Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lynch mob boss

Some of Trump's critics say that even if he wins the requisite number of delegates, the GOP establishment should shut him out. Obviously, that's very dicey. If he wins fair-n-square, and he's denied the nomination, that seems to make a mockery of the whole process. However, I'd like to briefly explore some possible justifications for that maneuver.

1. Ironically, Trumpkins think that if the Donald fails to garner a majority of delegates, the RNC should rewrite the rules to award him the nomination anyway. That's like adding points to the scoreboard after the game is over. And that logic cuts both ways. If Trumpkins think the RNC has the right and duty to change the rules to Trump's advantage, then why doesn't the RNC have the right to change the rules to his disadvantage? If Trumpkins think the RNC should intervene to take the decision away from the delegates, then that principle is a two-way street. 

Of course, I don't expect Trumpkins to be consistent in that regard. But if they complain, it's worth pointing out that they honestly can't have it both ways. 

2. There's precedent for something analogous. When David Duke won the Republican gubernatorial primary back in 1991, he was repudiated by the GOP establishment. For instance:

Speaking at a news conference in Washington, President Bush said: "When someone asserts the Holocaust never took place, then I don't believe that person ever deserves one iota of public trust. When someone has so recently endorsed Nazism, it is inconceivable that someone can reasonably aspire to a leadership role in a free society."
The President said, "I have got to be careful, because I don't want to tell the voters of Louisiana how to cast their ballot."
Yet he said: "When someone has a long record, an ugly record of racism and of bigotry, that record simply cannot be erased by the glib rhetoric of a political campaign. So I believe David Duke is an insincere charlatan. I believe he's attempting to hoodwink the voters of Louisiana, I believe he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for."

Bush has labeled Duke a ``charlatan,`` and a number of prominent Republicans in and outside Louisiana have urged GOP voters to support [Democrat] Edwin Edwards, a former governor.
South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell, who heads the [Republican Governors] Association, has refused to acknowledge Duke`s status as a Republican, or the possibility he might become eligible for membership in the national governors` group.
Former [Louisiana] Republican Gov. David Treen has helped organize a pair of anti-Duke groups, one aimed at stressing the dangers a Duke victory would pose for the state`s economic development, another called ``Louisiana For Truth,`` directed at exposing Duke`s personal history.

In that case, the GOP establishment did the right thing. It put principle above partisanship and red tape. The rules are not an end in themselves. 

Finally, let's consider two scenarios that might warrant barring him from the nomination:

3. Suppose he pays off enough unbound delegates to meet the 1237 threshold. And this isn't purely hypothetic. There's evidence that he bribed the Florida Attorney General to refrain from investigating the Trump University scam:

Seems like a clear quid pro quo to me. If he's prepared to bribe a public official, which is a pretty brazen act, he might well pay off delegates. And if he did, surely that would disqualify him from the nomination. I'm not making a prediction. But it something to keep an eye out for. 

4. On the stump, Trump has been fomenting a lynch mob mentality: 

At his rally in Las Vegas [he said] “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that . . . ? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
He told another rally that if they see any protesters preparing to throw a tomato, to “knock the crap out of them. . . . I promise you I will pay for the legal fees.” Referring in an interview to yet another protester, Trump said “maybe he should have been roughed up.” At the Vegas event, Trump had said, “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

We will see if this pattern continues. But surely a lynch mob boss forfeits the right to the nomination. 

Sinners in the hands of a jilted lover

Many freewill theists oppose divine impassibility. Although Rauser is a liberal Arminian, he has his broken clock moment in this post:

Reminds me of the widely reported story about a scorned girlfriend who retaliated by drugging her ex-boyfriend and then extracting all his teeth. Now, that story may have been a hoax, but one reason it went viral is that it was plausible. Betrayal begets revenge, and revenge knows no bounds. 

Many short-sighted Christians like the idea of an emotional God whose psychological makeup is very human. There's a whole "suffering God" literature. 

They haven't given much thought to what it what omnipotent revenge would look like. 

Trump endorsements

The Trump candidacy has had a revealing and winnowing effect on conservatism. It's like removing plasterboard. The wall make look solid on the outside, but behind the plasterboard is termite damage. Trump has received some predicable endorsements, but he's also been endorsed by some erstwhile conservatives. 

I'd like to make a distinction in principle between Christian conservatism and secular conservatism. In principle, a Christian conservative ideologue regards certain issues as nonnegotiable. That's grounded in moral absolutes or proper function. Not every action is inherently right or wrong, but some actions are. 

Now, I say "in principle" because, in practice, that's only as secure as an individual's commitment to Christianity. 

By contrast, secular conservativism is more pragmatic. It can't be grounded in moral absolutes. And there's nothing normative about the natural order. In principle, secular conservatism is unstable in a way that Christian conservatism is not. Secular conservativism is just a philosophical and sociological construct. 

In practice, some secular conservatives are more stalwart than some religious conservatives. Put another way, the Trump candidacy exposes the ultimate priorities of some ostensibly religious conservatives. 

The Trump candidacy puts pressure on conservatism. What does it mean to be conservative? Why be conservative? 

It's like an intellectual movement in which everyone basically agrees with each other until some members start to question the party line, at point it begins to disintegrate because, as it turns out, some (or many) members only had a nominal commitment to the guiding ideas of the movement. Once some members began to defect, that gave others permission to defect. There never was much holding it together. So long as certain positions were verboten, members were dutifully conservative. The only glue was mutual agreement. Reminds me of how Quebec became secularized in a generation. 

My point is not that this is happening on that scale in conservatism. I'm just describing the mindset. 

The Trump candidacy has produced something of an identity crisis in conservatism. So what do we believe? Do these shibboleths really matter? The Trump candidacy is testing the depth and clarity of one's commitment to conservative values. Some erstwhile conservatives are flunking the test because their adherence to conservative principles was shallow. But there was no occasion to suspect that until their fidelity was stress-tested. 

That isn't necessarily a bad development. Suppose we need to remove the plasterboard to inspect structural integrity. Sometimes we need to revisit what it means to be conservative, and the supporting arguments for that position. In fact, when people take it for granted, that's when they may forget the reasons. 

Should the GOP establishment change the rules to favor Trump?

Trumpkins are fabricating a false narrative about how voters would be "disenfranchised" if the GOP "establishment" were to "steal" the nomination away from Trump. I recently saw Sean Hannity peddle that line in an interview with Reince Priebus. Here's another example:

Keep Trump from getting a majority of the delegates (though he is very likely to win a plurality) and then steal the election from Trump at the convention. 
What is clear is that the party's brain trust, such as it is, is doing everything it can to disenfranchise millions of new Republican voters and deny Trump the nomination.
what impresses me greatly about Trump is he is attracting millions of blue-collar, working-class Americans back to the GOP. They are abandoning the Democrats.

Ironically, this screed is from an erstwhile conservative. Let's introduce a few correctives: 

i) There's no advantage to expanding the GOP if we liberalize the GOP in the process. If anything, the GOP is already too liberal. We hardly need to dilute the conservative share even further. It's good to attract Democrats to the GOP provided that they aren't backing a candidate who will liberalize the GOP. 

ii) Moore's depiction is the polar opposite of reality. Ironically, what he's proposing is that the GOP establishment steal the nomination for Trump, not from Trump. He's proposing that the RNC change the rules in the middle of the game in favor of Trump. That's a paradigm example of cheating. 

iii) Keep in mind that this would mean the GOP establishment (i.e. RNC) would overrule the delegates. 

iv) Moreover, he's proposing that the GOP establishment should disenfranchise the majority of Republican voters so that Trump can be awarded the nomination. The 1237 figure is not an arbitrary figure. That represents a majority of delegates. So Moore is saying that even if a majority of Republican voters opposed Trump in the primaries (by voting for anti-Trump candidates), the GOP establishment ought to impose on Republican voters a candidate whom most of them voted against

v) Thus far, Trump has won primaries by eking out a minority of the Republican vote, offset by crossover Democrats. So Moore is demanding that Democrats should pick the GOP nominee. 

Is it really asking too much that a Republican candidate should be able to win over a majority of Republican voters? When did that become an unreasonable standard? 

vi) In addition, Moore's complaint is self-contradictory. If Trump gets a plurality of the delegates, that will be in part by prevailing in some win-or-take-all primaries. So Trump benefits from an "anti-democratic" system in which some delegates are assigned on a win-or-take-all basis, rather than proportionately. Likewise, if Trump were to prevail in the general election, that's a winner-takes-all system. It's not a parliamentary, power-sharing arrangement.

Furthermore, it's absurd for him to act as if there's something underhanded about majority rule. That's hardly distinctive of the nomination process. Congressional bills must pass by majority vote. Sometimes supermajorities. Treaties must be ratified by supermajorities. Constitutional amendments must be passed and ratified by supermajorities. In Congressional primaries, you often have runoff elections if the lead candidate only got a plurality of the vote. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

How to be an atheist

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Plutarch

In general, here's a pretty strong response to Ehrman:

However, I have two caveats: 

i) Licona elsewhere says:

Because the main characters in these nine biographies often knew one another, a significant overlap of material is present. When material overlaps in two or more of these nine biographies, we can examine that material very carefully for differences. Differences can occur for numerous reasons, such as lapse of memory or sloppiness or Plutarch used better information he had obtained after writing an earlier biography or he employed a compositional device that required him to alter certain details.

But how does Licona distinguish differences owing to ignorance, carelessness, and memory lapses from differences due to "compositional devices"? 

Likewise, Licona admits that Plutarch wrote "biographies" about Theseus and Romulus. How much stock can you put in an author who writes "biographies" about mythological characters alongside accounts of historical figures like Caesar and Cicero? 

Does Plutarch not know the difference? Or does he know the difference, but he pretends that Theseus and Romulus were real people? And isn't that a case of Plutarch pandering to readers to sell books? He knows there's a market niche for this stuff, so he has no scruples about churning out fictional "biographies" of Theseus and Romulus as if that's nonfiction. But surely that makes him a poor standard of comparison for the Gospels. 

ii) Licona says:

The type of person most likely to experience a hallucination is a senior adult who is grieving over the loss of a loved one. Multiple studies have revealed that approximately 50 percent of people in that class will experience a hallucination of their loved one. By far, the largest percentage of those hallucinations will be a sense that their loved one is in the room, although they do not sense them in any other manner, such as seeing or hearing them. Only approximately seven percent of people in this class experience a hallucination in which they see their loved one.

Why does he take for granted that these must be hallucinations? Why would the default assumption be that if 50% of widows/widowers have a sense of their late spouse's presence, or see them, that's a hallucination? Why wouldn't that be prima facie evidence of postmortem survival? It's not an isolated incident. 

Critical consensus

i) In debates, Bart Ehrman appeals to critical consensus. Critical consensus is a subset of scholarly consensus. Critical scholarship is a euphemism for Bible scholars who don't believe the Bible. 

It's amusing when people like Ehrman chide believers for failing to use critical scholarship as their yardstick. In effect that means believers should make unbelievers the standard of comparison. But why should believers adopt the viewpoint of unbelievers? That's nonsensical. Moreover, that assumes the very issue in dispute.

ii) In addition, there's a pecking order among Bible scholars. Some Bible scholars (liberal, moderate, conservative) are very talented. And they establish the paradigm within which other Bible scholars operate. You have a handful of ideological leaders; the rest are followers.

Many landed jobs as OT or NT professors, not due to any outstanding ability on their part, but because they knew the right people and went to the right schools. They have degrees from institutions that look good on a resume. They ingratiate themselves with big-name mentors who write glowing letters of reference. They dutifully regurgitate the current academic fads. In general, critical consensus doesn't represent an independent convergence of thoughtful scholars.

iii) Consensus isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it's a good thing. However, consensus breeds intellectual complacency. People stop asking questions once they think they know the answers. They just default to the received answers. Justification becomes circular: it must be true because so many people believe it, and so many people believe it because it must be true.

Most critical scholars don't think for themselves. They simply ride the wave of preexisting consensus within their insular academic shame culture. 

The problem of prophecy

The Trump juggernaut illustrates the challenge of prophecy. It illustrates the problem with a simple foreknowledge approach to providence. It illustrates the logic of open theism, if you grant the premise of libertarian freewill.

Trump's success has confounded the pundits. There are two reasons for that:

i) We are better at predicting the behavior of people who are like us. The case of Trumpkins generates a paradox. Many Trumpkins are low info voters. They don't know and they don't care. By contrast, pundits like Nate Silver, Michael Barone, Larry Sabato, Ross Douthat, Bill Kristol, Karl Rove, Ben Shapiro et al. are high info voters. They know a lot about the issues; they know a lot about the candidates.

The trick is how can a high info voter project himself into the mindset of a low info voter to anticipate what a low info voter will think and do. A high info voter views Trump in a completely different context than a low info voter. Ironically, that's a disadvantage in predicting the behavior of voters who lack that frame of reference. You must bracket what you know about Trump, bracket what you know about the issues, to assume the outlook of a Trumpkin. 

ii) In addition, what's possible or probable depends on the state of play at any given time. Take two chess masters or poker champs. When they sit down at the table, they don't know ahead of time how they will play the game. There's a move/countermove dialectic that depends on what the prior move happens to be. Every move opens up a new set of forking paths. Different ways to win or lose. It's almost like every move is the first move. For every move resets the variables. 

We Probably Can't Avoid Having Trump Supporters Angry At A Lot Of Republicans

There's a common sentiment these days to the effect that we shouldn't deny Trump the Republican presidential nomination if he's the delegate frontrunner going into the convention, since doing so would upset Trump's supporters too much and would be harmful in other ways. I've addressed some of the problems with that line of reasoning in other threads (here and here). In this post, I want to come at the issue from another angle.

If Trump gets the nomination, he'll lose to Clinton. It's doubtful that Trump will take much responsibility for his loss. He and his most committed supporters will engage in a lot of blame-shifting, conspiracy theories, etc. We can expect them to blame the Republican establishment, the Never Trump movement, and other Republicans for Trump's loss. We'll be told that Republican leaders didn't support Trump as much as they should have, that a lot of Republicans who could and should have voted for Trump didn't do so, and so on. It's likely that many of them will tell us that they're leaving the party, can never trust the Republican establishment again, will respond to the Never Trump movement by not voting for future Republican nominees after Trump, etc.

So, what's the point of accommodating them at the convention in an attempt to avoid having them angry at us? They'd probably eventually get angry at us in a similar way a few months after the convention, even if we were to accommodate them. Many of Trump's supporters have some of the same unfortunate character traits as their leader. These aren't the kind of people we should want to accommodate much. There can be some accommodation, but only up to a point. Giving Trump the nomination just because he had the largest minority percentage of delegates, or because he fell short of a majority by only a small margin, is going too far. The anger we'd avoid at the convention would likely erupt a few months later. Even if that weren't to happen, it wouldn't take much to set some of these people off.

The best way forward, including the best way to grow the party over the long run, is to keep Trump from getting the nomination. The more reasonable and persuadable Trump supporters, along with a lot of other people, would be attracted by a Republican president working with a Republican Congress, especially given how bad the alternative is. We'll attract more people over the long term, including some of Trump's supporters, if a Trump presidency is rejected sooner rather than later.

Gender ideology harms children

The following is from the American College of Pediatricians:

Gender Ideology Harms Children

The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex. Facts – not ideology – determine reality.

  1. Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: “XY” and “XX” are genetic markers of health – not genetic markers of a disorder. The norm for human design is to be conceived either male or female. Human sexuality is binary by design with the obvious purpose being the reproduction and flourishing of our species. This principle is self-evident. The exceedingly rare disorders of sexual differentiation (DSDs), including but not limited to testicular feminization and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, are all medically identifiable deviations from the sexual binary norm, and are rightly recognized as disorders of human design. Individuals with DSDs do not constitute a third sex.

  2. No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one. No one is born with an awareness of themselves as male or female; this awareness develops over time and, like all developmental processes, may be derailed by a child’s subjective perceptions, relationships, and adverse experiences from infancy forward. People who identify as “feeling like the opposite sex” or “somewhere in between” do not comprise a third sex. They remain biological men or biological women.

  3. A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such. These children suffer from gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria (GD), formerly listed as Gender Identity Disorder (GID), is a recognized mental disorder in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-V). The psychodynamic and social learning theories of GD/GID have never been disproved.

  4. Puberty is not a disease and puberty-blocking hormones can be dangerous. Reversible or not, puberty- blocking hormones induce a state of disease – the absence of puberty – and inhibit growth and fertility in a previously biologically healthy child.

  5. According to the DSM-V, as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.

  6. Children who use puberty blockers to impersonate the opposite sex will require cross-sex hormones in late adolescence. Cross-sex hormones are associated with dangerous health risks including but not limited to high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke and cancer.

  7. Rates of suicide are twenty times greater among adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery, even in Sweden which is among the most LGBQT – affirming countries. What compassionate and reasonable person would condemn young children to this fate knowing that after puberty as many as 88% of girls and 98% of boys will eventually accept reality and achieve a state of mental and physical health?

  8. Conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse. Endorsing gender discordance as normal via public education and legal policies will confuse children and parents, leading more children to present to “gender clinics” where they will be given puberty-blocking drugs. This, in turn, virtually ensures that they will “choose” a lifetime of carcinogenic and otherwise toxic cross-sex hormones, and likely consider unnecessary surgical mutilation of their healthy body parts as young adults.

Michelle A. Cretella, M.D.
President of the American College of Pediatricians

Quentin Van Meter, M.D.
Vice President of the American College of Pediatricians
Pediatric Endocrinologist

Paul McHugh, M.D.
University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Delegate Frontrunners Often Lose At Conventions

Contrary to what we're often told by Trump, his supporters, and his enablers in the media and elsewhere:

Some fellow named Abraham Lincoln arrived at the 1860 Republican convention with 23% of the delegates while William Seward arrived with 38% of the delegates. It would be hard to find any historian or anyone else who does not think the convention system worked pretty well in 1860 or that the Republicans picked the wrong candidate. But maybe Mr. Trump thinks the nation would have been better served with Mr. Seward.

It is the goal of the convention for the delegates to select a nominee who will best represent the political party in the national election. The very nature of claiming that with less than forty percent of the delegates, a candidate should be entitled to the nomination is both nonsense and not in concert with the history of political conventions in the United States.

If Mr. Trump was interested in the history of the United States and he should be, he would know that the leading candidate with less than fifty percent of the delegates on the first ballot almost always is not the nominee. That has been the case in two thirds of the conventions since 1900 where no one has secured the nomination on the first ballot.

There have been nine conventions since 1900 where the presidential nominee was not selected on the first ballot. At only three of those conventions did the first ballot leader secure the nomination. In the other six, candidates with as few as five percent of the delegates at the beginning have been the nominee and often the initially non-leading candidate has won the presidency….

Mr. Trump may be right, there may be many of his supporters who would think it was unfair for him to have the highest number of delegates going into the convention and not get the nomination. However, if Mr. Trump did not intend to play by the Republican convention rules when he began his campaign as a Republican, why did he not start out as a Democrat or an Independent?

Ehrman down for the count

I'm going to make some comments on the debate between Bart Ehrman and Tim McGrew:

I don't normally comment on live debates because it's a nuisance to locate and manually transcribe the relevant statements. I may summarize or paraphrase what they said, although that will incorporate their own phrases. Anyone can listen to the debate for himself to get the verbatim account. It's well worthing hearing the entire debate for McGrew's side of the exchange. I don't have much to add to part 1, so much of my comments will be about part 2. I'll begin by summarizing their exchange:

I. Recap

Ehrman asked McGrew if he was an inerrantist, thereby attempting to change the topic of the debate–which was about the reliability of the Gospels, not the inerrancy of the Gospels. McGrew refused to be pinned down. Later, McGrew said he rejects a "tape recorder" view of inerrancy. 

Ehrman raised the issue of inerrancy because that's a presupposition which skews how we assess the historicity of the Gospels. 

Ehrman says that when Pilate interrogates Jesus in Jn 18, no one else is in the room. Just Jesus and Pilate. So how did John know what was said? (Implication: he didn't know. He just made it up.) 

Ehrman compares that to Charles Dickens reporting conversations that never happened. That hardly means he had special access to some sort of historical information about what David Copperfield actually said. Likewise, ancient historians (e.g. Herodotus) made up speeches. They do it because it helps the story along.

McGrew counters that Ehrman is overgeneralizing about ancient historians. McGrew points out that Ehrman is making unjustified assumptions about Jn 18. Undoubtedly guards were present. Likewise, since John had connections with the high priest, he might been allowed in. 

McGrew says nobody picks up David Copperfield looking for answers to those unresolved questions you had about Moby-Dick. These are not anchored in the same independent reality. Therefore, you can't compare undesigned coincidences to fiction or oral traditions in general circulation. 

Ehrman says John mitigates or exculpates Pilate because, with the passage of time, Christians were in heightened situations of antagonism with Jews, so they increasingly pinned the blame on Jews rather than Romans. That's why, in later sources, Pilate has to have his arm twisted. There's a trajectory from Mark through Matthew, Luke, and John, into the 2C, viz. Justin Martyr and the Gospel of Peter. By the mid-2C, Christians call Jews Christ-killers; by the end of the 2C, they accuse them of Deicide. 

McGrew counters that Ehrman is cherry-picking the evidence to fabricate a trajectory. Ehrman is in the grip of a literary theory of development, a type of literary criticism that gives certain branches of NT scholarship a bad name.

Ehrman replies by asking who actually says that? 

McGrew responds by quoting two Classicists: E. M. Blaiklock and John M. Rist.

Ehrman complains that you can quote people who are opposed to anything. Take Christ mythicism. So you must consider the source. Is the opinion justified?

Ehrman says we shouldn't use one author to explain what another author is trying to say.

McGrew says that's not a general rule of historical inquiry. He gives an example from the Battle of Midway. 

Ehrman says it's not that historians must assume miracles never happen. Rather, they must bracket the question. Historians can't operate on the basis of supernatural assumptions. Doesn't necessarily mean Resurrection didn't happen, but as a historian you can't show it happened on historical grounds. Outside of people writing about the Bible, every other modern historian takes that approach. Would McGrew credit miracles in other sources of that sort?

McGrew says it depends on the quality of the evidence. Is it the same kind of evidence?

Ehrman mentions reported miracles associated with the founder of Hassidism.  

McGrew counters that you need to distinguish stories that circulated within a sympathetic community from stories in the face of hostile authorities. Whether or not they were subjected to searching scrutiny from outsiders affects their credibility. 

Ehrman denies that most early Christians were persecuted for sharing their faith. They weren't preaching that on street corners. 

McGrew counters that, in fact, that's precisely the scenario we have in Acts: open-air preaching and official persecution. 

Ehrman says only two Christian leaders were arrested (Peter, John) out of 8,000 converts. Early Christians in general weren't threatened with persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom. 

McGrew counters by citing the Neronian persecution, recounted by Tacitus. 

Ehrman accuses of McGrew of creating undesigned coincidences by picking a detail here and a detail there. 

McGrew counters that Ehrman creates contradictions by picking a detail here and a detail there. Moreover, Ehrman disregards the larger pattern of undesigned coincidences. 

Ehrman accuses McGrew of repristinating 19C apologetics. 

McGrew counters by citing 20C exemplars like F. F. Bruce and modern commentaries. 

Alienating Trump Opponents Is More Costly

We're hearing a lot about how costly it would be to alienate Trump supporters. If Trump gets the most delegates, but the nomination is given to somebody else at the convention, we're supposed to believe that such a scenario would be too costly. Trump supporters would leave the party, refuse to vote for the nominee, or whatever.

There are a lot of problems with that kind of reasoning. A big problem is that alienating Trump's opponents would cost even more. There are at least about as many highly committed opponents of Trump as there are highly committed supporters. Most likely, the opponents outnumber the supporters (though a lot of Republicans aren't in either category). We know that Trump supporters are less educated, make less money, and are less active in the party. Who would you rather alienate? The Trump supporters, who are much less a part of the backbone of the party? Or the more educated, wealthier, and more politically active people the party is more dependent upon?

A large group of Republicans will be upset either way. Upsetting the Trump supporters makes more sense. And nominating somebody other than Trump will be better in other ways. It will give us a more electable candidate, will be more beneficial to the party's reputation in the short term and long term, will discourage movements like the Trump movement in the future, will do less damage to other campaigns (e.g., Congressional races), etc.

Trump and his supporters decided to participate in the Republican party and its nominating process, with all of its structures and rules. Part of that Republican system is the option of denying the nomination to a candidate who has the most delegates, but not a majority. Another part of the system is that the rules can be changed along the way, even to the point of denying the nomination to a candidate with a majority of the delegates. As I've said before, Trump ought to be denied the nomination either way, even if he has a delegate majority. I doubt that he'll get a majority, though, and that makes the complaints of his supporters even more hollow. Denying him the nomination when he only gets a minority of delegates before the convention, even if it's the largest minority, isn't a difficult decision. It's easy. Republicans need to start acting like it. Stop wringing your hands, stop being nervous and hesitant, and start treating the Trump movement with the opposition it deserves.

The fine-tuning of nature's laws

The Fine-Tuning of Nature's Laws by Luke Barnes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Ehrman follies, part 2

I'm going to comment on the next installment of Ehrman's debate:

Ehrman is very repetitious in his debates and books, so I won't repeat objections I've addressed before in responding to his material. 

Ehrman cites stock "contradictions" like raising the daughter of Jairus and the cleansing of the temple. Having recently discussed these myself, I won't repeat myself here. 

I should stress that the views I lay out here are not unique to me, as if I’m the one who thought all this up. On the contrary, the views I will be laying out here are those held by virtually every professor of biblical studies who teaches at every major liberal arts college or research university in North America. Take your pick: Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Kansas, University of Nebraska, University of Minnesota, University of Florida, Amherst, Middlebury, Oberlin — literally, pick any top liberal arts college or state university in North America, and the views that I will be sketching here are pretty much the sorts of things you will find taught there.

Ah, yes, the power of secular groupthink. 

The Gospels are obviously full of supernatural stories. And for scholars prior to the Enlightenment, these stories were actual events of history. They really happened. If you had been there, you would have been able to record them with your video camera...

Somewhat misleading. Yes, a video camera would be able to record the supernatural events. That, though, doesn't mean the Gospels narrate them from the perspective of a cameraman. Writing is a different medium than photography. You can see several things happen simultaneously (e.g. watching football), but writing is sequential. Even if you can watch several things happening at once, you can't write about them all at once (or read about them all at once), but only one at a time. 

Moreover, the field of vision contains lots of background detail that's extraneous to the main event. A narrative will omit most of that. 

The sciences were on the rise, and scholars began to realize that one does not need to appeal to the activities of God to explain the events of the world. Lightning strikes, floods, and droughts were no longer thought of as direct interventions of God into the world; they were seen as naturally occurring climactic conditions.

i) Since when did pre-Enlightenment believers think natural evils has to be direct divine interventions? To the contrary, didn't they pray that God intervene to prevent or end a natural evil? In order words, they might just as well view a natural evil as something that happens on its own unless God steps in to stop it. 

Unless they thought lightning, flooding, and drought were divine judgments, there'd be no reason to presume these were direct divine interventions. Take the annual flooding of the Nile. Did they think that was a direct divine intervention, or the ordinary course of nature? 

The emphasis during the Enlightenment was on the possibility of human reason to understand our world and the nature of life in it.

ii) Is Ehrman ignorant of the fact that Scripture and historical theology have a concept of ordinary providence? 

iii) Ehrman posits a false dichotomy. To deny that lightning, flooding, and drought represent "divine divine interventions" doesn't preclude "activities of God to explain events of the world". A washing machine relieves humans of having to launder clothes by hand. But that doesn't eliminate the need for someone to invent the washing machine. Ehrman is such a simpleton. 

Medicine was developed, and proved to be much more efficient in solving human illness than prayer and hope. 

Medicine antedates the Enlightenment by centuries and millennia. It's just that we've gotten better at it. 

Astronomy developed and people came to realize that the earth was not the center of the universe. 

Viewing the sky through a telescope doesn't tell you whether or not earth is the center of the universe. After all, the universe surrounds the earth. Everywhere you look, in every direction, is outer space. So how could you tell from a terrestrial frame of reference whether the earth was or wasn't at the center of the universe? 

That's based more on a theory of cosmic origins–like a ripple effect, where our solar system is an outer wave in relation to the point of origin. 

Eventually, scientists realized that the world was not created in six days and that humans were not simply created out of the dust, but evolved from lower forms of primates, which were themselves evolved from yet other forms of life.

Which disregards evidence to the contrary. 

If we no longer needed to appeal to “miracle” to explain why we got over the flu, or why it finally rained last week, or why the solar system was formed, do we need to appeal to miracle to understand the Gospels?

i) In Scripture, rain comes from clouds. Observers could actually see that happen. 

ii) People routinely recover from the flu. That's not inherently life-threatening. Why would pre-Enlightenment believers assume that's a miracle? 

iii) In addition, there's a need to distinguish between folklore and what theologians believed. 

Even though we continue to call the Gospels “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” we do not know who the authors actually were. Each of the Gospels is completely anonymous: their authors never announce their names. The titles we read in the Gospels (e.g., “The Gospel according to Matthew”) were not put there by their authors, but by later scribes who wanted to tell you who, in their opinion, wrote these books. 

How does he know that? Was it customary for 1C books to circulate anonymously?  

They were not eyewitnesses to the events they describe, and do not ever claim to be.

The narrator of John's Gospel claims to be an eyewitness. Moreover, you don't need to be an eyewitness to have access to firsthand informants.

For nearly 100 years scholars have realized that the Gospel writers acquired their stories about Jesus from the “oral tradition,” that is, from the stories about Jesus’s life, words, deeds, death, and resurrection that had been in circulation by word of mouth, in all the years from the time of his death. The Gospels were written between 70–95 CE — that is 40 to 65 years after the events they narrate. This means that the Gospel writers are recording stories that had been told and retold month after month, year after year, decade after decade, among Christians living throughout the Roman empire, in differing places, in different times, even in different languages.

i) He states that as if it's a demonstrable fact, but he doesn't explain how he knows that to be the case. For instance, people typically write autobiographies at the end of their public life. Yet that's a firsthand account. No intervening links. No word of mouth. 

ii) Moreover, his dating scheme is hardly a given. Consider John Wenham's Redating Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

There are lots and lots of detailed differences like this that you will find once you start reading the Bible horizontally. Just take another seemingly small instance. In Mark’s Gospel, at his Last Supper, Jesus informs Peter that he, Peter, will deny Jesus that evening three times “before the cock crows twice” (Mark 14:30). In Matthew we have the same scene, but here Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times “before the cock crows” (Matthew 26:34). Well, which is it? Is it before the cock crows or before it crows the second time? 

That just means Mark is more specific than Matthew. A general statement doesn't contradict a specific statement. For instance: "the parking lot had a 100 cars"; "the parking lot had 10 red cars". The second statement doesn't contradict the first. 

To say "before the cock crows" is not to assert it won't happen before the cock crows twice, as if "before the cock crows" is meant to deny or negate before the cock crows twice. That would only follow if you assume Matthew intends to contrast his statement with Mark's, or correct Mark's statement. But Matthew has a habit of simplifying Mark. He routinely abbreviates Mark–probably to free up space for his additional material. There's only so much you can fit onto a single scroll. 

Again, it seems like a picayune detail: but why the difference? What is more interesting (and possibly important), is that in the different Gospels Peter actually denies Jesus to different people on different occasions. So, what is going on?

Why does Ehrman imagine that's a problem? If more than one person questioned Peter, he'd deny Jesus to more than one interrogator. 

Indeed, it's easy to see how that could happen. Peter is standing around the fire with some other folks. Most of them don't pay any attention to him until one of them questions him. But now that he's been singled out, that exchange prompts others to take notice and question him. That's a perfectly natural dynamic.  

So, first of all, probably most Jews today are descended from King David, given how genealogies work. Did half the Jewish population of the world descend on Bethlehem?

What's his basis for that claim? 1C Jews belonged to twelve different tribes. Even within David's tribe, to say someone descended from the tribe of Judah hardly means he descended from David. Although that's possible, that's not necessary or even probable. There's no presumption to that effect. 

Finally, if Luke’s account is right about the birth of Jesus, then the one other account that discusses it in the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, cannot also be right. Read Matthew’s account: what happens after Jesus is born? In Matthew, Herod decides to kill all the children in Bethlehem because he doesn’t want any competitors for his throne as “King of the Jews.” But Joseph is warned in a dream and he escapes with Mary and Jesus to Egypt, where they stay until Herod dies. But if that’s right, how can Luke also be right that they stayed in Bethlehem just 41 days (eight days till the circumcision; 33 days before the rites of purification) and then returned to Nazareth? If Luke’s right, then Matthew can’t be, and vice versa.

This is just bizarre. In Matthew, Herod's order occurs over a year later. There's plenty of lead time for Jesus to be circumcised, and Mary to be purified, before the Holy Family skips town. It's as if Ehrman is so sure the Gospels must contradict that he can't even think straight. 

Who goes to the tomb? Is it Mary by herself, or with other women? If with other women, how many women? And what are their names? (As is true for this and all the other points I made, the answer in each case will appear to be: “It depends which Gospel you read!”)Do they find that the stone is already rolled away from the tomb (before they arrive) or does it roll away after they get there?Whom do they see there? A man? An angel? Two men? Two angels?Do they ever see Jesus himself there?What are they told there – that they are to go tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee? Or that they are to remind the disciples what Jesus told them when he was in Galilee?That is, are the disciples to go to Galilee (about a four-day walk north) to see Jesus, or are they to stay in Jerusalem to see him?Do the women tell anyone? (Take special note of Mark 16:8. The original Gospel ended with that verse – as will probably be indicated in your Bible. It says, “And the women said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” And that’s where it ends. If the author doesn’t really mean that they never told anyone, why does he say that they didn’t tell anyone? And if he thinks they did tell someone, why doesn’t he say so?)Do the disciples ever learn that Jesus has been raised (take note of Mark’s account)?Do the disciples go to Galilee? Or do they stay in Jerusalem?Does Jesus appear to them just on the day of his resurrection, and then ascend to heaven? Or does he make appearances for a period of time?Does he ascend on the day of the resurrection or 40 days later (see Acts 1)?

You know, I've never been impressed by the alleged discrepancies regarding what happened on the first Easter (or thereafter). I've never felt it was a realistic expectation that we should be able to harmonize their accounts, even if all four accounts are completely accurate.

Take a comparison: suppose three or four people attend their high school reunion. After they return home that evening, they jot down a diary entry about what happened. 

Unless you already knew that these were accounts of the same reunion, you might be unable to tell that from their respective entries. It's highly possible, even probable, that there'd be no overlap at all insofar as each diarist might mention having seen or spoken to different classmates than the other diarists. No two entires might even mention a single classmate in common. And even if they did, there's no expectation that they'd all mention the same set of classmates. 

Each of them attends the reunion hoping to see certain classmates. They don't care about all the others. While they are there, they bump into other classmates. But they only have time to talk to a sample. There are many classmates at the event whom they never notice. They can honestly say they didn't see them, even though everyone was at the same event. 

Likewise, people arrive at different times and leave at different times. There's no way we could reconstruct the actual sequence from the diaries, not because they are contradictory, but because there are too many different possibilities to determine which represents the order things actually happened. 

By the same token, it's not as though the women and the disciples had an appointment to reconnoiter at the tomb at say, 7AM on the first day of the week. Indeed, none of them was even expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. People arrived individually, or in small groups, at different times. It wouldn't be surprising if some people came back more than once to see it again. And the accounts are admittedly selective. 

Here, it is very important to pay attention to Luke’s explicit chronological statements. On the day of the event, the women tell the 11 disciples what they heard from the two men at the tomb (24:8). “That very same day” Jesus appears to two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (24:13–32). “At that same hour” they went and told the disciples in Jerusalem what they had seen (24:33–35). “As they were saying this” (24:36), Jesus then appears to the disciples, shows them he has been raised from the dead, and gives them their instructions, which include the injunction that they are to “stay in the city” until they receive the promised Spirit from on high (24:49). He then takes them to a suburb, Bethany, and ascends to heaven. The disciples then return to Jerusalem itself and worship in the temple (24:50–53). And that’s where the Gospel ends, on the day of the resurrection, in Jerusalem.

i) Lk 24 reflects narrative compression. It's a summary of events that Luke will flesh out in Acts 1. By this point, Luke is probably running short of space on his scroll. And this is a teaser for the more detailed account in Acts 1–like movie trailers. 

ii) As one commentator notes, "although the events of vv1-35 are set on resurrection Sunday (see vv1,13,33), vv36-53 are absent time references. J. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Eerdmans, 2015), 738. 

As you probably know, the same author who wrote the Gospel of Luke also wrote the book of Acts. It is interesting, and puzzling, to read the first chapter of Acts immediately after reading the Gospel of Luke. Even though Jesus ascends to heaven on the day of his resurrection in Luke, we are told explicitly in Acts that in fact he stayed on earth for another 40 days...

Acts doesn't "explicitly" (or even implicitly) say that he stayed on earth for another 40 days. It says nothing about his whereabouts in-between appearances to the disciples. 

According to Matthew, at the moment when Jesus died there were a number of enormous, cataclysmic, mind-boggling events that took place: the curtain in the temple was ripped in half (we have no record of this occurring, by the way, even though Jewish authors talk extensively about the temple at the time and would have been very interested indeed, if part of it had been destroyed!);

i) There's nothing "enormous, cataclysmic, mind-boggling," about a torn curtain. 

ii) The temple had two curtains. One screened the sanctuary from the outer court. Tearing that curtain would be more public. The other screened the sanctuary from the inner sanctum. Only priests would be privy to that. 

iii) Since this is a sign of divine judgment (and portent of future judgment) on the religious establishment, it's not something the establishment would broadcast, although rumors would leak out. 

iv) A torn curtain is hardly equivalent to "destroying" part of the temple. It's not like structural damage. 

v) Ehrman is disingenuous. For instance, Josephus narrates ominous portents on the eve of the temple's destruction, but Ehrman surely dismisses that as superstitious legend. So why would he take corroboration of this event any more seriously? 

there was a massive earthquake; “the rocks were split” (it’s hard to know what that means exactly);

How is a local earthquake "enormous, cataclysmic, and mind-boggling"? I've lived through two dramatic earthquakes, but they weren't "enormous, cataclysmic, or mind-boggling." 

and, most breathtaking of all, “the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:52–53).

No doubt that's mind-boggling. It was meant to be. But it's not "enormous" or "cataclysmic". Ehrman indulges in hyperbole. 

Really? Are we supposed to think that masses of people came back to life and started walking around Jerusalem on the day that Jesus was raised? And no one else — whether Jews at the time, or Romans, or Christians, or even the other Gospel writers — thinks this is important enough to say something about? What is going on here?

i) Matthew doesn't say "masses of people" came back to life. Notice how Ehrman deliberates exaggerates Mt 27:51-53 to make it less believable. 

ii) They'd be unrecognizable to strangers. Imagine if your grandfather rose from the grave. How many people would have any idea who he was? How many people would even know that he rose from the grave? Only surviving friends, neighbors, or relaties would realize what had happened. And it would depend on who they appeared to. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Skeptical of the Skeptics

Russell's celestial teapot

Rhetoric v. reality

For example, Trump is a wealthy crony capitalist who has previously exploited the lower economic social classes for his own advancement. But because he uses rhetoric (i.e., “he isn’t politically correct”, “he tells it like it is”) that appears to trash the Establishment and their interest, he’s given a pass and considered one of their own. They assume that despite his lifelong connection to the Establishment that Trump is, at least in his heart, a traitor to his own class.

That's analogous to Democrats/liberals who consider Al Gore to be an environmentalist because he pays lip-service to global warming and green energy even though his private lifestyle is diametrically opposed to his rhetoric. Ditto: James Cameron. 

Same thing with the despised One Percenters, which is never applied to rich liberals.  


For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light (Lk 16:8).

1. Some Trump supporters, including some professing believers, excuse their choice by claiming that we're electing a a President-in-Chief, not a "Pastor-in-Chief". Unfortunately, there are Christians who play into that otherworldly caricature. I'm going to begin with some comments on the parable, then illustrate the problem with a couple of examples. 

2. Many commentators are confused by this parable (Lk 16:1-13). They don't know what to make of the overt cynicism. Some try to read it straight by making it about usury, but that's implausible. 

In my opinion, this parable is in the trickster genre of slave literature, viz. Uncle Remus, Brer Rabbit, Reynard the Fox. Satirical. 

The steward is the trickster, while his boss plays the stooge. His boss is such a dupe that he allows the steward to defraud him twice over. He even praises the steward for cheating him.

Sure, that's unrealistic, but the parable depicts the rich man as a blithering idiot. I think lower class members in Jesus' audience would have no difficulty getting the point. 

This also trades on a certain type of villain. There are different kinds of villains. There's the man you love to hate. The audience is spoiling to see him finally get his comeuppance.

But then there's the villain who, like a cat, always lands on his feet. He hoodwinks everyone, and the audience is expected to have a sneaking admiration for his cunning. Yes, he's a scoundrel, but he's such a clever scoundrel.

I think Christ's main point is to make an a fortiori argument: if even this unscrupulous steward can act so prudently in a time of crisis, how much more should Christians be able to improve on his example. Surely we should be at least as adept as a small-time crook. Indeed, we should be able to do better. Shaming believers who lack common sense.

I say that to say this: 

3. Recently, Doug Wilson did a post on Trump with this illustration:

A number of Christian commenters got hung up on the illustration. They felt it was inappropriate. But that reflects a lack of judgment on their part. A failure of priorities. 

i) To begin with, although the illustration was provocative, it wasn't pornographic. 

ii) In addition: "a picture's worth a thousand words". The photo nice captures Trump's venality, worldliness, and insatiable need to project an image. A rich man with trashy values. Ironically, the ostentatious wealth make is all the tackier. The gold leaf. The trophy wife, with her studied, superior glare. The fancy piano as a prop.

4. A second example is Christians who felt Rubio's "little hands" remark was inappropriate. Over at his blog, Denny Burk harped on that in two different posts. And some of his commenters agree. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's the female commenters who tend to agree. It was "sinful"! "An offense to God"! 

But one reason Trump got this far is because his opponents were too timid. Yes, it's a pity that Rubio has to be that crass, but let's not confuse decorum with morality. What Rubio did was in bad taste, but a breach of etiquette is not a breach of ethics. Trump is a stink bomb. Someone has to remove the stink bomb.

That's far too much riding on the race to make decorum a priority. And with a candidate like Trump, there's no nice way to take him out of action.

Certainly there should be substantive attacks. But, unfortunately, that's not enough.

In addition, this didn't begin with Rubio. This goes back to an ancient feud, when Trump was called a "short-fingered vulgarian" in Spy magazine. Trump is so vain that he could never get over it. 

In addition, you have Trump's patronizing epithet for Rubio: "little Marco". BTW, isn't that an ethnic stereotype?

Rubio's comment about "hands" was riffing off of all that. A very clever segue from Trump's notorious hypersensitivity about his stubby digits to mocking his manhood. 

Rubio was pushing Trump's buttons. As well as pushing the media's buttons. And it worked!

5. Unfortunately, you have Christians with a made-up speech code that is far more schoolmarmish than Scripture. I've discussed this before:

But let's take some additional examples:

I myself will lift up your skirts over your face, and your shame will be seen (Jer 13:26) 
Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame (Nahum 3:5). 

By definition, that's an obscene image. Intentionally obscene. 

To be sure, it's not a picture. Rather, it's picture language. A visual description. Not pornographic, since it's not meant to sexually arouse the reader, but to evoke disgust. 

Rubio didn't say anything within light years of that. 

Or take God commanding Ezekiel to use human excrement as fuel (Ezk 4:12). That's deliberately offensive.

Or take Paul's statement that the Judaizers should suffer a penectomy (Gal 5:12). 

The point is not that we ought to make a habit of using graphic language or graphic illustrations. This is fairly exceptional in Scripture. But it's there. It's not inherently sinful to do that. 

6. I'd like to make a final point. In some of these discussions there's the suggestion that a man shouldn't say or do anything that would make a woman uncomfortable. Like saying, never watch a movie you wouldn't take your wife to. 

Well, that depends. There are movies that are mutually enjoyable for couples. On the other hand, there's material some women like that normal men can't stand. Take Amish romance novels. Or Hallmark channel fare. Or Disney Princess flicks. 

Conversely, you have sports films and war films that resonate with men, but many women would find disagreeable. There's nothing inherently wrong with a father taking his sons to see a movie he wouldn't take his daughter to see. 

Men and women aren't interchangeable. Masculine taste is not the standard for women, and feminine taste is not the standard for men.