Saturday, May 30, 2015

From bane to blessing

you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:5). 
among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim 1:20).
Given the elliptical nature of these enigmatic passages, we can't be sure what they mean. In his revised commentary on 1 Corinthians, Fee denies that Paul is using an "execration formulation."
Fee thinks this is a colorful metaphor or personification for excommunication. However, a basic problem with that explanation is how excommunication would have a purifying effect on the wayward Christian. He's cut off from the sanctifying influence of Christian fellowship. And that, in turn, leaves nothing to offset the moral and spiritual corruption of his heathen environment. 
So it seems more likely that Paul is alluding to the judicial or punitive role that the OT assigns to Satan (Job 1-2; 1 Chron 21:1; Zech 3:1-2).
In effect, he may be hexed. Cursed to suffer a string of bad luck. One setback after another. Things go from bad to worse. 
His misfortune constitutes remedial punishment–prompting contrition. 
Of course, it is not Satan's intention to restore a wayward Christian to the fellowship of the church. That's a case of God's overruling providence. God uses Satan to achieve a beneficial result in spite of Satan's malicious designs. 
I think that's the most reasonable interpretation. God can use misfortune and personal tragedy as spiritual discipline. That can be instigated by Satan, even though the end-result is at cross-purposes with Satan's malevolent intentions. 

Comparing something to nothing

I've already written a general evaluation of this response, now I'd like to zero in on a specific part of the argument:

As noted above, Mr. Cunningham uses these studies to point out that pro-life legislation is effective in saving babies lives.  He further argued that we ought to support these measures because they work, we lack the political clout to completely ban abortion, and failure to take what we can is tantamount to turning our backs on these neighbors.
So what do we make of this?
Even if we admit Dr. New’s analysis is correct and that there is a genuine correlation between abortion rates/ratios and the passage of pro-life laws, we do not think this study address the real question at hand.  Abolitionists do not argue that pro-life laws don’t do some good.  We openly admit they likely have some positive influence in reducing the number of surgical abortions.  The real question, however, is how do we know that rallying around an immediatist position in the 1990s would not have had the net effect of saving even more than are currently saved?  Simply put, Dr. New’s work, while insightful and interesting, cannot address this question because the data sets needed to address it do not exist.  We do not know whether or not a different strategy would have had a worse outcome.  It is entirely possible that the methods used in the 1990s yielded far fewer babies being saved than if a stronger immediatist position had been embraced.  The point is that we don’t know and, as such, these studies are moot. 
To return to the studies Mr. Cunningham raised in the debate, we are grateful that those children are alive, and we are grateful that surgical abortion has been curtailed to some degree.  We suspect, however, that those saved babies are not indicative of God honoring those methods but that He is bringing about good in spite of our failed, compromised methods.

It's important to notice that PChem is changing the subject. Here's a reminder of Cunningham's original statement:

Then, holding up Dr. New’s research on the effectiveness of incremental bills for saving lives, Cunningham asked, “What about these babies? Should we allow them to die instead of passing incremental legislation that would save them?” Hunter initially said “no,” but when Cunningham pressed him for clarification, he called the question a “charade” because if all incrementalists would become immediatists, we could put the ax to the root and end abortion. Gregg continued, “For the record, Russ didn’t answer the question. Should these babies have been allowed to die instead of passing the incremental legislation that saved them?” When Hunter again declined to answer and called incremental victories “shallow,” Cunningham again held up Dr. New’s study and asked, “Are you saying this guy made this stuff up when he said these laws save lives?”

Notice that PChem doesn't dispute the accuracy of Cunningham's claim. He concedes that New's studies support Cunningham's claim. Legal restrictions on abortion do, in fact, save babies. 

So far from being "moot," such studies are, by PChem's own admission, directly confirmatory. 

i) Since PChem can't refute Cunningham's claim, or New's supporting evidence, PChem attempts to recast the issue. The "real question" is whether incrementalism saves more babies than immediatism. 

From my reading, abolitionists play a shell game on this issue. On the one hand, there are abolitionists who refuse to admit that incremental legislation saves babies. They claim the restrictions are so easy to evade that they don't save any babies. Or they don't save a "significant" number of babies.

In that respect, it's important to remember PChem's concession. He grants the fact that incremental legislation does, indeed, save babies. He therefore changes the subject. 

From my reading, abolitionists oscillate between these two contentions. Sometimes they resist the claim that incremental legislation is effective. However, their fallback position is to say it doesn't matter if incremental legislation is effective. And they give two reasons: one is to claim that even if successful, the results are tainted by moral compromise.

But the other response is to shift grounds: it's no longer a question of whether incremental legislation is effective, but whether it saves more lives. 

It's important for abolitionists to be consistent. What's their actual argument? 

I think one source of the problem is that abolitionists have developed a conditioned reflex to certain objections. They have prepared answers. The aim is to deflect the immediate objection. They resort to any answer that's convenient at the moment. 

ii) Furthermore, they naturally squirm at having to admit that they are prepared to sacrifice the lives of tangible, living babies at hand to further their long-range strategy of maybe saving more babies at some future point. When you strip away the idealistic rhetoric, it's very harsh to say you will sacrifice babies in the short-term to possibly save more babies in the long-term. You will let babies die today to save hypothetical babies tomorrow. That's a choice they try to duck–even though their position commits them to that hard-nosed calculation. 

ii) In addition, they shift the burden of proof. They act as if the onus is on the prolifer to demonstrate that immediatism saves fewer lives. Of course, that's absurd. It is incumbent on abolitionists to defend their own position. It is incumbent on them to provide supporting evidence for their own position. In fact, their refusal to shoulder their own burden of proof betrays the poverty of evidence for their position. It makes no sense to say: "I have nothing to support my claim–now prove me wrong!" It's not up to prolifers to refute sheer assertions about a nonexistent, alternate history or wishful future.  

iii) PChem's comparison is inapt. The logical comparison would be to ask how many babies in the past would be saved by incremental measures had those same measures been in place at the time.  

Since, moreover, incremental legislation has a track-record, that supplies a frame of reference for extrapolating present laws and present results back in time.

iv) By contrast, immediatism has no track-record. There are no immediatist laws on the books–anywhere. New's studies are not deficient because they failed to compare something to nothing. There's no basis of comparison in the first place. Immediatism has no data to furnish a frame of reference. You can't extrapolate from nothing in the present to something in the past. 

Abolitionists are pinning all their hopes on a wishful future. They have zero evidence at present that abolitionist distinctives will be successful in any degree whatsoever. You can't pull estimates out of thin air. 

As we do this, we see lives changed and people who are used by God to save babies. As abolitionism grows the number of people going to abortion mills, schools, city streets, churches, and everywhere else grows. The number of memes we post, signs we hold, pamphlets we pass out, conversation we have, prayers we make, plans and campaigns we bring to fruition all increase. As a result, the number of abortions taking place will likely decrease. 

PChem doesn't know that abolitionism will grow. He doesn't know that it will probably grow. What if AHA is just a fad–like "Justice for Trayvon"? Compare some stats. AHA Facebook has 35,766 likes. Justice for Trayvon Martin Facebook has 283,346 likes. Remember 'Justice for Trayvon' rallies in 100 cities across USA? But that was just the cause du jour. Social activists moved on to other hot-button issues.

What happens when Facebook pulls the plug on AHA? Will AHA fizzle? Time will tell. But there's no evidence, as of yet, that AHA has any staying power. It's handing out vouchers backed by promises about its future achievements. But that's all hypothetical. 

The new australopithecine and the multiplying of species

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Irish vote on SSM

Can every gift be returned or refused?

Roger Olson
Every gift can be refused or discarded. That's not the same as "strings attached."

i) What if an accident victim is wheeled into the ER with severe internal injuries. He needs a liver transplant. But he's unconscious. He can't consent to the procedure. His wife signs the consent form on his behalf.

When he wakes up after surgery, can he still refuse or discard the donated liver? Will he cut it out? 

iii) This also suffers from a particular image of what constitutes a "gift," like a Christmas present you can return to the store.

Even then, stores refuse to refund a used gift.

But in Calvinism, saving grace isn't that kind of gift. Saving grace is like a cure for mental illness. Something that's internalized. It changes you. Becomes a part of who you are. Restores your mental health.

It's too late to refuse. And you can no more discard it than you can discard yourself.

Of course, Olson rejects the Reformed doctrine of grace. My immediate point is that his objection is meaningless in reference to Calvinism. 

Making babies poker chips

I'm going to comment on part of this post:

Even if we admit Dr. New’s analysis is correct and that there is a genuine correlation between abortion rates/ratios and the passage of pro-life laws, we do not think this study address the real question at hand.  Abolitionists do not argue that pro-life laws don’t do some good.  We openly admit they likely have some positive influence in reducing the number of surgical abortions.

That's quite a concession. And in my reading, abolitionists are loath to admit that. Typically, they are very evasive on that point. 

So here we have an approved spokesman for AHA conceding that incremental legislation does in fact reduce the number of babies killed by surgical abortion. 

The real question, however, is how do we know that rallying around an immediatist position in the 1990s would not have had the net effect of saving even more than are currently saved?  Simply put, Dr. New’s work, while insightful and interesting, cannot address this question because the data sets needed to address it do not exist.  We do not know whether or not a different strategy would have had a worse outcome.  It is entirely possible that the methods used in the 1990s yielded far fewer babies being saved than if a stronger immediatist position had been embraced.  The point is that we don’t know and, as such, these studies are moot. 

Several problems:

i) Once again, we see AHA retreat into the never-neverland of unverifiable counterfactuals. It's like saying more lives might have been saved had the victors in WWI not imposed war reparations on Germany, which provoked popular resentment, which gave Hitler an opening.

Even if that alternate historical scenario is true, Churchill didn't have the luxury of that past–because that past never happened. He had to deal with the consequences of the real past. And he had to deal with the present. 

ii) Closely observe the abolitionist calculation. It comes down to a choice between saving real babies and saving hypothetical babies. Between saving actual babies here and now, or possibly saving more babies in the future if abolitionist methods and projections are successful. AHA is exchanging the lives of actual babies for the lives of babies who might possibly be saved in the future if immediatism pans out.

So AHA is gambling the lives of babies on a crapshoot. Sacrifice actual babies we can save here and now in the hope that when abolitionists roll the dice, they will throw sixes. This means actual babies are bound to lose the bet. But in the utilitarian risk/benefit analysis of the abolitionist, the dead certainty of saving some is outweighed by the wishful possibility of saving more.

iii) Keep in mind, too, that abolitionists aren't talking about saving the same babies, plus additional babies. Rather, it's about sacrificing one set of babies in toto in the interests of just possibly saving a different, more numerous set of babies. 

iv) Notice that if the abolitionist strategy fails, you lose both sets of babies. If the abolitionist strategy is a bust, then it doesn't save more babies in the future. It doesn't save any babies in the future, by "immediatist" distinctives. And it doesn't save any babies at present.

It doesn't preserve the lives the future babies who'd be saved by incrementalist legislation. And it doesn't preserve the lives of past or present babies who are saved by incrementalist legislation. 

In the interests of possibly saving more babies in the future, the abolitionist cost/benefit analysis risks the total loss of all the babies in question. In its high-stakes gamble, abolitionism is prepared to endanger every baby. 

Moreover, even if it can be shown that there is a causal decrease in surgical abortions based on pro-life legislation, we must also consider the cost of adopting those strategies in terms of moral position and our ability to effectively argue against abortion in the future.

Notice the naked utilitarian thinking that informs abolitionism. A hypothetical tradeoff between saving fewer actual babies here and now over against the wishful goal of saving more babies in the future. 

The moral arguments supporting the abolition of abortion should not change merely to suit the political climate of the day because the arguments are grounded in and flow from the immutable Word of God.  And, it is these moral foundations from which our moral action should originate.  Incrementalist strategies reverse this order and allow that which is politically feasible to blunt the moral foundation upon which abolition rests.  While it is certainly laudable to attempt to save as many babies as possible--and we recognize the necessity of legislative means to enact abolition--we cannot be so short sighted that we fail to recognize how our actions might work against our desired goal.

The moral foundation of the prolife movement is that abortion, with rare exceptions (e.g. ectopic pregnancies), is homicidal from the moment of conception. 

Mr. Cunningham repeatedly charged Mr. Hunter (and abolitionists at large) with failing to love their neighbors by opposing incremental legislation.  And, a number of pro-life leaders have continued to level this accusation against abolitionists in their reviews of the debate.  This charge is ludicrous.  Of course abolitionists care about those children.  We care about them just as much as we care about those who the pro-life legislation fails to protect.  We want them all to be saved.  However, it matters how we go about accomplishing abortion abolition and saving babies.  It is a truism that the ends do not justify the means...

i) To begin with, that truism is simplistic.

ii) But let's measure AHA by its own yardstick. Abolitionists are blind to the fact that their preferred strategy is precisely that. Throughout this post, PChem contends that the goal of saving all babies in the future justifies the means of sacrificing babies at present. He hopes that you can save more babies overall by pursuing abolitionist tactics. When he says we must consider the "cost" of adopting allegedly "shortsighted" strategies that blunt our ability to "to effectively argue against abortion in the future," that's an end-justifies-the-means argument. The greater good of possibly saving more babies in the future warrants the loss of babies in the present. Sacrificing real babies here and now is the price we (or they) must pay in the hope of winning first prize down the line. That's a necessary sacrifice. Hope to save more babies in the future at the cost of consigning babies here and now to death. Even if effective, abolitionism can only succeed on the backs of babies it relegated to the grave in the short-term. 

…and Christians ought not embrace sinful means to save lives.  

Which consistently begs the question. 

We believe that allowing abortion in some cases along the way to its total abolition is neither strategically sound nor consistently Christian. 

"Strategically sound"? Even if he's correct, what is that if not "the end justifies the means"? 

You cannot abolish any evil by justifying or allowing it to continue in some cases. 

There's no assurance that abortion can be abolished. That's a goal that we should work towards, but that may be an unrealistic goal. That shouldn't dictate the good we are in a position to do right now. 

Any strategy for ending abortion in this country that allows for the continued occurrence of some abortions for the sake of eventually outlawing the rest, though seemingly pragmatic, is compromise and its promises of effectiveness are false.

i) And abolitionists sacrifice babies right now for the sake of promoting its long-range goal, which may be unobtainable in any case. For abolitionism, babies are poker chips. The endgame is to win the jackpot. The abolitionist is all-in. He's prepared to lose everything in the hopes of winning everything.

ii) Keep in mind that even if his bet pays off, the abolitionist strategy only saves future babies, not present babies. Contrast that with their hotatory rhetoric about "refusing to compromise with evil." 

The bills and laws that we see as delaying abolition and/or distracting pro-lifers from the work of abolition are those that do not oppose abortion in and of itself (e.g., focus on abortion procedures, places, etc) and those that specify which humans are to be protected from abortion (e.g., because they have reached a certain age or stage of development or have met some other culturally approved criteria of value such as the possession of a heart beat, being conceived in consensual sex, not being diagnosed with down syndrome, spina bifida, or some other condition deemed by our culture as justifying murder by abortion).

See the reasoning? Rescuing the babies you can save here and now is a "distraction" from long-range goal. If we hope to win the big prize, we must avoid the "distraction" of saving real babies at present through incremental measures. 

What we absolutely do NOT mean is that if we can’t save all babies, we shouldn’t save any. The idea that we are “all or nothing” presupposes that there are only two options: incremental steps or no steps at all. We reject that premise. We contend that those who fight abortion should be unified in calling for immediate and total abolition. 

The only babies they save at present are babies they save through traditional prolife methods like picketing abortion clinics. 

To return to the studies Mr. Cunningham raised in the debate, we are grateful that those children are alive, and we are grateful that surgical abortion has been curtailed to some degree.  We suspect, however, that those saved babies are not indicative of God honoring those methods but that He is bringing about good in spite of our failed, compromised methods.

Once again, we have an admission that babies are saved by incremental measures, but their lives aren't worth saving compared to the long-range goal. 

Enlightenment rationalism

I'll make a few comments on this:

For starters, this is a pretext to flatter the boss. What Enns doesn't tell the reader is that Kenton Sparks is his boss. 

2. Claiming alleged Enlightenment influence on opponents is a well known conversation stopper among evangelical apologists, and I am particularly disappointed to see Hoffmeier resort to it. Evangelical defenses of historicity are often quickly propelled into the philosophical stratosphere of “presuppositions,” which has the unfortunate effect of reducing debates on concrete matters to claims of theological superiority.
As far as I am concerned, “you’re just beholden to Enlightenment rationalism” is on the same rhetorical level as “that sounds like Hitler (or Bultmann, or Barth),” or more economically, “you’re liberal.”
This sort of rhetoric is not designed to converse but to gain a theological upper hand by determining the playing field and rules of engagement. It has worn out its welcome and has no place in scholarly engagement.

i) To begin with, many Bible scholars of the SBL variety operate with methodological atheism. They don't believe Biblical events did happen because they don't believe they could happen. They don't believe in miracles. They don't believe that God is active in the world. So they are operating with gut-level philosophical presuppositions that filter what the text is allow to attest. 

ii) The Bible is a theological document as well as a historical document. So you can't simply bracket its theological presuppositions. You can affirm them or deny them, but you can't ignore them. They are integral to the nature of the text.

iii) Apropos (ii), does Enns think there's any difference between Christian scholarship and secular scholarship? Should a Christian scholar suspend theological presuppositions when he studies the Bible?  

Affirming or denying a historical claim depends, in part, on the kind of world you think we live in. On what you think is possible. On the kinds of events you think occur. That's a necessary consideration in evaluating the probability of a historical claim. 

For instance, how we assess reports of "alien abductees" depends in large part on whether we believe it's even possible for an alien species to travel that distance. Our views regarding the laws of physics screen out certain explanations. 

If a Bible scholar is a Christian (or orthodox Jew), there is, presumably a reason why he's Christian. He believes in a personal, omnipotent, omniscient, interventionist God. And he has reasons for believing that. Should that not inform his view of Scripture? 

In Biblical scholarship, it's unavoidable that we will approach the Bible from one viewpoint or another. We can't very well approach the Bible with no viewpoint at all. 

There is no view from nowhere. Rather, there are different ways of approaching Scripture. One reader may think it's true. Another reader may think it's false. Another reader may think some of the historical notices are true, but reject the miraculous reports. Another reader may not have made up his mind one way or the other. Perhaps he's reading the Bible for the first time. 

These reflect different, incommensurable viewpoints. Is one superior to another? 

If, in fact, the Bible is revelatory, then that's how we should approach it. How else would a Christian scholar approach it?

iv) Enn's definition of Bible scholarship reduces to collegiality. It's horizontal and sociological rather than vertical and theological. Not a quest for truth, but comity.  What's expected from members of the club. 

3. Another common evangelical tactic repeated here by Hoffmeier is to equate Wellhausen’s 19th c. theory of Pentateuchal composition with source theories that have developed since Wellhausen. Sparks effectively addresses this in his response.
Let me simply say that source criticism is most certainly not dead, though most all have moved beyond Wellhausen, including neo-documentarians like Joel Baden and Jeffrey Stackert. (On this see Dozeman, Schmid, and Schwartz, The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research, 2011; especially Schwartz’s essay, “Does Recent Scholarship’s Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis Constitute Grounds for Its Rejection?)
And one would be hard-pressed indeed to find any biblical scholar outside of the inerrantist camp–whether Israeli, American, or European–who does not see the Pentateuch as having a rich and complex developmental pre-history spanning several hundred years and not coming to end until long after the return from exile.
P and D are not seriously questioned among biblical scholars. The origins of Israel’s ancient narratives– J and E–are. That is a great discussion to have. But the “we know Wellhausen was wrong so now we can retreat back to Mosaic authorship” rhetoric is at best misleading because it is grounded in a description of Pentateuchal scholarship that is absolutely wrong.

A basic problem with source criticism is that all literary critics have to work with is the final form of the text. They don't have draft copies. They can't compare the final draft with rough drafts. 

So they try to reverse engineer the editorial process or the creative process from the finished product. But there are no external checks on that procedure. It's all about the imagination and ingenuity of the critic. He tries to separate early layers from later layers. He stipulates the social setting for the original text, before it was rewritten to address a later situation. The entire exercise is viciously circular. 

It doesn't retrace the process from effects to causes. Rather, we're just peering into the mind of the critic. A window, not into the past, but into his fervid imagination. Mental projection masquerading as historical reconstruction. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

What about kid's rights instead of queer rights?

Atheist takedown of Neil deGrasse Tyson

The TurretinFan/Albrecht Debate On Intercession Of The Saints

TurretinFan recently debated William Albrecht on the subject of the intercession of the saints. Albrecht claimed that none of the church fathers opposed praying to the deceased. He said that he didn't know of anybody who opposed the practice before John Calvin, though he later added the qualifier that Vigilantius opposed it in the fourth century. He cited a passage from Hippolytus, popularized by Ludwig Ott, to argue that Hippolytus supported the practice of praying to the dead. He also claimed that Origen supported it, among many others.

Actually, the evidence suggests that prayer to the dead wasn't practiced by believers in the Biblical era, is sometimes contradicted by the Biblical authors, and was rejected in the earliest generations of patristic Christianity. You can find a collection of many of my posts on these issues here. And here's a listing of our posts under the Prayer label. (Keep clicking "Older Posts" at the bottom right of the screen to see more.)

In some posts on Hippolytus here and here, I explain that he seems to oppose praying to the dead rather than supporting it. I don't know if Albrecht read more of Hippolytus' commentary on Daniel than the one passage he cited. He may have just been repeating what he saw in Ludwig Ott. But Tom Schmidt recently published the first full English translation of Hippolytus' commentary, and I've read the entirety of it. If you read the passage Ott cites in context, it doesn't support the conclusion Ott and Albrecht have used it for. Similarly, the evidence suggests that Origen opposed prayer to the dead rather than supporting it. Celsus, a second-century opponent of Christianity Origen wrote against, suggests that Christians reject prayer to deceased humans, angels, or any other beings other than God, and Origen suggests the same in response. See here and here, among other posts I've written about Celsus and Origen's comments on these issues.

In a thread here you'll find a lengthy comments section in which I address Hermas, Athenagoras, and many other patristic sources. You can use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to find the material you're interested in. For example, if you search for "Vigilantius", you'll find my comments on how he wasn't alone in opposing prayers to the dead in the fourth century. Other church leaders and laymen held the same view.

In our index post on prayer, you'll also find links to posts in which we address the Biblical evidence. On the issue of deceased believers being spiritually alive, which supposedly exempts them from Biblical passages about not trying to contact the dead, see here. For example, go to the comments section of that thread, and read my posts at 4:55 A.M. and 4:59 A.M. on 6/4/10. On Revelation 5:8, which was cited by Albrecht, see here. See here concerning catacomb inscriptions. Albrecht made much of the fact that deceased believers in heaven are sometimes portrayed as being aware of events on earth. On that subject, see here. The same post expands on a good point TurretinFan made during the debate, that prayer to the dead is absent in scripture across so many passages and so many contexts addressing so many timeframes.


Recently, I was debating a "progressive Christian" (for want of a better term) who hurled the Josh Duggar scandal at me. I'm of two minds about commenting on this scandal. I don't think it has any intrinsic significance. However, one might use it to make some general points:

i) I don't keep tabs on what 15-minute celebrities of reality shows say or do. Indeed, I avoid informing myself about the private lives of 15-minute celebrities. The fact that somebody is famous for being famous doesn't make his beliefs or lifestyle any more important than men and women who live and die in obscurity.

The only folks taking a serious interest in the antics of celebutants are folks who are just as vapid as the celebutants they obsess over. Airheads of a feather flock together. 

ii) Christian faith is faith in Christ, not faith in Christians. Christian faith is putting faith in Christ, not putting faith in fellow Christians. If a professing Christian is a hypocrite, that's irrelevant to the Christian faith.

iii) I had to do a bit of Googling just to write this post. The Duggar parents are famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) for having 19 kids and counting. 

Historically, that's not unusual. Before the advent of modern contraception (and abortion on demand), mothers often continued having babies until they hit menopause or died in childbirth. 

By contemporary standards, the Druggars are a freak show, but historically, that was the norm. The main difference is that, in the past, due to high child mortality, most kids didn't survive into adulthood.

iv) I assume the Duggars agreed to do a reality show to help finance their domestic expenses. It's very expensive to raise 19 kids. Of course, that turns your private life into a fishbowl.

v) It wouldn't surprise me if their squeaky clean public image isn't the whole story. We generally put our best face forward in public settings.

vi) I've read claims that the Dugger parents belong to the "Christian Patriarchy movement." I don't know if that's true, and I don't know what that means, specifically. I don't care enough to research the issue.

I'm a complementarian, but that can be taken to extremes. TGC recently did a post on hyper-headship:

vii) I don't have a firm opinion on the size of families. 

a) On the one hand, so long as parents provide for their kids, it's none of my business how many kids they choose to have. 

b) On the other hand, above a certain number, parenting suffers. Above a certain number, you can't individualize in childrearing. It's a choice between more time for fewer kids or less time for more kids. It also depends on spacing pregnancies. 

So childrearing gets subcontracted to older siblings or grandparents. In a sense, that's not fair to children.

If, however, the parents had a smaller family, some kids who lose out through lack of parental attention would never exist in the first place. Arguably, you have more to lose by not existing. So there are tradeoffs between a lesser and a greater deprivation.

viii) I think contraception is morally permissible and morally responsible. I reject abortifacients. 

ix) I don't know that Josh Duggar is a hypocrite. Being raised in a Christian family doesn't make you a Christian. If, moreover, you were indoctrinated in a legalistic theology, that can be even more reason to rebel or misunderstand the Gospel.

x) Some Christians have turned tables on the critics by pointing out that liberals generally give a free pass to Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. So the charge of hypocrisy rebounds. 

Mike Huckabee has pointed out that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of minors. That, too, draws attention to liberal hypocrisy. When policemen shoot a teenager, liberals accuse them of shooting a "child."

So we certainly see double standards in the attack on Josh Duggar. 

xi) However, the sisters whom Josh is accused of molesting might have a very different take on the situation. 

David French accuses the parents of stalling tactics to play out the clock on the statue of limitations. 

xii) Mind you, a person can be a cad without being a hypocrite. And it was certainly a mistake for the Family Research Council to make Josh its executive director. That illustrates the dangers of a celebrity culture infecting Christian organizations. 

How the mind uses the brain

In this post I'm going to present a model of dualism. I'm not going to spend much time defending it. I've defended aspects of this elsewhere. And I don't want to get bogged down in supporting arguments.
I think it's useful to explain a certain way of looking at issues. Provide a model. 
According to classical theism, God is timeless and spaceless. I agree.
That raises the question of how to interpret statements about God interacting with the world. God coming and going. Having conversations with Abraham or Moses. 
This, of course, is an issue that crops up in open theism. And open theism serves as a warning against naive hermeneutics. 
I think the short answer is analogous to how a novelist relates to the story. A novelist exists outside the story. He doesn't physically interact with the characters, time, or space of the story. 
Rather, a novelist is involved in the story by writing the story. He's responsible for everything that happens. Directly or indirectly, he causes everything that happens. He controls events. He directs the outcome. 
Sometimes a novelist can write himself into the story by making himself a character in his own story. In that respect, he exists at two different levels. He still exists outside the story. But he has a counterpart within the story who represents the novelist. His counterpart speaks like the novelist, thinks like the novelist, believes whatever the novelist believes. Has the same viewpoint as the novelist. His counterpart can even know everything the novelist does. 
In addition, I'm a Cartesian dualist. An interactionist. I think the soul is immaterial. Same thing with angels and demons. But there is some Scriptural evidence that angels have the ability to materialize. 
In popular Christian discourse, we speak of "casting out" demons. An out-of-body experience. The soul "separating" from the body at death. 
I think popular usage is innocuous so long as we don't derive metaphysical conclusions from popular usage. Otherwise, it's misleading. But it's a convenient shorthand.
However, I don't think the soul is literally in the body. Rather, I think the soul uses the body. The mind uses the brain. 
Neuroscientist Wilder Penfield employed the following analogy: the mind is to a programmer as the brain is to a computer. Likewise, neuroscientist John Eccles talks about "how the self controls its brain." My point is not to expound or endorse the details of their respective positions. I'm just sketching a general way of framing the issue. 
There are various ways of illustrating this relation:
i) Telerobotics. Remote-control signaling. We might say the body is to the aerial drone as the mind is to the operator. The operator is "linked" to the drone. He directs the drone. The drone does what he wills it to do. But he is not in the drone. 
Telerobotics involves teleoperation and telepresence. Through wireless communication, it's action at a distance.
ii) Virtual reality. If all your sensory relays are hooked up to VR equipment, the only thing you can perceive is the simulated world. Your sensory perceptual system is patched into the program. That's all you hear, see, and feel. 
That's in spite of the fact that you are not actually a part of that world. You exist outside the program. And if you are disconnected from the equipment, you resume your perceptual awareness of the external world. But it's one or the other at any given time. You can't be simultaneously conscious of both.
That analogous to visionary revelation. In his altered state of consciousness, the seer is only aware of the visionary scenes. But once he emerges from the trance, he resumes his ordinary sensory perception. 
Let's compare these illustrations to a haunted house. Let's view a ghost as a disembodied mind or disembodied consciousness. 
What would it mean for the postmortem soul to go back to the house where the decedent grew up? Two things:
i) It's a matter of what the soul is thinking about. He remembers the house. In his mind, he "goes back" there. That's the object of his mental concentration. That's what he's aware of. 
ii) In addition, he can act at a distance. He has the ability to point his thoughts and intentions in the direction of that location. Project power. Make things happen–within the limits of a finite agent. 
For instance, we might view this as a preliminary punishment during the intermediate state. He is condemned to hang around the scenes of his past, as a passive, frustrated spectator. He laments the past. Laments his loss. Cut off from the life he knew. He can enviously watch others doing what he used to do, but he can't participate. That's before the day of judgment, when there will be a total separation between the living and the dead, the saints and the damned. 
Many miracles are essentially mind over matter. Psychokinetic or telekinetic. Where an agent is able to will a change. He needn't be in physical contact with what he brings out. 

Queen of the hill

Islam's depopulation bomb

I recently read a prediction that Islam is the world's fastest growing religion, on track to overtake Christianity in a few decades. I find that wildly implausible. Islam has very little appeal.

But be that as it may, here's another trend that may undercut that prediction:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A survivor's guide to organ harvesting

In light of stories like this:

we need to take precautions so that if we're ever wheeled into the ER unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator, we won't be euthanized and carved up for our organs. 

i) Assiduously cultivate an unhealthy lifestyle. Be obese. Look like Dan and Roseanne Conner from the sitcom (Roseanne).

ii) Carry one or two packs of cigarettes on your person (in a purse or shirt pockets). You don't have to smoke them. They are just stage props.

iii) Stuff your wallet with dogeared business cards from establishments like:

a) Take out/delivery pizza joint

b) Tavern

c) Liquor store

d) All-you-can-eat buffet

e) Dairy Queen

f) Dunkin' Donuts

g) Taco Bell

h) KFC

j) Drug rehab facility

That way, when the ER staff rifles through your wallet for ID, health insurance, &c., they will instantly see that you are a totally unsuitable candidate to be an organ donor.

iv) Make sure the business cards are broken in to look convincing. Bend them. Get your hands dirty to cover them with smudges. 

What goes around comes around

The fountain of youth

They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them (Rev 9:5-6).
Immortality is the Holy Grail of medical science. The basic purpose of medical science is to postpone death. A secondary purpose is to improve the quality of life. Reduce physical suffering. 
One reason science has been unable to find the cure for death is because it hasn't figured out why we age. There are competing theories of senescence.
But suppose medical science does figure out the key to immortality. Would that falsify the Christian faith? After all, Scripture says human mortality is not a natural condition, but a penal condition. A divine punishment for original sin. 
If, however, medical science can keep people youthful, does that mean the Biblical explanation for the aging process is false? A superstitious prescientific explanation?
Several issues:
i) This isn't really a new issue. Medical science in general has been ameliorating some natural evils caused by the fall of man. If that is not inconsistent with Christian theology, then neither is figuring out how to block the aging process.
ii) From an eschatological perspective, medical science simply delays the inevitable. Humans will still face the judgment.
iii) In addition, although death is punitive, there are situations in which the inability to die is punitive. Take Rev 9:5-6. There's a sense in which torment is worse than death, if death brings relief. That's why some people commit suicide. That's their way to escape physical pain, psychological pain, or the prospect thereof.
iv) In fact, Rev 9:5-6 suggests a point in the future when humans will be unable to die. But that will be a curse. And that will still be temporary. Eventually, they will face the final judgment. The day of reckoning awaits.
v) What would a fallen world populated by immortals be like? At first blush, that might seem to solve our greatest problem. But consider the consequences.
The ruling class would impose draconian birth-control measures. Mandatory sterilization. Forced abortion. Maybe even universal sterilization–with sperm banks as a backup. 
Of course, that would meet with stiff resistance in some quarters. The desire for children runs deep.
You'd need a police state to enforce a moratorium on pregnancy and child-bearing. Right off the bat, utopia would take a dystopian turn. 
vi) To be ageless doesn't make you indestructible. Even if you can't die from disease or old age, you can still be killed. Accidents. Murder. Natural disasters. 
Because we know that death is inevitable, humans take calculated risks. Driving a car carries the potential for death or disablement. But we accept the risk. It's a tradeoff. The benefits usually outweigh the risk.
If, however, death was not inevitable, then that would drastically change the risk assessment for many things we ordinarily do. We'd become a society of hypochondriacs. We'd become fanatically risk-averse.
If death is not inevitable, then the stakes of undertaking potentially life-threatening activities is immeasurably higher. It would lead to social paralysis. Most folks would be petrified to do anything slightly hazardous. Yet almost nothing humans do is risk-free. Many necessary, mundane activities are potentially harmful or fatal. 
We play the odds. Most of us take reasonable precautions. 
But paradoxically, a world in which death is not inevitable is far more dangerous than world in which death is inevitable, for you have far more to lose. In a fallen world, immortality would quickly degenerate into hell on earth. 
All by itself, immorality doesn't make you safe. You can still be harmed. Still be killed.
So there's a sense in which the fountain of youth is poisonous. Even if it conferred immortality, there's a hidden cost. 
vii) In the new Jerusalem, there's more to immortality than eternal youth or agelessness. There's providential protection. Not to mention impeccability.

Incrementalism is incompatible with reconstructionist theonomy

Abolitionist John Reasnor had been debating Clinton Wilcox. And AHA has been sponsoring Reasnor's presentations, both on Facebook and on its blog. So he's an approved spokesman for AHA. 

I noticed in his reply to Wilcox that Reasnor was recycling theonomist arguments. So for him, incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture because incrementalism is incompatible with reconstructionist theonomy. Incrementalism is incompatible with his theonomic interpretation of Scripture. 

My immediate point is not to evaluate theonomy, but just to document the linkage between abolitionism and theonomy. According to their authorized representative, abolitionism is a theonomic ideology.

That connection is made more explicit when I go to Reasnor's Facebook page, which says he's a member of Reconstructionist Theonomists.

Christian Reconstructionists are generally characterized by a comprehensive system comprised of  the following five doctrines:

1. Predestination - because God alone is absolutely sovereign over Creation, able to bring all things He will to pass.
2. Covenant theology - because there is a long-term relationship between covenant-keeping and external blessings in history, as well as covenant-breaking and external cursings in history.
3. Biblical law - because God has put in place legal and moral boundaries, both individually and corporately, which are universal to all times, people, and places.
4. Presuppositional apologetics - because there is no neutrality in any aspect of life - everything is either supporting the Kingdom of God or fighting against it.
5. Postmillennialism - because the eschatology of hope is why we labor to bring everything into cavity under Christ - we actually believe that Christian culture we are working toward will come to fruition in history.

(derived largely from Gary North's book, Tools of Dominion)

One need not necessarily ascribe to all of these beliefs to participate in this group, but the following is required:

1. Belief in the Bible as inerrant and the only authority in all matters of life.
2. Belief in the universal and on-going applicability of God's Law in all areas of society, family, civil, ecclesiastical. (The scope and nature of specific applications are open for discussion.)

We strive to provide a place for edifying, biblical discussion for the application of God's Law in all realms of society. 

Please help Reformed believers spread the Gospel to Roman Catholics when “Pope Francis” travels to Philadelphia later this year

Pope Francis is Coming to Town!
Mark it on your calendar: “Pope Francis” is Coming to Town.

The funds that are being solicited here will help to print tracts and buy meals and T-shirts for those who will be participating in the street evangelization events.

It takes only a few moments to make a donation here. Please consider prayerfully how you might help this effort to move forward.

13 Things You Didn’t Know About “the Papacy”

[Please note: Elsewhere I have written about the trip that “Pope Francis” will be making to Philadelphia, September 26-27, and also the street evangelism efforts that that a number of Reformed believers are going to be participating in. I’m offering this article here (or some edited version of it) as the text for the hand-out piece to be given to Roman Catholics who are coming to Philadelphia and adoring this “pope”. If you decide to read this through, please take a minute to comment -- let me know if I missed anything, or if there is a point that I should not be making -- thank you. - John Bugay.]

13 Things You Didn’t Know About “the Papacy”

Popes over the centuries have enjoyed great power and privilege as “the Vicars of Christ”. And in our days, we still see large audiences giving adulation to the particular man who holds the title of “Pope”.

But “the papacy” is not biblical, and nor was it affirmed by early church writers or councils.

In fact, this document will make the claim that “the papacy” as an institution is a later add-on to Christianity – kind of like a leech – a fraudulent institution that evolved by making claims for its own authority based on illegitimate criteria – these were criteria that earlier writers understood to be fraudulent, but which later history (aided by the wealth of the Roman emperors and the later fall of Rome) could not easily argue against or resist.

Have you noticed that we rarely hear of “the papacy” nowadays? In fact, the words “papal” and “papacy” are not used at all in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”, despite its history of claiming both worldly and spiritual power. Now we hear of “the successor of Peter” or “the Petrine ministry”.

In fact, concepts like “Roman primacy”, “the Papacy”, and “the Petrine ministry” were concepts “developed” long after the Apostles lived, and they were superimposed back upon history as a way of consolidating papal power in the middle ages:

“It is clear that Roman Primacy was not given from the outset; it underwent a long process of development whose initial phases extended well into the fifth century” (Klaus Schatz, “Papal Primacy”, 1996, pg 36).