Saturday, September 26, 2015

Coming to a neighborhood near you

Federalism and SSM

i) The Constitution is silent on marriage. There's no enumerated Constitutional right to homosexual marriage. After all, the Constitutional doesn't even say heterosexual marriage is a Constitutional right.

According to the 9th and 10th amendments, that means any legal or civil right to marriage must be enacted at the state level:

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

For the Supreme Court to decree a Constitutional right to homosexual marriage violates Federalism. That falls outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. That's a state issue.

ii) At best, the Supreme Court might strike down anti-miscegenation laws based on the 14th amendment. At least in that instance there's a general Constitutional principle in play: the 14th amendment was designed to overrule state laws discriminating against blacks.

iii) Furthermore, even if a given state passed a statue legalizing homosexual marriage, it would have to include religious exemptions. For state and federal laws don't nullify the first amendment. State and federal laws cannot violate the civil liberties accorded citizens in the first amendment. In case of conflict, the Bill of Rights takes precedence.

iv) That's true for private citizens and public employees alike. Surrending your Constitutional rights is not a condition of gov't employment.

Pope Francis for president!

L'Osservatore Romano

Democrat operatives have been biting their nails in search of an acceptable candidate. This week, Pope Francis solved that problem by giving his nomination speech to a joint session of Congress. He ran on a solid Democrat platform, stressing the threat of global warming, an open borders policy, socialism, and opposition to the death penalty.

On the heels of its queer marriage and Obamacare rulings, the Supreme Court, in a 5/4 decision, reinterpreted the Constitution to waive the traditional eligibility requirement (natural born citizen) for presidential aspirants, clearly the way for the pope's candidacy. 

Boys will be boys

I'd like to highlight a recent incident that nicely illustrates an issue in the current dustup over complementarianism. 

This week a video went viral depicting a fistfight at Huntington Beach High. According to reports, two students got into an argument. One student (Noah) began to assault the other student (Austin) who's visually impaired (blind in one eye). At that point a third student (Cody) jumped in to protect Austin. He flattened the attacker with one punch in the face. 

That's a classic male reaction. Cody saw a situation which required immediate physical intervention. He instinctively did exactly what a boy should do.

That didn't happen at home or at church. 

Judicial hegemony

I'll comment on this post:

Departmentalism is a pipe dream. It's not the way America actually works. In practice, in America, the Supreme Court has a final say. 

Several problems with a that objection:

i) As I already noted, TFan careens between opposing principles. His initial post appealed to the English common law tradition. He said the founding fathers accepted the principle that judicial precedent can have the force of law.

a) Now that appeal is problematic on its own grounds, for as I pointed out, having a written constitution represents a significant modification of the common law tradition. A written constitution restricts judicial discretion compared to common law jurisprudence.

b) But in addition, TFan's argument is an appeal to what he takes to be the original vision of the founding fathers. They (allegedly) intended judicial precedent to be the rule of law. 

But then he reverses himself by appealing to the modern status quo as determinative. All that matters is not what the founders intended, but how the current system works. If so, then he's withdrawn his initial argument, and replaced it with another argument that appeals to a principle diametrically opposed to the initial argument.

In other words, Whelan's position is a minority position that reflects the way he thinks the system should be not the way the system actually is.

i) Unfortunately for him, TFan's objection is self-refuting. TFan isn't simply describing the status quo. Rather, he's treating the status quo as normative. For instance, he says:

They are free to think the Court decided wrongly. However, even if they disagree with the ruling, they have to obey the ruling until it is overturned. 
One doesn't have to agree with the Court, but one does have to obey the Court.

Notice the implication: we are supposed to comply with the status quo–because it's the status quo. He's not merely describing how things are, but saying we (whether private citizens, or the president, or Congress) ought to defer to the status quo. He confers normative force to the status quo. After all, if he doesn't think that's the case, then why not challenge the status quo?

ii) In addition, TFan's attempted critique of Whelan is vitiated by equivocation. Whelan is exegeting Marbury v. Madison. Whelan is discussing the original scope of that ruling. What did Marshall mean? 

By contrast, TFan appeals to how the Supreme Court has been behaving at later stages of American history. But that changes the subject from what Whelan is talking about. 

As I read it, Marbury isn't asserting that the judiciary has the authority to dictate to Congress or the Executive; rather, it's claiming that Congress and the Executive lacks the authority to dictate to the judiciary. It's an argument for judicial independence. But that doesn't entail that the other two branches of gov't are subordinate to the judiciary. Rather, we have three independent power centers. Each one is authoritative within its proper sphere of governance.

Of course, they are meant to work together. The system falls apart if they fail to cooperate. But that doesn't mean one branch has the right to impose itself on the other two branches by threatening to go on strike unless it always gets its way. 

iii) Furthermore, even if Marbury taught judicial supremacy, why should anyone take that claim seriously? When the Supreme Court makes a self-serving claim, that hardly makes the claim true. The appeal is viciously circular. The Supreme Court must have the authority it claims for its claim to be authoritative. Unless it had that authority in the first place, its claim to authority...lacks authority. 

It's like Catholic apologists who quote early bishops of Rome on Roman primacy. Well, we'd expect bishops of Rome to magnify their authority. 

The fact that the Supreme Court makes self-aggrandizing statements hardly proves it to be what it claims to be. The authority of the judiciary is something to be determined by the Constitution, founding fathers, and ratification debates. 

iv) Then there's TFan's persistent failure to distinguish between judicial review and judicial supremacy. The question at issue is not whether the judiciary has the authority to disregard laws it considers unconstitutional, but whether the other two branches of gov't are subordinate to judicial rulings. 

What would be the point of having a judiciary that no one had to obey? The idea that the Supreme Court's decisions on constitutional matters are just advisory is just nuts.

i) What's funny about this objection is TFan's blindspot to the obvious counterexample:

What's the point of having elective branches of gov't if no judge has to disobey them? The idea that the executive and legislative interpretations of the Constitution are just advisory is just nuts. 

Why is TFan unable to see the nuttiness of his alternative? If it all comes down to to judicial hegemony, then the people's elected representatives are merely figureheads. 

ii) In addition, the way he frames the argument is very slack:

Who said "no one" has to obey the judiciary? Private citizens are in a different position than, say, governors. Keep in mind that even at the state level, there is such a thing as states rights (9th-10th amendments). 

In addition, both private citizens and state officials are in a different position than the US president or members of Congress.  

Why is it "nutty" to say the judiciary lacks the authority to command the people's elected representatives? 

vi) Finally, there's TFan's circular appeal to the status quo. But that's just a tautology. How does the status quo obligate anyone to maintain the status quo?  The status quo is simply how things currently operate. But that's no reason to think the status quo cannot or should not change. The way things are as of now is descriptive, not prescriptive. 

Dispatch from the Papal Outreach in Philadelphia, 6:00 am 9-26-2015

Geoff Robinson, who is coordinating a street-evangelism ministry to the Roman Catholics who will be thronging to see “Pope Francis” in Philadelphia, provides this update:

We have completed the first phase of our campaign.

The Lord blessed our outreach to the World Meeting of Families. Due to several factors under God's providence, it seemed we were everywhere. We had t-shirts designed and donated to us that, without our knowledge, matched the color scheme of the t-shirts given out at the conference. And the Convention Center had only so many access points so we were able to cover the area quite well with a minimal amount of people. Our bilingual tracts made it easy to give out the gospel message to people we couldn't communicate with.

We engaged in many conversations. Most of the people we talked to believe there is no difference between Rome and for lack of a better term the Reformation. Others would just shout out a quip about James 2 to us, but the vast majority of those folks didn't engage in a meaningful conversation.

If I can give one example, I was engaged in conversation with a priest. He was claiming that we believe the same thing regarding grace, etc. If surface-level language is to be believed, he even supported imputed righteousness. It took several minutes to get to the point of agreement that Rome believes in faith + works produces justification and how we disagree on that point.

At that point, the priest gave me a similar objection as the one Paul anticipated in Romans 6:1. At which point I tried to drive the point home: "You are this close! Don't you see!?! You gave me the same objection as Romans 6:1. That means I explained Romans 1-5 correctly!"

I relate this story for one purpose: It's easy to dialogue with someone who has everything clear in their head about where our differences lie. It's not so easy to communicate on the street or with friends, etc. We talked to Catholics who ranged everywhere from crass Pelagianists to people who were confused to people who understood the gospel of free grace and believed it but were still in Rome.

If you run into someone who believes that Reformation was a waste of time, be patient with them and take the time to talk with them. That's a good sign they are confused. And, frankly, that's people in our congregations as well.

Make sure you invest the time with your friends and neighbors to really make sure they understand the differences and understand that those who add works to be justified "are under a curse; for it is written 'cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."

As of this morning, campaigners will be going to various SEPTA and PATCO stations. Please pray for the campaigners and that God will bless the gospel message.

In Him,

Friday, September 25, 2015

Upon This Sand They Built A Church

I want to gather a collection of links to some posts I've written on the papacy over the years.

Here's an overview of the Biblical evidence pertaining to the papacy. And here's a post addressing the earliest extrabiblical sources. In another post, I addressed the absence of a papacy in early responses to Christianity by non-Christian sources. Regarding how we should expect to see the papacy referred to in the early sources if such an office existed, see here.

I wrote a series on apostolic succession, and that series discusses many subjects relevant to the papacy. There's a lot of material on how Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and other early sources viewed Peter, the nature of succession, and other pertinent issues. And here's a post on the episcopate in the early church.

Timely Slogans for Every Candidate

Parsing manhood and womanhood

There's been a cold war going on between Doug Wilson and the Mortification of Spin over the nature of complementarianism. Denny Burk is another participant in this debate. The flashpoint of the debate was an answer that John Piper gave to a question about policewomen. 

Todd Pruitt made the mistake of using Doug Wilson as a bad example. I generally like Pruitt. He's usually a good culture warrior. He stays informed. But he's no match for Wilson's wit and rhetorical prowess. That exchange went badly for Pruitt.

A better match-up is between Wilson and Trueman, both of whom are witty and rhetorically nimble. But that's not the level at which we need to conduct the debate. This isn't a test of literary panache. There are very serious issues at stake, which require serious analysis. Not just clever repartee. 

One of the tragedies of the slavery/segregation debate is that the right people were wrong and the wrong people were right. By that I mean many of the more orthodox spokesmen were on the wrong side of the issue while many of the less orthodox people were on the right side of the issue.

Problem is, when the most orthodox people are derelict in addressing a social issue, they allow that issue to be defined, by default, by the wrong people. By people with the wrong frame of reference. They will fill the vacuum, and they will misdefine the issue. 

Trueman, for one, suffers from intellectual impatience on this issue. He doesn't want to be bothered with it, beyond a very sketchy position on marriage and church office. But that effectively delegates to secular social engineers all the detailed answered when it comes to society at large. If conservative Christians don't make the intellectual effort, then masculinity and femininity will be defined by feminism, the manosphere, transgender movement, &c. The secular extremists, at various ends of the secular spectrum, will dominate the debate. Extremists (e.g. feminism, transgenderism) and reactionaries (e.g. manosphere). 

In fairness, Trueman is right to be critical of an approach that makes men and women painfully self-conscious about when they are doing, constantly second-guessing their actions, "Is this the manly thing to do?" It's not about making a long list of rules, of do's and don't's. 

Men and women have many overlapping physical and psychological abilities. The question is where the distinctives come into play.

But complementarians of the MOS variety can't successfully oppose the excesses of the patriarchy movement if they are too intellectually negligent to present a concrete alternative. It's incoherent to say "Don't do that!" unless you can say "Do this instead." You can't beat something with nothing. 

Now that may not be Trueman's skill set. But if so, he should recognize his own limitations rather than making his limitations the yardstick.  

However, the approach of Trueman trivializes the issue, as if Christians don't need to give serious consideration to the sociopolitical implications of gender essentialism. Let's block out some of the issues:

i) In defining manhood and womanhood, what's the frame of reference? In complementarianism, manhood and womanhood are to some degree mutually defining. Men have some distinctive masculine virtues, women have some distinctive feminine virtues, and these were meant to supplement each other. Without the moderating influence of each sex, a nature virtue, carried to an extreme, becomes a vice.

By contrast, it's my impression that feminism tries to define womanhood autonomously, without reference to men. The very concept of womanhood is independent of the other sex. 

That's a very different approach, with very different consequences. And, of course, you have vicious internecine wars within feminism regarding the true definition of womanhood.

ii) Another issue is what Robert Bork dubs "coercive equality." This involves the twin notions that women can do whatever men do (or vice versa) and, what is more, women should be doing it at the same rate as men. If not, then this must be due to sexism and discrimination. 

It's not enough to have equality of opportunity, you must have equality of outcome. And if disparity remains despite equality of opportunity, then we must even that out by any means necessary. Demoting qualified men. Promoting unqualified women. Lowering standards. Having quotas. 

iii) Apropos (ii), suppose more men have a natural aptitude, or take a natural interest, in math and science, than women. But, of course, you have exceptions on both sides of the equation. Women who are good at math and science, men who are bad at math and science.

One policy is to give people the freedom to pursue what they are good at, pursue what they find interesting or personally self-fulfilling. 

But that won't satisfy the radical egalitarians. You have feminists who can't grant the possibility that if women are "underrepresented" in certain positions or majors, that's by choice. They refuse to honor the spontaneous preferences of women.  

iv) More controversial is whether some occupations are inherently more suitable for men than women, or vice versa, due to physical differences, psychological differences, or both. 

Christians who believe in gender realism (as Christians should) will draw some lines in that regard, at least in principle. Stock examples include the coed military. 

v) Another example is official hostility towards stereotypical male behavior. From what I've read, the NEA imposes a feminist ideology on education. This results in persecuting boys for thinking and doing what comes naturally to boys. And, more subtly, this stigmatizes girls for thinking and doing what comes naturally to girls. 

vi) On a related note is the question of whether we should have coed team sports and coed contact sports. Likewise, games are typically competitive, which is a stereotypically masculine trait. Not surprisingly, educators who operate with a feminist ideology are opposed to competitive games. In its place they substitute the stereotypically feminine trait of cooperation. Conflict resolution. 

Should Christians op-out of that public policy debate? Retreat into the home and the church? 

vii) It is, moreover, naive to think radical egalitarians will allow Christians to privatize their faith. The social engineers will invade the home and the church. Dictate to parents how they are allowed to raise their kids. 

viii) Although the debate tends to focus on the role of women, what should be the priorities of a man? For instance, many men are very career-minded. How should that be prioritized in relation to their duties as a husband or father? 

ix) Another issue is whether feminism results in a permissive justice system. Consider CA Chief Justice Rose Bird's refusal to uphold capital punishment. Is that an isolated case? Or take jurors. Consider the Menendez trial:

All six women jurors in the Erik Menendez trial voted to acquit him of the murder of his father (all six males voted guilty of murder). A virtually identical breakdown by sex took place in the Lyle Menendez trial for the murder of their mother. The women all had compassion for the brothers despite their confessions to the shotgun murders of their parents. 
To say that the human race needs masculine and feminine characteristics is to state the obvious. But each sex comes with prices. Men can too easily lack compassion, reduce sex to animal behavior and become violent. And women’s emotionality, when unchecked, can wreak havoc on those closest to these women and on society as a whole — when emotions and compassion dominate in making public policy.

Early Pope Fiction

Awareness of the Christian past of Rome and the spiritual resources that lay almost untapped within it and especially underneath it had been growing since the time of Paul I (757-767). He and his successors over the next hundred years moved bodies of Christians buried in the catacombs outside the walls into the city for re-interment in its growing number of churches.

The belief that those buried in the catacombs were all victims of the persecutions of the second and third centuries grew as the veneration of the relics of martyrs became increasingly popular. As we have seen, the number of early popes believed to have been martyred expanded significantly between the fourth and sixth centuries. In many cases, no record existed of the life and heroic death of the presumed saint, and legends had to be invented to provide these bones with an appropriate past.

Roger Collins, “Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy” (p. 156). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Popular “Pope Francis” Meme Trashes the God of the Bible

I’m not sure what is the source for either this quote or this meme, but it was dated December 21, 2014, and the last time I looked, it has more than 683,000 “shares” on Facebook.

Here is the source on Facebook. And here is the Snopes comment on it, which I found in the comments thread:

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good: We will meet one another there."

It appears to be a transmogrification of this quote. However, when Rome habitually puts out statements where both sides can take away their own meaning, (see also here for documentation of that phenomenon) then you would expect something like this to happen.

But I found it because it had been shared by a neighbor, just yesterday, with the one-word qualification, “Profound”.

What Darwin Got Wrong

Not So Natural Selection
Richard C. Lewontin

The modern skeletal formulation of evolution by natural selection consists of three principles that provide a purely mechanical basis for evolutionary change, stripped of its metaphorical elements:

(1) The principle of variation: among individuals in a population there is variation in form, physiology, and behavior.

(2) The principle of heredity: offspring resemble their parents more than they resemble unrelated individuals.

(3) The principle of differential reproduction: in a given environment, some forms are more likely to survive and produce more offspring than other forms.

Evolutionary change is then the mechanical consequence of variation in heritable differences between individuals whenever those differences are accompanied by differences in survival and reproduction. The evolution that can occur is limited by the available genetic variation, so in order to explain long-term continued evolution of quite new forms we must also add a fourth principle:

(4) The principle of mutation: new heritable variation is constantly occurring.

The trouble with this outline is that it does not explain the actual forms of life that have evolved. There is an immense amount of biology that is missing. It says nothing about why organisms with the evolved characteristic were more likely to survive or reproduce than those with the original one. Why, when vertebrates evolved wings, did they have to give up their front legs to do it? After all, insects can have two pairs of wings and six legs, so there cannot be any deep general biological constraint on development. Why don’t birds that live in trees make a living by eating the leaves as countless forms of insects do instead of spending so much of their energy looking for seeds or worms? 

It is by no means an anomaly that one of the authors of What Darwin Got Wrong comes to the subject from cognitive studies and linguistics. We have evolutionary schemes for history, psychology, culture, economics, political structures, and languages. The result has been that the telling of a plausible evolutionary story without any possibility of critical and empirical verification has become an accepted mode of intellectual work even in natural science.

The other source of anxiety and anger is that the argument made by Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini strikes at the way in which evolutionary biologists provide adaptive natural historical explanations for a vast array of phenomena, as well as the use by a wider scholarly community of the metaphor of natural selection to provide theories of history, social structure, human psychological phenomena, and culture. If you make a living by inventing scenarios of how natural selection produced, say, xenophobia and racism or the love of music, you will not take kindly to the book.

Even biologists who have made fundamental contributions to our understanding of what the actual genetic changes are in the evolution of species cannot resist the temptation to defend evolution against its know-nothing enemies by appealing to the fact that biologists are always able to provide plausible scenarios for evolution by natural selection. But plausibility is not science. True and sufficient explanations of particular examples of evolution are extremely hard to arrive at because we do not have world enough and time.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Carson had a point

"To This Secular Muslim, Ben Carson Had a Point"

The Reformed need something like this.

What’s Wrong with the “Joint Declaration on Justification”? (Part 3: Smoke and Mirrors)

One muddle-headed Roman Catholic referred to “The Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on Justification” as “the Catholic Church teaching on justification/salvation”. It is no such thing, and I pointed this out at these links:

Part 1.
Part 2.

I’d like to further pick up what Thomas Schreiner said about this document in his work “Faith Alone, The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught … and Why It Still Matters” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015):

Gerald Bray and Paul Gardner in their evaluation of the Declaration note repeatedly that the document is vague. For instance, it is possible that Lutherans will read the word “imparts” simply to mean that God gives righteousness to someone, while Catholics will almost surely interpret it in transformative terms, so that it denotes infused righteousness. On the other hand, many Protestants today agree with the Catholic definition of justification, defining it in Augustinian terms to mean “make righteous.”

That is their right to agree of course, as scholars and pastors, but it should be clearly explained in the document that these scholars have veered from the traditional Protestant view.

Bray and Gardner make yet another vital observation. The document fails to articulate clearly the Lutheran view of imputation, nor does it unpack the theology of sin in the Lutheran tradition. One cannot understand the Lutheran view of justification without a clear comprehension of the nature of sin.

Again, we see the lack of clarity in the document. By leaving out imputation, one of the main differences between Lutherans and Catholics is glossed over, and the agreement is much less substantial than it appears at first glance. Catholics and walk away believing that justification is based on inherent righteousness, while Lutherans can still believe in an imputed righteousness, an alien righteousness. Ecumenical agreements are not significant if major issues are left unaddressed, unless the Lutheran signatories are suggesting that such matters are no longer important. If this is what they are saying, that should be clearly communicated to their readers (Schreiner, pgs 218-219).

At this point, I’ll say that the motives of the signatories should be brought into question much more than Schreiner does so here. The motives should be to honestly outline each party’s genuine beliefs – not to look for places where equivocation can enable the parties to feel good that they are reaching out to each other.

Someone is right about this, and someone is wrong, and such candy-coated instances of equivocation are simply nothing more than smoke and mirrors.


Richard Dawkins famously said "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."

Let's begin by illustrating the claim. Some seashells and snail shells are very "artistic." They rival human sculpture and decorated pottery. Likewise, camouflage. Some snake skins have patterns that rival Persian carpets. 

Without sufficient background knowledge, an observer couldn't tell which was designed and which was not. 

There are, however, two problems with that comparison:

i) It proves to much. Suppose we reverse the logic: shells and snake skins weren't designed; therefore, sculpture, decorated pottery, and Persian carpets weren't designed! 

ii) For a Judeo-Christian theist, contrast posits a false dichotomy. It's true that shells and snake skins are natural products rather than manmade artifacts. They weren't designed in that sense.

But that doesn't mean they weren't designed at all. In Judeo-Christian theism, nature and design aren't two opposing principles. Rather, God usually produces an effect through an intermediary. 

It's like robotics: we make machines that make machines. 

Historical holonovels

Mass extinction is a common argument for the atheistic implications of evolution. Mind you, one can have mass extinction apart from evolution. Those are separable. 

But the basic argument is that it's pointless for God to create species which he subsequently destroys. They just come and go. And not just species. Entire ecosystems come and go in the course of natural history. The unique fauna and flora of that particular epoch arise, exist for millions of years, then pass out of existence, to be replaced by the next set of temporary fauna and flora. 

For the sake of argument, let's grant conventional geological timescales. Christian theology concerns the future as well as the past. Eschatology as well as protology.

Suppose, in the world to come, God makes time-travel possible. We can go back in time to observe the past. Perhaps we can't interact with the past. Rather, we're like immersive spectators. Something we can experience, but not something we can change.

There are, in fact, many men who'd love to go back in time to observe dinosaurs, or extinct Ice Age animals, or see the exotic flora and the wild ancient landscape. And maybe God will make that possible for the saints.

If so, then it's not "wasted." Rather, it's like a historical holonovel. Something that God wrote for our enjoyment.

Now, an atheist might object that this is one of the things he especially dislikes about Christian theology: we can always postulate a supernatural solution. That's just too convenient. 

But, as a matter of fact, if Christianity is true, then it really does have wide-open possibilities which are foreclosed by secularism. That's not ad hoc. That's integral to the nature of the belief-system. 

God moves in mysterious ways

Here is a commonly cited example: 
I was healed from cancer by God!
Really? Does that mean that God will heal all others with cancer?
Well... God works in mysterious ways. 
A key characteristic of ad hoc rationalizations is that the "explanation" offered is only expected to apply to the one instance in question. For whatever reason, it is not applied any other time or place and is not offered as a general principle. Note in the above that God's "miraculous powers of healing" are not applied to all cancer sufferers, but only this one at this time and for reasons which are completely unknown. 
In the above, the idea that not everyone will be healed by God contradicts the common belief that God loves everyone equally. 
How could we tell when it is happening and when it is not? How could we differentiate between a system where God has acted in a "mysterious way" and one where the results are due to chance or some other cause? 

i) I disagree with the setup. Many atheists, as well as some Christians, routinely recast all truth-claims in terms of evidence and counterevidence. No doubt that's appropriate in cases where there is both prima facie evidence and prima facie counterevidence, but everything shouldn't be hoisted onto that that seesaw.

ii) For instance, we often believe sometime happened based on direct evidence that it happened. I believe certain things happened to me because that's a matter of personal experience. I don't put that on one side of the scales, put possible counterevidence on the other side of the scales, then see which way the scales tip. That's very artificial. I simply believe it happened because it happened to me, and, in the nature of the case, I have firsthand knowledge of things that happen to me.

Likewise, we believe lots of things based on what trusted people tell us. We don't ordinarily feel the need to counterbalance that belief by considering possible evidence to the contrary, then decide if one outweighs the other. The teeter-toter paradigm doesn't fit our general belief-forming system, or even the justification of beliefs. 

iii) Why does God not healing somebody else equally deserving furnish any kind of evidence that God didn't heal me? What's the connection? If there's evidence of divine healing, why isn't the evidence in itself the only salient consideration? 

Suppose, unbeknownst to me, cyberterrorists hack into the traffic light system to facilitate a bank heist. On the one hand it gives the getaway car an escape route. On the other hand, it blocks traffic on the same side of the street where the police station is located. 

However, that has the fringe benefit drivers in my lane have solid green lights all the way home, while drivers in the opposing lane, and side streets, have solid red lights. In my ignorance, I have no idea how to account for the disparity. Moreover, this is something extraordinary

Yet that doesn't count against the indisputable fact that, for some inexplicable reason, the traffic lights favor everyone in my lane. They just do! It may cause me to investigate why that's the case. But it's not the phenomenon itself that's in question. That's not a reason to doubt that on this particular day, the traffic lights in my lane stayed green all the way home. And that's not a reason to doubt that it requires a special explanation.  

iv) In addition, the objection presumes, without benefit of argument, if God heals people at all, we'd expect him to heal all equally deserving people. But is that a reasonable expectation? What's that based on? Just that it seems arbitrary for God to heal some, but not all, equally deserving people? 

But it's not hard to come up with reasons why that might be so. Consider the alternative: suppose God healed everyone who prayed for healing, or everyone who was prayed for. Well, that would change the future, in the sense that the future would turn out very differently in that event than if God didn't heal everyone. Who lives and who dies, where they live and die, when they live and die, affects the future. If more people live longer, that has multiple ramifications. 

So one reason God might not answer every prayer for healing is because that's inconsistent with the future he intends. For instance, some people die because other people didn't die. Take a terminal cancer patient who's miraculously healed. A year later, he kills a cyclist or pedestrian while driving under the influence. 

It sounds swell to say God should heal everyone, but what is good for one person may be bad for another. Your healing may come at someone else's expense, down the line. Something you do today may unintentionally harm someone tomorrow. 

On the other hand, one reason God might heal some people is to furnish evidence for his existence. He performs miracles often enough to maintain a periodic witness to his existence, but he refrains from performing miracles routinely because that would result in a very different future. 

v) Incidentally, I, as a Calvinist, reject the premise that God loves everyone. 

Where to draw the line

I believe in the lesser evil principle, but I have limits. Everyone must decide for himself where to draw the line. Speaking for myself, there's a point beyond which it becomes too personally compromising. 

You can't back me into a corner, then say, "I double dare you to accept the consequences if you refuse to choose between two alternatives I've given you!"

I won't allow myself to be manipulated and maneuvered by circumstances beyond a certain point. It becomes almost diabolical.  

At that juncture I will walk away from the table and let the chips fall where they may. I'm not ultimately responsible for what happens. I didn't make the world. I didn't create this situation. 

If you dictate unacceptable choices to me, I will bow out. I can't control the world, but I can control my own actions. You can't make me choose a certain way by putting a gun to my head. You can't prescribe how I must choose. If the options become too awful, I withdraw from the game. I won't play by your rules. I refuse to collaborate. If you win by default, so be it. I leave it to God sort out the consequences. 

There can be situations in which a human being confronts us with a moral dilemma. We either do one of two things or else!

That's still different than God confronting us with a moral dilemma, because the "or else" option is still available.

Suppose I'm a German Jew. The Nazis round up my parents and me and put us on a train. When we arrive at the camp, Himmler is touring the camp.

He gives me a choice: If I shoot one of my parents, he will allow the other to go free. (And he has the authority to release my remaining parent). If I refuse, he will shoot them both.

In that situation I'd let him shoot them both, and leave the matter in God's hands. The dilemma is a way for him to make me cross over into his moral universe. 

But I can't go there. I must stay on my side of the moral boundary, regardless of the threat. I won't be party to his diabolical game.

Conversely, suppose that's the camp where Mengele performed human experiments. If my parents were picked, I might wrest a gun from the guard and shoot them myself to spare them that fate. That's a horrible choice, but unlike the first, I don't think it's morally compromising. 

Have you hugged your monster today?

This article has been getting some buzz:
I've skimmed it. A few observations:
i) He says he doesn't view kiddy porn, but why take his word for it? Would he admit to viewing kiddy porn? 
ii) He makes all the same rhetorical moves as homosexual activists. 
iii) It's a tearjerker designed to elicit the sympathy of readers. Manipulate the reader's emotions by telling a good sob story.
iv) It reads like the all-too familiar opening gambit: "we need to open a dialogue," "we need to have a national conversation"–which is the first move towards mainstreaming a traditional taboo. 
v) Seems to me that he's making a faux admission of a problem. It's like political candidates who volunteer revelations about their "youthful indiscretions."
That's not a confession of guilt. To the contrary, that's designed to preempt criticism. Now that they've gotten that out of the way, they can move ahead with their campaign. It's really a way of neutralizing the issue, under the expectation that an "understanding" audience will and allow them to put that that chapter of their life behind them.

vi) Many opponents of homosexual marriage have pointed out that once you buy into the arguments for homosexuality, why stop there? Why not pedophilia? Proponents of homosexual marriage usually feign outrage at that comparison, but it's not just hypothetical. The Salon article is one of those softening-up exercises designed to incrementally reduce resistance to pedophilia. And the process will be accelerated in this case because many people have already accommodated the same arguments for homosexuality. 

vii) Moreover, this doesn't just involve social outcasts. Take the "Spies, Lords and Predators" investigative report. 

What’s Wrong with the “Joint Declaration on Justification”? (Part 2)

I’ve been in touch with some of the folks who are doing “street evangelization” in Philadelphia, in conjunction the visit of “Pope Francis” there. In response to a “church history” document they are handing out, one muddle-headed Roman Catholic sent this response:

Thanks very much for sharing your handout outside the convention center this morning. I read it with great interest.

I'd like to share with you some additional information on the Catholic Church teaching on justification/salvation which you can find at the Vatican website:

I believe that we are fully aligned! I hope that this has resolved any doubt. Many blessings.

I responded here yesterday. Thomas Schreiner, in his “Faith Alone”, goes further:

Certainly some progress has been made, but the Joint Declaration does not accomplish [nearly] as much as is advertised. The fundamental problem with many ecumenical documents is their ambiguity. Both parties read the agreement in a way that accords with their theological tradition. In other words, both Catholics and Lutherans could sign off on the Joint Declaration without changing their theology in any significant way.

Of course, the Roman Catholic interlocutor yesterday was completely wrong: Rome had not “signed off” on it at all – Rome first rejected it and then added its own appendix – and even so, it is a badly damaged and gutted document.

The Roman Catholic discussion of “justification” 
in the “Joint Declaration” encompasses 
the section between the two red arrows here – 
and leaves out the whole practice of the 
Roman Catholic religion – and its necessity 
for anyone who would become Roman Catholic. 
The ongoing sacramental theology of Roman Catholic and their conception of indulgences, says Henri Blocher, “[awakens] horrible doubts as to the genuineness of the agreement.” Furthermore, the claim that justification occurs in baptism is disquieting, especially for those of a Baptist persuasion.

Now, “horrible doubts” is what Blocher actually said, and what he is talking about, is that “the Joint Declaration” leaves out so much of “the Roman Catholic Religion” that MUST be practiced AFTER BAPTISM. That is, the Roman Catholic doctrine of “salvation by faith” occurs up to and only up to the point of baptism. For most Roman Catholics, that occurs when a child is only several weeks old. In that sense, it is meaningless for virtually every Roman Catholic.

The bulk of the practice of the Roman Catholic religion, including “confession” (“satisfaction”), “indulgences”, and the whole economy of Purgatory, occur after baptism, and “justification by faith”, for any individual Roman Catholic, is a thing long past. That is illustrated in the “sacramental treadmill” chart nearby.

Even sympathetic observers … point to this omission as the problem of the “Joint Declaration”. It could hardly be denied that acceptance of justification by faith as understood by the Reformers immediately entailed the rejection of these beliefs and practices, which, for centuries, the overwhelming majority among Roman Catholics, both clergy and laity, have understood in ways incompatible with the Reformation. The fact awakens horrible doubts as to the genuineness of agreement. (Henri A. Blocher, from “The Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on Justification” in Bruce L. McCormack, ed., “Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges”, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006, 207).

It is terribly irresponsible of the “ecumenical” parties to leave out the context for such a doctrine. I know that they are eager to come to some kind of agreement – to show progress – but it should not come at the expense of this kind of distortion of *precisely where* this “agreement” occurs in the overall schema of both parties.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What’s Wrong with the “Joint Declaration on Justification”? (Part 1)

I’ve been in touch with some of the folks who are doing “street evangelization” in Philadelphia, in conjunction with “Pope Francis”’s visit there. In response to a “church history” document they are handing out, one of the individuals received this response:

Thanks very much for sharing your handout outside the convention center this morning. I read it with great interest.

I'd like to share with you some additional information on the Catholic Church teaching on justification/salvation which you can find at the Vatican website:

I believe that we are fully aligned! I hope that this has resolved any doubt. Many blessings.

Of course, no one is “fully aligned”. In the first place, the “Joint Declaration” document is not “Catholic Church Teaching”. It is there for information purposes only.

Second, it has been heavily qualified. That is, the final draft was submitted, and THEN the Vatican rejected it and THEN added its own qualifications. I cited the Roman apologist Richard John Neuhaus here:

Rome did officially “receive” JD in the sense that it affirmed that very significant progress had been made in removing past misunderstandings, and in moving toward full agreement on what it means to say that the sinner is justified by faith. However, many of the Catholics and Lutherans involved in producing JD are saying—mainly off the record, for the present—that the Roman response is, in the most important respects, a rejection of the declaration. JD proposed that, with the new understandings achieved by the dialogue, the mutual condemnations of the sixteenth century no longer apply, and remaining differences over the doctrine of justification are not church-dividing. The Roman statement does not accept that proposal.

It would be an understatement to say that the theologians involved in the dialogue, both Lutheran and Catholic, were taken aback by the Roman response. During the process, Rome had indicated problems with aspects of the declaration and, almost up to the last minute, revisions were made to take those concerns into account. The participants in the dialogue thought they had been assured that JD would be approved by Rome. Certainly that was the understanding that informed the LWF's approval of the declaration. In the immediate aftermath of the statement by CDF and CCU, the mood among dialogue participants was bitter and despondent. One Lutheran pioneer of the dialogue declared that the theologians, both Lutheran and Catholic, had been “betrayed” by Rome. For decades to come, he predicted, it would be impossible to reestablish confidence in any theological dialogue with the Catholic Church.

The happy-go-lucky Roman Catholic interlocutor has got his facts wrong.

Should parents forbid football?

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The Bell Curve

Steve Jackson9/22/2015 7:57 AM

"It's not a 'race' that makes great contributions to math, science, art, architecture, music, drama, philosophy, and literature, but gifted individuals who comprise an infinitesimal faction of the 'race' to which they belong. "
Yes, but why do some races/population groups or whatever you want to call them produce geniuses at such higher rates? One-third of Nobel Prizes in the hard sciences go to Jews. This seems hard to explain without invoking heredity. 
And groups seem to do equally well (or bad) regardless of the environment. Chinese do well wherever they are (US, UK, Latin America) and people of Sub-Saharan African descent poorly (Africa, US, Canada, Haiti). 
Also, groups that are intermediate (such as African-Americans, Hispanics and Cape Coloreds) have IQs in between the parent groups. 
A few years ago Charles Murray of The Bell Curve fame suggested that a study be done where genetic testing was used to find the percentage of white/African genes in black Americans and then see if it correlated to IQ. To make things fair, he asked people from all sides of the debate to participate. No one from the culture only side would join.

The context is this post:

It's an intriguing correlation to untangle, and I'm not qualified to give a complete answer:

i) I think high intelligence is sometimes hereditary. There's a lot of prima facie evidence for that. Smart parents are more likely to beget smart kids.

ii) However, there's a striking boundary to that principle. Although smart parents tend to beget smart kids, geniuses tend not to beget geniuses. With few if any exceptions, the parent is not the equal of the genius child, and the child is not the equal of the genius parent. So genius seems to be unreproducible. A one-off incident in each case. A kind of fluke.

iii) It can also be hard to separate nurture from nature in the correlation. Kids who are academically outstanding often come from families that value academic achievement. Jewish Nobel Laureates don't simply had Jewish parents; rather, they typically have well-educated parents who push their kids to excel academically. Their kids might not take an interest in math, science, economics, &c. absent that parental pressure. 

iv) There's also the question of how we define intelligence. On one definition, intelligence is innate. Everyone person is programmed to have a certain IQ. They will mature up to their programmed IQ. There's a built-in ceiling. 

Yet I've also read that educated kids are apt to score higher on IQ tests than uneducated kids. But if education can improve IQ scores, then that's a combination of nurture and nature. 

v) One possible explanation is that education stimulates the brain to develop in certain ways. So IQ is not simply a matter of what you were born with. Intellectual stimulus, or the absence thereof, can affect cognitive development. 

vi) Another reservation I have about the comparative stats: many of the smartest people in the 20-21C are atheists. For instance, atheists are disproportionately represented in physics and biology. So we might draw the inference that atheism correlates with high IQ. It's smart to be an atheist.

But a glaring problem with that correlation is that before the 20C, many or most of the smartest people were theists. So the correlation is incidental.

There are, moreover, many brilliant 20-21C theists who are the intellectual equal of their secular counterparts. 

vii) Ben Carson must have been a very bright kid, but when he was young he was just goofing off. Would a teacher recognize his potential? If his mother hadn't forced him to be studious, he'd be a loser. 

viii) I had an older relative who once told me she thought blacks were incapable of self-rule. She'd been a missionary in Kenya, back when it was a British colony. She was a gifted linguist with a doctorate in linguistics from the University of London. 

Now, empirically speaking, I can understand why she'd say that. Africa is pretty dysfunctional. And it hasn't gotten better since she told me that (back in the 70s).

However, it depends on your frame of reference. For instance, European history is a history of warfare. Civil wars. Wars between neighboring states. Invaders from distant lands. If you randomly dropped an observer into European history, at many times and places it would seem like Europeans were incapable of self-rule. Cycles of chaos. Same thing with Asian history. 

So the comparisons are often treacherous. There are multiple variables to take into account. 

Sam Adams on religious tolerance

Samuel Adams,
The Rights of the Colonists

In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practised, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind. And it is now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. The only sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach doctrines subversive of the civil government under which they live. 

This Week in the News: all “Pope Francis”, all the time

And George “I Had Dinner With The Pope” Weigel is going to be on-point for the news coverage. Anyone who thinks I have a one-track mind in “bashing” the papacy ought to consider this kind of news coverage that a pope generates on a regular basis:

Cruising Down the Slippery Slope Toward Sexual Hell

We should see the pattern that is evident in these evolving claims, and be prepared to call them what they really are:

Argument #1:

I have homosexual desires
Therefore I am a homosexual person (with “homosexual” being a newly-created category of “person” in 1973)
You must respect me as a person
Therefore you must respect my homosexual desires.

That does not follow. You are not “a homosexual person”. You are a person, yes, but your homosexual desires are harmful to you. I acknowledge that not many in our culture see it that way.

But we see it again in this Salon article, entitled “I’m a pedophile, but not a monster”:

Argument #2

I have pedophile desires
Therefore I am a pedophile person (with “pedophile” being the newly-created category of person)
You must respect me as a person
Therefore you must respect my pedophile desires.

Pretty soon, as in Argument #1, where the next line item became “laws must be created to protect my homosexuality”, we will start seeing a new line item in Argument #2: “laws must be created to protect my pedophilia”. All of this in the name of equality.

I want to point to a particularly egregious section in this Salon article:

When I was seven years old, I was fondled in the front yard of my grandparents’ home by a man I barely knew. It was a one-time event in my life and not a particularly traumatic one. A man I’ll call Hans, a German who was acquainted with my uncle and aunt from when they lived in Nuremberg, had come to visit America. He spent a day and a night at their place, and they lived next door to my family along with my grandparents, who shared their two-story brick house. That day, the man lingered in the house with my grandma, who was stuck with him while everyone else had gone to work, and as neither could speak the other’s language, it quickly became uncomfortable for both.

Grammy’s solution was to send Hans outside with one of the grandkids. As I happened to be in the room at the time, I was assigned the task. “Take him out and show him Papa’s garden,” she told me. “Tell him the names of the vegetables. He’d probably enjoy that.” I agreed. Besides, even though I knew not a whit of German, I was very much at ease in Hans’s presence. He was painfully thin, with a messy mop of hair and large glasses. I should point out that the men in my life, including my father, were gruff blue-collar types who could intimidate me. Hans was different: gentle, soft-spoken and appealingly awkward—a lot like me!

I took the man’s right hand with my left (my good hand) and led him out into the garden, which took up most of the front lawn at my grandparents’ place. I escorted my new friend down the rows of veggies, calling out each one as we passed it, and Hans would gleefully parrot the names. This went on until we made our way through the entire garden. I was proud to find myself educating an adult rather than the other way around. When the English lesson was over, Hans plopped himself down on a patch of earth near the garden and patted the spot next to him, indicating he wanted me to sit there. I did. I couldn’t believe this peculiar man I barely knew was so eager to connect with me, the weird little kid nobody liked. It felt good.

For long minutes we simply enjoyed each other’s company. Then, out of the blue, Hans slipped a hand into my shorts, even though we were only about 30 feet from the poorly paved country road that meandered through this stretch of country. This went on for several minutes. I was confused but not frightened or troubled. The only thing I could think to say while this was happening was “Peepee,” continuing the English lesson with my pet name for my genitalia even in the midst of my own abuse. Hans chortled and repeated the word: “Peepee.” Eventually this came to an end, and Hans, having gotten what he wanted, shooed me away. I can’t imagine why it didn’t occur to him that I would immediately rat him out; maybe he knew and just didn’t care. Anyway, he could hardly ask me not to, could he? I raced back to Grammy and promptly informed her of what had happened. She deliberated over what to do, in the end asking me to keep it a secret from everyone, including my parents, and ordering me to stay away from Hans. No authorities were called, and life went on as usual. Hans stayed that evening with my uncle and aunt and left the next day. I never saw him again.

We see this fact over and over again: homosexuality is not inherent in one’s personhood. It is caused by early exposure to misplaced (sinful) sexual stimulation. And it causes the recipient of the abuse to have confused thoughts about sexuality. To think that the abuse is a good thing.

We see it happening in this article as well. Instead of the author saying “this was wrong and it affected me in a sinful and harmful way”, this author is saying, “well, this experience wasn’t so bad, and it made me a pedophile, which I suffer with, so feel sorry for my condition”.

We need to challenge this line of thinking in its tracks. The alternative: our culture will adopt more and more of this type of confused and muddled thinking, and worse, more children are certain to be abused and therefore harmed, and who will grow up to be harmful and predatory adults themselves.