Saturday, December 12, 2015

Seal borders, stop visas

Did Muhammad exist?

When I read Muslim apologists, I'm struck by how shamelessly they quote "skeptics" about the Bible and church history. In that vein, it's useful to compare skepticism about the existence of Jesus or NT history and Christology to skepticism about the existence of Muhammad. 

You have mythicists like Robert Price and Richard Carrier. For his part, Hector Avalos clams to be agnostic about Christ's existence. This, in turn, has parallels with the minimalist school of Biblical archeology. 

Now, compare this to scholars who deny the existence of Muhammad and the traditional historical narrative. 

My point is not to endorse that position. But if you deny the existence of Abraham or Moses or Jesus, if you deny the Exodus, why not deny the existence of Muhammad? Be consistent in your methods and assumptions. Radical skepticism about Jesus and the Bible doesn't come to a screeching halt when we change the subject to Muhammad and the Koran. The same logic (or illogic) applies with equal force.

Asymmetrical Arminian apologetics

Offhand, there's an asymmetry between Arminian OT scholars and NT scholars. I don't mean Bible scholars who happen to be Arminian, but Bible scholars who aggressively promote Arminianism. Grant Osborne, Ben Witherington, Brian Abasciano and I. H. Marshall are four prominent examples in the NT field. Where are their OT counterparts? What OT scholars are Arminian apologists? 

Maybe it's just coincidental, or maybe even Arminian Bible scholars sense the OT is less hospital ground for their theology, so they delegate that to NT scholarship.

Tips on debating Muslims

1. Recently I perused some apologetic websites for Islam to see what's new, if anything. Some websites have tons of material, which might be intimidating to Christians. However, it breaks down into a few basic categories:

i) The text of the Bible

ii) The Biblical canon

iii) The inerrancy/historicity of the Bible 

iv) The morality of the Bible

v) Biblical prophecies of Muhammad

vi) Attacks on the Trinity and Incarnation

2. When you debate someone, how the debate is framed may confer a decisive advantage on one side and corresponding disadvantage on the other side. That's why, in formal debates, opponents must agree on the question to be debated. Who won or lost the argument depends in large part on the burden of proof. 

Islam suffers from a crippling disadvantage in relation to Christianity (and Judaism). That's because Muhammad made some incautious statements early on that put the fortunes of his prophetic claims at the mercy of the Bible. And having said that, he couldn't turn back the clock. This makes Muslim apologetics very schizophrenic. 

Logically, a Muslim apologist can only destroy the Bible by destroying the Koran in the process. It's like a murder/suicide. 

In addition, using modernist assumptions to attack the Bible cuts both ways, since modernist assumptions can just as well be used to attack the Koran. Indeed, Islam has the same theological spectrum as Christianity and Judaism–from "fundamentalists" at one end to secularists at the other end, with mediating positions in-between. 

3. The problem with a Muslim apologist attacking the Trinity, Incarnation, and/or morality of the Bible is that it begs the question by taking Islam as the standard of comparison. But that's only persuasive to fellow Muslims. It does nothing to advance the argument. It presumes that Islam is true, so you can use Muslim theology as the yardstick to measure Biblical morality, the Trinity, and the Incarnation. 

Yet you can't use Islam to disprove Christianity unless you first prove Islam. And, frankly, there's no serious evidence that Muhammad was a real prophet, whereas there is serious evidence that he was a false prophet. Mind you, it isn't necessary to show that he was a false prophet. Rather, it's sufficient to point out that there's no good reason to think he was a true prophet. 

4. Appealing to Biblical prophecies of Muhammad is a self-defeating exercise. Aside from the fact that there are no Biblical prophecies of Muhammad, you can only lodge that appeal on pain of granting the veracity of the Bible. It's irrational for Muslim apologists to simultaneously attack the credibility of the Bible, then spin right around and cite Biblical prophecies that (allegedly) attest the prophethood of Muhammad. The unconscious cognitive dissonance is fascinating. 

5. Attacking the text of the Bible boomerangs on the Muslim since you can raise far more damaging questions about the text of the Koran. 

6. Likewise, attacking the canon of the Bible boomerangs on the Muslim. Yes, you have factions in Christianity with different canons. But Islam itself has many sects and splinter groups.

There is, moreover, an analogy between the canon of the Bible and Islam's sacred texts. Unlike the Bible, the Koran is not a collection of books. However, there's extensive evidence from early Muslim sources that extant copies of the Koran are incomplete. That's analogous to an incomplete canon. What stuff was left out?

By the same token, there's the issue of what got in. The Koran is a hodgepodge of sayings attributed to Muhammad. Given the posthumous, haphazard process of compilation, it's not only the case that some authentic sayings were probably excluded, but some apocryphal sayings were probably included. 

Moreover, the Koran is supplemented by the Sunnah and the Hadith. Sifting that material is far more daunting than candidates for the Biblical canon. 

I. H. Marshall

I. H. Marshall has passed away:

He was easily the most distinguished Arminian NT scholar of his generation. Moreover, unlike C. K. Barrett, a distinguished NT scholar who happened to be Arminian, Marshall was a very outspoken advocate for Arminian theology. He's one of the people who need to read if you wish to acquaint yourself with the best exegetical defense of Arminianism. 

He was an important Lukan scholar. And he was more conservative than Barrett. 

After the demise of F. F. Bruce, Marshall became the de facto successor to Bruce as the man a number of aspiring American NT scholars chose to supervise their doctorate. 

Mind you, Marshall wasn't in the same league as Bruce. Few are. 

Unlike Ben Witherington–another Arminian popularizer–who spreads himself very thin and writes for the sake of writing, Marshall was a concentrated scholar. He's a cut above Witherington–as well as Grant Osbourne (yet another Arminian popularizer). 

Sheltering converts

Many of us have read about Christians who sheltered Jews from Nazis during WWII. A modern-day analogue would be Christians sheltering Muslim converts to Christianity. Even in the USA, such converts are at risk of being murdered by their kinsmen in a honor killing. They are ostracized by their family and may need a hideout. May need to lay low for a while. 

Voters Are More Guilty Than The Establishment

Here's something I recently wrote in an email, in case anybody would find it helpful. I'm responding to an article by Ben Shapiro :

Shapiro's argument doesn't make much sense. There are major obstacles to Trump's winning the nomination, which Shapiro doesn't even mention. His negative numbers among Republicans are unusually high, and his negatives are even worse outside of the party. When it's still 2015, there's still a double-digit number of candidates running, and most of the negative ads against Trump haven't even started airing yet, his consistently getting in the twenties or thirties in polls doesn't amount to much.

The phrase "the establishment" is vague and defined and redefined in so many ways. If everybody would stop using the term, I think we'd be better off for it. The phrase didn't have much value to begin with, and it's now been overused to an absurd degree.

Is Karl Rove part of the establishment? He recently told Michael Medved that he includes Cruz among the candidates he considers to have the stature of a president. He didn't include Trump. What about the National Review writers who have been most vocal in opposing Trump? I've repeatedly seen them make positive comments about Cruz and comment on how he's an acceptable choice and better than Trump. Shapiro's claim that Cruz is the candidate the establishment is most opposed to strikes me as ridiculous. They'd prefer Cruz to Trump.

And given how conservative Rubio is, I'd say that the widespread support for him among people often labeled as part of the establishment goes a long way in demonstrating that the establishment isn't opposed to conservatism. Their problem with candidates like Trump and Carson (and Cruz to a lesser extent) isn't that they're conservative. (As if Trump is too conservative for them.) Rather, they're concerned about electability. And they should be. Shame on the people who either aren't concerned about it or are far less concerned than they ought to be.

There are some problems with many of the people who are often labeled as part of the establishment. But the problems are often exaggerated, and a lot of their critics have some problems of their own.

Shapiro's comments about talk radio are misleading. He writes:

"Members of Republican media are now attacking others in Republican media who don’t see Trump as the gravest threat to the Republican Party or the republic; they bash Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin for focusing in on the left and the media, rather than on stopping Trump."

The problem critics see with people like Limbaugh and Levin isn't that they "don’t see Trump as the gravest threat to the Republican Party or the republic" and "focus in on the left and the media". Rather, the problem is along the lines of what Guy Benson describes in his article I recently linked on Triablogue.

Then there's Shapiro's failure to criticize the people most responsible for choosing our candidates and the people most responsible for making poor choices in the past: the voters. Who chose McCain and Romney? Voters made the choice more than anybody else. And they rejected candidates like Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Perry in the process. I can see rejecting some of them. But choosing Romney over Pawlenty was a mistake. That wasn't the establishment's mistake. It was the mistake of the voters, and talk radio and other critics of the establishment were at the forefront of making that mistake happen. They were focused on Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and other weaker candidates while they gave Pawlenty almost no support. They rejected Rick Perry for far less significant problems than the ones many of them are willing to overlook in Trump.

For a party that puts so much emphasis on personal responsibility, Republicans spend a remarkable amount of time blaming a vague establishment and not much time holding the voters responsible for their mistakes.

The skeptic's dilemma

"The Greatest Generation"

In the wake of some college students demanding safe zones and trigger warnings while screaming about microagressions and "check your privilege!"–this image has been floating around the internet. But to be honest, it's hardy fair to the younger generation. 

In WWII we had a draft. It's not as if most young men were beating down the doors of recruiting offices for the privilege of defeating Hitler and Mussolini. Before the Pearl Harbor attack, I don't think you have tons of young men volunteering for the job. And after Pearl Harbor, they were conscripted for military service. They went where they were told to go and did what they were told to do. That's not to deny that many of them did brave things once they got there, but most of them didn't take the initiative to go into that theater.

Conversely, we've had a volunteer military since 1973. That includes men who enlist in elite fighting units (e.g. Rangers, SEALs, Marines, Delta Force, Green Berets)  that are likely to see action. Many American servicemen distinguished themselves in the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq wars. 

In addition, doing dangerous, extraordinary jobs that someone has to is not the only index of responsible male behavior. Another index is doing thankless, tedious ordinary jobs that someone had to do. Whenever I go to the supermarket, I see some young male cashiers. That's a hectic, boring, low-wage job with rotten hours. It's a mark of maturity and responsibility to work that kind of job. These guys aren't loafers hanging out in their mother's basement, playing video games. 

Finally, yes, we see obnoxious spoiled student protestors at Ivy League colleges. But what percentage of the student body do they represent (much less at state universities)? The "news" media loves to cover most flamboyant, outrageous behavior. By definition, it's the shrieking publicity hounds who stand in front of cameras, and not their quiet, studious, unassuming classmates.

We need to avoid sweeping, invidious comparisons between the younger generation and the older generation, especially based on sample selection bias.  

Friday, December 11, 2015

Is the shoe on the other foot?

TFan responds:

If I follow Steve's accusation correctly, he's saying that Dr. White is inconsistent because:
1) Dr. White distinguishes between "truly religious" Muslims and "nominal" Muslims; but
2) Dr. White criticizes others for saying that ISIS are "true Muslims," because Dr. White states that there is no coherent standard for true Islam.

I can see why Steve might mistakenly believe that these two things are inconsistent with one another. It might sound like Dr. White is saying "you have to distinguish between true Muslims and others," while simultaneously saying, "there is no way of identifying true Muslims."

Unfortunately, Steve has overlooked an important distinction. There's a distinction between nominalism and sincere belief that is distinguishable from the difference between correct and incorrect belief.

By analogy, we see numerous nominal Christians - Christians who identify themselves as such and maybe go through a lot of the motions, but do so for reasons of cultural or personal convenience rather than because they have any actual conviction of the truth. 

We also see folks who are in heretical sects (like Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, etc.) that call themselves Christian, but which aren't truly Christian. Even within these sects, we have "true believers" and "nominal" members. Yet those who zealously embrace all of Rome's false doctrines are not "true Christians," even though they are not nominal.

When Dr. White rejects the "all Muslims are terrorists" assertion, he could do so on two different grounds:
1) Nominalism vs. True Believers
2) Multiple Competing Sects of Islam

In other words, John Doe in Riyad may be a Muslim simply because that's what everyone around him is, and if he did something different, he'd get himself into trouble. He doesn't really believe all the stuff they say, and there's no way he's ever going to put his life on the line for Islam.

On the other hand, Jane Doe in Jakarta may be a devout Muslims who sincerely believes the tenets of her particular sect. But if her sect is Ahmadiyya, then she's never going to commit an act of terror, because her beliefs are contrary to such acts.

Both John and Jane are counter-examples to the "all Muslims are terrorists" assertion, but for different reasons. These reasons aren't self-contradictory, they are complementary. 

The person who say, "all Muslims are terrorists," has to say both that nominal Muslims aren't really Muslims and also that sects that oppose terrorism aren't really Muslim sects. It's much harder to make a case for the latter point, and that's the point that Dr. White has been primarily addressing.


It's to his credit that TFan attempts to provide a reasonable response. By way of reply:

i) First of all, I can't overlook a distinction which White failed to make. TFan is drawing a distinction that White never made. Assuming it's a valid distinction, that's something that White should have done to clarify his real position.

ii) Keep in mind that I, for one, have never said "all Muslims are terrorists." Although there are people who say that, exclusive focus on disproving that assertion becomes evasive.  

iii) In reference to Islam, the distinction between correct and incorrect belief is ambiguous. Since Islam is a false religion, there's a sense in which distinctively Muslim beliefs are false by definition. If truth is the standard of correct belief, then all the competing sects of Islam are objectively false or incorrect (in that sense).

v) There is, though, another standard, and that would be whether a belief is correct or incorrect on grounds internal to the belief system. Although the belief system may be false, if you grant the presuppositions of the belief system, then certain beliefs are consistent (=correct) or inconsistent (=incorrect) in relation to that particular frame of reference. 

vi) There is yet another, more relevant consideration. If Muhammad is a role model in Islam, and if the historical Muhammad was a promiscuous, violent man who engaged in military conquest and conversion by the sword, then jihadists are true to Muhammad while liberal Muslims are not. 

vii) In addition, the comparison with Christianity simply draws attention to the equivocal analogy. That's the other fork in the dilemma that White boxed himself into. TFan is of course correct that we can distinguish between orthodox Christians and nominal/cultural Christians. That goes to the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy, as well as orthopraxy and heteropraxy.

Problem is, White has said some Muslims have a right to deny that other Muslims are true Muslims. He used the example of the jihadist who gets drunk and has sex with prostitutes. Problem is, the jihadist can still be "truly religious." Can still be "representational of the worshipping community." 

He can be sincere. Surely his willingness to die for the cause of Islam is a mark of sincerity, however misguided. That's the antithesis of someone who "doesn't really believe all the stuff they say, and there's no way he's ever going to put his life on the line for Islam."

Likewise, White has admitted that jihadists can rightly justify their position from authoritative texts in Islam. So his jihadist ideology is "correct."

At best, White could try to say that the personal morality of the jihadist (getting drunk, having sex with prostitutes) is a violation of Muslim ethics. But that cuts against the grain of White's claim that there are varieties of sharia, differing interpretations, that it all depends on what traditions a Muslim privileges and his interpretive filter. So it's hard to see anyway to salvage White's argument. 

In his latest Dividing Line presentation, he kept using the metaphor of the shoe on the other foot, i.e. what if the situation was reversed, what if the Muslim traded places with the Christian accuser?

Problem is, Muslims and Christians don't wear the same pair of shoes. You can't put a size 7 shoe on a size 11 foot. White keeps attempting an analogy that's vitiated by the disanalogy between Christianity and Islam. The comparison is further nullified by his denial that there's such a thing as true Islam, in contrast to the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy in Christianity. 

But I do appreciate TFan's civil, intelligent response–in contrast to White's intemperate, abusive response. 

Rush Limbaugh Gets Some Much-Deserved Criticism

See here. The article makes a lot of good points about Trump and his supporters, including the ones on talk radio, like Limbaugh. I also recommend listening to the audio clip he links featuring Mark Levin's comments on Trump in 2011. Notice how negative Levin was about Trump at that point. And notice that what he criticizes Trump for then is applicable today as well (his history of liberalism, his self-contradictions, his opportunism, etc.). Levin's comments about Rubio in that 2011 clip are ironic, given that Trump is now running against Rubio in this 2016 cycle.

I want to add a qualifier to Guy Benson's analysis, though. Limbaugh often hedges his bets, and he often does it in a dubious way. His approach toward Trump is an example of that. Limbaugh does sometimes acknowledge that Trump isn't a conservative, that some of Trump's opponents have better reasons for opposing him than the Trump critics Limbaugh usually focuses on, etc. So, Limbaugh could highlight his comments like the ones I just described in response to somebody like Benson. But Benson is right about how Limbaugh usually covers Trump. He has the general thrust right, even though Limbaugh can cite some occasional bet hedging to defend himself against that sort of criticism. He'll occasionally provide a more reasonable assessment of Trump, but he spends the large majority of his time doing what Benson rightly criticizes.

"Full-tilt attack mode"

James White attempted to respond to my latest post:

It's an interesting window into how his mind operates these days. 

Steve Hays of Triablogue has decided to go full tilt attack mode

White has been in full tilt attack mode for weeks now. That switch is jammed. 

Of course, that is NOT my focus, and no one reading my comments or listening to my presentations could ever think it is. It is easy to shift the focus and then accuse me of “dodging” but it is likewise fallacious to its core.

Did I suggest that was the focus of his presentation? No. BTW, a presentation can have more than one focus.

Rather, I've pointed out that he's derelict not to address how his position meshes with Christian social ethics vis-a-vis our duty to protect the innocent from gratuitous harm. 

Do forgive, me, Steve, for not limiting myself to your particular interests. 

But that's the problem. It shouldn't just be my particular interest. Social ethics ought to be a matter of common concern for White as well. 

But Rich and I are both dealing with all sorts of people making that exact argument. 

Which I never denied. But one problem is when White accuses his critics of broad-brushing Muslims, but then proceeds to broad-brush his critics. 

Your Hays-centrism leads you to attack me for not just focusing on—you. 

A petulant response. I never suggested that he should focus on me. Moreover, I never suggested that he should focus on any one thing. He keeps pedaling that false dichotomy. 

Rather, he should include an explanation of how his position is consistent with Christian social ethics regarding our duty to protect the innocent. Evidently, he's forgotten the context of the debate.

This isn't me attempting to redirect the initial topic of conversation–although there'd be nothing wrong with that. Rather, my response is actually pegged to how White himself originally framed the issue. Listen to his introductory comments in this video:

He started off by describing how many Americans in general as well as many Christians in particular are responding to the threat of militant Islam. So it's not as if I interjected security issues into a discussion that was originally about something else. To the contrary, the security issues are the express backdrop for White's own response. His response is in explicit reaction to that. But now he's lost track of his own argument. 

Sorry, Steve, but I do not consider you a relevant player in the field of apologetics to Muslims. 

My, what a self-important statement. Has he always been this haughty? Let us hope he doesn't fall off that high horse and break something. 

Till then, you would do well not to read into my comments a focus upon you.

Another petulant response. Where's the evidence that I was reading into his comments a focus on me? 

What I actually, said, of course…

What he actually said? I was quoting him verbatim. That is what he actually said. 

I am sorry, but this is just an astounding example of ignorance of Hays’ part.  He may well be in dialogue with all sorts of Muslims, reading authors from a wide spectrum—but if he is, he hasn’t given a scintilla of evidence of it here.  How on earth is that first sentence even coherent? Islam isn’t monolithic—there is an obvious spectrum of belief and practice that can be traced by careful scholars (with open minds anyway) all the way back to the earliest centuries…He then, mockingly, it seems, notes something that I did not believe any Christian apologist questioned: that the Qur’an is not a consistent, homogenous work of theology. Does Steve Hays want to drop his sarcasm and try to defend the idea that the Qur’an is not variegated in its materials?  Maybe he’d like to take a shot at demonstrating the hadith, as a corpus, are consistent?  How much of the entire body of the hadith have you even read, Steve?  Might want to do your homework before playing Apologetic Sniper.

For some reason, White is simply unable to follow the argument. He acts as if I think Islam is monolithic. Acts as if I deny the diversity of the founding documents. What accounts for such a systematic misreading of what I wrote? Is it just that he's so accustomed to stereotyping people that he forces them into his typecast roles? 

As I actually framed the argument, the question at issue isn't whether there's "an obvious spectrum of belief in practice in Islam." The question at issue isn't whether the Koran is theologically heterogenous and variegated in its materials. 

Rather, as I've explained on more than one occasion, the actual question at issue is the logical relationship between White's emphasis on diversity in Islam and his contrary emphasis on the alleged parallel between orthodoxy/orthopraxy in Christianity and Islam. 

White's two arguments tug in opposing directions. If, on the one hand, Islam is essentially and originally diverse, then, according to White, Christians have no right to distinguish true Muslims from nominal Muslims, for there is no singular standard of comparison. He keeps harping on that.

Yet, in the very next breath, White will say Muslims, like Christians, are entitled to differentiate true Muslims from nominal Muslims. His specific example was a jihadist who gets drunk and has sex with prostitutes. 

Moreover, White himself, in this very broadcast, comments on the need of pollsters to "filter out" (his words) "nominal Muslims" (his words) from "truly religious" Muslims (his words) or Muslims "representational of the worshiping community" (his words). 

Yet he berates Americans in general and Christians in particular who distinguish true Muslims from nominal Muslims. Why is he so blind to his inconsistency on this point? It isn't even subtle. 

So, just what “back to back contradiction” am I “oblivious” to?  We can’t say, since Hays sort of forgot to explain it, let alone prove it.

Actually, I've explained it on more than one occasion. Is he just too angry to follow the argument?

Again, someone who has actually listened to what I have said would be scratching their head wondering what Hays is up to.  How is this relevant to what I said on the DL today?

It's relevant because he was riffing off of Ben Shapiro's video ("The Myth of the Tiny Radical Muslim Minority"). Shapiro is concerned with the threat posed by militant Islam. Is Islam a "violent religion" or a tolerant faith. Shapiro frames the issue in terms of flying planes into skyscrapers, beheading journalists, &c. 

I didn't drag the security issue into this debate. Once again, White lost track of how he himself initiated the discussion. 

I was pointing out that those doing the “all Muslims are the same” argument (which, by the way, was the EXACT argument of the big weight lifter guy in the video I referenced—who, evidently, Steve seems intent upon defending)

It's easy to pick on someone like that. But a professional Christian apologist has a duty to engage the best representatives of a position. 

Is Hays ready to defend the thesis that all interpretations of Sharia are identical all across the Islamic world?  It is an indisputable fact that there are differing interpretations of Sharia.

Once more, White is no longer able to follow an argument. The question at issue isn't whether "all interpretations of Sharia are identical all across the Islamic world," but whether they become a flashpoint for Muslim adherents living in the West. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Gospels and ancient literacy

One of the staple–or should I say, stale?–arguments for the historical unreliability of the Gospels is the claim that Jesus traditions underwent extensive creative oral transmission before they were finally written down. 

Now, this argument never made any sense even on its own terms. Since the Gospels are documents, there was clearly a constituency for written Gospels. Even if you date them late, was literacy notably higher c. 70-110 than 40-70? 

Even liberals think the NT contains a number of authentic Pauline letters. If those could be written c- 50-60, why not the Gospels?

The Roman Empire wasn't a preliterate civilization during the first half of the 1C, that suddenly become literate during the second half. 

But in addition, there's increasing evidence for higher literacy at this time and place that many scholars previously made allowance for. And that makes the contention of lengthy oral tradition even less plausible:


Early Christianity is often regarded as an entirely lower-class phenomenon, and thus characterised by a low educational and cultural level. This view is false for several reasons. (1) When dealing with the ancient world, inferences cannot be made from the social class to which one belongs to one’s educational and cultural level. (2) We may confidently state that in the early Christian urban congregations more than 50 per cent of the members could read and write at an acceptable level. (3) Socialisation within the early congregations occurred mainly through education and literature. No religious figure before (or after) Jesus Christ became so quickly and comprehensively the subject of written texts! (4) The early Christians emerged as a creative and thoughtful literary movement. They read the Old Testament in a new context, they created new literary genres (gospels) and reformed existing genres (the Pauline letters, miracle stories, parables). (5) From the very beginning, the amazing literary production of early Christianity was based on a historic strategy that both made history and wrote history. (6) Moreover, early Christians were largely bilingual, and able to accept sophisticated texts, read them with understanding, and pass them along to others. (7) Even in its early stages, those who joined the new Christian movement entered an educated world of language and thought. (8) We should thus presuppose a relatively high intellectual level in the early Christian congregations, for a comparison with Greco-Roman religion, local cults, the mystery religions, and the Caesar cult indicates that early Christianity was a religion with a very high literary production that included critical reflection and refraction.

Jonathan C. Borland3/06/2015 4:37 pm

The basis of Schnelle’s “confident statement” is basically the 30 pages of his well-documented article, but he briefly states his argument on pp. 118-120.

After briefly reviewing the innumerable archaeological finds regarding education levels in the ancient world and citing valuable recent research, Schnelle cites p. 94 of R. Baumgarten’s article “Elementar- und Grammatikunterricht: Griechenland,” pp. 89-100 in Handbuch der Bildung und Erziehung in der Antike (ed. Christes, Klein, Lüth; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2006), which apparently states that in ancient cities probably most of the children went to elementary school, and when the very different grades of reading and writing abilities are included in the estimate, it may be assumed that around 30-50 percent of the population of middle and larger sized cities had an elementary knowledge of reading and writing. Then Schnelle lists his seven reasons in favor of relatively higher literacy in the early churches (anyways more than 50%) in comparison to the general population.

1. In the beginning period it is a matter mainly of urban churches, and the extent of literacy in the cities was notably higher than in the countryside.

2. A considerable part of the church members came from the sphere of influence of Judaism, which exhibited a higher literacy rate than the average in the Roman empire. Also the household slaves (cf. Phlm) who are linked to early churches must have been equipped with a higher-than-average grade of education.

3. A lively literary and intellectual life prevailed in the early churches. The Septuagint was studied, i.e. read aloud, read, and discussed. Paul made use of a secretary (cf. Rom 16:22), the Pauline Epistles were not merely read aloud (cf. 1 Thess 5:27), but the Apostle also took for granted that people took up his epistles with their own eyes to understand, thus that they read (cf. Gal 6:11: “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand”; further 1 Cor 16:21; Phlm 19).

4. The texts show that in the churches - as usual in the ancient world - reading loudly or reading aloud was predominant, which gave a special status to the oral tradition, so that also church members with lower writing and reading abilities could actively participate in church life. Furthermore, education was (and is) not identical with reading and writing competence, since one who could not (or could only in a limited way) read and write was not automatically uneducated.

5. Moreover, education was not tied to affiliation with social classes in the 1st century C.E.

6. From the beginning teachers were active in the churches (1 Cor 12:28; Gal 6:6; Rom 12:7b; Acts 13:1). Their duties were concentrated on the interpretation of the (oral or written) kerygma as well as the exegesis of written texts.

7. Above all, the multilingualism (Greek/Latin/Hebrew/Aramaic/local languages) of many church members, the creation of new literary genres (Gospels), and the superior themes handled in the Epistles (foremost in the Pauline Epistles) clearly demonstrate that a great linguistic and intellectual creativity prevailed in the new movement.

Schnelle closes this section by stating, “These central aspects shall now be pursued.” And pursue he does!

Behavioral profiling

Shut up!

This is become a miniseries. Here are the previous installments:

Since he said he ran out of time on the last Dividing Line, I waited to see if he'd address some of the issues he dodged in the previous installment on today's installment. The newer thing is that he tried to discredit polls indicating popular support for sharia throughout the Muslim world. Several problems:

i) He keeps attacking an argument that people like me didn't make: "Islam is monolithic!" "All Muslims believe the same thing!" 

ii) He keeps contradicting himself. He says pollsters fail to "filter out" the "nominal Muslims" from "truly religious" Muslims, "representational of the worshiping community."

Excuse me, but doesn't he constantly tell us that you can't distinguish real Muslims from nominal Muslims because "Islam isn't monolithic!" It has so much diversity. The founding documents are so varied and inconsistent. For some reason, White is oblivious to the back-to-back contradictions in his own position. 

iii) The fact that 100% of Muslims aren't terrorists is a red herring. Given the sheer number of Muslims, a fraction of the total is very dangerous. 

iv) He cites different interpretations of sharia. Ironically, his two examples are the Taliban and Saudi Arabia, yet he admits that both are "barbaric and frightening." 

v) He keeps laboring to draw a tight parallel between Christian identity and Muslim identity without regard to fundamental differences between the two religions. I discussed this just recently:

At least on this issue, White has lost the capacity to argue in good faith. He blatantly contradicts himself. He rehashes the same talking points without engaging counterarguments. 

The odd thing is that we've come full circle. White originally pounced on "weightlifter dude" for telling a Muslim to just "shut up." He quotes that over and over again. But in the last Dividing Line presentation (12/8/15), he said his critics should just shut up. He's evolved into weightlifter dude.

Lessing's Ditch

Accidental truths of history can never become the proof for necessary truths of reason.
I don't recall when I first read Lessing's Ditch. It was many many years ago. There are still village atheists who promote this dichotomy. 
i) The dichotomy is overstated. Take the statement that every red object is a colored object. That's a necessary truth about a contingent object. 
ii) Making allowance for his overgeneralization, Lessing's statement is often true. But how is that relevant to Christianity?
The implication is that unless Christian doctrines are necessary truths, they don't warrant our credence. But that's a non sequitur.
For one thing, truths about the nature of God are necessary truths. God is not a contingent being.
iii) Lessing fails to distinguish between word-media and event-media. Although the Christian faith is based in part on historical events, it is also based on divine revelation, including the inspired interpretation of redemptive events.
So even if the event is an "accidental truth of history," it doesn't follow that revealed truths about God, or even revealed truths about redemptive events, are accidental truths of history. 
In general, our knowledge of Christian doctrine derives, not from historical events directly, but from historical records of historical events. That's not something we inferred from observing the event. 
iv) There's nothing defective about truths of fact in contrast to truths of reason. Truths of fact are just as true as truths of reason. It's simply adapted to the nature of the object. If you have contingent events, you have corresponding truths of fact. There's nothing deficient in that relation. 
v) But Lessing might object that truths of fact don't warrant the same degree of certainty as truths of reason. To begin with, that's an overstatement, as I demonstrate under (i).Likewise, take self-presenting states (i.e. introspection). Although my mental states are contingent, I know what I'm thinking.  
vi) Ultimately, though, it's up to God to put us in situations where we form our beliefs from a reliable process. Certainly God can do that. 

Four kinds of Christmas

Take the quiz.

Does evidentialism endorse apostasy

A funny thing happened on the way to the Koran

According to Islam, Muhammad received revelations from the Angel Gabriel. Let's grant that for the sake of argument.

According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad was illiterate. So he dictated his revelations to scribes. 

This wouldn't be the same as transcribing a revelation direct from the lips of Gabriel. For Gabriel didn't appear to Muhammad's scribes; rather, he appeared to Muhammad.

At best, therefore, this would be a case of Muhammad dictating to a scribe what he remembered Gabriel telling him. Unless he had verbatim recall of what Gabriel told him, this will be a paraphrase of what he heard. We typically remember the gist of what people say, not the exact wording. 

In addition, did Muhammad have scribes at his beck and call from the time Gabriel first appeared to him? Or did he only have scribes after he acquired a significant following? 

If the latter, then he didn't dictate his revelations when they were fresh in his mind. Rather, years might have elapsed, with a backlog of revelations, before he had scribes to whom he could dictate what, to the best of his recollection, Gabriel told him.

In that event, the earliest revelations would be in the poorest state of preservation, since they'd depend on Muhammad's memory years later.

And this is apart from the state of the unfinished Koran upon his death. 

Since it's literally a dictation theory of inspiration, it's only as good as Muhammad's natural fallible memory. 

That's even assuming we grant the claim that the Gabriel periodically appeared to him and spoke to him. 

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Second childhood

The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism

Here's a review of a book that's critical of Calvinism. After summarizing the contents, the reviewer takes issue with the author's interpretation of the source material:

Problems With Raymond Brown's The Birth Of The Messiah

Brown's work on the infancy narratives is still widely regarded as the standard in the field. Though he wrote from a largely liberal perspective, conservative scholars and Christian apologists have had far less to say in response to Brown than you'd expect. What I want to do in this post is gather together some of the posts I've written over the years that are relevant to Brown's book and his arguments more broadly.

Vetting jihadists

And even if you put all of that aside, which you wouldn’t, but if you wanted to, and just talked about the practicality of this, he was asked how do you police this. He said ‘well when you come through customs, the guy will ask you, are you a Muslim?’ And here is Donald Trump, tough guy, right? He’s going to really, he’s competent, all the others are incompetent. His answer is you’re going to ask them, is he a Muslim? Here’s a guy that Trump is saying, is high bound to come out and kill people innocently. But he’s going to be held to a George Washington-cherry tree standard of not telling a lie to an infidel immigration officer. So I think that Chris Stirewalt had the answer to this dilemma; he suggested that everybody coming through from Laguardia, JFK, Dulles would be forced to eat a ham sandwich. Now that way, I would admit, that some people will be caught in the net who shouldn’t. Orthodox Jews and vegetarians. But as Trump says this is war and there will be collateral damage, so we have to get serious about this.

Separation of church and state

Conscience and its enemies

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Herr Justice Kennedy

"Justice Kennedy: The Rule of Law Requires You To Enforce the Laws I Made Up" by David French.

Robert George interviews Ted Cruz

I'm not posting this to recommend Cruz for prez, per se, as much as to highlight an intelligent conversation between two public intellectuals over Constitutional, civil liberties, bioethics, same-sex marriage, and other issues most pertinent to Americans:

Trump on Muslims

Trump constantly makes rash brash comments that he doesn't really believe. Take his statement about Muslim immigration. Notice how he begins to bob and weave when questioned:

He always talks off-the-cuff. When he's grilled on his careless, hyperbolic statements, he immediately starts to amend them off-the-cuff. 

He's that way about everything. If he builds a casino, it will be the biggest and best casino that ever was. Only it won't be. If he builds a golf course, it will be the greatest golf course that ever was. Only it won't be. 

He doesn't take the issues seriously. He doesn't take his own statements seriously. He only takes himself seriously. 

Incestuous relationship between terrorism and the state

Regarding a proposed moratorium on Muslim immigration, Chris Christie said:

What we need to do is to increase our intelligence capabilities and activity both around the world and in the homeland. We need to back up our law enforcement officers, who are out there fighting this fight every day, give them the tools they need. We need to cooperate with peaceful Muslim-Americans, who want to give us intelligence against those who are radicalized. We did this after 9/11. And it was a very impressive approach. I can tell you in New Jersey that we frequently had sources inside mosques in New Jersey that were giving us information that helped us to bring cases and intervene on things that we otherwise wouldn't' have known about.

This is classic. It's like what Ike said about the military-industrial complex: Notice the pervasive circular reasoning:

i) We need to beef up domestic surveillance to monitor domestic jihadists. Of course, if we didn't have that gratuitous supply of domestic jihadists, we wouldn't need to expand domestic surveillance to keep apace.  

Consider, moreover, how wide a net must be cast. To monitor any particular terrorist, you must monitor all his contacts. Family, friends, acquaintances. The bank teller. The cashier at the supermarket. Eavesdrop on conversations with everyone he happens to talk to, phone, text, tweet, and email. Keep an eye on the entire apartment complex or condo complex where he resides. And so on and so forth. Think how many innocent people become entangled in these investigations.

Likewise, expand police presence to keep up with the expanding Muslim presence. So the police state and surveillance state move in tandem with the Muslim community. 

Likewise, you wouldn't need Muslim informants to snitch on jihadists unless you had a Muslim community in the first place. And by bragging about the frequency of the tips, notice how that casually grants the extent of homegrown jihadist plots. 

Mind you, here's a very different perspective on how forthcoming they are:

Life in the tinderbox

I'm going to comment on James White's latest Dividing Line presentation:

It's basically a repetition of what he's said before. Let's start by cutting the dead wood:

i) I, for one, haven't accused him of going soft on Islam or having changed recently. That's neither here nor there as far as my own objections are concerned. 

ii) For someone who accuses his critics of painting with a broad brush, it's ironic to see how all his nameless critics are lumped together.

iii) He repeats the allegation that his critics are hypocritical. But ironically, there's a contradiction running right down the middle of his argument:

On the one hand he says Islam is diverse. Not "monolithic". Therefore, you can't say who's a true Muslim and who's a nominal Muslim. You're not entitled to say Jihadists are true Muslims but moderate Muslims, Ahmadiyya, Sufi, &c. are nominal Muslims. 

On the other hand, he says that just as we have a right to distinguish true Christianity and true Christians from heresies, cults, and nominal Christians, Muslims have a right to do the same thing. If we have a right to deny that Mormons and unitarians are true Christians, if we have a right to deny that Anders Behring and Breivik or Robert Dear are true Christians, then they have a right to deny that a jihadist who gets drunk and has sex with prostitutes is a true Muslim. 

But he can't have it both ways. If he's going to draw a parallel between Christian orthodoxy/orthopraxy and Muslim counterparts, then that means there are boundaries between authentic Islam and nominal Islam.  

If, on the other hand, Islam is so fuzzy that anyone who self-identifies as Muslim should be included, whether it's Sunni, Shiia, Ahmadiyya, Bahai, Islamic modernism, &c., then his comparison with Christianity falls apart. In that event, they're not analogous. In that event, his Christian critics aren't guilty of applying a double standard. 

iv) BTW, why can't a true Muslim get drunk, sleep with callgirls, and go to paradise if he dies in jihad? Isn't that the point? To recast it in terms of Western theology, to die in jihad is a work of supererogatory merit that plenarily absolves you of guilt. You die in a state of grace. That's your ticket to paradise. The Muslim version of last rites or the baptism of martyrdom. 

For that matter, why is prostitution contrary to Islamic ethics, but concubinage is not? What's the moral difference? What about pederasty? 

v) If, moreover, you're not qualified to say what's genuinely Islamic unless you can read the Koran, sunnah, and Hadith in the original, then that disqualifies hundreds of millions of professing Muslims from being true Muslims, does it not? Most Muslims are very ignorant of their religious tradition. Most Muslims can't read classical Arabic. 

White's elitist definition is at odds with his pluralistic definition of Islamic identity. If only Islamic scholars are true Muslims, then only a fraction of professing Muslims are true Muslims. 

vi) Another issue is whether Islam has a core identity. White makes some interesting points about how the Koran is a compilation of traditional sayings, abstracted from their original setting, then edited together. It's the Hadith that supplies the chronology. If it weren't for that scaffolding, you couldn't make heads or tails of the Koran. When and where was it said? What abrogates what? One must sift contradictory sources of dubious historicity. He compares quoting the Koran out of context with quoting the Bible out of context. 

These are valid issues. There is, however, another way of broaching the issue. Instead of a textual starting point, what about Biblical anthropology? If Muhammad was a false prophet, then he was a child of his times. Given our knowledge of fallen human nature, given ethnography, wouldn't we expect Muhammed to be a violent, promiscuous man? Isn't polygamy, concubinage, slavery, military conquest the predictable ethos of that time and place? 

That doesn't depend on which subset of texts you use as your selective "filter." Rather, that's just what we'd anticipate the historical Muhammad to be like. That's what men are like without the restraint of Christian ethics and sanctifying grace.   

Isn't Muhammad's pivotal function as a role-model a part of core Islamic identity? If so, it's antecedently unlikely that he was a hippie monogamous pacifist. Even if our sources of information about Muhammad are fairly unreliable, the sources are very consistent with the kind of man we'd expect him to be. 

vii) Likewise, Muhammad isn't just another prophet, added to the OT and NT. Although Muslims pay lip-service to "former prophets" in the Bible, they don't get that directly from the Bible. Rather, that's filtered through the distorting lens of the Koran. In practice, Muhammad is their only prophet (Ahmadiyya and Bahai are exceptions)

viii) Finally, White bypassed all the security issues. Yet security issues are what's driving the debate. Briefly:

Poll: 68% of Trump’s supporters would vote for him if he bolts the GOP

 As I predicted a long time ago:

The candidate who is smart enough to recognize that this election is unlike any other in our history and runs as an independent has a good chance to win.

The candidate who realizes that the Republican party—after stabbing their voters in the back in the last two consecutive historical elections—is dead to many Republicans and bolts for an Independent party will likely win.

The candidate who realizes that the Obama-Democratic party is dead to many democrats but will vote independent will likely win.

Let's see if Cruz or Trump is smart enough to ditch the "we will never support a conservative" establishment RINO party and run as an Independent.

Here is a chance where record numbers of blacks, Hispanics, and other democrats would vote conservative if he were an Independent.

Kill two birds with one stone: A conservative president and the destruction of the RINO party!

The trial and crucifixion of Jesus

The amorality of atheism

Apologist for Islam

Obama and the GOP are colluding with the genocide of Christians in the Middle East

Stephen Carlson's Christmas Material

Stephen Carlson has written a lot of good material on Christmas issues in recent years. I've often cited a 2010 article he published that addresses how we should interpret Luke 2:7 and some issues related to the passage (whether Joseph and Mary were married yet in Luke 2:5, whether Joseph was from Nazareth, etc.).

He's also proposed a new rendering of Luke 2:2 that hasn't gotten much attention yet, but has been endorsed or taken seriously by some scholars who have commented on it. See here. And see here for a discussion of Carlson's response to Richard Carrier on the subject several years ago. I don't know enough about Greek to render much of a judgment of Carlson's proposed translation, but it seems more promising than other translations that are often suggested.

More than a decade ago, Carlson published an article on a passage in Clement of Alexandria that has some relevance to the infancy narratives. See my discussion of the subject here.

Carlson has also published an article on Matthew 1:17 and how Matthew arrived at his count of three groups of fourteen generations.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Bruce Jenner is a woman but jihadis aren't Muslims

Ben Shapiro:

"According to President Obama, this is a woman, but these are not Muslims."

Pyramid of terror

Shadow of Oz

Casey Luskin offers a sneak peek into Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God by Wayne Rossiter.

For it before he was agin it

Nowadays, Trump is taking a rhetorical hard line on jihadism. But just last Spring that he was singing a very different tune:

Bart Ehrman scams his students

Crouching at the door

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:6-7, NASB).

As two commentators explain:

In this understanding the expression reverses the earlier imagery of Cain's "downcast" face. When Cain practices what is right, there will be an uplifted face… K. Mathews, Genesis, 1:269-70. 
"It will be lifted up"–this probably refers to Cain's face, which has fallen. In other words, his countenance will no longer be one of despondency and dejection. However, if Cain continues to do wrong, then sin will hound him–sin is lurking, waiting to pounce. J. Currid, Genesis, 1:145. 

Among other things, this is a reference to depression. To my knowledge, it's the first reference to depression in world literature.

Then there's the additional image. It may depict sin/depression as a predator that's lying in wait on the porch. 

Some commentators think this alludes to the Mesopotamian tradition of a doorway demon. One prima facie problem with that interpretation is the anachronism. If this preserves a real conversation between God and Cain, then there was no such Mesopotamian tradition at the time God spoke to Cain.

In principle, the Mesopotamian tradition could be based on something much earlier. And a demonic presence would dovetail nicely with Gen 3. 

Still, there's nothing in the imagery that implies that. It can easily be taken to be a personification of sin/depression as an ambush predator. The point of the doorway metaphor is that  doors function to keep things out. It marks the barrier between inside and outside. The moment you open the door you either risk letting unwanted intruders inside, or you leave the safety of your shelter to venture out into the unprotected wild. 

Connecting this to the theme of depression, for people who suffer from it, depression is like a crouching predator that waits for you, stalks you. You may shake it off, but you never know when it will return. You may face it when you get up in the morning. It follows you, shadows you, overshadows you. Just when you think you put it behind you it's right around the corner. A very apt metaphor for depression. 

Divine Permission, Asymmetry and Counterfactuals

HT: Paul Manata

Zechariah, Jesus, and the Jews

Recently I read the following conundrum:

A second question that I have concerns Zechariah’s prophecy.  Zechariah seems to talk about Messianic expectations that many Jews of his day had: Israel would be saved from her enemies and serve God without fear (Luke 1:71-74).  Zechariah was excited because he thought that his son John had something to do with that.  But that did not happen.  Rather, Israel’s Roman oppressors destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E.

Several observations:

i) That poses an interesting dilemma. Critical scholars date Luke to post 70 AD. Typically, they date it to 80-100. But if so, why would it include a prophecy that, on one interpretation, was falsified by the fall of Jerusalem? Indeed, critical scholars don't think this is a real prophecy, or something Zechariah actually said. Rather, they think that's fictional dialogue the narrator put on the lips of a fictional character.

But in that case, something has to give. The date or the interpretation of the oracle.

ii) A prophet is a recipient of information about the future. That, however, doesn't imply that he knows when that prevision will come about. He relays what's been revealed to him, but that doesn't come with a calendar date. A prophet has an instrumental role in that regard.

iii) I wonder if one possible answer isn't to assess this by considering what might have been had the Jewish-Roman wars not occurred. An imaginative exercise in alternate history. 

Certainly those wars were devastating for the Jewish people. But they also forced the survivors to scatter hither and yon.

Had the bulk of Jewry remained concentrated in the Levant, how well would the Jewish people have survived the rise of the Byzantine Empire, followed by the rise of Islam? I believe the Byzantines were fairly hostile to Jews. But on top of that was the military conquest of the Levant by the Muslims. 

To the extent that Jews clustered in that general vicinity, they'd be far more vulnerable to genocide. But because they were dispossessed and dispersed well before then, they didn't present such a compact and inviting target.

Seems to me that this is consistent with how Scripture often views things. A short-term disaster has humanly unforeseen benefits in the long-term. To use a metaphor, it reminds me of:

serotiny (adj. serotinous) In certain plants, especially trees (e.g. jack pine (Pinus banksiana), lodgepole pine (P. contorta), and many species of Eucalyptus), the retention of seeds in pods or cones on the tree, often for many years, until a disaster, most commonly the heat of a fire, causes their release. After fire, the seeds fall on ground fertilized by ash in a site cleared of competitors.

iv) Finally, I wrote a NT scholar for his opinion. He wrote back saying:

Actually, with roots in Daniel, the battle here is not just seen against Rome. For Luke the victory is over spiritual forces. Judaism wrestles with a Messiah in two comings where the political victory is later. It does come as Zechariah offers but in two stages. What the OT presented as a single package, the NT has in two steps.