Saturday, April 30, 2016

One of the Best Chess Channels on YouTube

For you chess players out there, Daniel King’s “Power Play Chess” is an absolutely fabulous channel. King is a FIDE Grandmaster, rated over 2500, so he knows what he’s talking about, and he’s been a journalist and chess columnist for years.

When there’s a major tournament going on, his YouTube channel features almost daily commentaries on the best games; when there are no tournaments, lately he’s been walking through the games of former world champions like Mikhail Tal and others.

Here’s today’s video – featuring a game from the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, who incidentally, won the tournament by winning this game. (Sorry for the spoiler!)

Suicide-bomber cessationism

I'll make a few observations on this post and some of the ensuing comments:

i) I appreciate the fact that people like Fred expose hucksters and heretics in the charismatic movement. We need more of that. 

ii) That said, both here and in his initial post, Fred's entire objection to continuationism is an argument from experience. The experience of hucksters and heretics in the charismatic movement.

Problem is, the argument from experience cuts both ways. If an argument from experience is legitimate to falsify continuationism, then an argument from experience is legitimate to verify continuationism. 

ii) Keep in mind, too, that the burden of proof for the continuationism is infinitely lower. Cessationism denies the occurrence of a single continuationist miracle. It doesn't deny the occurrence of modern miracles, per se, but the occurrence of miracles consistent with continuationism.

Therefore, it only requires one good example of the contrary to falsify cessationism. 

edingess on April 27, 2016 at 2:52 pm said:
Hey Fred…spot on my brother! I simply ask these people to put up or shut up. When a Charismatic/Pentecostal starts talking about this nonsense, I simply say, okay then, lets go down to the hospital or the morgue. That is where this debate will take place. Show me what you’ve got or just shut up. The claims made by these people are empirical claims in my opinion. So, lets see you raise the dead, open blind eyes, empty wheelchairs, etc. Unless you are willing to show me, then please don’t waist [sic] my time. That shuts them up every time.

i) And atheists raise the mirror image of that very objection. Why doesn't God heal children with cancer? Because there is no God! If there were a God, he'd clean out the cancer ward at a children's hospital. 

ii) Apropos (i), doesn't Jesus have the ability to heal? He still exists, right? So why doesn't Jesus go down to the hospital, nursing home, or morgue, raise the dead, cure cancer patients, empty wheelchairs, &c? By Ed's logic, Jesus doesn't have what it takes. 

iii) Fact is, healing everyone has downsides as well as upsides. A person who was healed may become the father of a murderer. Atheists, as well as people like Ed, treat it like a self-contained issue. But reality isn't that compartmentalized. 

iv) Now, I don't object to calling the bluff of self-styled faith-healers. But it doesn't take a hundred miracles to prove one miracle. 

edingess on April 28, 2016 at 3:05 pm said:
Ken, your claim to having witnessed a genuine miracle needs documentation. Name, contact information, doctor certification of an illness, doctor certification of restoration, media story reporting the event, eyewitnesses, name of the healer by whom the miracle was performed, etc. Thanks for the information.

i) First of all, people like Ed demand documentation, then turn their back on the documentation. 

ii) We need to draw distinctions. If someone I know, someone whose judgment I trust, tells me about a miracle he experienced, I don't require corroboration. 

iii) That said, it's good to demand solid evidence for reported miracles. However, Ed raises the bar artificially high. He raises the bar so high that his standard discredits every miraculous healing in the Bible. This is suicide bomber cessationism. They are so fanatical that they will blow up the Bible in order to blow up continuationism. 

iv) And it won't do for Ed to hold biblical miracles to a different standard. According to cessationism, the function of biblical miracles is to attest the messenger. In that event, you can't invoke the authority of Scripture to validate the miracle. Rather, the miracle validates the authority of Scripture. That's the structure of the cessationist argument. That's how miracles figure in the argument. The messenger doesn't authenticate the miracle; rather, the miracle authenticates the messenger. 

So according to cessationism, a Scriptural miracle must be credible independent of Scripture. Yet Ed's criteria rule out every miracle in Scripture. It would really behoove cessationists to avoid suicide bomber tactics. 

Inwagen on Hume on miracles

For the philosophically inclined, here's a closely-reasoned dismantling of Hume's celebrated argument against miracles:

The Evidence For Matthew's Authorship

I've written a lot of posts over the years arguing for the apostle Matthew's authorship of the first gospel. I want to put together a collection of links to several of the arguments, so that they can easily be accessed in one post. I'll add more links as they become available. What I'm linking are posts that address the relevant issues. Since some of these posts address more than one subject, you may have to search within a post to find the material you're looking for.

Thomas the Train Wreck and the Analogia Entis

The word “theology”, as everyone knows, is derived from two Greek roots, from θεός, God, and λόγος, word or reason. Thus it is “a word or rational discourse concerning God, and therefore as human wisdom or knowledge concerning God” (from Muller, R. A. (1985). Dictionary Of Latin And Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally From Protestant Scholastic Theology (p. 298). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House). Muller continues with this definition:

The Protestant orthodox systems, both Reformed and Lutheran, consist in revealed theology, and manifest little or no attention to the exposition of a positive natural theology. This characteristic is manifest in the identification of Scripture and not reason as the cognitive foundation or principium cognoscendi [the principle of knowing or cognitive foundation] of theology. This revealed theology, inasmuch as it is a reflection of the divine self-knowledge or theologia archetypa, is also characterized as a form of theologia ectypa, or ectypal theology, and as theologia in via, theology on the way to God, or theologia viatorum, theology of pilgrims or those on the way.

The alternative to this way of understanding theology is known as the analogia entis, or “the analogy of being”. This is primarily the Thomist method of reasoning from things that we know on earth to, primarily, arrive at a knowledge of God “from below”, as it were. Muller gives this definition:

The Synoptics and John

I'm going to piggyback on a recent post by Jason Engwer. Critics stress the differences between John and the Synoptics. They act as though it's problematic that John is so different than the Synoptics. But that really has it backwards. Framing the issue that way is misleading and counterintuitive.

What's striking is not that John is so different, but that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so similar. The conventional explanation is that Matthew and Luke use Mark. They adopt and adapt his basic plot, repeating many of the same incidents–in the same order. 

By contrast, we'd expect two (or more) independent accounts to be very different from each other. That's not surprising. That doesn't require a special explanation. And that, of itself, doesn't call into question their historicity. 

To take a few examples, consider the difference between a Civil War account by a Southern General and a Northern general. Or between a general and a foot soldier. Or between observers (or participants) in Virginia, Missouri, and South Carolina. 

Or consider the difference between a WWII account by an American soldier and a Japanese soldier. Or between a participant in the Pacific theater and the European theater. Or between someone in the navy, air force, or infantry.  

These will all be dramatically different. They could all be equally historical. 

Admittedly, the Civil War–not to mention WWII–was on a far larger scale that Christ's two or three-year ministry in Palestine. But I use these examples to illustrate how dramatic differences between independent historical accounts are par for the course.

The Republican conundrum

There's a lot of voter rage directed at the GOP. Problem is, that's misdirected. 

It's not that there aren't some real stinkers in the GOP leadership. To take a few current examples, governors who fold on religious liberty, viz. Nathan Deal, Mike Pence, Asa Hutchinson–as well as Sen. Portman. 

However, the GOP leadership is not the source of the problem. It's a symptom, not the cause. Angry voters are fixated on a symptom.

The GOP is like a pyramid. The fundamental weakness isn't at the top but the bottom. The base of the pyramid is too small. The reason we have some duds in leadership positions is because there aren't the votes to replace them to stalwart conservatives. There aren't enough rightwing voters to run the table.  

In a country as diverse and populous as the US, to be a viable national party, you have to attract a coalition of different voting blocks. There aren't enough rightwing voters to float a viable national party. That voting block is too small all by itself.

This is a problem with furious voters who wish to raze the GOP. They hope to replace it with an ideologically pure third party. They act as though the GOP is a granite slab that's suppressing the silent rightwing majority. But unfortunately, no such majority exists. 

A third party might indeed be ideologically purer, but it would be purer at the expense of being much smaller. It wouldn't be competitive. Smashing the GOP just reshuffles the same deck. It doesn't add new conservative voters to the deck. It merely rearranges the same basic number of voters. You are still stuck with same basic ideological spread.

Instead of subdividing the deck two ways, between hearts and diamonds, it subdivides the decks three ways, into spades, hearts, and diamonds (or clubs, as the case may be). Regrouping the same number of cards into smaller sets.

Indeed, if conservatives abandon the GOP for a third party, the GOP will cease to be politically viable. In that event, the remaining Republicans will probably join the Democrats. After the dust settles, you'd wind up with a larger Democrat party, and a smaller opposition party.  

To take another comparison, consider Israel, with its Parliamentary system. It has ideologically purer parties, but that's because they are splinter groups. All the parties are weaker.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Colombo tactic

Why Is John So Different From The Synoptics?

In a recent response to Bart Ehrman, I addressed the common objection that the gospel of John is too different from the Synoptics for both to be historically accurate. In that post, I focused on how John and the Synoptics are more similar than critics often suggest and how John likely was intentionally supplementing the Synoptics by making his gospel largely different than the others, which offers a partial explanation for their differences. What I want to do at this point is recommend another resource that addresses the issue from another angle.

In the comments section of the thread here, I discuss some evidence that John was written late in the first century and that the fourth gospel probably postdates the Synoptics by decades, not just years. Given the evidence that the Synoptics were written about two or three decades earlier, that difference in dating offers a further explanation for why the Synoptics and John are as different as they are. It seems likely that the similarities among the Synoptics are due in part to their having been written around the same time. John was written decades later with an intention that it be largely different than the others.

Analogy and intervention

Since "Reformed Thomism" is popular among some young Calvinists, I'd going to consider two such positions. Once again, I'll be using Brian Davies, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (3rd ed.), as a reference point. 

1. Analogy

As Davies explains, Thomism rejects univocal predication in favor of analogical predication (ibid. 147-52). 

Although this discussion can get into the weeds, it raises a fundamental question, both in principle and practice, about whether God is knowable. Can we pray to God? 

i) One issue is whether analogical predication is parasitic on univocal predication. If we can't pinpoint what two things have in common, then do they really have anything in common. 

ii) I don't deny that our knowledge of God includes analogical knowledge. But I deny that we can't have univocal knowledge of God. Sometimes it's one or the other or both. Let's illustrate:

A sundial and a Rolex are analogous objects. In terms of function, they are univocal. They have an identical function, as timepieces. Yet the way they tell time is very different, so in that respect they are analogical. 

In this case, the relationship can be both univocal and analogies, in differing respects. 

Another comparison might be wooden and aluminum baseball bats. Different composition, but identical function.

iii) If I make something, and God makes something, is that attribution analogical or univocal? Let's begin with definitions. What do we mean by causation? David Lewis proposed that this represents our intuitive concept of causation:

We think of a cause as something that makes a difference, and the difference it makes must be a difference from what would have happened without it. Had it been absent, its effects — some of them, at least, and usually all — would have been absent as well.

Offhand, I think that nicely captures our pretheoretical intuition. And this, in turn, leads him to define causation thusly:

e causally depends on c if and only if, if c were to occur e would occur; and if c were not to occur e would not occur.

Again, seems reasonable to me.

If I make a batch of cookies and God makes the world, is that analogical or univocal predication? No doubt there are categorical differences, but is the meaning of the terms and the core concept the same? Well, let's plug these examples into the formula:

a) Absent divine agency, the world would not exist.

b) Absent human agency, the cookies would not exist.

The world causally depends on God if the world would not exist unless God did something.

The cookies causally depend on me if the cookies would not exist unless I did something. 

(There are other ways of phrasing it, to the same effect.) 

Of course, in both cases, the prior action has to suitably related to the outcome. Nevertheless, I think it's unavoidable that based on this definition, "making" means the same thing in reference to God and human agents alike. 

The fact that God and human agents are so different, the fact that how they bring about the result is so different, the fact that what they make is so different, is irrelevant to the fact that the same idea covers both actions.

What makes it work is comparing two things at a high enough level of abstraction that you eliminate differences which are incidental to the core idea. 

2. Intervention

Davies has problems with an interventionist model of miracles (chap. 11). So does Ed Feser. 

i) In one sense I agree. I think the word can be misleading. But that's because God's relationship to the world is too complex to be summed up in a word. Single words can't do the work of concepts. But we need a word to denote the concept. The real issue is fleshing out the concept. 

ii) It depends in large part on what analogies or metaphors we use to model miracles. Suppose we view the physical universe as a machine. Indeed, much of the natural world has a mechanical quality to it. Machines within machines. The human body is like a superbly engineered machine. Indeed, that's not really a metaphor. There's a sense in which the human body is a machine. An organic machine.

That's only a problem if you think "machine" or "mechanical" has pejorative connotations. But why think that? In fact, Davies even quotes Aquinas defining a miracle as "an event that happens outside the ordinary processes of the whole of created nature" (258). 

Well, that conjures up the image of what is normally a closed system. A miracle would involve outside agency. 

Now, automated machines are programmed to do the same thing. Likewise, natural processes are unintelligent. They simply do what they were designed to do. 

But personal agency can reprogram the machine. Personal agency can redirect a natural process, or bypass the process altogether. 

The knock against a "mechanical" model of miracles is that it makes God looks like an inefficient watchmaker. But that's an uncharitable interpretation. 

To begin with, in a fallen world, some miracles do involving repairing the damage. Take healing miracles. 

In addition, "intervention" doesn't imply a design flaw or lack of foresight. Automation is useful, but what makes it useful makes it limited. Automation is indiscriminate. But sometimes it's better to circumvent the process, to achieve a more discriminating result. Human agents do this all the time.

"Intervention" doesn't mean "the world is able to carry on independently" (239) of God. That misses the point. It doesn't mean the cosmos is actually a closed system. 

Rather, it means God made a world in which natural processes generally yield uniform results. All things being equal, physical causes produce the same effects. 

And surely that's undeniable. That's how the natural world operates. What's the alternative? Idealism? Occasionalism?

Sure, God is still the "ground of being," without which the universe would cease to exist. "Intervention" doesn't mean God is normally uninvolved in that sense. 

Now, as with illustrations generally, the mechanical illustration has its limitations. A different illustration would be a film in which, at one level, the director causes everything. He doesn't "step in" to change the plot in midstream, because he wrote the plot in advance. He's scripted every scene.

However, a film involves an interplay between personal agents and their physical environment. Things happen as a result of human interaction that would not occur in crystal formation. 

Likewise, the director can write a "coincidence" into the plot. Timely, opportune meetings between one person and another, or a character and something he needs at that very moment. This doesn't require the director to introduce "breaks" into the continuity of the plot. Rather, they reflect the coordination of otherwise independent chains of events to achieve an intended goal. Something beyond the ability or ken of characters inside the story. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Is God a person?

Nowadays, classical theism is contrasted with theistic personalism. Likewise, many proponents treat Thomism as a virtual synonym for classical theism, although Thomism is just one version of classical theism. Because some young Calvinists are attracted to Thomism, I'd like to say a few things about theistic personalism. I'll use Brian Davies as my frame of reference: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (2004, 3rd. ed.).

…according to classical theism, God is not a person. When we speak of persons, we are normally referring to human beings (8).

That depends on the context. In theological discourse, you have Trinitarian persons, angelic persons, and disembodied souls. 

Human beings have bodies and are parts of a changing and changeable universe (8).

Living human beings have bodies. 

For classical theism, however, God is not an individual belonging to a kind…God is simple means in part that God is not a member of any genus or species. They are claiming that God is not what we would ordinarily call an individual. To call something an individual is usually to imply that there could be another such thing distinct from it though just like it. In this sense, different people are individuals. But in this sense, says the classical theist, God is not an individual. He belongs to no kind or sort (8-9).

This gets to be very dicey. 

i) If monotheism is true, then there's a sense in which God is one of a kind. Sui generis. A class apart.

ii) If Trinitarianism is true, then there's a sense in which the Father, Son, and Spirit are three of a kind. 

iii) Likewise, if monotheism is true, then there's a sense in which God is an individual, in contrast to other individuals (i.e. creatures). 

iv) By the same token, if Trinitarianism is true, then there's a sense in which the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct (but similar) individuals. 

v) Now, I don't think God is a property instance of a generic divine nature. I don't think the persons of the Trinity are property instances of a generic divine nature. They aren't finite exemplifications of a generic exemplar. Rather, I'd model them on mirror symmetries. Each mirror symmetry is exhaustive. Each mirror symmetry reflects the content of its antipode, in one-to-one correspondence. Yet each presents a unique frame of reference (e.g. chirality). 

According to the teaching that God is simple, God also lacks attributes or properties distinguishable from himself (9).

The real nub of the issue is whether God's attributes are distinguishable from each other.

Yet, what are we to understand by expressions like "person without a body" and "disembodied person"?…Aristotle holds that persons we call people are essentially corporeal…According to [Locke], persons might swap bodies with each other…But it would, he argues, be the same person...The view that persons are not essentially corporeal is most often associated with René Descartes…So the history of philosophy contains examples of authors who take persons to be distinguishable from what is essentially corporeal (10-11).

What's striking about this exposition is how he correlates that position with theistic personalism, in contrast to classical theism. Yet the idea of discarnate persons is standard in Christian theology, from God through angels and demons to disembodied souls (during the intermediate state).

His dichotomy doesn't make much sense unless you correlate classical theism with physicalism. But that's not traditional orthodoxy. 

There is a sense in which God is not "a person". If Trinitarianism is true, then it's more accurate to say that God is personal.

Yet classical theists also typically insist that none of this means that we therefore have a grasp of God or a concept which allows us to say that we understand what God is. This fact partly emerges from the way in which classical theists often characterize God in negative terms…But it also comes out in the fact that classical theists tend to deny that words used to characterize God mean what they do when applied to what is not divine (7).
[Theistic personalists] also sometimes suggest that words (especially adjectives) used by believers when speaking of God are most naturally to be construed in the same way as when they are applied to people. Theists say that God is, for example, knowing, loving, and good. But we know what it means to say that people are knowing, loving, and good. So, reasons many a theistic personalist, we know something of what it means to say that God is knowing, loving, and good (14). 

The way he dichotomizes the two positions makes it hard to distinguish classical theism from pious agnosticism. 


The KJV popularized the notion of "giants" in ancient Palestine. The best-known example is, of course, Goliath–although he's not called a "giant". Unbelievers cite this as an example of Biblical mythology. There are several issues to sort out:

1. Height is relative. To be taller or shorter than someone else is not a measure of absolute height. Due to dietary deficiencies, ancient people were generally shorter than their well-fed modern counterparts–or so I've read. What might be towering by ancient standards might be nothing extraordinary by modern standards. 

In addition, I've read that "All the available evidence tends to show that the ancient Hebrews were short of stature, compared with the other races in Palestine, particularly the Amorites."

If that's accurate, then modern readers need to guard against an anachronistic interpretation of OT references to "giants", lest we use modern experience as the frame of reference. 

2. To my knowledge, ancient people lack the technological precision to have absolute weights and measures. It wasn't standardized in a way we take for granted today. 

3. In his chapter on "Medicine in the Old Testament World," Donald Wiseman discusses giantism, with special reference to Goliath. B. Palmer, ed. Medicine and the Bible (Paternoster, 1986), 23. In an endnote, he says: "Skeletons 3.2 m. tall have been found elsewhere in Syro-Palestine," ibid. 244n58. Unfortunately, he cites no references, so it's not possible to confirm his claim. 

4. According to the MT, Goliath was about 9' 9" tall (assuming the conventional interpretation of a cubit). One question is whether that's realistic. Some scholars attribute his staggering height to gigantism. However, there are prima facie problems with that explanation:

i) From what I've read, gigantism results in physical disabilities. How could Goliath be a great warrior if his athletic ability was compromised by gigantism? Likewise, I presume there's an upper limit on the human musculoskeletal system. The fact that we're bipedal may impose stricter constraints. 

ii) Perhaps this could be salvaged by saying he only appeared to be physically formidable. His invincible appearance was sufficient to scare off competition. His huge weapons were props. Still, he seemed to have a reputation that preceded him.

5. We should make allowance for the possibility that if people are shorter, then cubits are shorter. It's a circular relation. If a cubit is defined by the distance between the elbow and the fingertip, that varies. In general, shorter men have shorter arms and fingers. If ancient Jews were shorter, the cubit might be shorter. 

6. Another complication is that Josephus, the LXX, and the DDS give a lower reading of about 6' 9''. There are different ways to explain the conflicting data. On the one hand, the MT reading might reflect a hyperbolic emendation to exaggerate his height, therefore making David's success all the more impressive. Maybe the Massoretes changed the text.

Conversely, the lower reading might reflect a pious emendation to make the figure more realistic. Perhaps some scribes changed the text to make the account more credible.

Given the diverse attestation of the lower figure, in three different sources, this may well be based on an independent textual tradition. So perhaps that preserves the authentic Hebrew reading.

7. To my knowledge, 6' 9" would be a towering stature by ancient standards. To take a comparison, Brock Lesnar is a mere 6' 3". Yet he's physically imposing, even by modern standards. 

8. In addition to diet, climate can also affect height. According to Bergmann's rule, species are generally larger in cooler climates, and smaller in hotter climates. On the one hand, larger bodies produce more heat. On the other hand, larger bodies are more efficient at conserving heat because they have proportionately less surface area. 

(Mind you, there are different strategies for heat loss. Take Allen's rule.) 

Perhaps the tall inhabitants of ancient Palestine migrated from northern latitudes.  

How long was a cubit?

How long was a cubit? I've seen scholars use conflicting criteria. On the one hand, they generally define a cubit as the distance between the elbow and the fingertip. On the other hand, they define a cubit as about 17.5 inches. 

Problem is, if you define a cubit as the span between the elbow and the fingertip, then that would be relative rather than absolute, since it would vary depending on the height of the individual. As a rule, taller people have longer arms and longer fingers. In addition, people in the ancient world were generally shorter than their modern counterparts due to poor diet. And I've read that ancient Jews were generally shorter than some other people-groups in the Mideast. 

This can be relevant to questions concerning the size of the ark or the height of Goliath. Unbelievers object that the size of the ark would exceed the structural integrity of wooden ships. (Mind you, the text doesn't actually say the ark was made of wood. The Hebrew word is a hapax legomenon.) If, however, the cubit was shorter, then the ark was smaller. 

Needed: an “official interpretation” of the “official interpretation”

Cardinal Walter Kasper gets his way.
Sandro Magister links to several different articles here, all of which point in the same direction. In one of his first audiences as pope, Bergoglio highlighted his relationship with Cardinal Walter Kasper (the same Walter Kasper who, appointed by Pope John Paul II and reappointed by Pope Benedict XVI is on record as saying that “many of the gospel miracle stories” are “legendary”):

In one of his first major public addresses as pope, at St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, March 17, 2013, “Pope Francis” specifically cited Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book “On Mercy”:

In the past few days I have been reading a book by a Cardinal — Cardinal Kasper, a clever theologian, a good theologian — on mercy. And that book did me a lot of good, but do not think I am promoting my cardinals’ books! Not at all! Yet it has done me so much good, so much good... Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient.... Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow.

Now, who has made the world “cold” in the first place? Could it be anyone from the previous generation of popes? In what way did the world seem “less just”? Who is it, really, who has been working so hard for “social justice” in the world? I’m just askin’.

I’ll let readers decide how many of Magister’s links they want to follow up with. What I’ve provided here is just a compendium of some of the things that are being said by various sources:

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Won’t Get Foiled Again: A Rejoinder to Jerry Walls

Here's the final reply to Jerry Walls:

And here's the series:

Cremation or burial?

John Piper has a potentially controversial post on cremation:

This isn't the first time he's discussed the issue. Indeed, a pastor can't avoid the issue. 

Whatever side you take on this issue will be controversial. It's an emotional issue. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense. There are things we should be emotional about. If we didn't get emotional about some things, we'd be sociopaths. At the same time, I think his feelings cloud his judgment on this issue. He isn't consist. He's lodging nearsighted objections that boomerang on his own position. And he's confounding theology with custom.

My proposal in this article is that Christian churches be willing to help families financially with simple Christ-exalting funerals and burials, so that no Christian is drawn to cremation because it’s cheaper…At the same time, I do believe that pastors should discourage expensive funerals.

I don't have any objection to that. 

There has been a skyrocketing preference for cremation over the past decades in the United States (1960—3.5%; 1999—24.8%; 2014—46.7%; in some states it is over 75%).

That creates a potential dilemma for his position. Won't many private cemeteries and mausoleums become insolvent? Then what? 

Fewer people test the practice with biblical criteria, and more people want the cheapest solution.

I don't think there are biblical criteria that disfavor cremation.

Piper then has a section on the value of the body in Biblical theology. Everything he says is true, but irrelevant to the issue of cremation. In context, these theological truths have reference to embodied persons, not corpses. Living people in living bodies. So his argument is vitiated by a systematic equivocation. 

That doesn't mean I think human corpses should be treated as refuse. But I'd use a different argument than Piper. 

...the last symbol we want to use, in connection with death, is fire! Hell (gehenna) is a place of fire (Matthew 5:22; James 3:6). This fire is meant to be felt by the body.

i) If you accept the premise, then that would be a good argument for cremating the wicked! 

ii) An obvious oversight in Piper's argument is that while fire is, among other things, a symbol of eschatological judgment, so are maggots (e.g. Mk 9:48). Yet if the body is buried rather than cremated, it will often be consumed by maggots. 

Here, Piper expands on a part of his argument:

We're talking about the symbolic significance of a body stretched out in a coffin, looked at, and lovingly kissed and buried, rather than what is to me the horrible prospect of my wife or child or dad being burned, incinerated.

Several problems:

i) He's equivocating. It's not as if they are burned alive. As far symbolism goes, is better to be buried alive or eaten alive than burned alive? These symbols rise or fall together. If one is bad, all are bad. 

ii) What about the horrible prospect of your wife or child or father or mother being eaten by maggots? Piper is artificially selective here.

iii) Piper is confounding a fairly modern funeral service with Biblical burial customs. To my knowledge, ancient Jews didn't use coffins. How the body was disposed of depended on natural resources and financial resources. The rich could use a decorated marble sarcophagus or family mausoleum. For the poor, the body might be deposited directly in a shallow grave. 

iv) In a traditional Christian funeral service, with an open-casket ceremony, the coffin is like a bed. The body is embalmed to retard putrefaction, making it more presentable. The decedent is attired in a nice suit or dress. Hair nicely arranged. Makeup applied. Everything to create the visual illusion that the decedent isn't dead, but just taking a nap. Yet that prettifies death. Conceals the horror of death. It's a euphemistic presentation.

I'm not saying that's wrong. But it's certainly not something we should equate with the Biblical view of death. If anything, the open-casket ceremony romanticizes death. 

My own position is that, ideally, it's good for Christians to bury their loved ones in a cemetery, or inter them in a mausoleum on cemetery grounds. A place where they can visit the grave on a regular basis. Our society tries to hard to hide the fact of death. A cemetery is a public reminder of what we all face.

That said, there are limitations on that ideal:

i) Some people can't visit the cemetery on a regular basis. They had to take a new job out of state. Or the decedent had several kids who live in different places. There's no cemetery within the vicinity of all concerned parties.

ii) It's my impression that only the second or third generation visits a grave. When we die, we're quickly forgotten. Cemeteries are filled with graves whom no one visits. 

iii) As ever fewer people use them, I don't see how private cemeteries will be able to pay for the overhead. If private cemeteries go out of business, what will happen to the site? Will it be abandoned? What about mausoleums?

Will it be sold to a developer? If so, what happens to the graves? What happens to the bodies? What happens if you bury your loved one or inter them in a mausoleum in case the cemetery goes bankrupt five or ten years later?  

Genesis, monogenesis, and polygenesis

While some postevangelicals run screaming from what Gen 1-2 says about the creation of man, the account is rather remarkable, if you think it about. It may be so familiar to us that we miss it.

The account teaches monogenesis: all humans descend from a single pair of ancestors. If, however, you think Genesis is just pious fiction, and the narrator was guessing at the origin of man, why would he posit monogenesis rather than polygenesis? 

After all, in the view of postevangelical scholars, the narrator had no idea how man actually originated. Indeed, he couldn't–given his lake of scientific knowledge.

But if we grant their assumption for the sake of argument, then wouldn't be at least as likely if not more so that the narrator would posit polygenesis? To my knowledge, it's not uncommon for some people-groups to view themselves as intrinsically superior to other people-groups. And they use a theory of racial superiority to justify the conquest and subjugation of other people-groups. It would be very convenient to ground that pretension in a theory of separate origins. Different people-groups originated independently of each other, which accounts for the (alleged) superiority of one in relation to the other.

Although this may be more commonly associated with European imperialism and American slavery, the general attitude is hardly confined to that. To my knowledge, the Japanese traditionally view themselves as superior to other people-groups, and that justified their wars of conquest. Likewise, consider Aristotle's theory of natural slavery. I've also read that some African and South American tribes teach polygenesis. 

Take another comparison: in Greek mythology, some men are fathered by gods. Yet there's a pecking order in the pantheon. If Zeus is your father, I assume that might put you a few notches above somebody who was fathered by Hermes, or somebody who had merely human parents. You have a superior or inferior pedigree. 

If the Pentateuch is pious fiction, surely it would be very logical for the narrator to make the Israelites a separate and superior race. To say the Israelites and Canaanites were created independently of each other, which is why God treats both groups differently. 

But, of course, that's not the actual story. Rather, all people-groups share a common origin in Adam. That threads its way through the creation of Adam and Eve, the survivors of the flood, the Table of Nations, and so forth. 

I don't think it's coincidental that the Pentateuch teaches monotheism as well as monogenesis. Polytheism and polygenesis naturally go together inasmuch as each god or goddess of sufficient power could create a human or humanoid breeding pair or population. In Genesis, by contrast, there's only one Creator. 

Evolution teaches polygenesis. On that theory, although humans have a common ancestor, they don't have an absolute point of common origin. Rather, they're an offshoot of the evolutionary tree of life. They have animal ancestors. In addition, there's interbreeding between different hominids. 

"Papal Infallibility" to be up for discussion

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Is Jerry Walls a classical theist?

Five years ago, Arminian philosopher Jerry Walls published an article with the combative title "Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever be a Compatibilist."

This implies that Jerry classifies himself as a classical theist. The point of my post is not to assess classical theism on the merits, but to assess whether Jerry measures up to his own yardstick. 

In An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (Oxford, 2004, 3rd. ed.), Brian Davies provides an exposition of classical theism, sometimes using theistic personalism as a foil. Let's begin by listing the tenets he cites to define classical theism. These defining tenets function as criteria to determine whether or not someone adheres to classical theism:

1. Creation ex nihilo (2-3).

2. Continuous providence:

God is both the initiating and the constantly sustaining cause of the universe and all it contains…Everything other than God is totally dependent on God for its existing and for its being as it is (3).

3. Divine impassibility:

Nothing created can cause God to change or be modified in any way. In terms of classical theism, there is no causality from creatures to God since creatures are wholly God's effects….God cannot be altered by anything a creature does, and God is intrinsically unchangeable (5).

4. God is outside time (5-7)

5. Divine simplicity (8-9; chap. 8).

6. God causes everything and permits nothing:

While classical theists typically hold that all history is God's doing, theistic personalists more commonly see it only as partly this. Some events, they often say, are not so much caused by God as permitted by him (11).

7. God knows the future (12).

8. God's knowledge is inderivative:

While classical theists typically say that God knows all history by being its maker, theistic personalists are more likely to assert that God's knowledge of history may partly be acquired by him as history unfolds. On their picture, God's knowledge of the world, especially the world of human affairs, is capable of increase…God's knowledge is caused by things other than himself (12). 

Of these 8 criteria, I'm guessing that Jerry only affirms the first (creation ex nihilo) tenet. Keep in mind that (1) is not a classical theist distinctive, but only a classical theist essential. Both classical and nonclassical theists can affirm creation ex nihilo. 

I suspect he denies 2-8. If so, he only affirms 1 out of 8 criteria for classical theism. But surely someone who rejects 7 out of 8 tenets of classical theism isn't remotely a classical theism.

Let's briefly explain my interpretation: Since Jerry believes human volitions are independent of God, which means the immediate effects of human volitions would likewise be independent of God, he can't affirm (2). 

By the same token, he believes many events are caused by our volitions, which are independent of God. So he can't affirm (6). 

He's on record stating his sympathies for open theism, so he can't affirm (7). 

Freewill theists like Jerry typically reject 3-5 and 8. 

If my interpretation is correct, then Jerry doesn't begin to qualify as a classical theist. To the contrary, he is almost systematically opposed to classical theism. 

Perhaps he could try to deflect this conclusion by rejecting the exposition of classical theism by Brian Davies. But on the face of it, Jerry is using himself to define classical theism, rather than using classical theism to define himself.  

Why Doesn't Matthew Say More About His Conversion?

In another thread about Matthew's authorship of the gospel attributed to him, a commenter wrote:

Hi Jason, the first person I heard use Mt 9:9-13 to challenge Matthean authorship of The Gospel According to Matthew was Richard Bauckham. It has long troubled me. The external evidence highly favors the view that the apostle Matthew wrote the gospel attributed to him, but it seems so counterintuitive that Matthew would use Mark’s account of his own conversion rather than write his own. That is the one place you would expect him to pen his own unique account. You rightly point out that Matthew did not copy Mark verbatim, but the differences are so miniscule (no greater than in most other places where Matthew uses Mark) as to be relatively insignificant. Minor changes to Mark’s account of Matthew’s own conversion is not what we would expect at all. It’s the most personal element of his story. He adds lots of non-Markan material throughout the rest of His gospel on matters he may not have even witnessed Himself, so why use Mark’s version of his own conversion story rather than telling his own story in his own way with a lot more detail? It doesn’t seem probable and counts against Matthean authorship in my mind. How do you reconcile this?

You can find a collection of some of my material on Matthean authorship linked in a post here. Steve Hays has written some posts on the subject as well, like here. Here's my response to the commenter quoted above:

The Republicans Have Done A Lot Of Good

I've documented many examples in the past. As I've said before, you can go to pro-life sites, tax policy sites, etc. and find example after example of good legislation Republicans have enacted, good rulings by Republican-appointed judges, etc. on a wide range of issues at the local, state, and federal levels. Yet, the Trump movement and many Republicans who aren't Trump supporters keep suggesting that the Republicans have done little or nothing of value. Or they'll even claim that the Republicans have given Obama everything he wants, or they'll make some other absurd claim along those lines.

David Harsanyi just wrote a good article on the subject. Here's part of it:

The Reformed Orthodox were anti-Thomist in their epistemology

One of the main problems with the Thomist metaphysic is the Thomist epistemology.

Edward Feser begins his work “Scholastic Metaphysics” with what he calls “a basic philosophical truth, which is that metaphysics is prior to epistemology” (pg 27). But why is this the case? He doesn’t say. “Metaphysics” has been roughly defined as “what there is” or “what really exists” (Michael Rea, London UK and New York, NY: Routledge Publishing, 2014, pg 29). How can we understand metaphysics if we don’t know how we understand and precisely what it is that we are trying to understand?

John Frame, in his “History of Western Philosophy and Theology” (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015) writes that “metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory (ethics) are not independent of one another and influence each other”, and that “one type of epistemology will lead to one kind of metaphysics, another to another kind”.

He also cites Aquinas (who cites Aristotle) from his early work “Being and Essence” to the effect that “a small error at the outset ends by being great” (pgs. 146, 154).

That is precisely the complaint against Aquinas’s work, which create in his own thinking, and later in Roman Catholicism, the enormous distances we see between those systems and biblical and historical Christianity (of which the Reformation is a part).

Why some people lose faith

Why do folks like Bart Ehrman lose their faith? There are different reasons people lose faith. In some cases, it's due to a personal tragedy, or succumbing to sexual temptation.

According to Ehrman:

A turning point came in my second semester, in a course I was taking with a much revered and pious professor named Cullen Story…we had to write a final term paper on an interpretive crux of our own choosing. I chose a passage in Mark 2…
In my paper for Professor Story, I developed a long and complicated argument to the effect that even though Mark indicates this happened "when Abiathar was the high priest," it doesn't really mean that Abiathar was the high priest, but that the event took place in the part of the scriptural text that has Abiathar as one of the main characters. My argument was based on the meaning of the Greek words involved and was a bit convoluted. I was pretty sure Professor Story would appreciate the argument, since I knew him as a good Christian scholar who obviously (like me) would never think there could be anything like a genuine error in the Bible. But at the end of my paper he made a simple one-line comment that for some reason went straight through me. He wrote: "Maybe Mark just made a mistake." I started thinking about it, considering all the work I had put into the paper, realizing that I had had to do some pretty fancy exegetical footwork to get around the problem, and that my solution was in fact a bit of a stretch. I finally concluded, "Hmm . . . maybe Mark did make a mistake." 
Once I made that admission, the floodgates opened. For if there could be one little, picayune mistake in Mark 2, maybe there could be mistakes in other places as well. B. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (HarperCollins, 2005), 8-9.

However, there's something fishy about that explanation. As he says elsewhere:

When I went to Wheaton, I was warned not to go to Princeton Theological Seminary — a Presbyterian school training ministers — because “there aren’t any Christians there.” Really. I did indeed know that my faith would be challenged there, because it was “liberal” (REALLY liberal for my tastes).

But if he knew ahead of time that his Princeton profs. rejected the inerrancy of Scripture, how can he honestly say "I was pretty sure Professor Story would appreciate the argument, since I knew him as a good Christian scholar who obviously (like me) would never think there could be anything like a genuine error in the Bible"?

Given what he knew about Princeton's reputation, why would Story's remark knock him off his pins? Indeed, didn't he have reason to expect that his Princeton profs. would impugn the inerrancy of Scripture? 

Which brings me to another point: Some people lose faith when they first encounter objections to Scripture or Christian theology. Say, their freshman year in college. Or reading a book by an atheist. Or browsing an atheist website. 

But then you have people like Ehrman who lose their faith much later in the educational process. In graduate or post-graduate school. By that stage, this is hardly the first time they've run across these challenges. The stock objections aren't surprising anymore. So is there some other factor? Some new factor? Consider this statement:

I began my teaching career in a very different context, at a secular research university in New Jersey: Rutgers. After teaching there for four years, in 1988 I moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the truly great state universities in the country. My colleagues in both places have been specialists in a wide range of academic disciplines: classics, anthropology, American studies, philosophy, and lots of other disciplines, especially history. I live with and move among people who do serious historical research for a living. That’s what they have done for their entire academic lives. It’s not a Christian school context, but the context of a purely academic, research institution.

Here I think he unwittingly tips his hand. There are two related reasons a person might lose their faith in graduate or post-graduate school. Both of them involve an inferiority complex, but this can take different forms.

There's a social inferiority complex. Take the social climber. Have you noticed how often people move left to move up? They move in two directions simultaneously. According to Ehrman:

My father was a salesman for a corrugated box company; my mother was a secretary.

So by going to Moody, then Wheaton, then Princeton, then becoming a college prof., he was moving up the social ladder. But what if acceptance in elite circles induces you to share their outlook? You want to fit in. Be one of them. So you curry favor. Avoid incurring their disapproval. They are the gatekeepers of elite society. 

Just see how flattered he feels to "live with and move among people who do serious historical research for a living."

He "made" it. He's arrived! As Sinatra would say, "I want to find I'm number one, top of the heap, top of the list, king of the hill". 

Some people don't suffer from a social inferiority complex, so they aren't susceptible to that kind of compromise. There can be different reasons for that. Some people just don't care about status. Impressing strangers. They don't feel they have anything to prove to others. 

Then you have some people who were born into elite society. They don't aspire to that status. They already have it. So they aren't overawed by members of the elite. For them, that's ordinary. Nothing special. 

In addition, there's an intellectual inferiority complex. People like Bart Ehman and Peter Enns aren't overly-bright. I don't mean they're unintelligent. But they're not men of outstanding intellect. 

By contrast, you have some very gifted moderate to conservative scholars who don't need their self-esteem stroked by members of the guild. Most of their colleagues are not their intellectual peers. So they are unimpressed by liberal scholarship. Too independent to take liberal groupthink seriously. 

It would, of course, be better for all concerned parties to base their self-esteem on what God thinks of us in Christ. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Does God know Greek?

Der Spiegel

Micky Maus: Herr Doktor Ehrman, you used to believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture. How did you lose your faith?

Ehrman: I was a student at Princeton, taking a course in Classical Hebrew. And it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks: "Unless Yahweh knew Hebrew, how could he inspire the Hebrew Bible?"

Micky Maus: Could you flesh that out a bit?

Ehrman: Literacy was very rare in the ancient Near East. So how did Yahweh learn literary Hebrew? I couldn't locate any school records of Yahweh attending yeshiva. And Hebrew Union College didn't exist in the Second Millennium BC. So Yahweh might have been high school dropout, for all I know.  

Micky Maus: Isn't it possible, if not probable, that the records were lost?

Ehrman: Yes, but history is about what you can show. So unless you can show that Yahweh attended yeshiva, that's not a historical datum. And how else could he learn Hebrew? He didn't have parents. So it poses an insoluble conundrum for Christians. 

Micky Maus: What about the NT? 

Ehrman: Same problem. How did Yahweh learn literary Greek? There's no documentary evidence that he attended Plato's Academy. And I couldn't find a library card with Yahweh's name on it for the Royal Library of Alexandria. 

Micky Maus: Suppose it's a miracle? 

Ehrman: If it's a miracle, then it can't be a historical datum. Historians can only establish what probably happened in the past, and by definition a miracle is the least probable occurrence. And so, by the very nature of the canons of historical research, we can’t claim historically that a miracle probably happened. By definition, it probably didn’t. And history can only establish what probably did.

If I saw Jesus multiply fish with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it. I mean, what am I gonna believe–Hume or my lying eyes? 

Micky Maus: But if you saw Jesus multiply fish with your very own eyes, how could you not believe it? In that event, what do you think really happened?

Ehrman: If I saw Jesus multiply the fish right before my eyes, I'd assume he was hiding them under his cloak. 

Micky Maus: Isn't 5000 fish a whole lot of fish to hide under his cloak?

Ehrman: I didn't say it was going to be easy, but anything is more likely than a miracle. So it must be Jesus pulling 5000 fish out of his loincloth.

Micky Maus: You think that's more probable than a miracle? 

Ehrman: Absolutely! Didn't you hear my definition? 

Micky Maus: What if someone rejects your definition?

Ehrman: They can't. By definition, my definition is true!