Saturday, November 21, 2015

How often does God intervene?

Back to the stable nature theodicy:

i) To take a comparison, it's like healing and prayer. If God always healed in answer to prayer, then medical science would be pointless–and if God never healed in answer to prayer, then prayer (for healing) would be superfluous. 

Occasional miraculous healing in answer to prayer doesn't make medical science useless. You don't know in advance which will do the trick, or whether either one will do the trick. Sometimes we pray for healing because medical science failed. 

The dilemma for the stable environment theodicy is that it can't explain why God intervenes in some cases rather than others. So that must be supplemented by skeptical theism. 

ii) I doubt it's possible to even guess at how often God prevents some natural evils. Physical events leave physical evidence in their wake, but nonevents leave no trace evidence of their nonoccurence. So what's the evidence that something didn't happen because God preempted it?

To take a comparison, consider those time-travel scenarios in which a Jewish scientist goes back in time to kill Hitler's granddad, thereby erasing Adolf from the space-time continuum. If successful, there will be no evidence that Adolf ever existed, because changing that one variable changes a host of affected variables. To be consistent, there must be corresponding adjustments. 

Of course we know that's unrealistic: hence time-travel antinomies. But I'm just using that an an analogy to illustrate a point.

In the case of divine intervention to preempt a natural evil, that doesn't change the past, but prevent that past from happening in the first place–in which case, there's no empirical evidence that God intervened. We have no basis of comparison. We just have what actually happened. 

It's not as if there's a gap or hole in the historical record or natural record when God prevents a natural evil. So in that sense, there's no direct evidence for divine preemption. Not like a missing folders in the filing cabinet between the As and the Cs where the Bs ought to be. All the "space" is filled.

So, from what I can see, there's no estimating the frequency of divine interventions in that respect. For all we know, divine intervention to prevent natural evils might be commonplace. It's imponderable. 

I'm not saying it's never possible to identify divine preemption. In some cases you have plausible answers to prayer. But in other cases, no testimonial evidence will be available.

Charbroiled Bambi

i) Atheist William Rowe famously cited a fawn dying in a forest fire as a paradigm-case of gratuitous evil. On the face of it, that's not gratuitous evil, because forest fires are necessary to maintain the balance of nature. In fact, animal death is necessary to maintain the balance of nature. So that's purposeful suffering.

ii) Now perhaps Rowe would say it's gratuitous in the sense that an omnipotent God could create a world without predation, forest fires, &c. But there are problems with that response:

a) Yes, God could, but that would be so unrecognizably different from the actual world that we can't even begin to do a comparative axiological analysis. We can't say which is better and which is worse because a world without our type of ecosystem is so far removed from human experience that it's hard to even conceive of what that would be like. Atheists have a bad habit of artificially deleting "bad things" from the world, then leaving everything else intact. But, of course, that requires corresponding adjustments. It's unclear what's left after the dust settles.

b) Moreover, a world without animal suffering might be better in some respects, but worse in others. Even if it's better overall, the goods might not be as good as a world that's worse overall. You could have a world that's worse overall, but the peaks of goodness are higher. So there's no single criterion of goodness. 

iii) Furthermore, animals lack our human viewpoint on suffering. Take the somewhat amorphous distinction between lower and higher animals. A continuum of sentience. 

A few years ago I read about some men who discovered a rattlesnake pit right by the playground of an elementary school. A communal rattlesnake pit. That posed an obvious danger to the school kids.

So the men poured gasoline down the snakepit and set it afire. End of problem!

I'm sure the snakes writhed about as they were roasting alive. Does that mean they were in pain, or is that a reflexive reaction? For instance, decapitated snakes continue to writhe. 

How does a snake brain process or interpret that stimulus? I doubt what it's like for a man or German Shepherd to burn alive is the same for a snake. For one thing, it has a much simpler brain. Does the same stimulus mean the same thing to  reptile? Seems unlikely. 

Same thing with cooks who put live crabs directly in boiling water. Seems cruel, but isn't that just an anthropormophic projection on our part? 

iv) I don't necessarily mean that's reducible to neurological structures. It's possible that animals have souls. But if they have souls, they have animals souls. If a wolf has a soul, it has a soul specific to the nature of a wolf; a soul with a lupine viewpoint. An outlook in many respects alien to a human viewpoint.

I think it would be cruel to set a dog on fire. But I don't think it was cruel to incinerate the rattlesnakes.

v) To take another comparison, during the Vietnam War, some Buddhist monks protested the war by setting themselves on fire. There are Youtube videos of that horrific scene. Yet, as I recall, they were very stoic about it. They didn't scream or flail about.

If we were just judging by body language, we'd infer that a snake is in greater pain than a man. But, of course, because we're human, we know that's not the case. So body language can be deceptive. 

vi) From the standpoint of Christian ethics, given borderline cases, it's best, all things being equal, to allow ourselves a wide margin of error in the avoidance of possible animal cruelty. 

Another factor concerns intent. To set a dog on fire is an act of malice. That is done with the intent to inflict pain on the dog. The person who does it takes depraved pleasure in cruelty. Even if, unbeknownst to him, the effect is painless, his motivation is heinous. 

Is there gratuitous evil?

i) Evils are rarely self-contained events. It's hard to think of events, even little incidents, that don't cause a chain of events. Even individual evils have a ripple effect. Preventing the evil would prevent some resultant good down the line. Moreover, preventing one particular evil might mean a worse evil would take its place–either the precipitating evil or the resulting evils. 

ii) Even reflecting on an apparently gratuitous evil will affect the thinker who reflects on it. And because the thinker is an agent, whatever impacts him will impact what he does. So even if the evil was gratuitous in itself, it can have a purposeful influence on the thinker. It is only gratuitous if considered in isolation. But the very act of evaluating the evil changes the thinker in subtle ways, which–in turn–changes the world based on what he does, and others do in response to what he does. 

That's a bit circular, where reflecting on an otherwise gratuitous event makes it non-gratuitous, but it's true nonetheless. 

iii) A critic might object that if we all thought that way, we'd never intervene to advert a foreseeable tragedy. But that misses the point. Whether or not we intervene would depend on how farsighted we are. And in fact, God has prearranged things so that what we do is ultimately for the good. 

iv) Whether inscrutability is a "cop-out" depends in part on whether that's simply invoked as a blocking maneuver or face-saving exercise to show that, for all we know, any state of affairs is consistent with a hypothetical God's existence, wisdom, and benevolence, absent positive evidence to that effect. But, of course, inscrutability isn't cited in an evidential vacuum. It presupposes multiple lines of evidence for God's actual existence, wisdom, and benevolence.

Losing Jesus

I'll comment on some recent statements by Peter Enns:

For Christians, I believe that condemning mass, ideologically driven, and horrific violence today means taking on the responsibility of deconstructing the violence in the Bible.

You can't "deconstruct" violence in the Bible. Rather, you either accept or reject the inspiration of Scripture. 

—to be able to speak with integrity of our God who we believe condemns mass violence today but who is said to have commanded it long ago.

Why does he believe his God condemns that? What's his source of information? What's his standard of comparison? How does he know what God is really like–even assuming there is a God? Clearly he doesn't take the Bible as God's self-revelation. So what supplies the contrast?

It is our Christian responsibility to take this on and not avoid it.


—to reflect on what it says, work with others and make sober Christian decisions about what it means live and speak faithfully today and to be in step with the Spirit of God...

How does he identify what is from the Spirit of God? How does he decide what is contrary to the Spirit of God? 

The New Testament, I would argue, is not on the same page as the Old when it comes to mass military violence toward other peoples. In fact it’s turned that page altogether. But neither does it get a free pass.
At the hands of the Gospel writers, in different ways and varying degrees, Jesus’s rhetoric also exhibits violence—though not as persistently and not against the world out there. The Gospel rhetoric of violence on Jesus’s lips is aimed at his fellow Jews for not understanding that he was God’s chosen messiah.
Christians today must also assume the responsibility of wrestling with the Gospel rhetoric, too, and determining when, if, or whether it should remain as part of our own rhetoric.
The God of the OT is the God that Jesus and Paul believed--simply took for granted, actually--was the same God behind the Sermon on the Mount, etc. That’s the theological issue. one can toss the OT out, of course, but that is the lazy way out.
But the OT still has to be addressed, because the same God who spoke there is the God that Jesus spoke of. At least that what’s Jesus thought. That’s what creates the hermeneutical and theological conundrum.

i) Enns makes a good point that "progressive Christians" can't compartmentalize the NT or the Gospels from the OT. 

ii) To say Christians must take responsibility for Jesus is unintentionally comical. Are we his minders and handlers? 

iii) Enns appears to be undecided on how to view the "Gospel rhetoric of violence". On the one hand, he seems to suggest this is something Gospel writers attribute to Jesus rather than something he actually said. On the other hand, he suggests this is what Jesus actually thought, said, and took for granted. As it stands, Enns leaves both options open. Maybe he can't decide which is right, or perhaps he thinks both may be right at one time or another. 

iv) His own position drives a wedge between Christ and Christians. If, on the one hand, the "rhetoric of violence" is authentic to Jesus, then we must distance ourselves from Jesus. If, on the other hand, the Gospel writers put words in Christ's mouth, then the historical Jesus disappears behind the editorializing. We no longer know what Jesus really said or thought because the historical Jesus is hidden behind the literary Jesus. We lack access to the historical Jesus. The Gospels are a mirror of the writer rather than a window into Jesus. 

Either way, that poses an intractable dilemma for "progressive Christians" like Enns. By their own admission, they can't follow Jesus–either because they disagree with Jesus or because they don't know where to find him. 

True Christians, Muslims, and Scotsmen

Christian philosopher Jeremy Pierce recently made some interesting observations about the No True Scotsman Fallacy in relation to Muslims and Christians:

So is the No True Scotsman Fallacy only a fallacy if you're using it to say someone isn't really a genuine Christian?
To be clear: there's a huge difference between IS and what most Muslims believe and practice. Nevertheless, last I checked, the core of being Muslim is (1) to believe (a) there's one God and (b) Muhammad is his prophet and (2) to practice the five pillars of Islam. Those who say the Nation of Islam isn't really Muslim are wrong, even if there are some huge differences between the Nation of Islam and the predominant beliefs and practices of Islam.
There's a good amount of diversity within Islam, and there's no reason to assume of any particular Muslim that they fit any particular manifestation of the broader religion without knowing more about them. Nevertheless, it's very clear that it's a version of Islam that motivates al Qaeda and a different version of Islam that motives IS. They are both religiously motivated, and it's clear that they are both legitimately classified as Islamic extremism. IS is severely atypical of Islam worldwide, but that doesn't make them not Muslims.
I recommend being careful of applying the No True Scotsman Fallacy label in particular cases, because it's often abused. There are ways to go back to the original core of a belief system to see who is a genuine member of the group or to look to key documents that the group produced over time to indicate who is in and who is out. There are groups that consider themselves part of Christianity but who have clearly departed from central teachings. There are people who have adopted the label but have not believed or followed the central gospel message. And it's important to recognize that there are sometimes borderline cases where it's hard to know what the right answer is (or even if there is a right answer).
But I don't see how anyone can claim that it's the No True Scotsman Fallacy to say that Hitler wasn't really Christian in any important sense. He wasn't a follower of Jesus in any serious way, and he explicitly contradicted several core teachings of Christianity. Saying he wasn't really a Christian is not an instance of the fallacy. But saying that IS isn't Muslim is simply ridiculous, by the very standards that most Muslims use to explain their big tent admissions requirements for belonging to the religion. They do fit the criteria, and anyone who says otherwise is committing the No True Scotsman Fallacy.
I want to reiterate that most Muslims think IS theology is not just wrong but offensive. Their theology of rape, for instance, is offensive to the vast majority of Muslims, and their use of that theology to recruit men who will be able to rape sex slaves at will is pretty despicable and at odds with traditional Muslim teaching about sexual morality. Nevertheless, sexual morality, political philosophy, and other issues that set apart IS from the rest of Islam are not among the three criteria for whether someone counts as Muslim. There are Christians who believe offensive things but who accept the core Christian teaching. I wouldn't say they aren't Christian.
Yes, those would be genuine instances of the fallacy. Westboro Baptist theology is within orthodoxy, and for all we know people who murder doctors or bomb churches might as well be orthodox in their theology. Any church worth its salt would engage in church discipline with such people (and probably take the side of the law against them on legal questions), but their views are within orthodoxy.

1. Let's unpack this. When we consider criteria for Muslim identity, there are basically two questions: (i) What does it take to be a true Muslim? (ii) Is a certain practice (e.g. jihad, sex slavery) consistent with Islamic theology? 

i) To be a Muslim involves observing the five pillars of Islam: The shahadah: there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet; five daily prayers; almsgiving; Ramadan fast, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. 

Notice, here, the emphasis on actions rather than belief. Even in the case of the shahadah, it's less about personally believing the shahadah than publicly professing the shahadah. 

To illustrate, when Queen Noor (née Lisa Najeeb Halaby) married the late King Hussein, a precondition was her conversion to Islam. But conversion to Islam doesn't mean the same thing as conversion in evangelical theology. It's not like she had an epiphany in which she became convinced that the Angel Gabriel dictated the Koran to Muhammad. It's not about conviction, but saying and doing the right things. Islam is a very public religion. 

This goes to the fact that Islam is based on justification by works rather than justification by faith, unlike Christian theology. 

Of course, Islam also has a detailed code of social ethics (Sharia). But in that case, I think the question of observance or nonobservance involves a distinction between good and bad Muslims rather than true and false Muslims. 

ii) The other question is whether a particular practice is consistent with Islamic theology, or even required by Islamic theology. Islam isn't simply a religion of the book (Koran). It's a religion that's defined, not only by the Koran, but authoritative tradition, viz. Hadith, schools of jurisprudence. I think it's safe to say that in venerable Islamic tradition, jihad is considered a sacred duty. Killing the infidel is permissible or even mandatory. 

2. Christian identity is more complex. By "Christian," I'm confining myself to evangelical theology. Unlike Islam, Christian identity is centered on faith. And that has different aspects:

i) Minimal orthodoxy is a necessary condition of saving faith. This involves belief in certain doctrines. 

I say "minimal" because you don't have to be a theologian to be a Christian. 

In that respect, Christian identity has a more personal orientation than Islam. Although Christian identity has a social dimension as well (e.g. the communal life of the church), even the social dimension is grounded in this individual component: personal conviction. 

So we'd say John Spong or Dale Tuggy is not a true Christian because he lacks minimal orthodox belief. They flub that preliminary test. 

ii) However, orthodox belief is a necessary rather than sufficient condition of Christian identity. There's more to saving faith than bare assent. There's trust. Trust that's rooted in the experience of saving grace. 

For evangelical theology also has a category of dead orthodoxy. A person can be a believer but not be a true believer. 

That's because Christianity, unlike Islam, has a doctrine of original sin, which, in turn, has the new birth as a corollary. To be a Christian, it is not enough to merely believe. You must be a regenerate believer. Have sanctifying grace. Have the Holy Spirit. 

As a result, evangelical theology draws a principled distinction between nominal believers and true believers. You don't have the same distinction in Islam, because you don't have the same theological underpinnings. 

By contrast, Islam has no doctrine of original sin. Indeed, every human is born Muslim.

So we might say someone doesn't seem to be a Christian, even if they are doctrinally orthodox, because something else, something crucial, is missing. 

For instance, it's not something they live for. Not their frame of reference. If they ceased believing it, that would make little appreciable difference.

Or take loss faith. That's retrospective, but with the benefit of hindsight, we'd say they had an accidental faith. Apostasy waiting to happen. They lost their faith because even when they had it, the basis of their faith was deficient. Their apostasy exposed something that was deficient all along. 

3. Let's consider some illustrations. 

i) Are members of the Westboro cult Christian? They might pass the minimal orthodoxy test. 

However, we might still have good reason to doubt their state of grace. There's a distinction between whether their overall theology is Christian, and whether they are Christian. A distinction between Christian identity in terms of doctrine and Christian identity in terms of appropriation. Has the theology been properly internalized? 

In addition, their commitment to orthodox theology appears to be nominal. Their defining characteristic is hate-mongering. 

ii) Are Confederate theologians like Thornwell and Dabney Christian? Certainly they pass the doctrinal test. And their personal piety is not in serious doubt. 

So, yes, I'd say they were true Christians, despite their defense of Southern slavery. 

iii) Ironically, their theology made it very challenging to defend the institution of slavery. Their theological commitment to monogenism meant they couldn't deny the common humanity of black Africans. But that, in turn, made it hard to justify enslaving blacks rather than whites. Why drawn the line along racial lines? That's arbitrary.

Likewise, in the Mosaic law, Hebrew slaves were term-limited. Moreover, indentured service was voluntary. And black Christians would be analogous to Hebrew slaves (or debt servants) rather than foreign slaves. 

We could say Dabney and Thornwell were Christian, but their position on slavery was unchristian. 

Denying the Signature 4

"Denying the Signature: Methodological Naturalism and Materialism-of-the Gaps" by Stephen Meyer.

Friday, November 20, 2015


In case some of you were wondering, zoo keepers evidently have the same coexist philosophy, with the same results, as the useful idiots who run interference for jihadis:


A grizzly bear that had been placed with a grey wolf in a wildlife refuge atop Grouse Mountain last week killed the wolf while fighting over a bone on Tuesday night.
Grouse spokesperson Chris Dagenais says the bear killed the wolf with one swipe in front of a group of people.
"It happened very suddenly, sort of out of the blue. We're not exactly sure what prompted this aggressive behaviour between the two species, but needless to say it ended very sadly for one of our grey wolves."
Grouse has two grizzly bears and a small pack of wolves living in its five-acre refuge. But the two species had been kept in separate enclosures until last week.
Grouse has plans to double the size of the sanctuary to 10 acres – with the bears and wolves living together.
Dagenais says by all accounts, the experiment had been going smoothly, and the animals appearing to get along well.
The three remaining grey wolves and two grizzly bears have now been separated again, as researchers try to figure out what prompted the attack by the four-year-old bear.

Jesus hiding in plain sight

One-way tolerance

“I don’t think we ought to have a religious test for our refugee policy,” Moore said, adding that a rigorous vetting process could still make room for innocent Muslims.

You'd think he's a religious pluralist. That all religions are basically the same.

This is a leading spokesman for the SBC. He's too clueless to figure out that tolerance must be a two-way street. 

Three stages of jihad

In sum:

  1. Stealth jihad (e.g. the US). "When Muslims are completely outnumbered and can't possibly win a physical confrontation with unbelievers, they are to live in peace with non-Muslims and preach a message of tolerance."

  2. Defensive jihad (e.g. parts of Europe and Africa). "When there are enough Muslims and resources to defend the Islamic community, Muslims are called to engage in defensive Jihad."

  3. Offensive jihad (e.g. Saudi Arabia). "When Muslims establish a majority and achieve political power in an area, they are commanded to engage in offensive Jihad."

David Wood has created a pamphlet on the three stages of jihad as well.

Winston Churchill once said:

Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.

Muslim refugees are not Jewish refugees

"No, Muslim Refugees Are Not Jewish WWII Refugees. Here Are 5 Reasons Why."

Our ‘Vetting’ Process Has Been a Deadly Failure for 14 Years

Filial duty

Suppose a terrorist outfit kidnaps a father and son. Say the father is 70 and the son is 25. They separate them. They make the father an offer: they will kill one and let the other go. He can choose.

I suspect most cultures think a good father would lay down his own life to save his son. 

Suppose they make the son the same offer. Now, there's a sense in which the son has far more to lose than the father. His dad could die of natural causes at anytime, whereas the son may well have another 50 years or so ahead of him. 

Yet I suspect most cultures would consider it profoundly dishonorable if the son sacrificed his father to save himself. An act of supreme disloyalty. 

So there's more to ethics than a cost/benefit ratio, although that's sometimes germane. 

Stupid pill

We should remember the history of the 20th century, of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust…

I don't read Russell Moore on a regular basis, and this is why. I'm curious about the egotism of some Christians who assume positions of leadership when they are painfully out of their depth. Moore needs a 10 foot snorkel to keep from drowning. 

I've seen other people cite the alleged parallel with Jews seeking asylum, viz. the MS St. Louis. Did Moore take a stupid pill?

The basic problem is when simpletons like Moore can only keep one idea in their head at a time. All they think is that both groups are "refugees." But the analogy is vitiated by disanalogies. As I often say, the rule is to treat like things alike and unlike things unalike.

From what I've read, most of the "Syrian refugees" are economic refugees. That's hardly comparable to Jews fleeing the Final Solution.

In addition, there is Moore's morally blind equivalence between Muslims and Jews. However, Muslim immigrants frequently embody the cultural pathologies of Islam. And that's apart from the additional fact that Muslim enclaves become hotbeds of domestic terrorism in the host country. 

It's utterly brainless of Russell to compare the two. The real analogy would be:

Middle Eastern Christians fleeing jihadists are akin to Jews fleeing Nazis. 

But people like Moore enable Muslims to pursue fleeing Christians whenever they go. Look at the plight of Jews in Paris. Thanks to the Muslim presence, Paris is no longer safe for Jewish residents. So, by all means, let's replicate that situation in American, so that no safe haven is left. 

And the door was shut

25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour (Mt 25:1-13).

The logistics are somewhat obscure, but the basic idea is that the torchlight procession escorts the bride and groom from her home to his home–where the wedding ceremony takes place. His home represents "heaven." The door between heaven and hell. The foolish bridesmaids are shut out. 

This parable has two dichotomies: light and darkness; inside and outside. Suppose we were to update it a bit. Suppose Jesus was addressing a modern audience, using a modern equivalent. 

Shopping malls often resemble city blocks, where walkways are streets, with stores on either side. The walkways are walled in by the stores. The main difference is this is covered space. You have a roof over the the walkways. A shopping mall is a a village under a common roof. A shopping mall inverts the spatial relationships: outside becomes inside and inside becomes outside. Interior doors become exterior doors, leading to the outside world. 

Depending on the design, there may only be two sources of illumination. The main source is artificial lighting, provided by lights in the ceiling as well as store windows facing the walkways. An ancillary source is natural lighting from the  mall entrance or exit. The entrance to the mall is often at right angles to the central aisle. In case of a power outage, the only source of light might be from exits that lie around the corner, if they have glass doors or open doors.

Suppose some girls go shopping. Because the weather forecast predicts a thunderstorm, they take the precaution of bringing flashlights in case the mall goes dark when they are inside. As a matter of fact, there's a power outage, plunging the mall into darkness, but thanks to the flashlights, they find their way to the exit. Indeed, once they round the corner, they no longer need their flashlights, because they can see the outside through the open door. A patch of light against the surrounding darkness.

Suppose some other girls go shopping. But they don't take the same precautions. When lightning knocks out power, the interior instantly becomes pitch black. They grope in the darkness, looking for the exit by feeling their way along the walls on either side of the aisle. Two or three go in the wrong direction. 

By chance, another two or three go in the right direction. They round the corner and see the open door. They breathe a sigh of relief and leisurely walk towards the exit. But then the door begins to close. In panic, they run screaming towards the door, as the pool of light narrows to a sliver. But it closes before they get there. Now they can't even see where the door is. They are sealed in–forever! Eternal midnight. Trapped inside the darkened mall for all eternity. 

Admittedly, that seems like a harsh penalty for ditzy shoppers, but that confuses the allegory with what it illustrates. 

Denying the Signature 3

"Denying the Signature: Was My Argument Subjective?" by Stephen Meyer.

The apologetic value of the fall and the tension with theistic evolution of man

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Denying the Signature 2

"Denying the Signature: Functional Information Is the Fact to Be Explained" by Stephen Meyer.

Trump: the amnesty candidate

Trump's revolving door on deportation:

A moderate Muslim on moderate Muslims

I don't agree with everything he says, but it's useful to read this insider perspective on Islam:

Muslim refugees good–Christian refugees bad

The Syrian thug crisis

I'll comment on this:

Terrorism thrives on fear, and fear — if left unchecked — can spread into the deepest, darkest corners of our hearts and lead to decisions and choices that, in normal times, would be unthinkable.

i) He frames the entire issue in the patronizing, prejudicial category of "fear." 

ii) There's nothing inherently wrong with making "unthinkable" choices in extreme situations that you wouldn't consider in normal times. Some kinds of actions that are ordinarily impermissible, but permissible or even obligatory under extraordinary circumstances. 

ii) If, however, you let a situation spin wildly out of control, then people resort to utterly ruthless countermeasures. You let the situation get so out of hand that all the remaining options are dire. People like Trevin create the very situation they deplore. By not taking reasonable precautions when that would make a difference, the situation becomes so unmanageable that people will do whatever it takes to bring things back under control. Ethical concerns fly out the window. 

The best way to ensure a morally indifferent response to a threat is to discredit ethical considerations by letting the threat gain the upper hand. Having driven people to desperation, there is no line they will not cross. 

The apostle John wrote in the New Testament of “perfect love driving out fear.” From a Christian perspective, there is no fear in love because love is the primary purpose for human existence. There is no fear of God’s judgment when we love as we ought.

What a travesty of the passage he's alluding to. Here's the verse in context:

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 Jn 4:13-21).

i) What fear does perfect love cast out? Fear in general? No. Fear of divine judgment. Trevin even admits that, but then proceeds to act as if its not about fear of judgment in particular, but fear in general–including fear of terrorists. He rips the passage out of context and reapplies it to something it's not referring to. Not even the same kind of thing.

ii) Moreover, the love that's perfected isn't loving the enemy or loving your neighbor, but loving fellow Christians. It isn't about loving terrorists or "refugees," but loving believers.  

It's unconscionable that a Christian leader would abuse Scripture in this blatant fashion. 

Fear and compassion cannot coexist. The former inevitably drives out the latter.

i) That's a fatuous, illogical diktat. People like Trevin are morally and intellectually frivolous. They take huge intellectual shortcuts. They make universal statements or posit false dichotomies that cry out for really obviously counterexamples. That's not serious ethical reasoning. And it doesn't solve serious ethical problems. To the contrary, it makes them worse. Trevin's intellectual impatience with the hard work of thinking through what's right and wrong, responsible and reckless, is morally inexcusable for a Christian leader. 

Epidemics are fearsome, so we develop vaccines. Does vaccination drive out compassion? 

ii) There's nothing intrinsically wrong with "fear." Humans are vulnerable to harm and death from many sources. Knowing our vulnerabilities, it is rational to avoid harmful or life-threatening situations. 

Should a woman go jogging in Central Park at midnight? No, that would be foolhardy. 

Take teenagers who dare each other to play dangerous stunts. Should they prove they're not afraid? No, that would be foolhardy. 

Does Trevin locks his doors at night? Or would that be "fearful"? Does he leave the doors unlocked at night to prove that he's not "fearful"? Is it "fearful" or "hateful" to take reasonable precautions to protect the wife and kids from intruders? 

Let's consider two kinds of fear:

a) One kind of fear motivates you to do things that eliminate the source of fear. Like developing vaccines to prevent epidemics.

b) Another kind of fear is to live in fear because you don't eliminate the source of fear. Sometimes you let the opportunity pass. You waited until it was too later to do anything effective to prevent it or stop it. Now you really are controlled by fear. 

Already, we have seen a growing backlash regarding the refugees displaced in the war in Syria. There is widespread fear that terrorists are streaming into Europe or America alongside frightened refugees.
What is the courageous response? To close the borders for good? To turn away thousands of families and children who, through no fault of their own, have been victimized by war and violence and long for peace?
It is fear that drives out compassion toward our fellow humans suffering under the weight of injustice and violence. Fear, not courage.

i) How do we define "courage"? Is courage putting yourself in harm's way or putting others in harms way? Trevin collapses that essential distinction. Trevin's policy endangers other people. How is it courageous to put other people at risk? What a twisted definition of courage. 

ii) According to one report:

So much has been made of the flow of foreign fighters into Syria to join jihadi groups like ISIS that it’s worth pointing out who has been leading the far, far larger flow out of the war zone. Military-aged males are at the forefront of the human torrent flowing into Europe from Syria…

And that's from a liberal media outlet. Another report, based on (liberal) UN data, said:

In total, 75 percent of the refugees are reported to be men, 12 percent women and 13 percent children.

Why would we define these men as "refugees" rather than young thugs or looters who invade Europe for the gravy train of welfare state largesse? 

iii) The Bible acknowledges private property rights. OT and NT prohibitions against theft would be meaningless otherwise. That means people are not entitled to just barge into another country and demand free stuff. It isn't theirs for the taking.  

iv) The problem is much larger than terrorism. For instance, you have Muslim men who were raised on a culture of rape. They import that into the host country. This isn't alarmist or hypothetical. Read the news reports, which likely underreport the incidence, due to political correctness. Does Trevin think we don't have a duty to protect women in the host country from an influx of rapists? Likewise, the general spike in violent crime. 

v) Then there's the problem of overwhelming a healthcare system until it breaks down. Again, this isn't alarmist or hypothetical. Read the news reports. How much can a hospital afford to lose before it goes broke? 

Then there's the introduction of exotic diseases, to which natives of the host country have no acquired resistance. Once again, this isn't scaremongering. Read the news reports. 

vi) Even aside from security concerns, the U.S. (to take my own country) has no obligation to open its doors to all the needy, suffering people of the world. We couldn't do that even if we tried. You're talking about hundreds of millions if not billions of people. We can't absorb that. It will destroy the very thing they came for. 

The more your give, the more they take. You create a magnet for endless invasion. Looting a country for everything that isn't nailed down. 

As I've often said, social obligations are concentric. I have a greater obligation to care for my mother than your mother, my wife than your wife, my daughter than your daughter.  

vii) We have no obligation to take gratuitous risks by rolling out the red carpet for Muslim immigrants. There's no duty to invite unnecessary trouble. Why not focus on the persecuted Middle Eastern Christians who are fleeing Muslim terrorists? 

Courage calls for prudent compassion. It is not anti-refugee or anti-Muslim to enforce the strictest standards of security, to ensure that countries remain safe and citizens secure. Such is the way of wisdom.

But that's just a throwaway line. "Strictest standards of security"? He's not serious. He doesn't even attempt to discuss what that entails. 

Here's a description of the vetting process:

The registration process includes in-depth refugee interviews, home country reference checks and biological screening such as iris scans. Military combatants are weeded out.
A DHS officer conducts in-person interviews with every applicant. Biometric information such as fingerprints are collected and matched against criminal databases. Biographical information such as past visa applications are scrutinized to ensure the applicant’s story coheres.

So they interview the applicant. And a terrorist is going to volunteer his true intentions? 

Since when do we have access to the criminal database of Syria, Eritrea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, &c? 

Since when is jihadism even a crime in these countries? 

Here's a historical anecdote: Himmler tried to flee Germany at the end of the war. He was apprehended by British soldiers. Yet they failed to recognize who he was, despite the fact that he was one of the most famous and visible Nazis in the Third Reich. It was a German captive who fingered him. Here they had the head of the S.S. in custody, and they didn't even know it!

Fear leads to hatred…

A recipe for hatred is taking unnecessary risks, with predictable consequences. If you want to make the general public hate Muslims en masse, just keep tempting fate. We've already had a string of domestic jihadist attacks on Obama's watch. 

And convictional compassion means differentiating between the radical Islamists who would destroy us and peaceful Muslim neighbors who stand with us in deploring such violence.

Where are the Muslims who are "standing with us"? What are they actually doing to ostracize the jihadist element in their midst? 

Christian "leaders" like Trevin Wax bring Christianity into disrepute. Many men read articles like his, throw up their hands, and exclaim: "That's why I can never be a Christian. Christians are such patsies and pansies. They have no real solutions to tough problems." 

The Devil's Triangle

I'm going to comment on this post, by atheist Keith Parsons:

Before addressing the specifics, let's make a general observation. Urban legends can go unchallenged for the simple reason that most folks may take no personal interest in the story one way or the other. Folks have no motive to disprove the story. It has no relevance to their daily lives. Moreover, they may not have access to disconfirmatory evidence. 

Compare that to the life of Christ. Roman authorities viewed the Christian faith as, at best, a politically destabilizing movement–and, at worst, positively seditious. So Roman authorities had a vested interest in debunking Christian claims. Likewise, the legitimacy of the Jewish establishment was directly threatened by the Christian movement. And both groups had access to eyewitnesses, both hostile and friendly. None of Parsons' three examples are comparable. 

I got a correspondence this morning from a reader who identified himself as having been raised in a strictly orthodox Jewish environment. One argument that he had often heard concerned the historicity of the stories about Moses, the Exodus, and the delivery of the Law at Mt. Sinai. I cannot reproduce these arguments here since they were quite detailed. However, the basically amounted to saying that it is unreasonable to hold that these stories were fabrications and that there just is no reasonable way that such fictions could have been passed off as the truth. Surely, anyone concocting such stories would be laughed at, or worse. In short, however improbable such stories may seem to skeptics, it is even more improbable that they could have been made up and foisted on people who knew better. 

I myself don't deny that some people are gullible. Fictions can sometimes be passed off as truth. But before we consider his examples, here's a better example: Joseph Smith. He's a manifest charlatan, yet he had many followers. 

You might say I just proved his point. No. You see, many of Smith's contemporaries exposed him as a fraud. So even though he had some credulous disciples, he also had contemporaneous critics. His tall tales were challenged at the time. And they've been continuously challenged. Back to Parsons:

Here is my reply:
I cannot respond to the argument at the same length that you present it. However, it seems to me to vastly underestimate the known human capacity for fabrication. We know from many examples that stories of an extraordinary nature can arise and spread very quickly—within a generation—even when eyewitnesses are alive who could contradict the story. Here are three quick examples:

In December 1945 a flight of TBF Avenger dive bombers took off on a routine training mission from the Fort Lauderdale AFB. This was the famous “Flight Nineteen” that soon entered folklore. The flight had navigation problems, could not find land, and eventually had to ditch in the sea. The flight and all personnel were lost without a trace. Within thirty years, a story had circulated and then appeared in print claiming that Flight Nineteen had been lost in bizarre circumstances in the “Bermuda Triangle.” These records reported radio transmissions from the flight back to the Ft. Lauderdale control tower reporting all sorts of paranormal events and weird experiences. The PBS science program Nova did a critical investigation of these claims and found former Air Force personnel who had been in the control tower during the entirety of the incidents with Flight Nineteen. They flatly contradicted the claims about bizarre radio transmissions and all the weird phenomena. There is no reason to think that the flight was not lost due to bad navigation and bad weather.

That's a counterproductive example to illustrate his claim:

i) Notice that Parsons doesn't give a precise reference for the NOVA special. He just relies on memory. I'm guessing this is the program he alluded to:

Case of the Bermuda Triangle (The)Since 1945, hundreds of ships and planes and thousands of people have mysteriously disappeared in an area of the Atlantic Ocean off of Florida, known as the Bermuda Triangle. NOVA penetrates the mystery of the terrifying Bermuda Triangle.
Original broadcast date: 06/27/76
Topic: unexplained phenomena
In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw the same show when I was a kid. If that's what he had in mind, then Parsons relied on his 30-year-old memory of a TV episode he saw just once. How is that recollection more trustworthy than oral history of the Resurrection 30 years later? 
Likewise, he cites witnesses who were interviewed about 30 years after the fact. Well, that's a greater interval than 1 Cor 15:3-8. And it's quite probable that the Gospel of Mark was written within that timeframe. 
ii) Moreover, even though the story of Flight 19 became subject to legendary embellishment, it's not a fictional story. The basic facts are undisputed. The time. The place. The number of planes. They fact that they never returned. So although nothing paranormal happened, it goes back to an actual event. And even in the urban legend, many of the details are correct. 
iii) Most Americans wouldn't have access to the witnesses. That's very different from eyewitnesses to the Resurrection. Both Roman and Jewish authorities knew who the leaders of the early Christian movement were–which, in turn, gave them access to their social circle. 

Soon after Charles Darwin’s death, the rumor spread that on his deathbed he had renounced evolutionary theory and accepted Christ as his savior. The story grew with the telling until, some 33 years after Darwin’s death, one “Lady Hope” wrote an account claiming that she had interviewed Darwin shortly before his death and that he had regretted his theory and accepted Christian salvation. Evangelical publications picked up on these accounts and spread them widely for years afterwards. The Darwin children, who were present during their father’s final illness and death, vigorously denied these allegations, yet they continued to spread, becoming an evangelical legend.

i) He's mentioned that before. So what? I myself am dubious about stereotypical stories like that precisely because it's…stereotypical. A pious literary genre. 

ii) But even though this detail is false, many of the core details are true, viz., Darwin was real person; he lost his faith. 

In the early decades of the 19th Century, George Washington was admired almost as a cult figure. One of his admirers of the period, the famous Parson Weems, concocted stories about Washington’s childhood. The most famous of these tales was the one about young George cutting down his father’s cherry tree. When confronted, young George replied, “Father I cannot tell a lie” and confessed the deed. Of course, this never happened. It was pure fiction. Further it was written at a time when there were people still alive who had known Washington personally. Yet the story became entrenched as a legend.

I've known that story for as long as I can remember. And even as a kid I never thought it was true. No boy talks that way. No boy would say that. 

To me, it was on the same level as Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. This is one reason why The Adventures of Huck Finn are so popular. That's what boys are really like. And male readers see themselves in that. 

Fact is, his examples generate a dilemma for Parsons. Either he used to believe these urban legends or he never believed them. If he used to believe them, then, by his own admission, he's credulous. If he never believed them, then by his own admission, people aren't necessarily or even probably taken in by them. 

Obviously, such examples could be easily multiplied. The upshot is that the human mind, as Francis Bacon observed, “Is not a dry [unbiased] light.” Or, as modern researchers in cognitive science have shown repeatedly by experimental evidence, the brain is a belief-forming engine. It forms beliefs and then looks for confirming evidence while discounting disconfirming evidence. 

That kind of skepticism applies with equal force to the brains of atheists. 

We believe stories that make us or our ancestors look like important people or which otherwise appeal to our sense of pride or self-righteousness.

i) I never felt inclined to be believe stories that heroized our Founding Fathers. I knew they were just human. And I knew such stories were deliberate, contrived national mythology. 

ii) By contrast, the Bible contains many embarrassing stories about the Apostles and OT Jews. 

Just as the brain is a belief-generator, so cultures are myth-generators. In addition to the studies of cognitive scientists, folklorists can show how all sorts of tales originate and spread until “everybody knows” that they are so. 

Parsons hasn't begun to document that everyone, or even most people, believed in the Devil's Triangle, Darwin's deathbed recantation, or the apocryphal tale of George Washington. The fact that these stories circulate widely doesn't indicate how many people take them seriously. We have no control over what stories circulate. 

Everybody has a friend who has a friend who saw it happen—so they say. The phenomenon of “urban legends” shows this. The upshot is that it is not at all difficult to see how the stories of Moses and the Exodus could have grown over time by the usual process of telling, re-telling, and re-re-telling, with an accumulation of apparently “factual” detail.

Problem is, the further you get from the source, the more anachronistic the legend. Yet Biblical archaeology confirms the accuracy of many Biblical accounts. So Parsons' theory backfires. 

As another example consider how the process of transmission of tales about the Trojan War eventually produced The Iliad. The characters in the Iliad are so convincing and the events so powerfully rendered, that there is a strong temptation to believe that the account is historical in its details, though it certainly is not.

i) Really? I read about the Homeric heroes as a kid. Diomedes was my favorite. But I was never tempted to believe that he was a real person, or that he really bested Ares on the battlefield. 

ii) On the other hand, the Iliad does have a basis in fact. There really was a Trojan War, as Schliemann demonstrated. 

Beliefs about the past are particularly susceptible to being mythologized. You cannot visit the past, and in a society that had not yet developed the profession of the critical historian, your only access was through the tales that were told. You then pass on the tales to the next generation—maybe adding some parts here and there in perfectly good faith. You are only telling it the way it MUST have been. The result, after many generations, is tall tales enshrined as truth.

There were ancient skeptics. That's nothing new. 

What's ironic about Parsons' post is his own lack of critical rigor. He just assumes that these urban legends were taken for granted. He doesn't quote any sociological surveys regarding what percentage of the population ever believed these urban legends, much less a demographic breakdown. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Denying the Signature

Failed gun ban Down Under

How many Klansmen are your friends?

A stock tactic that's often used by those who run interference for Muslims, homosexuals, and transexuals, is to ask crates: "How many of them do you personally know?" or "How many of them are your friends?"

For the record, I went out of my way to befriend Muslim students when I was in college. And I've had a number of homosexual acquaintances. 

That said, let's take a comparison: suppose I were to condemn the Ku Klux Klan. Let's say this was back when the KKK was a force to be reckoned with, and not the offseason Halloween party it's become. 

Suppose the response was: "How many Klansmen do you personally know? How many Klansmen are your friends? If you just give yourself a chance to get to know them, you'll find out that Klansmen (and their womenfolk) are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Only a tiny minority of Klansmen lynch blacks."

Now, for all I know, that may well be true. I'm sure many Klansmen exhibited the virtues of Southern hospitality. I'm sure many of them were quick to roll up their sleeves to help a neighbor in need. 

But, of course, that's not how critics typically evaluate the KKK. They don't frame the issue in terms of how nice and neighborly Klansmen could be in most situations. Rather, they think that's tainted by the fact that the KKK was a domestic terrorist organization. 

Religion of peace?

Pearls of wisdom

"Random Thoughts" by Thomas Sowell.

Q&A: Leonardo De Chirico on Roman Catholicism

Leonardo De Chirico
Leonardo De Chirico

I think De Chirico provides one of the best analyses of modern Roman Catholicism that’s available in the Protestant world today. This interview was published in Credo Magazine, volume 5, Issue 4, November 2015, pp. 8-11:

Q. What is the main doctrinal divide, in your estimation, between Roman Catholics and Protestants?

A. In Roman Catholicism the tendency is to idolize the church. The distinction between Creator and creature is blurred by way of conferring to the church what ultimately belongs to the triune God alone. The church is elevated to a position that makes it an idol, stemming out of a non-tragic view of sin, the conviction that in significant ways the church continues the incarnation of Jesus Christ resulting in an abnormally conflated ecclesiology. The great bullet points of the Protestant Reformation, i.e. Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, are all biblical remedies against the idolatrous tendency of a self-referential church, which sadly have been rejected so far.

Q. In your ongoing interaction with Roman Catholics in Italy, what approach have you taken and found to be effective when witnessing to them?

A. Exposing them to Scripture as much as possible and not assuming they already grasp the basics of the gospel. They may know some Christian vocabulary, but it is generally marred, distorted by traditions and deviant cultural baggage. Most Catholics in Italy are of the “pick-and-choose” variety and so they blend unbiblical traditions and secular unbelief. It is also important to show the personal and the communal aspects of the faith in order to embody viable alternatives for their daily lives.

Q. So tell us, what are positive and negative aspects of this new pope Francis?

A. There is much sentimentalism about Pope Francis. He is a champion of the gospel of “welcoming all” and “showing compassion.” Many secular people, as well as many evangelicals, are fascinated by it. We should ask: What about repentance and faith in Christ alone? What about turning back from idolatry and following Christ wholeheartedly? What about putting the Word of God first? Some of the language of the Pope seems to resemble gospel emphases, yet the substance of it is still heavily sacramental and Marian, leaning towards a liberal form of Catholicism. He is the first Jesuit to become Pope and we should never forget that the Jesuit order was founded to fight against the Protestant Reformation by learning its secrets and using them against it.

Q. Is the Pope the Anti-Christ?

A. Luther, Calvin, the seventeenth-century Protestant confessions, the Puritans, Wesley, Spurgeon, et al., believed that the papacy (not this or that Pope) is the institution out of which the Anti-Christ will eventually come. I share this broad protestant consensus. The papacy claims christological and pneumatological titles and prerogatives (e.g. vicar of Christ, infallible teacher, supreme head of the church with full, immediate and universal power), coupling them with earthly political power. Remember that Popes are monarchs of a sovereign political state. In the papacy what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar tragically intermingle. This poisoned mixture is the potential milieu for the Anti-Christ to rise from.

There are other questions and answers about his church in Rome, what should tourists do in Rome, Italian food, and soccer.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On France

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

Dale Tuggy:

Yes, of course, the chapter alludes to Gen 1. And this "Word" is not wholly unfamiliar to his readers either. No smart reader, in its original context, is going to think that God's "word" there is a self, or is literally the creator. 

Actually, that's exactly what a smart reader should think. In its original context, John uses the "Word" to name the Creator in Gen 1. 

It is God who is the creator, and he creates by "speaking", i.e. by fiat, by mere intention that it should be so. Why should we discard this when reading John 1?

Poor Dale can't even think straight. Was I discarding that when reading Jn 1? No, just the opposite. John calls the Gen 1 Creator the "Word" owing to his distinctive identity as a verbal Creator. He creates by means of the spoken word. Therefore, John gives him that designation. 

That doesn't depend on believing that God literally spoke the world into existence. Rather, it turns on the representation. 

And, as I pointed out before, this is a distinguishing feature of the one true God in OT theism. Yahweh is a God who speaks, unlike the speechless idol gods of paganism. He speaks to Abraham and Moses. 

Only because the logos theories have made it seem so obvious to people that this must be about the pre-human stage of Jesus's career, who was the direct creator, because God couldn't have done that.

Dale offers no evidence that modern commentators on John think it must be about the prehuman stage of Jesus' career due to the influence of patristic logos theories on their exegesis. Most modern commentators don't take the church fathers as their frame of reference. For one thing, that would be anachronistic. That's after the NT. Rather, commentators typically seek background material that's prior in time or contemporaneous with the NT. 

Also, who says this must be about the prehuman state of Jesus' career" because God couldn't have done that?

I note in passing this fallacy in your reasoning:
in John's usage, the "Word of God" is a title for the Creator in Gen 1. That's because God in Gen 1 is a speaker.

That's a clear non sequitur.

i) To begin with, John doesn't call the Logos the "Word of God" in Jn 1. I simply repeated Dale's own phrase for convenience. But Dale substituted the "Word of God" for what Jn 1 actually says. The Prologue doesn't describe the Logos as the Word of God, but rather, God as the Word. 

ii) Perhaps Dale got Jesus as the "word of God" from Rev 19:13. If so, you can't properly use that to swap out the specific usage in Jn 1. 

iii) In addition, that's a title for Jesus in Revelation. However, it is crucial to Dale's enterprise to drive a wedge between Jesus and the eternal Logos. Likewise, Dale denies that the Logos is a personal agent. But that's a title for a personal agent in Rev 19:13: Jesus! And that couples what Dale labors to decouple.

The only real link to the idea of (literal) incarnation here is v. 14, which people think just obviously assumes the personal identity of this divine Word with the man Jesus. But of course, it is by no means obvious that a real [man?] could have, formerly, been a divine Word. 

i) V14 states the Incarnation in compact terms. However, the Incarnation is implied throughout John's Gospel. John repeatedly teaches both the divinity and humanity of Jesus, as well as Jesus coming from heaven and returning to heaven. 

ii) Dale knows enough about Incarnational theology to realize that's an inaccurate way of putting it. It's not that a real man was formerly the divine Word. Rather, the Word or Son always existed, while the man came into existence in union with the Son at a particular point in history.

iii) Likewise, the question at issue isn't whether that's a priori obvious, but what's the obvious meaning of the text. 

And in light of other recent literature which John's audience would be familiar with, it is easy to understand the meaning of v.14 as a non-literal incarnation.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept Dale's contention that the text alludes to Wisdom literature, that by no means precludes a literal Incarnation. 

The only precedent we need for the Prologue to John is the Pentateuch.

Thus saith Steve. 

That is Dale's lame formulaic response. But a philosophy prof. should know the difference between assertions and arguments. I didn't merely make a claim and leave it at that. I proceeded to document the claim.

Here are the parallels, much closer in time to John than the Pentateuch, that you did not take the time to look up. First, Ecclesiasticus 24, with Wisdom speaking:

i) To begin with, for the Wisdom literature to be much closer in time than the Pentateuch is irrelevant. There's a reason why the OT apocrypha and pseudepigrapha are not canonical. They never had anything remotely approaching the authority of the Pentateuch in Judaism. 

And it's not as if the Pentateuch was forgotten literature by the time of John's Gospel. Indeed, the Prologue refers to the law of Moses, and that crops up in debates between Jesus and his opponents in John's Gospel (as well as the Synoptic Gospels, and Acts). That's the standard of comparison. That's the foundational document in 1C Judaism. 

ii) We need to be careful with the notion of "parallels." The Prologue of John is narrating a unique historical event. The Creator coming into the world he made by becoming human is a one-time, unrepeatable event. That is strictly unparalleled. That never happened before or since. Although Jesus will return, that's because the Incarnation is permanent. 

iii) In fact, Jn 1:17-18 draws a studied contrast between how God related to his people in OT times, and how he relates to his people now. 

iv) Apropos (ii), John uses the Pentateuch to provide a theological interpretation of the event, not to directly parallel the event. 

v) John alludes to somewhat similar events in the wilderness wandering to help illustrate the theological significance of what happened on this occasion. And it's an analogy from the lesser to the greater. 

But there's intentional dissimilarities as well (iii). 

vi) There are lots of "coming down from the sky" parallels in ancient literature. Greek gods coming down from Olympus, then returning to Olympus. That's why responsible OT and NT scholars guard against parallelomania.

Note that she is in the beginning, with God. She is sent down from heaven (v. 8) to tabernacle among God's chosen people. Sound familiar? She has become enbooked (v. 23) - Wisdom made into paper and cover, so to speak. Or enscrolled. A book is not and can't literally be a divine attribute. But it can be a great expression of God's eternal Wisdom. 
So can a man. John 1:14. 

That's rife with confusions:

i) Ecclesiasticus 24 contains allusions to OT history. But John doesn't need that secondary filter when he can go straight to the OT source which underlies some Intertestamental literature.  

ii) Gen 1 concerns divine speech: the spoken word, not the written word. Not a book. Therefore, Dale's alternative is at variance with John's use of Gen 1. 

iii) Ecclesiasticus 24:8-9 says God created wisdom. But that's not what Jn 1 says. God didn't create the Word. Rather, the Word was God; the Word was the Creator. 

Wisdom is "in the beginning with God" in the derivative sense that wisdom is God's first creature. But that's contrary to what John says about the Word. 

This Wisdom, God's Word by which he created, is the light of all men - v. 33-34.

i) Jn 1 doesn't use wisdom terminology. It's the logos, not sophia.

ii) Jn 1 doesn't say the Logos is "God's Word" (see above).

iii) Jn 1 doesn't say God first created the Word, then created the world by the Word. Rather, Jn 1 says the Word was the preexistent Creator God. 

Notice Dale's tactics: he makes a case through the cumulative effect of multiplied equivocations and substitutions.

All in all, it makes the allusion to Proverbs 8 seem pretty obvious. 

What is alluding to Prov 8? Jn 1 or Ecclesiasticus 24? Dale doesn't say. 

But even the allusions to these later writings is enough to help us understand John 1.

The fact that Ecclesiasticus 24 may contain allusions to Prov 8 hardly means Jn 1 contains allusions to Prov 8. Once again, Dale can't think straight.

We also have the Wisdom of Solomon. In 9:1, again, God makes all things by his Word. And 7:22-29 yet more parallels e.g. v. 27 with John 1:12-13. But more importantly, in chapter 18, God's Word leaps down from the heavers like a warrior, to slaughter the first-born of the Egyptians (the Exodus incident). Literally? No. It's just a way of saying that God did it. His wisdom, and specifically his judgement, is reflected on earth by those terrible events.

Dale just doesn't get it. Sure, Jewish Intertestamental literature often alludes to OT events. It doesn't follow that John is alluding to the Intertestamental literature. It doesn't follow that if Jn 1 and OT apocrypha/pseudepigrapha both allude to OT events, then Jn 1 must be (or even probably is) alluding to OT events via this secondary literature, as if John must use that filter. John had direct access to the Pentateuch.

It's a central theme of John that God is working through Jesus, performing the miracles and providing Jesus's teaching, and guiding him. 

Notice how Dale prejudicially frames the issue. A central theme of John is the Son acting in the Father's stead, on the Father's behalf. 

Dale's constant rhetorical tactic is to set this up as a relationship between "God" and "Jesus," rather than the Father and the Son, the Father and the Son of God, or God and the Lord. He tries to reserve the word "God" for the Father, to weight the scales in the direction of unitarianism. He routinely flattens out the varied usage in the NT. He recasts the relationship in the reductive terminology of "God" in contrast to "Jesus." Dale is a devious tactician who resorts to subliminal messaging to slant the evidence in favor of his heresy.  

John is putting it emphatically here to start - the very eternal Wisdom of God by which he made all things became flesh and bone, and walked among us, i.e. was expressed in the life of this unique man. 

Notice how Dale substitutes Wisdom terminology for Word terminology, even though John uses Word terminology rather than Wisdom terminology. This is one of Dale's constant tactics. Substitute one thing for another, hoping the reader will forget what the text actually says, then proceed to build on that false premise. If you turn your back on Dale, he will pilfer the cash register.

Let's go back to the OT background of Jn 1:14. There's a combination of interconnected motifs: God's glorious presence, God dwelling with his people via the Shekinah or pillar of fire descending on the tabernacle and filling the tabernacle (or tent of meeting). 

And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14).No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known (Jn 1:18). 
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst (Exod 25:8). 
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Exod 40:34). 
9 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 
But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exod 33:9-10,20).

That's what Jn 1:14 is designed to evoke. 

It's part of catholic orthodoxy that the eternal Logos is personally identical to the man (or "man") Jesus. He can, in their view, and I presume in yours, truly say, "I always existed" - of course, not always as a man. But the idea is that this one who is "man" eternally existed. 

This is Dale's trademark double-talk. 

It is part of orthodox Christology that the Son or Logos always existed, but the hypostatic union didn't always exist. 

Moreover, in the Reformed communication of attributes, what can be said of either nature can be said of the person of Christ. 

Nevertheless, Jesus didn't always exist. Jesus came into being on the eve of the 1C. The Son always existed, but the union of the Son with human nature (becoming human and becoming a man) was a historic event. Jesus is the result of the hypostatic union. One element of the composite is eternal, but the composite itself is not eternal. Rather, that had a point of origin in time. 

In popular usage, Christians speak of Jesus as preexistent, but in terms of philosophical theology, that's inexact.