

It's my impression that by its fanaticism, utopianism, and scorched-earth rhetoric (in characterizing prolifers), AHA has alienated people who were initially sympathetic to its methods and aims. One example is the use of sloppy, thoughtless, polemical terminology. This isn't just carelessness, but willful indifference.

Take the elementary failure to distinguish between the ordinary sense of words and technical jargon. For instance:

The modern person often thinks in a consequentialistic manner, rather than a deontological manner. Indeed, such is the case of the pro-women, pro-life community. 
Indeed, many in the former group seem to focus primarily or even only on the consequences suffered by women such as guilt, depression, and higher risk of suicide. While such consequences are not to be ignored, they are treated as the reasons in and of themselves as to why abortion should be fought against. As such, it detracts from the real core issue as to why abortion should be resisted – because it is murder. Full stop. 
If an act, whatever it may be, were to be fought against because its consequences makes it distasteful, one would be logical to argue that where such consequences can be mitigated or resolved, the act would not be wrong, and perhaps even good. 
The pro-life movement does not address the root of the evils of abortion – the love of money by people who knowingly contribute to the abortion of a human being. It must also be noted that merely because a person was involved in the conception of the child does not mean that they support abortion or encourage abortion as many in the pro-life movement seem to assume. Instead, it looks only at the effects of abortion on women, without addressing the heart of the matter which is really the matter of the heart.

JoJo fails to distinguish between the ordinary sense of "consequences" and "consequentialism"–which is a technical designation for a philosophical position. Here are two academic definitions:
Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences.
Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.
i) In the ordinary sense of the term, a "consequence" is synonymous with an outcome, effect, end-result, fallout, aftermath. Taking the predictable or foreseeable results of an action into account in decision-making is by no means equivalent to consequentialism, where the morality of an action is "all about" the consequences or "depends only on the consequences."
I don't see JoJo provide any documentation that representative prolife leaders (e.g. Robert George, Scott Klusendorf, Francis Beckwith) are consequentialists in the philosophical sense of the term. And if that's not their philosophical frame of reference, then it's deceptive to label their position that way.
ii) Moreover, JoJo's examples fail to bear out the claim.  To "focus on the consequences suffered by women such as guilt, depression, and higher risk of suicide" is a prolife strategy. Its not the basis of their opposition to abortion. 
iii) Furthermore, it's responding to abortion apologists on their own grounds. Abortion apologists repackage abortion as a "women's health" issue. About protecting the health, including mental health, of woman.
But prolifers point that that abortion is often damaging to the mental health of women. 
iv) I'd add that this isn't purely strategic. Prolifers care about women as well as babies. That's a point worth making. 
v) Keep in mind, too, that this is just one of many prolife strategies. 

April 27 at 10:46am · Edited ·
Fruit from the recent debate! 
Scott Klussendorf [sic], Jill Stanek, Mark Harrington, and Gregg Cunningham have all clearly outed themselves as methodological moral relativists who stand on the studies of men and twist scripture to support their own fears and faithlessness in the power and gospel of God. 
They are claiming that Jesus is a pragmatist and that he recommends that we only truly fight against the sins which our culture gives us permission to fight and that we survey the culture and determine whether "we have the votes" before we cease making deals with the devil. 
Get off the sinking ship of the pro-life movement or swear your allegiance to the secular spirit of our age and go to battle against abolition.

So many falsehoods packed into just a few sentence:
i) I presume the "studies of men" has reference to studies cited by Cunningham which show that abortion restrictions save babies. How does branding that the "studies of men" invalidate the evidence?
ii) Isn't a national ban on abortion the goal of AHA? If so, doesn't that ultimately depend on "having the votes"? Unless you "have the votes," you can't outlaw abortion in toto. It's not as if AHA can bypass that process. 
iii) What's a "methodological moral relativist?" For starters, what's moral relativism? Let's begin with two philosophical definitions:
Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.  It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values; the denial that there are universal moral values shared by every human society; and the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own.
Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.

Does AHA have any documentation to illustrate that Scott Klusendorf, Jill Stanek, Mark Harrington, and Gregg Cunningham are moral relativists on that definition? 

iv) Or is it a question of how the adjective ("methodological") modifies the phrase "moral relativist." If so, what does that mean? I doubt it means anything. Rather, I suspect AHA is simply words with invidious connotations to tar prolifers, without any regard for the inaccuracy of the usage.  

v) Same thing with the assertion that "They are claiming that Jesus is a pragmatist." Is that an attempt to gloss "methodological moral relativism"? If so, pragmatism and moral relativism are hardly interchangeable.

vi) Does AHA mean "pragmatist" in the philosophical sense of term? Is so, here's two definitions:

Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that includes those who claim that an ideology or proposition is true if it works satisfactorily, that the meaning of a proposition is to be found in the practical consequences of accepting it, and that unpractical ideas are to be rejected.
Many people assume that means we must look for moral criteria: some list of rules or principles whereby we can distinguish good from bad and right from wrong, or a list of virtues we try to inculcate. 
Pragmatism's core contention that practice is primary in philosophy rules out the hope of logically prior criteria. Any meaningful criteria evolve from our attempt to live morally – in deciding what is the best action in the circumstances. Criteria are not discovered by pure reason, and they are not fixed. As ends of action, they are always revisable. Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory
Can AHA supply verbatim quotes from Scott Klusendorf, Jill Stanek, Mark Harrington, and Gregg Cunningham which show that their position on abortion is pragmatic in that sense? 
vii) Or does it mean "pragmatic" in the ordinary sense of the word: "dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations," "dealing with the problems that exist in a specific situation in a reasonable and logical way instead of depending on ideas and theories."
a) If so, that's the opposite of pragmatism. In the nature of the case, the philosophy of pragmatism is theoretical.
b) Clearly, though, the position of somebody like Klusendorf is based on ideas and theoretical considerations. So you can't classify his position as "pragmatic" in either the ordinary or philosophical sense of the term.
c) Does AHA think that abortion opponents should be illogical, unreasonable, unrealistic, or senseless?
viii) What's wrong with prolifers adopting effective tactics and strategies? Would it be preferable for abortion opponents to champion futile or counterproductive tactics and strategies? 
ix) It's risky for AHA to level the charge of "methodological moral relativism," for that's apt to boomerang. AHA mortgages the lives of babies here and now in the hopes of saving every baby's life in the future–except for all the babies they sacrifice in the interim in the furtherance of their long-range goal. What's that if not ruthlessly "pragmatic" and methodologically "relativistic"?