Saturday, November 28, 2015

PP and freedom of the press

Abortion rights groups say threats against abortion providers rose sharply this summer in the wake of the undercover “sting” operation that produced the controversial videos.

A predictable response from the liberal establishment. To begin with, it's too soon to know what motivated Robert Lewis Dear. 

However, the logic of this objection is that we should suspend freedom of the press if news stories that expose wrongdoing might ever be linked to violence against the target of the news stories. We should outlaw undercover reportage, outlaw investigative reportage, outlaw sting operations, that might create a public backlash against the perpetrators. 

We should outlaw criticism of politicians, because that might create a public backlash, thereby putting them at risk. 

We should outlaw undercover reportage that shows a business dumping toxic waste into a river, because that might create a public backlash, thereby putting the CEO at risk.  

We should outlaw undercover reportage that exposes unsanitary practices in the meat packing industry, because that might create a publish backlash, thereby putting the CEO at risk. 

We should repeal the Freedom of Information Act, because that might create a publish backlash, thereby putting gov't officials at risk. 

Gov't agencies should never warn the public of a probable terrorist attack, because that might create a backlash, thereby putting the associated group at risk. 

Fact is, the PP videos simply documented, in their own words and actions, what PP does behind closed doors. Keep in mind that PP is massively subsidized by taxpayers. So we have every right to know what is done with our tax dollars. 

Don't blame the facts. We have nothing to apologize for when it comes to finding out what a business does with our tax dollars. It is not entitled to operate in secrecy. 

Recommended Recent Koine Greek Publications

In no particular order, here is my short list for recommended resources of recent publications on Koine Greek.

Christian Oxyrhynchus: Texts, Documents, and Source by Lincoln Blumell, Thomas Wayment

A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor University Press. Get them all.

The Letter to the Romans: A Linguistic and Literary Commentary by Porter

Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice by Porter

Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism by Porter and Pitts

Structural Lexicology and the Greek New Testament  by Todd L. Price

Revisiting Aspect and Aktionsart: A Corpus Approach to Koine Greek Event Typology by Francis G. H. Pang

Modeling Biblical Language: Selected Papers from the McMaster Divinity College Linguistics Circle

The Multilingual Jesus and the Sociolinguistic World of the New Testament by Hughson T. Ong

Hellenistic and Biblical Greek: A Graduated Reader by McLean (the best Koine Reader out there IMO).

Biblical Indexes For Christmas Apologetics

In 2007, I posted the text of the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke with links to relevant Triablogue posts. For example, you could click on the text of Luke 2:1 to read a post about Luke's census account. Earlier this year, I updated both indexes:


The indexes now include links to posts from the years since 2007.

What's the purpose of having these index posts? They gather together a large number of our posts on Christmas issues in a way that's organized in accordance with the infancy narratives. If you're studying the passages, or you're doing something like preparing to teach a Sunday school class on a relevant subject, these indexes will allow you to work your way through the text in an easier and more thorough manner. Instead of looking through our archives for each passage and trying to judge which post is best to consult for each text, these indexes gather some of our best material and make it easy to find in one place. A lot of our posts on Christmas issues aren't included, and I may have misjudged which posts would be best to include, but these indexes should be useful. And you can supplement them with Google searches, running searches on Blogger, emailing me to ask where to find something, etc.

Friday, November 27, 2015

2016 Bible Reading Plan: Read the New Testament in Greek!

If you want to start learning Greek so you can read the New Testament in Greek (as well as the OT/LXX), I am expanding my private teaching at the beginning of the year.

You can learn about my one-on-one, tutoring, Greek course at my Greek page here:

Also related, I just got back from a full week of the annual Society of Biblical Literature and Evangelical Theological Society meetings in Atlanta. I picked up some excellent volumes on Greek. So once I find time, I will post what I think are must-have recent publications on Koine Greek.


Alan E. Kurschner

Chic pacifism

I recently got into an impromptu debate with another pacifist. Pacifism is chic in some "progressive Christian" and/or hipster evangelical circles. I don't know how widespread that is. Seems to be a theological fad that's been popularized by folks like Gregory Boyd, Preston Sprinkle, and Stanley Hauerwas.  Of course, these are typically folks whose pacifism has never been put to the test. It's an issue that crops up in debates over immigration, "refugees," and counterterrorism. 

The world's Muslims

Poll of U.S. Muslims Reveals Ominous Levels Of Support For Islamic Supremacists’ Doctrine of Shariah, Jihad

Dershowitz on tyrannical student protesters

"I've been becoming a bit more Reformed of late, and I blame that on the Catholics"

Christmas Resources 2015

Over the past several years, I've posted a collection of resources for each Christmas season. Here are the posts of previous years:


Since the 2008 post is foundational to the others, you may want to start with that one. Here's an archive of our posts with the Christmas label. Make sure you scroll all the way down and click on Older Posts to see more.

The following are some representative examples of our posts on Christmas issues:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Snake evolution

I often run across the claim that pit vipers represent the apex of snake evolution. Although I've discussed this before, I'd like to say a bit more.

i) Infrared vision is clearly useful to a nocturnal predator. If, however, a particular snake species is diurnal, then that would be a useless refinement. 

ii) Are retractable fangs more advanced than fixed fangs? Certainly retractable fangs are way cool. To my knowledge, extant snake species have at least one of four kinds of fangs:

Vipers have retractable fangs that resemble hypodermic needles. They have to be retractable because they are so long, and located in the front of the mouth. 

The Stiletto has external fangs which enables it to strike sideways or backwards. Is that more or less advanced than the viper? 

Likewise, is the spitting cobra more or less advanced than the viper? 

Then you have elapids, with short, fixed fangs positioned in the front of the mouth. 

Finally, you have rear-fanged snakes (e.g. boomslang). 

iii) Is one design more efficient or advanced than another? I'm no expert, but here are some considerations that come to mind.

Retractable fangs deploy a rapid strike-and-release technique. That means it can envenomate with a glancing strike. Stabbing or scratching the skin. 

That makes it easier to envenomate prey. By contrast, fixed-fanged snakes, and especially rear-fanged snakes, must bite into the prey and hold onto the prey or even chew on the prey to inject venom. 

I imagine it would be harder for a snake with fixed fangs to puncture a flat surface, round surface, or surface with a large circumference, if it can't open its mouth wide enough to puncture that surface.

However, many venomous snakes have a similar diet of small rodents, lizards, amphibians, birds, fish, or even other snakes. So I don't think it makes much difference when that's the quarry. The size and shape of the prey in those cases is conducive to either design.

In fact, there might be types of prey where the strike-and-release technique is disadvantageous. Take the boomslang. That's an arboreal snake that eats birds. Presumably, it would be less effective to let go of the bird, which might fly away or fall to the ground.

Likewise, take sea snakes. Releasing the fish would give it a chance to swim away or be eaten by another opportunistic fish. By the same token, King cobras eat other snakes, including cobras. But the strike-and-release technique would give the prey a chance to get away. 

Conversely, I've read that weasels are on the menu of Timber rattlesnakes. Weasels are predators in their own right. The strike-and-release technique might be beneficial when attacking prey like that, because a weasel could injure the snake if it had to hang onto the weasel until the prey become immobilized. Weasels are very feisty animals which would bite and claw the snake if it had to keep a grip on the prey to inject venom.  

So it isn't clear to me that one design is more advanced than another. They all have tradeoffs. They are all adapted to the nature of the prey. And particular kinds of prey may favor a particular envenomation mechanism. So I don't think that's evidence for macroevolution. 

Was the Star of Bethlehem a comet?

Colin Nicholl has written a testy response to Jason Engwer's review of his book. 

Not having read Nicholl's book, I don't have an informed opinion to offer on his book. In this post I'm not evaluating his book. Rather, I'm going to comment on some things he said in response to Jason. I don't have a firm opinion on the magi's country of origin, so I won't comment on that. Likewise, I won't comment on the patristic/apocryphal texts. That's just not my bailiwick. Finally, in this post I will refer to the Star of Bethlehem by the neutral term "prodigy". 

Let's begin by quoting some of Nicholl's statements that I wish to evaluate: 

As I point out in the book, the supernatural view is a last-resort view.
By contrast, Engwer proposes that his woodenly literal reading of Mt 2:9 (the Star went "in close proximity to" the Magi and stood immediately over the place where the child was) is obviously superior.
Jason Engwer insists that the Star disappeared after the "rising" and only reappeared on the final night of the Magi's journey. However, this is patently absurd.
There is no implication that the Star hadn't been seen since…As regards v9, the recollection of the "rising" most naturally makes the point that the very same Star that had prompted them to set off in search of the baby Messiah was now pinpointing the house where he was located, so that they could complete their mission. Again, there is not implication that the Star had been absent in the meantime.
If an object is present, then absent for a long time, and reappears in another region of the sky, the ancients simply would not have been able to identify it as one and the same item.
The very use of the astronomical word "rising" (see, for example, BDAG, Davies an Allison; and my book) refutes the idea that the Star immediately disappeared in the wake of the rising. After all, an astrological body's "rising" is the start of a new stage of its visibility (not invisibility) in the night sky.
…he also fails to appreciate that the Star at its "rising" had, by definition, to be a very great distance away from the Magi (outside Earth's atmosphere, in outer space, where, incidentally comets orbit).
That the Star is called a "star" (aster) and had "a rising" (an astrological term) and was observed by record-keeping celestial experts, who can tell Herod precisely when the Star first appeared make this point well.
However, his "highly local" Star is hard to reconcile with the word "star" and extremely difficult to reconcile with the "rising" language of v. 2, which, as we have just seen, implies that the Star was beyond Earth's atmosphere, not at all near the Magi.
To base a "highly local" Star on nothing other than a naive, wooden literalistic interpretation of v9 seems unwise. That many Christians some centuries after the event did the same is no excuse for making the same mistake today. We should know better.
If the Star was supernatural, why did the Star "appear" so long before the rising?…One could, I suppose, deny that the "appearing" and the "rising are distinct.
A "highly local" Star that is akin to "ball lightning" is unconvincing–if such a body was a short distance in front of the Magi and indeed stood immediately over the house, then are we really to accept that no one else saw it at the time?
Ignorance of astronomy no doubt contributed to the origin and popularity of the various supernaturalist opinions.
However, I explain what the Star did to persuade the Magi that someone had been born and to get them to turn to the Hebrews Scriptures in a bid to identify the newborn.
As regards the Star's "standing," Engwer evidently does not envision his Star as having a cometary tail…[but] comets can stand perfectly vertical over the horizon (e.g. the 1680 comet)…Nevertheless, it seems to me that a slightly offset comet streaking up from near the horizon towards the roof of the sky would certainly have been naturally paradigmed as "standing." 

i) Nicoll's response is deceptive. He misleads the reader by suggesting (more than once) that Jason's "woodenly literal" interpretation is eccentric. I daresay most laymen don't own or have access to major commentaries on Matthew, so they are just taking Nicoll's word for it when he dismisses Jason's interpretation as "woodenly literal" or "naively literal." But let's quote a few major commentators:

In light of this evidence, I conclude that the "star" is a miraculous and mysterious phenomenon whose precise identity cannot be ascertained. Knox Chamblin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary (CFP 2010), 1:218-19. 
For a "star" (i) to disappear at certain times and then suddenly to shine again, and (ii) to lead directly to Bethlehem and then to stand fixed over the house where Christ lay "was not of the order of nature." Ibid. 219n18.  
The element in the story which most obviously invites skepticism is the guiding star with its apparently purposeful movement and stopping to indicate a specific location (see on v9).  
…those of us who are not astronomers may find it hard to envisage either of these phenomena first "rising," then "leading on" the magi, and eventually "coming to rest" in such a way as to indicate a specific location, even when due allowance is made for the phenomenal viewpoint of the storyteller's language. Despite the fascination of astronomical explanations, it may in the end be more appropriate to interpret Mt 2:9 as describing not a regular astronomical occurrence but the miraculous provision of what appeared to be a star which uniquely moved and then stopped (or at least which appeared to observers on the ground to do so), though of course there is no improbability in a natural astronomical phenomenon being the basis on which the magi made their initial deductions and set off on their journey.  
…it is hard to explain unless the star somehow indicated the actual house rather than just the village as a whole. It seems, then, that the star's movement gave them the final supernatural direction they needed to the specific house "where the child was." R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 2007), 65, 69, 74.  
The conditions which the star must satisfy are the following: It must be the kind of star (a) for which the Magi might be considered to be on the lookout; (b) which on some basis or other could be identified as the star of the messiah of the Jews; (c) which can blaze a trail for the Magi to follow from Jerusalem; and (d) which can finally come to rest over a particular dwelling. 
While the first two conditions alone would point in the direction of astrological observation of the natural heavens, the third and fourth point only to a miraculously provided heavenly light. We appear to be dealing with a new light in the heavens which on the basis of location and/or time of emergence pointed in astrological lore to some special ascendancy of the Jews, but which goes away from its location in the heavens to lead the Magi from Jerusalem to the location in Bethlehem. The story itself provides no basis on which the Magi could have determined the identity of the star at its rising with the star which later went ahead to Bethlehem. The reader is left to depend on the superior knowledge (and reliability) of the narrator. 
The need to search or inquiry is preempted by the star, which at this point becomes (for the first time) a guiding star. Presumably the star confirms the correctness of looking for the child in Bethlehem, as well as guiding the Magi to the specific location. John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 2005), 110, 116. 

While these leading commentators don't necessarily agree with Engwer in every detail, or agree with each other in every detail, they clearly disagree with Nicholl. They interpret the "star" as miraculous or supernatural phenomenon that appears and disappears when needed, providing very specific direction to the magi.  

Nicholl can take issue with that, but it's unethical for him to insinuate that Jason's interpretation on these points is some backwood's reading that no serious modern Bible scholar would countenance. 

An Exchange With Colin Nicholl

I recently reviewed Colin Nicholl's book on the star of Bethlehem. He's written a response. The references in parentheses that follow are page numbers in Nicholl's response to me, unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Exorcism stories

Gary Habermas: Contemporary Muslim Apologetics and the Resurrection of Christ

Vestigial genes

I'd like to make a few more observations regarding Dennis Venema's arguments for human evolution. I don't claim to be an expert, but since he's writing for laymen, I will give a layman's reaction. Let's begin with a general point: 

1. Depending on what you read, it might seem like the creationist (i.e. young-earth creationist, old-earth creationist, and/or ID-theorist) has no positive evidence for his position. He's simply poking holes in evolutionary theory. His arguments are essentially reactionary. And he posits ad hoc explanations to reconcile his position with the evidence.

But to my knowledge, there is no direct evidence for the theory of evolution (i.e. macroevolution/universal common descent). An evolutionary biologist or paleontologist attempts to retroengineer the natural history of life on earth based on living organisms. 

The ostensible evidence for evolution is based on fossils, comparative anatomy, and (more recently) comparative genetics.

i) Problem with fossil evidence is that:

a) The appeal is circular: it presumes these are in fact transitional forms. 

b) The fossils are widely separated in time and/or space. Often millions of years apart (on conventional dating). So any lineage must be postulated. 

c) Variations are consistent with creationism. 

ii) I find the appeal to comparative anatomy fallacious. An obvious reason why two different species have similar organs or body parts is because they perform the same function. For instance, dogs and cheetahs have similar paws because both hunt by running, and not because cheetahs are more closely related to dogs than cats. 

Likewise, bats and whales both use echolocation to navigate, not because they are related to each other, but because they operate in darkness. 

iii) Consider this in reverse: why is the body plan of an anteater so different than most other animals? Not because it's more distantly related, but because it needs that body plan to capitalize on a particular food niche. 

Both similarities and dissimilarities have the same underlying explanation. If we don't explain why an anteater is dissimilar based on more distant common ancestry, we shouldn't explain why apes and humans are more similar based on more recent common ancestry. In both cases, design is indexed to function: common design=common function. Monkeys and raccoons have the kinds of paws they do to climb, manipulate food, in that type of environment. 

2. Regarding Venema's specific evidence: 

i) From a creationist standpoint, a gene might become vestigial through disuse. That would be analogous to say, blind cave fish. And that's consistent with creationism. 

However, you might have a dormant gene that isn't in use, but is available for future use, should the occasion arise.

For instance, unlike black Africans, my body can't produce a permanent suntan. That's because my ancestors hail from N. Europe (Scotland, Switzerland, England).

However, my body is able to produce a temporary suntan. And that can come in handy. If I couldn't develop a suntan, my skin would burn, and becoming increasingly burned, the more time I spend in direct sunshine without covering (e.g. during the summer months).

Now, even if my N. European ancestors rarely had occasion to take advantage of that potential, it can be very useful to have. Suppose I move from Switzerland to the sunbelt, and spend lots of time out of doors. The ability to form a suntan protects my skin from chronic burning. (Sure, there's still the risk of skin cancer from prolonged exposure.) Albinos are at high risk of sunburn. 

ii) Air-based olfaction would be useful for orcas. They prowl the coastline for places where penguins and seals congregate. Being able to sense their presence on land by scent would help to locate prey. Even if they don't presently have a sense of smell, it might be useful for them to have the wherewithal to produce it. 

I believe there's a debate about whether whales have a sense of smell:

iii) I've read that Mojave rattlesnake venom is more hemotoxic or neurotoxic depending on the geography. That shows the value of having an undeveloped genetic potential. What may be useless at one time or place may become useful at another. 

Denying the Signature 6

"Denying the Signature: More on Substance Dualism" by Stephen Meyer.

The Weaknesses Of Cruz And Carson

Two recent posts at National Review are good at summing up some of the biggest weaknesses of Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. And notice the irrational responses by supporters of Cruz, Carson, and Trump in the comments sections of both threads. They unwittingly underscore the point that Rubio should be the nominee. As you hear from Rubio's critics in online forums, on talk radio, etc., keep in mind that he has a 94% rating from the Heritage Foundation and 98% from the American Conservative Union.

“Yet the need is to understand Roman Catholicism as a system governed by spurious principles …”

The Gospel Coalition has featured an interview with Leonardo De Chirico on the state of the Gospel and the real church in Italy:

On the Gospel in Italy:

The faithful evangelical witness of past generations in difficult circumstances is inspiring. The gradual growth of cooperative efforts—for instance, in advocating for religious freedom or mercy ministries—is also encouraging. There are more solid books being translated into Italian (e.g., authors like Don Carson, Tim Keller, John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever), and conferences and training initiatives are available for the Italian public. Recently the Dictionary of Evangelical Theology, a 900-page volume with more than 600 entries, was edited by Italian theologians and had to be reprinted—something unthinkable even a few years ago. There are 120 students following a non-residential five-year course in Reformed theology at the Istituto di Formazione Evangelica e Documentazione (IFED); this is also encouraging.

In the past, Italian theologians have significantly contributed to the cause of the gospel worldwide: I think of Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499–1562), peer to John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger, whose Loci Communes (Common Places) were standard works for generations of Protestant pastors. I think of Francis Turretin (1623–1687), whose Institutes of Elenctic Theology is a crown of Reformed orthodoxy that served as the theology textbook at old Princeton Seminary. So while there’s still much to be translated, I’m convinced of the need for Italians themselves to write and develop contextually appropriate resources.

On “Roman Catholicism”:

The allure and appeal of unity with Rome is as enticing as ever. Yet the need is to understand Roman Catholicism as a system governed by spurious principles such as optimistic anthropology, synergistic salvation, abnormal ecclesiology, and ambiguous church-state identity which lies at the heart of the church (emphasis added). The Vatican Files are tools designed to help grasp the theological system binding the whole of Roman Catholicism—and it attempts to go beyond simplistic and superficial understandings of it. …

Today, the contribution that Italian theology can make to the global evangelical family perhaps lies in helping it to frame a biblically robust assessment of Roman Catholicism. More than ever this is at the top of the list of the global evangelical agenda.

On the secular popularity of “Pope Francis”:

Pope Francis is working hard to change the overall narrative of the Roman Catholic faith, wanting it to be marked by mercy and inclusivity instead of tradition and rules. He’s pitting the “letter” against the “spirit” of Roman Catholicism, pushing the latter over the former. This explains the concerns of certain traditional quarters about ambiguities in his language, also present in the final document of the recent Synod on the family.

Pope Francis wants to overcome the letter of canon law with a merciful spirit that welcomes all without challenging anyone. This is why he’s so loved by secular people. Everyone feels affirmed and no one feels questioned by what he says. But the biblical good news is that Jesus has come to pay for our sins and calls all persons to repent and believe. If you miss one bit of the gospel, you miss it all. The Pope uses language that resembles the gospel, but the meaning of what he says is far from it (emphasis added).

How can we pray for the evangelical church in Italy?

Please pray for:

  • a growing appreciation for gospel centrality in all we are and do;

  • a stronger sense of being part of the historical and global church of Jesus Christ;

  • a deeper sense of unity based on gospel truth;

  • a new enthusiasm in church planting and evangelism, especially in urban centers;

  • a support of training initiatives that are biblically sound and culturally relevant;

  • a peer-to-peer gospel partnership between the Italian church and the global church wanting to help us; and

  • a renewed gospel-centered engagement of society that addresses the bankruptcy of both religious and secular illusions in the hope God will move powerfully in the country.

  • Tuesday, November 24, 2015

    The angel of Yahweh

    The theology of theistic evolution

    The Positive Attention The Great Christ Comet Is Getting

    Christianity Today recently interviewed Colin Nicholl about his new book on the star of Bethlehem, which argues that the star was a comet. And Justin Taylor just put up a positive post on the book. Earlier in the year, it got some positive coverage from Tim Challies, Tim Keller, and others. The book's endorsements are highly impressive. You can read them in Justin Taylor's post linked above. I expect the book to get a lot of coverage during the upcoming Christmas season.

    But I have some problems with Nicholl's argument. You can read my review of his book at Amazon here.

    Hipster pacifism

    Some comments on the Facebook wall of hipster pacifist Preston Sprinkle:

    Steve Hays What we see are hipster pacifists who equate picking up the cross with picking up a Caramel Brulée Latte, while they feign the rhetoric of martyrdom in the ouchless, painless forum of a Facebook wall.

    Steve Hays Preston deploys two contradictory defenses:

    i) The "Syrian refugees" pose no risk.

    ii) We should take them in regardless of the risk.

    Steve Hays I notice Preston ignores objections he can't refute. For instance, there's the persistent refusal to register the elementary moral distinction between protecting yourself and protecting another. Between putting others at risk and putting yourself at risk to protect others. Defending your wife and kids isn't selfish or playing it safe. To the contrary, that's endangering yourself to defend their physical well-being. 

    Preston keeps taking ethical and intellectual shortcuts.

    Steve Hays Preston says 1 Tim 5:8 is only about financial provision. Two points:

    i) So, according to Preston, Paul thinks Christians have a duty to protect dependents from the physical harm of starvation of destitution, but no duty to protect them from the physical harm of rape, battery, or murder? That's a pretty artificial disjunction. 

    ii) But for the sake of argument, let's agree with Preston's arbitrary restriction. Problem is, pacifism prevents a Christian from financially supporting his dependents. If you can't protect your livelihood or financial assets, then you can't support your family.

    Steve Hays Preston says Christians who oppose pacifism are motivated by "fear". Is that generally true? 

    Take the Muslim culture of rape. Most rape victims are women. As a man, I'm at very low risk of becoming a rape victim.

    If, therefore, I'm concerned about importing a rape culture into the US, that's not because I'm afraid of rapists. I personally have next to nothing to fear from rapists. It's highly unlikely that I'd ever be the target.

    Likewise, Preston says Christians who oppose pacifism want to play it safe. Is that generally true?

    Suppose I leave a downtown tavern by the rear exit. In the alley I see a well-built man threatening a woman. If I wanted to play it safe, I wouldn't get involved. 

    Suppose I interpose myself between the woman and the assailant. Am I playing it safe? Hardly. I'm exposing myself to potential harm, possibly grave harm. There's no guarantee that I will win that altercation. I may be hospitalized. I may be murdered. 

    The objective is to buy the woman time to get away from the assailant. And I do so at my expense. 

    Preston routinely posits a false dichotomy between safety and defense. But counterexamples like these are trivially easy to imagine–and they have many real-world counterparts.

    Or take the command to love our enemies. Well, to continue with my illustration, the assailant wasn't my enemy. The assailant was the woman's enemy. (At least until I drew her fire.)

    That's not a case of "retaliating" against my enemy. Rather, that's a case of protecting the innocent from their enemies. 

    These are rudimentary distinctions which the hipster pacifists on this thread disregard. Take the difference between protecting yourself and protecting someone other than yourself. Consider two different scenarios:

    i) A soldier throws himself on a grenade to shield his comrades 

    ii) A soldier throws a comrade on a grenade to shield himself

    Does Preston think these are morally equivalent actions? Are both actions equivalent to playing it safe?

    Steve Hays Regarding Preston's "cruciform" way of following Jesus, Preston evidently thinks it is unChristlike to defend your wife or daughter against a rape gang. That's what his pacifism boils down to.

    Steve Hays Preston's position is self-refuting:

    On the one hand he complains about how unchristian it is not to give safe haven to "Syrian refugees."

    On the other hand, he complains about how unchristian it is to forcibly defend the innocent from harm. But in that event, there can never be any safe haven for fleeing refugees.

    Steve Hays "No one ever said that the radical, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, self-sacrificial, countercultural, cruciform way of following Jesus would be safe. If you want safety and security, just keep following the American Dream. As Christians, we cannot die and we cannot lose. We've been crucified to the world and the world to us." - @Preston Sprinkle

    Is Preston suggesting that if you wish to protect woman from jihadist rape-gangs (to take one example), that's equivalent to pursuing the American Dream?

    Steve Hays One problem is Preston's elementary failure to distinguish between protecting yourself and protecting others. 

    In addition, these can be linked. If, say, a man is the sole caregiver for his elderly, enfeebled mother, then by defending himself against a mugger, he's protecting his mother. For if the mugger kills him, his mother will be bereft.

    Steve Hays Let's consider one of Preston's key theses in his case for "Christocentric" nonviolence:

    "Jesus never acted violently to fight injustice or defend the innocent."

    There are several basic problems with that thesis:

    i) It acts as though Jesus is dead. It acts as though Jesus was just a man who lived 2000 years ago, made some inspirational statements, and left us an inspirational example. 

    It acts as though his field of action was confined to 1C Palestine. But according to NT Christology, the Son is active wherever and whenever the Father is active (Jn 5:17). 

    In the 1C, at the same time the Son was doing things in 1C Palestine, he was doing things in 1C India, China, North and South America, &c. As a member of the Trinity, the Son is an agent of divine providence. The Son is active 24/7 throughout the universe. 

    ii) The problem with Prescott using Jesus as an example, including his exemplary inaction, is that it undercuts his appeal to Christian charity. What is Jesus doing for "Syrian refugees"? Is Jesus personally housing, feeding, and clothing Syrian refugees? No. 

    If Preston is going to analogize from Jesus' example, then we shouldn't have Christian relief agencies. We shouldn't do stuff Jesus isn't doing. Well, Jesus isn't on the ground in war-torn countries like Syria, aiding the hungry, homeless, wounded, destitute masses. Jesus is an example of nonintervention in the "Syrian refugee" crisis.

    Steve Hays As I pointed out before, there's a central contradiction in Preston's argument. His position involves an argument by analogy. 

    He says Jesus was nonviolent, so we should follow his example. So he's operating with a general principle, Don't do what Jesus didn't do.

    Well, what is Jesus doing in the "refugee" crisis? What example is Jesus setting for us right here and now? Presumably, Preston thinks Jesus is still alive. Indeed, omnipotent.

    On the face of it, Jesus is doing nothing to intercede. Therefore, by parity of argument, we should practice nonintervention as well.

    Steve Hays My portrayal of his argument is drawn directly from one of the theses in his ETS presentation ("Jesus never acted violently to fight injustice or defend the innocent"). That isn't based on Jesus' commands, but Jesus' example.

    You then proceed to equivocate regarding the analogy. Jesus isn't personally showing hospitality to "Syrian refugees." Rather, he's taking a hands-off approach. 

    So, by parity of argument, we should follow his example by similar inaction. If we truly follow Jesus' lead in this crisis, that's a prescription for nonintervention. 

    At best, we could delegate the heavy-lifting to third-parties, just as, according to you, Jesus now delegates the heavy-lifting to third parties.

    Steve Hays Jay needs to learn how to follow an argument–in this case, Preston's argument. Jay is now admitting that we shouldn't emulate Jesus. After all, Jesus lets "Syrian refugees" starve, so by analogy, we should let "Syrian refugees" starve.

    Presumably, the general principle undergirding Preston's argument is that Christians should do what Jesus does and refrain from doing what Jesus refrains from doing. By that logic, if Jesus lets "Syrian refugees" starve, we should follow his lead. 

    If that's not the general principle, then that component of Preston's case disintegrates. 

    Jay responds by insisting that we should treat "Syrian refugees" differently than Jesus treats them. But that's the opposite of Preston's argument. Jay has turned Preston's argument by analogy into an argument by disanalogy.

    Spooftexting the "Syrian refugee" crisis

    I'll comment on this:

    i) Prov 19:17, Phil 2:4, and Heb 13:16 are about generic charity. One problem with applying them to the "Syrian refugee" crisis is that we have humanitarian crises going on throughout the world. The media decides to hype one particular crisis to the neglect of others. But we lack the resources to bail out everybody. 

    ii) Aiding refugees doesn't entail resettlement in the US. We have Christian relief organizations that minister on site. That's far more cost-effective. 

    iii) In addition, short-term charity can be uncharitable in the long-term if you don't consider the consequences. For instance, the "Syrian refugees" include (mostly) Muslims as well as Christians fleeing from Muslim persecution. If, however, you import both groups into the US, then Christian refugees will face Christian persecution coming and going. The very people who persecute them follow them right across the border, like bounty hunters. 

    Likewise, young Muslim men are prone to violent crime. When you import them into the US, the innocent will suffer. But that's hardly loving and caring to the innocent. 

    In addition, because the political class promotes "multiculturalism" and frowns on assimilation, Muslim communities in the US become breeding grounds for domestic terrorism.

    iv) In context, Mt 24:35-40, Jas 1:27; 2:14-17, & 1 Jn 3:17 are about charity to and for Christians–not charity in general.  

    v) As for the parable of the Good Samaritan, it all depends on who you plug into the parable, based on modern analogies. What if the man who went down to Jericho was a suicide bomber, but he was injured in a traffic accident before he could complete his mission. The Good Samaritan nurses him back to health, after which the suicide bomber resumes his original mission. Arriving in Jericho, he teams up with some fellow refugees to kill or main thousands of spectators at a sports stadium. BTW, that's not hypothetical. 

    Matters would have been even worse if the attackers had achieved what was apparently the main component of the attack, namely the planned multiple-suicide bombings at the international football game. One bomb inside the stadium to create a panic, then two more bombers to meet fleeing fans at the exits. It’s an obvious enough tactic, that different groups have been flirting with for years. I first encountered the idea as a hypothetical nightmare for security agencies some forty years ago, in the context of crowded department stores and Christmas shopping.
    What do you do when you hear or see something terrifying? You run in the opposite direction, and (as you then discover) into the zone of greatest danger. If the tactic had succeeded in Paris on Friday, it could have added hundreds (at least) more fatalities. Trust me, ISIS/Daesh will try and repeat the plan until they finally get it right.
    So what are the implications? Assume you know that groups are planning a two-pronged attack like that against a sporting event, whether in the US or Europe. What do you do? The days of full body searches at football stadiums might not be far removed. And also for Christmas shoppers?
    Oh, and please note that two of the suicide attackers were outside the stadium, so would not have been picked up by even the most thorough and professional searches of fans entering. Their job was to remain there until the crowds flooded out.

    Problem is, the "Syrian refugees" aren't any one thing. They're a diverse group. So it all depends on which kind of "refugee" you plug into the parable. 

    Liberal white arrogance

    This raises some issues, but not necessarily the issues that Pastor Wickham intended. 

    What's the viewpoint of this cartoon? It has more than one viewpoint. There's the viewpoint of the cartoonist. It's intended to be a statement in favor of resettling "Syrian refugees" in the US.

    Then there's the viewpoint of the reader. The cartoon tilts the issue in order to make the reader see the issue from the cartoonist's perspective. To agree with the cartoonist.

    Then there's the viewpoint of the characters. The cartoon is an analogy or allegory of the "Syrian refugee" crisis, in which the Pilgrim stands for Syrian refugees while the Indian stands for those fearful, heartless, unChrist-like evangelicals who oppose importing Muslim "refugees" into the country.

    Given the heavy-handed analogy, Wickham is casting the Indian in the role of the bad guy. He's the villain in this cartoon. The native who's too hard-hearted to share his land with desperate refugees.

    As a matter of fact, it wouldn't surprise me if many Indians think it was a mistake to let the white man into the country. Many Indians were killed and dispossessed as a result.

    Yet the implied viewpoint of the cartoon is that a reader ought to condemn the attitude of the Indian character. Surely it's not the cartoonist's objective that a reader should agree with the attitude of the Indian character. For that would be siding with the "anti-refugee" position. 

    Isn't it awfully presumptuous for Pastor Wickham to create an Indian character as a mouthpiece to express the viewpoint of a white cartoonist? I imagine many Indians would resent a white guy using them in that way. 

    Denying the Signature 5

    "Denying the Signature: Of Minds and Causes" by Stephen Meyer.

    Fundamental differences between an evangelical and Roman Catholic understanding of the Gospel

    This is three minutes, and it's worth a look. De Chirico neatly summarizes the key differences that he points out in his book, "Evangelical Theological Perspectives on Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism".

    HT: Vincent van der Weerden

    Sanders Is Outperforming Trump

    Dan McLaughlin has a good article on how Sanders is doing better among Democrats than Trump is among Republicans. He also gives several examples of Sanders' unusual and absurd views and responds to excuses that are often given for why the media cover Trump so much more than Sanders. Other parts of the article address how weak Trump's standing in the Republican party actually is, despite all of the media attention given to his outpolling his competitors.

    Misusing the Christmas story

    Why So Few Syrian Christian Refugees? For the Same Reason You Can’t Find Orphans in Haitian Orphanages

    Sunday, November 22, 2015

    Manufacturing wedges

    In defense of time-travel stories

    There are film critics who, whenever they review a movie about time travel, rehearse the antinomies of retrocausation. This was a weakness of Roger Ebert. But that's a mistake. We need to be more discriminating when it comes to the genre.

    i) Time travel that doesn't change the past is coherent. Likewise, if a person traveled into the future and stayed there, that would be coherent.

    But changing the past is incoherent. By the same token, traveling into the future, then returning to the present, creates the same problems. Even if the traveler didn't intend to change his own time, by returning to the present with advance knowledge, that will affect his actions in many subtle ways. He behaves differently than before he took that trip. His very presence changes the status quo, because his present-day actions are now informed by foreknowledge. 

    Problem is, the impossible time-travel scenarios are the very scenarios we most enjoy. So we have a choice: would you rather have time travel stories or not have time travel stories? If you enjoy the genre, then stop bitching about the antinomies. That's the price you pay for the genre. 

    If a character was simply a detached observer, then time travel would be coherent. But we prefer stories in which the character interacts with his environment. That's because the character is a stand-in for the reader or viewer. He vicariously takes us to times and places where we'd like to go. We experience it through his eyes, ears, and feet. 

    That goes to the limitations as well as the distinctive appeal of the genre. Can't have one without the other. 

    ii) This is part of the willing suspension of belief. We do that all the time with movies we watch. Why be so picky about time travel films? 

    We don't demand that stories be realistic. We like unrealistic stories. The imagination can take us places where we can't go in real life. That's what makes it appealing. 

    iii) Given the genre, just about every film about time travel will suffer from this paradox. Unless you hate the genre, there's no point attacking every example of the genre. For that "flaw" will be present in just about every specimen. It can't be eliminated without eliminating the genre. So we should discriminate between good examples and bad examples of the genre. 

    That doesn't mean time travel stories are above criticism. That doesn't mean they are equally good. It depends on how well or badly the theme is handled. 

    iv) In general, I think it works best if the story takes the possibility of time travel for granted, without explaining it. Just like an author doesn't stop to detail the metaphysical machinery of magic when he tells a story about wizards. Rather, that's just a given. If you can't accept that on its own terms, read a different kind of story. Same thing with fire-breathing dragons. We really don't want a biological theory. 

    I've seen movies that make the mistake of offering a scientific explanation for vampires. But it's more plausible when they are viewed as occult creatures. 

    v) There are philosophers and physicists who labor to elude the antinomies of time travel. If a director or screenwriter offers a philosophically serious explanation, I think we should give him credit, even if theory can't withstand scrutiny. I'd cut him some slack. At least he respected the intelligence of the audience. 

    However, even that can be a problem. For instance, there's a scene in Minority Report where a character "resolves" the dilemma with an object lesson:

    Anderton picks up a wooden ball and rolls it toward Witwer, who catches it before it lands on the ground. When asked why he caught the ball, Witwer says "Because it was going to fall." Anderton replies, "But it didn't." Then confidently tells him, "The fact that you prevented it from happening doesn't change the fact that it was going to happen."

    But the problem with that illustration is that it freezes the attention of the audience. A thoughtful viewer will keep pondering the validity of the illustration long after that scene. He's mentally stuck on that scene. The story continues, but his mind is back on that scene. So it's distracting. 

    A good director doesn't want the audience to keep thinking about that scene, to keep puzzling over that illustration. He wants the plot to move forward, and the viewer to move in tandem.

    vi) Where directors come in for deserved criticism is when the film gives a half-baked explanation for time travel. I've never understood the mentality of SF directors who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a film, but can't budget for a decent screenwriter. 

    Sometimes they come up with a "scientific" theory of time travel that's pure poppycock. It's just a lazy, throwaway explanation. No attempt to be scientifically or philosophically plausible. 

    Plot holes and continuity errors are often due to slipshod writing. The director or screenwriter made no effort to be consistent. They take no pride in craftsmanship. It's just about making a quick buck. Another forgettable film. 

    vii) But in an open-ended TV series or movie franchise, plot holes and continuity problems may be due to the fact that the director or screenwriter didn't or couldn't think that far ahead. They had no idea the film would be a blockbuster, so they didn't plan for a sequel. They don't know how many seasons the series will run for, so they can't anticipate where the story will go. Plot holes and continuity errors that happen for that reason are more excusable. 

    In a movie or miniseries, that's avoidable because it's all written ahead of time. However, improvisation can have its own benefits, even if it generates inconcinnities. 

    For instance, Chris Carter did a lot of improvising in The X-Files. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But he had lots of interesting ideas, so the creative momentum of one unforeseen development sparking another opened up many good fresh storylines. He didn't know where-all he was headed when he began, but in the right hands, that's an artistic stimulus. 

    In addition, discontinuity errors can be deliberate. A new director or screenwriter may think the original idea was bad to begin with, so he scraps it and strikes out in a new direction. Or maybe he thought the original idea was good, but exhausted its dramatic potential. 

    The Final Countdown

    The argument from evil presumes a standard of comparison. A better possible world, a better feasible alternative, is the foil in contrast to the real world. 

    Years ago I saw The Final Countdown. It's an alternate history film in which a nuclear aircraft carrier passes through a temporal wormhole and returns to the day before the Pearl Harbor attack. 

    Once the captain figures out what's happened, he's been given an opportunity to change history. He has advance knowledge of what will happen, absent intervention, and he has advanced military technology to shift the balance of power.

    So the film has a great dramatic premise. Unfortunately, the director lacked the interest and imagination to exploit that premise. But it's a useful illustration. Of course, the film raises the usual time-travel antinomies, but as a thought-experiment, we can bracket that. 

    What should the captain do? Should he take advantage of the situation to avert the Pearl Harbor attack? 

    There are different ways of developing the film's dramatic premise. The carrier has only so much jet fuel and ordnance. After thwarting the Pearl Harbor attack, should he and the crew focus on the Pacific theater or the European theater? Should he destroy the Japanese navy? Or should he steam off to Europe and attack German assets? 

    Or what about selective interventions? Do something now, then lay low for a few years before using the carrier to disrupt the Soviet nuclear program?

    Should he simply prevent the Pearl Harbor attack, then sink the carrier, while he and his crew melt into the 1940s–with no one the wiser?

    The question a film like this raises is, after having done whatever they do to improve the immediate situation, they pass back through the temporal wormhole to the same date in the present, before they were transported into the past, what future awaits them? What will the altered future look like? They won't be returning to the same world from whence they came, that's for sure. 

    The Pearl Harbor attack gave FDR the pretext he was spoiling for to get both feet on the ground in the war effort. In the attack itself, 2,335 U.S. servicemen were killed and 1,143 were wounded. In addition, WWII resulted in 1,076,245 U.S. servicemen dead and wounded, as well as 30,314 MIAs. So there's an obvious sense in which preempting the attack would be better for those who were directly or indirectly killed or maimed as a result of the attack, not to mention their bereaved or bereft family members. 

    LIkewise, Japan would be spared the firebombing of Tokyo as well as the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So that would be better for them. 

    But, of course, there are tradeoffs. Drastic tradeoffs. Dire tradeoffs. Absent the Pearl Harbor attack and the American counterattack and occupation, Japan would remain an aggressive military dictatorship for however long. 

    England might well fall to the Nazis. That doesn't necessarily mean Hitler would conquer Europe. But there's a difference between winning and losing. The Nazi war machine would be able to do a lot more damage before it ran out of men and materiel. Far more Jews would be exterminated. You might end up with a stalemate between Russia and Germany. Perhaps they'd carve up Europe. Or maybe Russia would overwhelm Germany and take all the marbles. That in turn might give a boost to communism in Latin America. 

    Consider some of the things that hadn't happened before December 7, 1941. FDR hadn't been reelected to a fourth term. Truman hadn't been picked as his running-mate. Mao hadn't defeated Chiang Kai-shek. The state of Israel hadn't been established. The Manhattan Project was barely under way. 

    It's very hard to predict what the world would be like had the Pearl Harbor attack been preempted. Certainly better in some ways for many people, especially in the short term. But worse in other ways for many other people in both the short-term and the long-term.  

    Vetting terrorists

    This article by the Cato Institute is becoming the go-to response to people who oppose Obama's policy on hosting "Syrian refugees." 

    A few observations:

    i) He quotes a State Dept. spokesman. But, of course, Foggy Bottom is just a mouthpiece for the Obama administration. That's not a credible, independent source.

    ii) His sleight of hand by framing the issue in terms of all refugees (Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards…), but of course, the question at issue isn't refugees in general, but Muslim refugees in particular. And these are clearly creating problems in the US. Increasing problems as their numbers and political clout increase. 

    iii) Then there's the narrowly and cagily worded statement that "only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States."

    Needless to say, the immediate concern is not planning terrorist attacks on targets outside the US, but inside the US!

    iv) Likewise, the limitation to those "planning" attacks stands in tacit contrast to those who carry them out. In the nature of the case, it's hard to catch those who plan attacks, whereas those who carry them out are typically killed in action. They may be suicide bombers, or they may be shot and killed by police at the scene of the crime.

    Naturally they can't stand trial because they are…dead!

    v) In addition, the gov't doesn't necessarily or even usually inform the public about attacks that were prevented. In some cases that's because that would disclose methods and sources. And it might create "panic" if the public was aware of how many plots and plotters our intel agencies must thwart every year.

    vi) I've read different status on the age and percentage of males. 

    vii) He draws a hairsplitting semantic distinction to avoid including the Boston Marathon bombers (Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev) in his analysis. Sure, they may not illustrate a flaw in the vetting system. But that misses the point: it's not coincidental that they were Muslim. And, of course, that's been the common denominator for a string of domestic jihadist attacks on Obama's watch–some successful, some thwarted. 

    viii) In addition, the more we invite in, the more we create a surveillance state to monitor them–and everyone else in the process. So this is highly ironic from a libertarian think-tank. Domestic terrorism and domestic surveillance go hand-in-hand. Importing high-risk groups into the country guarantees dragnet surveillance. 

    On a related note:

    Bauman, who heads the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, also said that the vetting process through the State Department and FBI takes anywhere from 18 months to two years for refugees to be granted asylum in the United States.

    i) Does that mean the "refugees" whom the Obama administration is currently imposing on the states have been vetted for 18-24 months? I thought this was supposed to be in response to a "crisis" that started last Spring? 

    Likewise, isn't there a distinction between entering the country and being formally granted asylum? In general, just about anyone with a passport can enter the US. Whether they can stay here depends on how the subsequent review process goes. 

    ii) Here's another obvious problem with the vetting process: if we really had a rigorous process for vetting "Syrian refugees," then we couldn't specify in advance how many applicants would qualify. Yet the Obama administration has a yearly quota. Indeed, an expanding annual quota. So there's a foreordained number of "Syrian refugees" to be resettled in the US every year. But that makes a mockery of the allegedly rigorous screening process.

    iii) Finally:

    —Administration officials have acknowledged that checking the accuracy or authenticity of documents provided by refugee applicants against foreign government records can be especially difficult involving countries that don't cooperate with the U.S. government, such as Syria. It can also complicate U.S. efforts to check foreign government records for local arrests or lesser bureaucratic interactions, such as bank records, business licenses or civil filings. "We do the best we can with the information we have," one U.S. official said. 
    —FBI Director James Comey told Congress weeks ago that the FBI sees a risk with Syrian refugees and "we will work hard to mitigate it." He said the biggest challenge is that a background check is as only as good as the information available. "That's the challenge we are all talking about, is that we can only query against that which we have collected. And so if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home but ... there will be nothing show up because we have no record on that person," Comey said.