Saturday, September 12, 2015

Turning back the clock

One of the peculiarities of the Resurrection is that some acquaintances didn't immediately recognize Jesus (e.g. Jn 20:14-15; cf. Lk 24:16ff.). 

The Emmaus road incident is easier to explain due to God temporarily inhibiting their perception. But what about a case like Mary Magdalene?

One explanation may be the nature of the Resurrection itself. Glorification has the capacity to repair and rejuvenate. It depends on the condition of the individual when they died.

If a Christian dies of brain cancer, God won't resurrect him with brain cancer. If a Christian dies at 90, God won't resurrect him at 90.

The glorified body is youthful and ageless. In the world to come, the saints will no longer experience illness and senescence. 

Jesus was in his early 30s when he died. He spent lots of time out of doors in direct sunlight. When he was on the road, he probably slept out of doors. In addition to hot summers, Israel can have freezing winters. 

So his complexion was weatherbeaten. And by that time he may have had thinning hair or graying hair. In any event, he probably looked older than he would with less exposure to the harsh elements.

But one effect of the Resurrection was to rejuvenate him. His acquaintances wouldn't expect Jesus to appear significantly younger. 

Paul's Physical Experience With The Physical Risen Christ

Steve and I have already said a lot about the physical nature of Paul's experience with the risen Christ in recent discussions with Faith Slayer here and here. I want to expand on some themes I mentioned in those discussions.

The New Testament doesn't just say that Paul saw a light and heard a voice. We're also told that Paul saw Jesus (Acts 9:27, 22:14, 1 Corinthians 9:1). By contrast, Paul's companions are referred to as "seeing no one" (Acts 9:7). Notice, too, that Acts 22:14 uses physical language to describe Paul's hearing of a voice ("hear an utterance from his mouth"). That language could be used in a non-physical way, but those who take it that way bear the burden of proof. All of these passages in Acts about Paul's experience are in the context of Luke's two-volume work, in which he keeps referring to the physical nature of Jesus' resurrection (Luke 24:1-3, 24:39-43, Acts 1:3, 10:41) and how Paul's fellow apostles had physical experiences with the risen Jesus that qualified them as apostles (Acts 1:21-2, 10:40-1). In that context, when Luke refers to how Paul and/or his companions saw, heard, fell to the ground, were blinded, etc., it's absurd to conclude that the experience was subjective and/or non-physical.

It's also absurd to conclude that a body other than the body of Jesus that died was resurrected, as if he was merely given a new body of some type. What dies is what rises. The death is what brings about the need for resurrection in the first place. You could speak of receiving a new body as a resurrection, but that would be a less natural way of using such terminology. Anybody holding such a view would bear the burden of proof. Luke's gospel makes it clear that the dead body was the one that was raised, and it was seeing Jesus raised in that body that qualified individuals as apostles. Notice the emphasis on Jesus' crucifixion wounds, by showing his hands and feet, in Luke 24:39. Notice the continuity in Acts 1:21-2 and 10:37-41. The witnesses saw Jesus in the time leading up to his death and following it. The continuity of the body is suggested. And that continuity isn't just mentioned as a historical fact. Physically witnessing Jesus before and after his death was a requirement for Jesus' original disciples who became apostles. Paul isn't placed in that category, but he is portrayed, in Acts and elsewhere, as being an apostle with equal authority. Seeing Jesus in his physically resurrected state makes more sense of Paul's status as an apostle. People who saw visions of Jesus, like Stephen, have a lesser status than Paul.

Here's a post I wrote several years ago about the evidence for Paul's experience with the risen Christ.

Unknown Jesus

Moderate to conservative scholars have penned many excellent defenses of the historicity of the Gospels. Even more liberal scholars like Dale Allison often make useful point in their defense.

There is, however, a neglected line of evidence for the historicity of the Gospels–and that's what they don't say. Mark says nothing about the childhood of Jesus. John relates in passing a scurrilous rumor about his illegitimacy. Both Matthew and Luke contain infancy narratives. Luke records one incident from his boyhood. And that's it!

Yet many readers would naturally be curious to know more about his childhood. If the Gospels were fictional biographies, we'd expect them to satisfy their pious curiosity. 

To take a comparison, stories about superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, and Superman contain detailed backstories regarding their childhood. And that's because fictional writers aren't constrained by factual knowledge or hard reality.

The obvious reason the Gospel writers say so little about the childhood of Jesus is because they only write about what they know, and they don't know much about his childhood. And when you ponder that, it's very realistic.

Most famous people, unless they are born into a famous family, aren't born famous. Nothing is written about them before they become famous. Very few people ever heard of them before they become famous. 

And oftentimes, what's written about them has reference to the things they did after they become famous. To the things that made them famous. What they did before they became public figures may get far less attention. And depending on the time and place, far less material may be available.

If you knew ahead of time that they were going to become famous, you could interview neighbors, older relatives, &c. But by the time they become famous, the pool of information about their childhood is already beginning to dry up. By the time biographers or historians write about them, living witnesses from their youth may be few. 

To take another comparison, although the resurrection of Christ is a central event, both in the Gospels and the NT generally, nowhere is the actual event described. No NT writer describes the scene of Jesus coming back to life in the tomb. 

Instead, they describe his death. His entombment. And the effect of his resurrection: his post-Resurrection appearances. 

Why don't they record the event itself? For the simple reason that they only report what they know. No one else was in the tomb with Jesus when he came back to life. And even if someone had been there, there's a sense in which there was nothing to see, because it was dark inside the tomb. 

Now, if the Gospels were fictional biographies, we'd expect them to show the Resurrection. Give a visual description. They don't do that because the Gospel writers are constrained by the factual information at their disposal. By personal observation or testimony from eyewitnesses. But Jesus was alone in the tomb. 

In the Gospels, what you get is what was seen. There's a lot you don't get because there's a lot that no one saw by the time of Christ's public ministry.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

All things bright and beautiful

A sequel to this:

Faith Slayer:

There's no question that the "heavenly vision" Paul experienced is entirely different than the interaction Luke depicts in Luke 24:39-43 where he has the disciples talking and eating with Jesus' resuscitated corpse. If the earliest belief in the Risen Christ was more of a spiritual "visionary" concept (there's nothing in the entire Pauline corpus that indicates otherwise), while the later beliefs (Luke/John) were more "physical," then this is an important distinction to be made.

Several fundamental confusions:

i) For starters, you mischaracterized the nature of the glorified body. It's not a "resuscitated corpse." I realize you're enamored with that phrase, but it's theologically uninformed. 

A resuscitated corpse would be like somebody who drowned in freezing water and was resuscitated 40 minutes later. The freezing process inhibited necrosis, and he is still mortal after he was revived. 

By contrast, a body that's been dead for over 48 hours would undergo significant, irreversible necrosis. That can't be "resuscitated." Unless it was miraculously preserved, it would require a degree of miraculous restoration. 

In addition, the glorified body is immortal, not mortal. That's a point Paul accentuates in the very chapter (1 Cor 15) from which you attempt to prooftext your claim.

The question at issue isn't whether you believe it. Rather, you need to assume the opposing position for the sake of argument in order to attack it. Otherwise, you are burning a straw man.

ii) To assure that "There's no question that the "heavenly vision" Paul experienced is entirely different" begs the question. In both cases, the Risen Christ appears to them. In both cases, their perception of the event is divinely manipulated. 

iii) Finally, you're confused about "earlier" and "later" beliefs. For instance, Alf Wight, (better known by his pen name James Herriot), became world-famous when he published All Creatures Great and Small in 1972. He died in 1995, and his son (Jim Wight) published a biography of his later father in 1999.

After he became famous, many people wrote about Alf Wight. This was much earlier than Jim Wight's biography. 

It would, however, be muddled-headed to suppose the later writing by his son reflects a "later belief," or is less historically authentic than stuff written earlier about Alf Wight. In the nature of the case, his son knew many things about his father that no one else knew or even could know.  

Likewise, if the Gospels of Matthew or John were written by disciples of Jesus, it makes no difference if they were written later than Mark, for they draw on earlier memories. By the same token, Luke's sources are earlier than Luke's Gospel. 

The exact "physicality" of a "spiritual body" is unclear from 1 Cor 15. It's this "spiritual body" that is contrasted with the "natural body".

As several scholars have documented, the adjective ("spiritual") refers to the agency of the Holy Spirit, not the composition of the body.

Paul thought that the spiritual body was made of "material" but there is no indication that he believed the "spiritual body" had anything to do with the former earthly body. 

Even if we grant your contention for the sake of argument, that means what they saw was not a subjective vision of Jesus, but a materially embodied Jesus. So your own representation destroys your central argument.

Scholars still disagree over exactly what Paul meant but you can't claim that Paul envisioned Jesus' corpse rising out of a grave.

You suffer from a wooden notion of "raised," as if that means "a corpse rising out of the grave." Wrong. It's an idiom for restoration to physical life.

Jesus wasn't buried in the ground. So, not, he didn't literally "rise out of a grave." That misses the point. You've been watching too many horror flicks. 

The only way you reach that conclusion is by prematurely reading in the later empty tomb narrative. 

I just corrected your fallacious inference about what's "later" (see above).

Paul was a Hellenized Jew and influences of Stoicism and other Greek thought can be found in his letters.

No, Philo was a Hellenized Jew. Paul was a Diaspora Jew educated in Palestinian Judaism at Jerusalem. 

The physicality of a resuscitated corpse that walks around talking and eating with the disciples then later floats to heaven? Ok. Where exactly does Paul "emphatically discuss" that?

i) Another example of your rampant confusion. I didn't refer to the resurrected body of Christ, but the nature of the resurrected body in general. 

ii) Jesus didn't "float to heaven" (see below). 

Ok, let's look at the wide range of meaning that the Greek word for raised (egēgertai) has…With such a wide range of meaning you can't claim that the earliest composers of the creed or Paul believed that a physical body literally "rose" out of a grave. 

i) You keep repeating the same blunders. You don't understand how linguistic communication works. The fact that some words have multiple meanings in the abstract does not imply that all those senses are in play in the concrete. Except where a writer is using a double entendre, only one meaning is operative at a time.

It is the sentence and context that determine what sense is operative. The semantic range of a word considered in isolation is irrelevant to what it means in a particular sentence and context. 

For instance, "run" has dozens of different meanings (e.g. to run for public office, a run in stockings, to run a red light, to run a tight ship, a run for his money). However, in sentences like "Johnny hit a home run," "There was a run on the bank," "We're running low on gas," all the other senses are excluded and dormant except for just one identifiable meaning in each particular case.

ii) You don't even grasp the position you presume to attack. No, Jesus didn't literally rise out of the grave–inasmuch as he was never literally buried in the first place. Rather, he was laid in a tomb. The corpse lay flat, in a sleeping position. 

He "rose" in the sense that people raise themselves upright from a horizontal position. When I wake up in the morning, from a recumbent position in bed, I raise myself from the waist up to a vertical position, then stand up. And that may well be the imagery that lies behind the idiom of "raised" to life. 

US Marines: “All-male teams outperform mixed-gender units in 69% of ground-combat tasks”

Mixed-gender combat: “more than bad military judgment. It is morally wrong” (there is no paywall on this article).

the Marine Corps released research data showing that all-male teams outperformed units comprising men and women in 69% of ground-combat tasks, especially those that involve carrying heavy ammunition or weapons.

The findings, Marine officers said, show mixed-gender units are less effective in combat and more likely to suffer casualties than traditional all-male units.

In a summary of the findings, the Marines cited a 1992 presidential report that concluded: “Risking the lives of a military unit in combat to provide career opportunities or accommodate the personal desire or interest of an individual, or group of individuals, is more than bad military judgment. It is morally wrong.”

A new study in an all-volunteer unit last year confirmed the results:

The study found that in 93 of 134 tasks, all-male teams outperformed mixed-gender teams. In 39 tasks, there was no difference. In two tasks, the mixed-gender teams performed better.

“The brutal and extremely physical nature of direct ground combat, often marked by close, interpersonal violence, remains largely unchanged through centuries of warfare, despite technological advancements,” the Marines said in a summary of the research findings.

Not everyone is persuaded by the Marines approach….

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dead and buried, raised to life

Some village atheists left comments on Jason's post:

I will respond to them here.

Jon Sorensen:

"the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many."
An no historian wrote once-in-a-history mass resurrection event? How is this even vaguely possible?

i) Suppose Josephus wrote about it–or Tacitus. Would you believe it? No. You'd dismiss that as a superstitious legend. You'd just take that as proof positive that ancient historians were credulous and uncritical.

ii) Suppose you had a modern-day report of a "mass resurrection event" in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Suppose you had multiple eyewitnesses. Would you believe it? No. You'd say what's more plausible: that it's a hoax or that something like that really happened? 

iii) It also depends on how you visualize this unique "mass resurrection" event. The account doesn't describe observers watching the graves open. Rather, it only talks about the result.

Depending on when they died, they'd generally be unrecognizable. Only living friends or relatives would know who they were. Most folks wouldn't know these people ever died in the first place. 

For that matter, if they died when they were old, but were rejuvenated, then even people who knew them might not recognize them right away. 

A God walked couple of years in Judea and Galilee, and nobody wrote about it. Is it more likely that he did not exist at that period?

i) Jesus didn't appear to be a God.

ii) So you fall for the mythicist view that he didn't even exist?

iii) In fact, many people wrote about it. It's in a collection of writings called the NT.

Stop and enjoy the ordinary

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The duty of lesser magistrates

1.       Kim Davis is not violating but rather upholding Romans 13:1, which says, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities."  The sovereign secular authority in the United States is the Constitution, and in Kentucky it is the state constitution, which is why Davis swore obedience to both when she took her office as county clerk.  It turns out that the Kentucky Constitution defines marriage as exclusively involving a man and a woman.  It also turns out that the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution explicitly restricts the federal government from issuing decrees on matters like this.[1]  Davis did not swear an oath to obey the U.S. Supreme Court, who, as pointed out by the four dissenting judges, committed an act of lawlessness in mandating homosexual marriage in the United States.  Davis is right to refuse to obey their usurpation of authority, just as Abraham Lincoln was right to ignore the Dred Scott decision in 1857.   For more details on Kim Davis' upholding of the Constitution, read Harry Reeder's excellent article, with which I wholly agree.

2.       Kim Davis is fulfilling her God-given duty as the lesser magistrate.  It is the calling of lower government officials to protect the people from the tyranny of the higher magistrate, here the federal government.  This biblical principle was used to justify, among other things, the American Revolution against the British sovereign.  It was exemplified when the fugitive David protected the people from the tyranny of wicked King Saul in the book of 1 Samuel.  Lower officials are morally required to oppose evil oppression from above, which is why lower German officials were convicted for not opposing the heinous deeds of the Nazi hierarchy after World War II.  They were rightly held accountable to stand against evil with the power that had been granted to them.  This is precisely what Davis is doing on behalf of the people of Rowan County, who elected her to office and whose views she is upholding.  (For those who object to the use of the Nazi analogy I offer no apology.  Historically speaking, the tactics of the radical Left in America today finds its closest analogy in the intimidation tactics of the Nazi Party as it gathered power in pre-war Germany.  And the intolerance and savagery of the now-empowered Progressives are very much akin to that of the Nazis.) 

Arminian marionettes

Jerry Walls got wind of a post I did:

For most internet Arminians I know, there's a chasm between their self-image and reality. 

i) To begin with, they claim to be oh-so loving, but if they dislike your theology, they instantly impute the worst possible motives to you. 

They aren't loving at all. It's just a flattering self-image. An acid test of love is how you treat people you disagree with, people you naturally dislike. In my extensive experience, internet Arminians almost uniformly fail that test. They turn John 3:16 into "For we so loved ourselves." 

They assume a maternal disapproving tone, like a first grade teacher berating a child and trying to make him feel bad. "Now Tommy, you should be ashamed! What would Mommy think!" 

ii) In addition, their behavior falsifies their claim to be libertarian free agents. All that Walls had to do was introduce the post by mentioning that it was written by a Calvinist, and their conditioned reflexes spring right into action. Arminians are so predictable, so Pavlovian in that regard. 

They have a preexisting narrative about Calvinists. All that's required to trigger the desired reaction is to begin with the word "Calvinist" or "Calvinism." That pushes their buttons. Once you begin with that word, everything else they read is filtered through their jaundiced lens. It's funny to see people who pride themselves on libertarian free agency who are so easily and irresistibly led by the nose. 

iii) I also see that annihilationists like Glenn Peoples and Peter Grice pile on. That's fine. Tells you something about the theological center of gravity over there. 

iv) Then you have the hypocritical reaction to satire. Yet Jerry himself posts satires of Calvinism. Take his "Joy to the World" satire a while back. Likewise, the Society of Evangelical Arminians posts many satires of Calvinism. 

But once again, that demonstrates the chasm between their self-image and reality. Their theological protestations notwithstanding, they don't believe in equal treatment. They say that because it makes them feel morally superior, but in reality they are pure partisans.

v) Then you have the faux outrage over a satire about hell. Do they feel the same way about movies like Drag me to Hell, or TV shows like Reaper, Brimestone, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

vi) Notice how the whole conversation revolves around Calvinism. That's not because my post had anything to do with Calvinism or Arminianism. It didn't spoof his Arminianism, but his views on Purgatory and hell.

So why does their reaction fixate on Calvinism? That's because Jerry gratuitously recast the topic in terms of Calvinism, so when they read the post, they have "Calvinism" etched on their spectacles. They see it everywhere in the post even though it's nowhere to be found in the post. They are so suggestible. 

Just like puppets. That's their favorite metaphor for Calvinism (along with robots), yet they themselves act just like puppets. They are so easily manipulated. Jerry pulls their strings and they dance to his tune. 

vii) Apropos (vi), they are unable to draw an elementary distinction between fiction and real life. If I write a fictional story about someone going to hell, that must be because I think he's hellbound in real life.

Would any reasonable person draw that inference? No. 

But their Arminian programming has primed them to assume the worst. Their reaction is so…dare I say…robotic! 

One of them whined:

That little story made a lot of smoke but no fire. If you're going to do satire, the least you can do is make a point. All this does is arbitrarily say "Jerry Walls"—you know, that guy who's wrong about hell and purgatory. End of story. Rather disappointing.

That's because it never focussed on Walls. My little story parodies many things: ethnic stereotypes, the high school caste system, male adolescent fantasies, horror tropes (e.g. The Omen), &c. Walls was just a part of that.

Moreover, it was written for fun. Anyone who knows much about creative writing knows that it has its own momentum. A writer may just go with the flow. One thing leads to another. 

viii) Then you have the groupies who complain that if I wish to critique him, I should write something serious instead of satirical fiction. Of course, I've posted extensive of his material. But they make these uninformed attacks because they live in the bubble of internet Arminianism. 

ix) With rare exception, internet Arminians never disappoint my low expectations. 

Martin Milner

Martin Milner died a few days ago. I remember him from Adam-12, which I used to watch as a kid. It's a corny period piece, with dated jargon. Typical of Jack Webb productions, it took very idealistic and sanitized view of policing. And I expect the pacing would drag by contemporary standards.

It was notable for the onscreen camaraderie between Milner and co-star Kent McCord–which extended to offscreen camaraderie. They maintained their friendship right up to Milner's death. 

Milner was a bland, but likable actor who had a knack for making friends–due to the fact that his family moved frequently when he was a kid. Stationed at Fr. Ord, Milner befriended future actors David Janssen, Richard Long, and Clint Eastwood. His big break came when he won a gin rummy game with Jack Webb, who couldn't pony up at the time, but repaid him by giving him jobs. 

In fact, he made two popular buddy series: Adam-12 and Route 66. The latter had the added attraction of being in the road movie genre. That goes all the way back to ancient yarns like the Odyssey and the Epic of Gilgamesh (another buddy story).

Milner was very down-to-earth. As he said in an interview:

Mr. Milner had no illusions about his place in the Hollywood firmament and seemed not to be particularly concerned about it.

“The really big stars have a drive that made them into superstars,” he said in an interview with The Toronto Star in 1994. “They can’t turn it off when they have that success. I certainly was not driven by a great dedication that made me succeed or else.”

In that respect he reminds me of Victor Mature, another actor who retired early after he made enough money to live on comfortably for the rest of his life.

Unlike many Hollywood actors, Milner was married to the same woman (for 64 years!) He made keeping his family together a priority:

Because filming was done on location around the country, Milner spent much of his time away from his home in Sherman Oaks, California, where his wife Judy and 1-1/2-year-old daughter Amy remained when the series started filming. On location in New Orleans for a month, he recalled phoning his wife. Judy informed him that their daughter had told her playmates that she did not have a father. As Milner put it in an interview with Silver Screen in February 1963, "she couldn't understand why I wasn't around. I had been gone for a month, and she figured I was gone for keeps."  It was then that he and Judy decided the family would stay together on this Route 66 adventure. Judy and Amy joined him for the remainder of filming for the season.  
Milner had a huge rack built on top of his new Chevy Green Briar sports wagon to carry luggage and belongings and built extra cribs or beds as needed to accommodate his growing family. While filming went on during the daytime, Judy dropped off and picked up Amy from preschools (a new one in each town), bought groceries, went to laundromats and dry cleaners, and shopped for two of her favorite things, antiques and pewter.

I don't know that he was a Christian. I've read he was a churchgoing Methodist, but that doesn't tell you much. However, his unpretentious life exemplified certain common grace values that are rare in his circles. 

"If God truly loves me, he must love those I love."

Who said this?

"If God truly loves me, he must love those I love."

a) Matthew Vines (homosexual activist)

b) Jonathan Merritt (homosexual activist)

c) Jerry Walls (Wesleyan philosopher)


From time to time I've read "scholars" opine that people in OT times (or primitive people generally) didn't think the mother made a constitutive contribution in procreation. She was just an incubator. Sometimes they describe it like preformationism, where the man injects homunculi into the woman. 

Now, for all I know, there were ancient people who thought in those terms. However, I'm skeptical about imputing that to ancient people or primitive people in general. It doesn't require a knowledge of modern embryology to sense holes in that theory. The evidence available to prescientific people made that theory dubious.

i) You don't have to be terribly observant to notice that family resemblance isn't confined to fathers and their offspring. Kids bear a resemblance to the mother as well as the father. Sometimes kids resemble one parent more than another.

I imagine that this even functioned as a prescientific maternity or paternity test. If, however, the mother was thought to make no positive contribution to the constitution of the child, why would it look like her at all? 

Jews were very concerned with maternity, paternity, and heredity (i.e. legitimate heirs). So that's something they'd pay attention to. 

ii) If men were thought to make the sole constitutive contribution in procreation, how could they beget females as well as males? Wouldn't you expect them to beget a version of themselves, what was most like them, if they alone made the constitutive contribution in sexual reproduction? After their kind (i.e. male=male)?

iii) Babies don't look like miniature adults. In addition, primitive people had the sad experience of miscarriage. And preemies look even less like miniature adults. 

iv) Finally, if ancient people ate bird eggs, that would acquaint them with stages of gestation. They'd find wild eggs at different stages of gestation. And the domestication of chickens antedates OT times.  

If they drew analogies between that and human pregnancy, it's inconsistent with preformationism.

I'm not suggesting that everyone wondered about these things. But the ancient world had its share of attentive, inquisitive people.

Gay demon couples

The next frontier in social justice:

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Revenge killings, honor killings, and Scripture

i) Some atheists as well as some Muslims say the Bible endorses honor-killings. The allegation is based on equivocal definitions. In Islam, if a female is raped, then she has brought dishonor on her kin. It's not the rapist who dishonored her or her kin. Rather, the rape victim dishonored her kin by allowing herself to be raped (not that she could stop it.) Therefore, it is not the rapist who is punished, but the rape victim.

Needless to say, the Bible doesn't begin to endorse honor-killings in that sense. 

ii) Now, there is a sense in which the Bible contains honor-killings, viz. Gen 34 & 2 Sam 13. These, however, are very different from honor-killings in the Muslim sense:

a) It is not the rape victim, but the rapist and/or his male kinfolk who is (are) punished. In the case of Gen 34, the rapist's male relatives are considered complicit in the crime.

b) These are honor-killings in the sense of revenge killings. Male relatives of the rape victim avenge their dishonored relative by exacting retribution on the perpetrator and/or his clan. 

So (a) & (b) operate with an honor code that's the polar opposite of Muslim honor-killings. 

iii) These are Biblical examples rather than Biblical commands. Descriptive rather than proscriptive. 

iv) I've read four commentators (Arnold, Chisholm, Vannoy, Youngblood) who classify Absolom's action as "murder." However, the account itself doesn't characterize his action as murder.

Arnold goes so far as to say his action was "totally unjustified." But this seems to be a case of commentators projecting their scruples onto the text rather than deriving that value-judgment from the text.

The Mosaic Law made provision for the avenger of blood–although that meant avenging a murderer rather than a rapist. But the point is, the Mosaic Law didn't treat a revenge-killing as ipso facto illicit. 

At a minimum, Absolom's action is mitigated by David's dereliction. Because David did nothing to punish the perpetrator, it was up to Absolom to defend his sister's honor. 

From an OT perspective, it's not clear to me that that's murderous or even culpable. At the very least, there were extenuating circumstances. In fact, I can imagine ancient readers who'd consider it dishonorable if Absolom didn't avenge the crime committed against his sister. Certainly David's failure in that regard is dishonorable. 

Falling off a motorbike

I expect this will be my last post on the late William Provine. Here's an arresting clip:

In the video he says:

Oh, I was a Christian but I never heard anything about evolution because it was illegal to teach it in Tennessee.

All that changed when he studied biology at the Chicago U:

I read that book so carefully, I could find no sign of there being any sign of design whatsoever in evolution and I immediately began to doubt the existence of a deity. 

i) It's puzzling to hear him say he never heard of evolution when he was growing up. If, say, he was attending a "fundamentalist" church, then you'd expect him to hear about evolution, since opposition to evolution is a defining feature of fundamentalism. 

Perhaps he just means he wasn't exposed to the "science" of evolution in school. When he took high school biology, evolution was ignored. 

Still, that's not what he says. 

ii) It's striking that he doesn't say he lost his faith because evolution conflicted with Genesis, but because it conflicted with design.

iii) It's naive for him to suppose that a secular textbook would even consider design in evolution. 

iv) But now to my main point: he grew up in the South; I grew up in the North. He grew up in the 40s-50s, I grew up in the 60-70s.

I can't recall a time when I hadn't heard of evolution. That was taken for granted by the pop media and general culture when I was a kid. I can't remember I time when I wasn't aware of evolution. The idea of evolution was something I subconsciously picked up through cultural osmosis.  

Conversely, in the churches I attended as a kid, I don't recall the creation/evolution issue ever discussed. I don't recall a single sermon on Gen 1-2. (I'm not saying that's a good thing.)

At some point, on my own, I became cognizant of a potential conflict between the two. 

The point, though, is that evolutionary theory could never have the shock value for me that it had for Provine. It was never a thunderbolt that knocks your socks off. 

Growing up, I had a casual knowledge of evolution and a casual knowledge of Genesis. But it was only after I became I Christian that I was motivated to think deeply about either one. 

In a sense, that took a lot of the psychological friction out of the issue. Because Provine apparently had no warning, it was like riding a motorbike on a hot day without a shirt. If you have an accident, there's nothing between your bare skin and the pavement. You leave skin behind as you decelerate. 

But for me, there was that preparatory "space". Just by knowing ahead of time about evolution, before I became a Christian, the conflict didn't precipitate a crisis. Even though I didn't have great answers at the time, advance knowledge of the conflict protected me from the raw sudden impact in a way that Provine wasn't spared. 

For good or ill, our upbringing is so influential. It predisposes us to view issues in a certain way. 

After the dust settles

As a teacher of evolutionary biology, I have seen a minority of students every year move from weakly held theism to a naturalist evolutionary position. Strongly religious students deepen their faith from my evolution course; the course regularly ends with more creationists than when it began. Students who are already naturalist delight in what they find in evolution. William Provine, "Evolution, Religion, and Science" The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (2006), 679.

That's very interesting. You'd expect a course like this to have a sorting action. 

The fact that some nominal theists lost their faith when they took his class is unsurprising. What's striking is that after the dust settles, "the course regularly ends with more creationists than when it began."

That's despite the fact that he proselytizes for naturalistic evolution. Despite the fact that he had an advantage over students by knowing more about the subject than they do.

Yet in spite of that pressure, more students moved into the creationist camp than the naturalistic evolutionary camp. 

There's a cliche about Christians losing their faith when they go to college. But some stand firm, and others people find their faith when they go to college. 

Does God heal?

I'm going to respond to philosophical theologian concering prayer and miraculous healing:

i) I agree with him that there's lots of charlatanry and wishful thinking in the charismatic movement. 

ii) I agree with him that his mother-in-law's experience doesn't rise to the level of apodictic proof. 

That said:

iii) He seems to think that in order to credit a miracle, you must first rule out every alternative explanation. But surely that's not our general practice in assessing claims.

Take a missing person report. It's possible that they got lost in the woods and died. It's possible that they were murdered, and the killer concealed the remains. And it's possible that they were abducted by aliens. 

But reasonable people wouldn't say that unless you can rule out an alien abduction, you can't say it's more likely that they went missing because they were murdered or got lost. 

Why does he hold a miracle report to a standard where you must eliminate all other explanations before you are justified in crediting a miracle? He seems to think that unless the evidence for a miracle is unquestionable, it would be unwarranted to credit the miracle. 

But that's not an evidentiary standard we apply to other claims. In general, our explanations for a given event are provisional explanations. We allow for the possibility that that could be mistaken. But we don't make the possibility of error a condition for precluding that explanation, if that's what the evidence seems to indicate. 

Why not say, "In this case the evidence points to a miracle. That's the best explanation, given the available evidence-although it's possible that there's a natural explanation." 

Why does he give preference for a natural explanation unless you are able to absolutely exclude a natural explanation? Isn't he begging the question by presuming that supernatural events are less likely to be true than natural events?

iv) He says:

If healings were far more frequent…then we might have more reason to accept such healing instances as divine in origin.

I don't see how that follows. If healings were far more frequent, then it's easy to anticipate skeptics saying that just proves the placebo effect or spontaneous remission is more common than we suspected. Or that we live in the kind of universe where natural laws make that more frequent.

v) He doesn't furnish any evidence that people who suffer from chronic migraines randomly experience total spontaneous remission. He doesn't furnish any evidence that chronic migraines are responsive to the placebo effect. 

For all I know, that may be the case. But he just talks in abstract generalities. He doesn't furnish any specific evidence to that effect vis-a-via migraines. 

vi) Since his mother-in-law was routinely "in the emotionally charged atmosphere of a healing crusade or [charismatic]worship service," if the placebo effect is germane, why would that be a one-time experience for her? If, moreover, it was the placebo effect, then that would quickly wear off, but in her case, the cessation of migraines was permanent. 

vii) I don't see that the lottery is a good analogy. Although any individual is statistically unlikely to win the lottery, it is set up so that someone is bound to win the lottery. The lottery is designed to produce occasional winners. So that's not just coincidental. Although you have to get luckily to win the lottery, it isn't pure luck.

By the same token, the lottery is designed so that most most individuals will lose. That isn't just bad luck. 

viii) Is "spontaneous remission" a naturalistic alternative to a miracle? Is that an identifiable mechanism? Or is that just what doctors say when they don't have a scientific explanation? Does "spontaneous remission" have any explanatory value. Does that actually explain anything? Or is that a euphemistic way of saying the phenomenon defies natural explanation?

ix) The fact that it happens every so often doesn't ipso facto make that natural rather than supernatural. After all, if miracle occur, they happen every so often. That don't happen all the time. So infrequency is consistent with a miraculous explanation. 

x) Likewise, he classifies improved eyesight as one of those ailments that's subject to spontaneous remission. But he supplies no evidence to corroborate his claim. What does he mean by "improved eyesight"? Does he simply mean someone's testimony that their eyesight got better?

I had an older relative who was diagnosed with macular degeneration. She prayed about it, and her eyesight improved. Her opthalmalogist was stumped. 

Is macular degeneration is subject to spontaneous remission? 

xi) He raises a stock objection which is typically raised by atheists:

Which brings me to a second powerful point against believing in regular divine healing: confirmation bias. I’ve discovered that many people who believe in divine healings can recite a few examples of a person recovering from some disease or disorder. However, what they tend to forget are the many – vastly superior number – of occasions where the person prayed for does NOT get healed. Believers naturally remember the times when prayer has been “successful” and, forgetting all the “unsuccessful” prayers, they seem to have a tendency to think that they therefore have some powerful evidence for the efficacy of healing prayers, when in fact it’s a combination of coincidence and forgetfulness.

a) I might well agree with him that we lack evidence for regular divine healing. 

b) He makes the textbook mistake of supposing that "unsuccessful" prayers cancel out the evidence for "successful" prayer. But that's very careless. 

The identification of answered prayer isn't just statistical. It concerns specificity of need, timing, opportune convergence of causally independent events, &c. As Lydia McGrew recently put it:

There is almost never some crucial, falsifying _test_ that an hypothesis fails and is then no longer rationally believable, particularly if there is a tough web made up of a variety of reasons for believing that proposition. For example, even if you inexplicably stopped hearing from a family member at some point and never heard from him again for the rest of your life and could never figure out what in the world happened, you could well have sufficient _other_ evidence to believe that this family member did exist or had existed. (Old photographs, previous letters or e-mails from him, the memories of other people, etc.) 
Some event can be evidence for an hypothesis, but the non-occurrence of the event may have virtually no value as evidence against it. For example, my receiving a phone call seemingly from my brother is good evidence for his existence, but my not receiving a phone call of that kind is virtually no evidence at all against his existence. This is why arguments from silence are often so weak.

In sum, he's overreacting to his charismatic background. He got his fingers burned, so now he's afraid of matches.

Creation and extinction

The late William Provine was a leading evolutionary biologist. More substantive that Richard Dawkins. Here he explains why he thinks the impression of design in nature is illusory: 

Understanding evolution does not undermine many beliefs in god: deism, gods that work through natural phenomena, gods invented from tortured arguments by theologians or academics, and many others. Understanding evolution is, nevertheless, the most efficient engine of atheism ever discovered by humans. It challenges the primary, worldwide, observable reason for belief in a deity: the feeling of intelligent design in biological organisms, including humans.
The feeling of intelligent design disappears in the perspective of evolution…So, of the 50,000 or so species, all but twenty-five went extinct…Even with all the exquisite adaptations that smack of an intelligent designer, these vertebrates were poor survivors.  
Natural selection is not a mechanism, does no work, does not act, does not shape, does not cause anything…Natural selection is the outcome of a very complex process that basically boils down to heredity, genetic variation, ecology, and demographics (especially the overproduction of offspring, and constant struggle). The adaptations that evolve we call "naturally selected"…The process also virtually guarantees extinction when the environment changes sufficiently, which it often does. The intelligent design apparent in the adaptations has no inkling of environmental change. The pattern of extinction, however, is precisely what one would expect of the causes of natural selection.   
Every organism that has become extinct (about 99+ per cent of all species that have ever lived) was jam-packed with adaptations. Some of those adaptations became detriments to the organism when the environment changed and caused the organism to become extinct. The better an organism is adapted to a particular environment, the more certain it is that it will become instinct when the environment changes. Adaptations are hopelessly tied with extinction. The feeling of intelligent design in organisms must thus be tied to extinctions, too. That is why evolutionists give up on the feeling of intelligent design.  
The second reason why understanding evolution precludes the feeling of intelligent design is that evolution also shows no hint of progress. 
Each of these infectious agents has evolved as long as humans have existed. I can see no hierarchy whatsoever in the productions of evolution. Any deity that would work this way seems perfectly awful to me. The process that produced these very different pathogens and humans just happens, and speaking as if evolution "cared" about its production is unintelligible.  
These two reasons to reject the feeling of intelligent design in biological organisms are just a sample of compelling reasons. The famous evolutionist George C. Williams has written an essay on the evolution of social behavior, and concludes that social behavior in animals is nothing less than ghastly, and any hope we have as humans to have a decent moral world is to fight fiercely against the selfishness that evolution has produced in us. "Evolution, Religion, and Science" The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (2006).

i) On thing that's striking about this is how much is just a variation on the so-called problem of natural evil or so-called problem of animal suffering. A standard theodicy which fields that problem will already cover most of this ground. By the same token, most of this isn't uniquely evolutionary. 

ii) In YEC, God creates all the nature kinds at the outset. They diversify from thereon out. In OEC, God introduces natural kinds is staggered fashion. YEC is more synchronic, OEC is more diachronic. But in both cases, once made, natural kinds are subject to adaptation. Creationism allows for adaptation and microevolution. 

Mass extinction due to overspecialization and environmental change is not at odds with YEC or OEC. Even if organisms are divinely designed, they will vulnerable to extinction if their environment changes too fast or too drastically. Although evolution implies mass extinction, you can have mass extinction apart from evolution. Absent providential protection, you can have mass extinction even if evolution is false.  

iii) To take a comparison, our hitech civilization is utterly dependent on electricity. Our technology is junk without electricity. A natural disaster could render our technology useless. But it would hardly mean our technology wasn't designed.

iv) It's true that there's a tradeoff between specialization and adaptability. It's unclear why Provine supposes that's inconsistent with design. To be a creature is to have built-in limitations and inherent vulnerabilities. Even omnipotence can't make an unlimited creature. 

Different organisms exemplify different possibilities. Each design has distinctive advantages and corresponding disadvantages. That's not a design flaw. That's a necessary tradeoff.  

Variety is not inconsistent with divine design. Indeed, theists who espouse the principle of the plenum think variety is a virtue. God creates the greatest compossible variety. 

v) Perhaps Provine imagines that mass extinction is inconsistent with divine foresight and/or divine benevolence. To begin with, it is unclear, as a matter of principle, why the extinction of a species is problematic for theism but the extinction of an individual is not. A species is just a collection of individuals.

What if most organisms are temporary by design? God never intended for most organisms to be immort. And most organisms don't know what they are missing. They lack consciousness. In Biblical theism, immortality was never the common property of most lifeforms. 

That's only clearly reserved for humans and angels. It's possible that God will resurrect some animals–perhaps animals dear to sainted Christians. 

vi) Perhaps Provine thinks it would be pointless for God to create organisms that become extinct. But isn't there a sense in which everything at present becomes extinct when it becomes history? The past is what was, not what is. There's a sense in which the 19C is now extinct. It went extinct when it slipped into the irretrievable past. It no longer exists–at least not in our current timeframe. (This could also devolve into a debate over the A-theory and the B-theory of time.)

But does that mean history is pointless. It wasn't pointless to people at the time. It wasn't pointless for them

Is Provine viewing it from a retrospective standpoint? Is he suggesting that looking back on the past from our vantage-point, it is pointless? If so, what makes our perspective normative? What privileges the present perspective? Suppose you were to view it from a prospective standpoint. There's a sense in which the future is irrelevant to me. The year 2100 is irrelevant to me, if I'm dead by them. But the future is hardly irrelevant to people living in the future. 

vii) If there was no afterlife, then Provine would have a point. But natural history doesn't speak to that issue. 

viii) Provine fails to make allowance for the Fall. Humans are liable to illness, aging, and death due to the Fall. I agree with him that those conditions always existed in nature. The world at large was never Edenic. Life inside the garden was sheltered from those asperities.

Obviously, Provine doesn't believe in the Fall. But my immediate point is one of consistency. The phenomena he documents don't count as evidence against Biblical theism, for that's consistent with life outside the Garden. 

ix) Yes, the social behavior of animals is often ghastly by human standards, but that's because different species have different natures. What's morally decent or indecent is, to some degree, indexed on the nature of the creature. 

x) I agree with him that the evolutionary narrative is not progressive. But there's a sense in which creationism is not progressive. YEC is essentially cyclical. God creates natural kinds, which thereafter reproduce after there kind. Although there's some progression in the initial series of creative fiats, once that's complete, once the ecosystem is put in place, it continues as is. Periodicity rather than progressivity in the natural order. Yet that's hardly antithetical to divine design. 

In OEC, there's some progressivity. Creation occurs in stages. God initiates one stage at a time. After that plays out, that's replaced by the next stage. That's in part because they can't all coexist. Some organisms requires a different biospheric conditions. 

In OEC, natural history is analogous to human history. Just as you have distinctive periods in human history, with distinctive successive cultures, natural history is analogous. In OEC, man is phased in late in the curve, as the culmination of the process. After than you have the eschaton. It's like a transgenerational novel. If YEC is more cyclical, OEC is more epochal. In addition, although they diverge on the distant past, they converge on human history.

To Conservative Roman Catholics, “Pope Francis” is Like the Borgia Popes

Conservative Roman Catholics will take some comfort in this. To them, “Pope Francis” is like the Borgia popes – for all the havoc they caused, they are issuing no “teaching”. In fact, that is the message:

Conservative dissent is brewing inside the Vatican

In front of the camera, Burke said he would “resist” liberal changes — and seemed to caution Francis about the limits of his authority. “One must be very attentive regarding the power of the pope,” Burke told the French news crew.

Papal power, Burke warned, “is not absolute.” He added, “The pope does not have the power to change teaching [or] doctrine.”

And yet, many Roman Catholics are not so sure as Burke seems to be. The thought is that the door is still open to havoc; this pope can still move ahead in some “unauthorized” direction, and the “conservatives”" want to help out by taking matters into their own hands:

Burke’s words belied a growing sense of alarm among strict conservatives, exposing what is fast emerging as a culture war over Francis’s papacy and the powerful hierarchy that governs the Roman Catholic Church. …

On Sunday, he called for “every” Catholic parish in Europe to offer shelter to one refugee family from the thousands of asylum-seekers risking all to escape war-torn Syria and other pockets of conflict and poverty.

Yet as he upends church convention, Francis also is grappling with a conservative backlash to the liberal momentum building inside the church. In more than a dozen interviews, including with seven senior church officials, insiders say the change has left the hierarchy more polarized over the direction of the church than at any point since the great papal reformers of the 1960s.

The conservative rebellion is taking on many guises, in public comments, yes, but also in the rising popularity of conservative Catholic Web sites promoting Francis dissenters; books and promotional materials backed by conservative clerics seeking to counter the liberal trend; and leaks to the news media, aimed at Vatican reformers.

In his recent comments, Burke was also merely stating fact. Despite the vast powers of the pope, church doctrine serves as a kind of constitution. And for liberal reformers, the bruising theological pushback by conservatives is complicating efforts to translate the pope’s transformative style into tangible changes.

In reality, there is nothing new here. The liberals, as usual, want “change”. The conservatives, despite many centuries-worth of convoluted “developments” cry semper eadem. It's just one big happy family, with happy, happy, joy, joy, unity.