Saturday, August 27, 2016

Framing the argument from miracles

How problematic is the problem of unanswered prayer?

The so-called problem of unanswered prayer is a familiar issue in Christian apologetics. It's not just a philosophical or theological issue, but a practical issue–inasmuch as many believers find unanswered prayer aggravating. In some cases that leads to loss of faith.

I'd simply point out that the "problem of unanswered prayer" isn't distinctive to prayer. It's not a special problem that's confined to prayer. Rather, it's a subdivision of a general issue regarding the mystery of divine providence. Why is it so often the case that the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper? Why does the distribution of weal and woe so often seem to be random? 

Insofar as Christian theodicy has a general explanation for the mystery of providence, that's applicable to the "problem of unanswered prayer" in particular. Put another way, the experience of unanswered prayer isn't surprising. Rather, that's to be expected given the mystery of providence. However frustrating unanswered prayer may be, that's not unique to prayer. If you think about it, there's no specific "problem of unanswered prayer". Unanswered prayer doesn't raise any new issues. Unanswered prayer doesn't create a problem that's not already on the table in reference to the broader question of divine providence. Same pattern on a lower scale.

The God of the gaps narrative

An extremely popular argument in atheism is the God of the gaps narrative. According to the narrative, prescientific people used to attribute every event, or at least every mysterious event, to supernatural agency. Indeed, that's a primary source for religious belief in the first place. Ancient people were superstitious because they were ignorant of how nature works. So they postulated supernatural agency as a stopgap.

But due to the stately march of science, we are steadily filling in the gaps. Indeed, the very success of modern science and methodological atheism go to show that invoking supernatural agency never had any genuine explanatory power. Thanks to modern science, we can propose naturalistic alternative explanations. Indeed, religious sophisticates concede scientific explanations for most events. And even when we can't currently offer a naturalistic alternative explanation, the success of secular science creates a tremendous presumption in favor of naturalistic explanations. As Richard Feynman put it,

God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from God; you don't need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven't figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don't believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time -- life and death -- stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand. Therefore I don't think that the laws can be considered to be like God because they have been figured out. P. C. W. Davies & J. Brown, eds. Superstrings: A Theory of Everything (Cambridge, 1993), 208-209. 

i) The claim is a half-truth. For instance, paganism often personifies natural forces. Likewise, paganism may treat mental illness as the result of one person hexing another. 

ii) It's also true that some Biblical miracles might employ natural mechanisms. For instance, Ananias and Sapphira might have died from a brain aneurism or stroke or heart attack or pulmonary embolism. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah might have been a natural disaster. The Crucifixion darkness might have had a natural cause. In cases like that, we'd be dealing with a coincidence miracle: a miracle of timing rather than a miracle of nature. 

iii) There are, however, many Biblical miracles that resist scientific explanation, viz. regenerating the severed ear of Malchus, replicating fish, raising Lazarus from the dead, fireproofing humans (Dan 3), contact with a skeleton reviving the dead (2 Kgs 13:21), the metamorphosis of a stick into a snake and vice versa, walking on water, virgin birth.

For instance, even if it's scientifically possible to walk on water, that wasn't scientifically feasible back in the 1C. The technology didn't exist. 

iv) In many cases, the God of the gaps narrative has the situation exactly backwards. The progress of science has made these miracles even less, or ever less naturally explicable rather than more naturally explicable. Take the virgin birth. About the only thing ancient people were in a position to observe was the normal correlation between sexual intercourse and pregnancy. They had no deeper understanding of the cause and effect. By contrast, we have a detailed scientific understanding of sexual reproduction. In principle, an ancient skeptic might appeal to an unknown law to explain away the virgin birth, but we now know that's naturally impossible. 

v) Apropos (iv), if the God of the gaps narrative were generally true, then we'd find secular scientists offering naturalistic explanations for Biblical miracles. There is the occasional attempt to explain a Biblical miracle scientifically, viz. the ten plagues, Star of Bethlehem, Crucifixion darkness. 

However, many Biblical miracles defy naturalistic explanations. When is the last time you read a secular scientist like Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Sean Carroll, Lawrence Krauss, Victor Stenger, Stephen Hawking, PZ Myers, Steven Weinberg, or Neil deGrasse Tyson present alternative naturalistic explanations for all the miracles of Scripture? If the God of the gaps narrative is true, then they should be able to posit natural mechanisms to account for them. But what they do instead is to deny that these event ever took place. 

For instance, they don't say, "Yes, Jesus was dead for about 48 hours, but here's a natural process to explain the reversal of his condition". They don't say, "Yes, Jesus was restored to life after 48 hours, but not because God raised him from the dead. Here's how it really happened!" 

What they do is not to explain the event naturalistically, but deny the reported event and propose a different event to account for the "legend", viz. the body was stolen; Jesus fainted on the cross, then revived in the tomb; the disciples went to the wrong tomb, &c. 

In general, they dismiss Biblical miracles as pious fiction. Yet that's the polar opposite of their God of the gaps narrative. To be consistent with the narrative, they should grant the historicity of the Biblical events, but then explain them naturalistically. It should be a question, not regarding the occurrence of the event, but the interpretation of the event. 

The upshot is that "skeptics" don't really believe the God of the gaps narrative. In practice, their response to Biblical miracles is diametrically at odds with that narrative. They don't think science has any explanatory power to account for most of these events.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

Inerrancy and evangelism

Increasingly, there seems to be a sentiment in some "evangelical" circles that we should downplay inerrancy because that drives people away from the faith. But if you unpack it, what does that mean?

It means we shouldn't insist that people need to believe the Bible to be Christians. Insisting that they have a duty to believe the Bible deters them from becoming Christian.

Okay, but since they already disbelieve the Bible, if you tell them it's okay to disbelieve the Bible, then they're in exactly the same situation they'd be if you "drove them away" by telling them it's not okay to disbelieve the Bible. What are you keeping them from by telling them it's wrong to believe the Bible? You're not driving them away from Christian belief, since they already lack Christian belief. That's where they're at. And if you tell them it's okay not to believe the Bible, then they can just stay put. That's where they're at already. They no longer need to become anything different, because you told it's okay not to believe the Bible, and guess what?–they don't believe the Bible! 

If anything, it's the person who tells them that inerrancy is optional who's driving them away or keeping them away, since in that event, there's no reason for them to change. 

The only way to change the status quo is by telling them they have a duty to change–as in…believing the Bible! 

Trapped in the Matrix

I wonder what makes video games, social media, texting, &c. so compulsive for so many people. It's ominous to see how quickly it's taking over. 

Of course, once people become addicted to something, that takes on a life of its own. So at that stage there's no point asking why they do it. But the question is how they get hooked in the first place. What makes it so addictive? 

Here's my armchair theory: I'm guessing people have already been conditioned by so much artificial stimuli that they were predisposed to develop a psychological dependence on nonstop artificial stimuli. 

By that I mean, even before the advent of smart phones or Facebook or the Internet, you had TV, movies, and recorded music. That was readily available and very prevalent. People get accustomed to having so much artificial stimuli that smart phones just tip the balance. 

Problem is when people have an incessant need for constant external stimuli. They can't stand silence. They can't use their own imagination to occupy their minds. It has to come from the outside. 

Even natural stimuli like mountain views, seascapes, or the sound of surf, is no longer strong enough. They've become so restless. So fidgety. 

I also think there's an element of self-importance. What if someone can't reach me at any time? What might happen? 

In times past, when people left the house, they were incommunicado. They might be incommunicado for hours. If you wanted to contact them, you had to wait until they got home. But we've become so impatient. 

I don't object to having a cellphone on your person in case of family emergency. But the idea that you have to be available the instant someone wants to talk to you is narcissistic. The world won't fall apart if you can't be reached for a few hours. Humans survived without cellphones for millennia. Heck, humans survived without landlines for millennia. 

Unfortunately, some people now have jobs that require them to be just a phone call away all the time. So they don't have a choice.  

BTW, one benefit of intramural sports is that when boys are playing a sport, they have to put the cellphone down and give the game their undivided attention. Having to give anything your undivided attention is increasingly rare. But when you play football, basketball, hockey, soccer, &c., your total focus has to be on the state of play. 

Evading Genesis

I recently got into an impromptu Facebook debate about Noah's ark:

Steve Hays 

"Christopher May: If your belief about Genesis helps you live a more Christ-centered, Christ-like life then go on believing whatever you wish."

So we shouldn't believe something because it matches reality. 

"A belief is considered 'Christian' if it produces a Christ-centered Christ-like Christian."

What about considering a belief to be Christian if it corresponds to how the NT defines the Christian faith?

Steve Hays Actually, what's modern is denying the historicity of the text under the guise of hermeneutics. A deceptive conflation. It's a face-saving way of saying you don't believe the Bible without having to forthrightly admit you don't believe the Bible.

Steve Hays 

"Sharad Yadav: It is quintessentially modern to deny that one is already engaged in philosophical hermeneutics on your own view while characterizing it as transparent, default and obvious."

You're stereotyping people who disagree with you. I never said anything to suggest that we can engage in presuppositionless exegesis. 

There are lots of readers, including some professing Christians, who reject the historicity of Gen 6-9 because they don't think Noah's ark and Noah's flood are scientifically possible. That's a "quintessentially modern" viewpoint since the ancient narrator and the ancient audience didn't share that outlook. 

Indeed, some professing Christians will outright say Gen 6-9 is unscientific because primitive people didn't know any better. Not their fault, but unlike them, we're in a position to know better.

However, some professing Christians don't want to say the Bible was wrong. So they try to recast this as an issue of interpretation rather than historicity. Moreover, they try to put "literalists" on the defensive by alleging that "literalists" are superimposing modern assumptions on the text. 

But keep in mind that what motivates their denial of the narrative's historicity is their belief that it's scientifically false or even scientifically impossible. Yet that means their reinterpretation is, by definition, anachronistic. It is they, and not the "literalists", who are using modernity as their controlling frame of reference. They, and not the "literalists", who are construing the text in a way that wouldn't occur to the ancient audience. 

Now, there's no doubt that Ham's reconstruction of the ark, especially the interior, involves a lot of conjecture. You also have scholars who think the text describes a local flood. Those are worthwhile debates.

What is dishonest is to pretend that denying the historicity of the account is just a hermeneutical issue. There's no reason to suppose the narrator didn't think he was giving a factual description of a real event. Modern skepticism reflects distinctively modern scientific objections.

Steve Hays 

"Sharad Yadav: Steve - I fail to see how your view was 'stereotyped' - the point about hermeneutics being a 'guise' fails to recognize the assumptions about history and its relationship to theology…"

Well, in the Bible, the relationship between history and theology is that true theology is grounded in the one true God's revelations and redemptive deeds. That distinguishes Biblical faith from pagan falsehood. 

"The point is that your assumption that in order for the Scripture to function as revelation the ancient writers had to have been incapable of being wrong about incidentals of science, history, geography or other such matters is an unwarranted modern hermeneutical premise not present in the text or borne out by the history of Christian interpretation."

i) Well, the immediate topic under consideration is the narrator's claim that God destroyed the whole human race, due to the extent and intensity of evil, but saved a godly remnant. Is an event of that magnitude just an "incidental" of history?

ii) In the prologue to his Gospel, Luke stresses the factual accuracy of his account. 

Likewise, in the Gospel of John and 1 John, the author repeatedly emphasizes different kinds of testimonial evidence that attest the divine mission of Christ. 

So their concern with narrative veracity is not a "modern hermeneutical premise," but an ancient biblical hermeneutical premise (to use your own categories). By contrast, the way you demote the veracity of the Biblical record reflects your unwarranted modern hermeneutical premise, in the teeth of the text.

"Scripture was written by ancient writers using the language and notions available to them in their own cultural currency in a way that was appropriated by the Spirit of God for divine discourse."

What's your evidence for that claim? Certainly the Bible never says the Spirit of God appropriated the notions available to them in their own cultural currency for divine discourse. Since you didn't get that from Scripture, what's your source of information about the Spirit's intentions? I know that I didn't get the memo.

"it won't allow one to drive a wedge between the original authors and the word of God"

So the "word of God" is errant. Does that mean God is errant?

"it won't allow us to baptize the entire body of cultural assumptions of the original authors as infallible."

Because you'd rather jettison the historicity of various biblical narratives to make room for baptizing your own 21C, ethnocentric assumptions.

Steve Hays 

"To say that an author's invocation of historical reportage guarantees that anything and everything said in that text, even the content of each individual speaker in the text, must be construed as historical reportage is a bizarre and demonstrably absurd assumption"

Actually, I was responding to your dichotomy that concerns about historicity are "modern" concerns rather than ancient concerns. So I gave some counterexamples–which could easily be extended.

"Moreover, it's my understanding that this is the ordinary and uncontroversial understanding of inspiration - am I mistaken there? For those who don't take a dictation theory of inspiration, it is commonly described as the Holy Spirit utilizing the ordinary abilities and capabilities of the authors."

You went beyond that. You implied that the Bible writers were confined to the culturebound notions available to them. That's not inspiration at all.

According to the organic theory of inspiration, God does, indeed, makes of use of the experience and personalities of prophets and Bible writers. However, God providentially gave them their particular experience and personalities to prepare and equip them for the task. It's not as if God was stuck with the material at hand. 

Moreover, Scripture is often counter-cultural. Bible writers aren't limited to their social conditioning.

Furthermore, there's the phenomenon of direct revelation, which transcends their natural abilities. That's a supernatural disclosure. 

"I doubt very much whether you would like to take every cultural assumption of the authors of Scripture as revelation from God."

The question at issue isn't the cultural assumptions of the prophets, apostles, and Bible writers, but their communications. What they assert to be the case.

Steve Hays 

"Bobby Grow: I didn't realize bib interp was so simple ... sweet!"

Bobby, is your comment directed at anyone in particular? On this thread, who is guilty of this?

Bobby Grow: Steve Hays as if historicity isn't a hermeneutic itself.

Steve Hays Well, Bobby, I think you need to expand on your claim. On the face of it, conflating historicity with a hermeneutic itself subverts the distinction between truth and interpretation. 

For instance, do you think the role of the reader is to assign meaning to the text, or is his role–indeed, his duty–to listen to the text? Does the text constrain the range of legitimate interpretations?

Steve Hays 

"Bobby Grow: Steve Hays no I'm saying that historicity itself is funded by a hermeneutic; whether that be realist or not."

i) Shouldn't our hermeneutic be funded by historicity?

ii) How can an antirealist hermeneutic fund historicity?

"I'm also saying that the history in the Bible, is not a naked history for Christians…"

i) What does that mean? A rejection of positivism? The affirmation that Bible history is interpreted history? 

ii) I think there's an equivocation of usage. What do you mean by "history". Do you mean the past? What happened? Or do you mean historical accounts? How to represent the past? 

"but instead it flows from a confessional commitment that God has spoken in His Son…"

According to Heb 1, God has also spoken through the prophets. 

"So along with Matthew Levering I am rejecting the simplistic notion of linear history (which owes more to history of religions and higher criticism)…"

What do you mean by "linear history"? There's an obvious sense in which time's arrow is unilinear. So you must mean something else.

"and saying that a proper understanding of historicity in the Bible is participatory understanding that history is God's history."

What do you mean by "God's history"? Do you mean something like God is the cosmic novelist and main character in his own story?

"It is within that frame that facticity etc ought to be read"

So we can't affirm a past event (e.g. "It rained in Albuquerque last night") without filtering that through a whole Barthian hermeneutic? Isn't that awfully Baroque? 

Or is your hermeneutic confined to Bible history. If so, that bifurcates Bible history from world history. 

"(i.e. without apologetic or naturalist concerns)."

What's wrong with having apologetic concerns?

A Response To Annette Merz On The Infancy Narratives (Part 1)

As I mentioned in my Amazon review of The Star Of Bethlehem And The Magi (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015), I want to respond to one of the chapters here at Triablogue. The second-to-last chapter in the book was written by Annette Merz, a prominent New Testament scholar. Some of you may recognize her as the co-author, with Gerd Theissen, of an influential book, The Historical Jesus (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1998). Merz's chapter in the star of Bethlehem book provides an overview of the historicity of the infancy narratives. Her conclusions aren't just skeptical. They're radically skeptical, to the point of claiming that the infancy narratives have "totally different stories" that are "impossible" to reconcile (478), with "huge discrepancies" (487), that Nazareth is "far more" probable than Bethlehem as Jesus' birthplace, that "no one among his family or fellow villagers expected anything special from him", that we have "no historically reliable traditions of Jesus' childhood" (491), etc.

I don't know how many posts I'll be writing in response to Merz or when I'll finish them. But once they're completed, I'll put up a post linking all of them in one place.

Do miracles violate the laws of nature?

Happy-talk Arminians

I recently got into an impromptu debate with Jerry Walls on Facebook. He and I rarely interact directly:

Jerry Walls Next thing you know you are going to be telling us God loves all the little children...

Steve Hays Well, Jerry, there are countless children around the world who don't have loving parents. So you can't very well extrapolate from happy families to neglected or abused children.

Jerry Walls Yeah, I don't think God's love is contingent on whether or not parents are loving. I think he desires and will enable their ultimate well being and happiness whether they have warm hearted parents or not.

Steve Hays In which case you can't analogize from one example.

It's my impression that Jerry has led a pretty charmed life. So it seems self-evident to him that God loves everyone. He acts as though no one can really doubt God's universal love. If they deny it, they must be faking.

That reflects a profound lack of empathy on Jerry's part. There are countless people whose lives have been devastated by horrendous tragedy. It's not intuitively obvious to them that there's an all-loving God.

Now, I'm not suggesting that that settles the issue. But it certainly figures in one's plausibility structure.

Jerry Walls Not so on several accounts. I can easily see why some people's experience would make it hard to believe God loves all persons. But what I cannot see if Christ reveals the heart of God, and if God is love in his essential nature, and is perfectly good, how he could not love all the little children, and everyone else for that matter. As John Wesley frankly acknowledged, (and I agree) it is hard to believe that God is perfectly loving to all, based on empirical observation of the suffering in the world. See opening paragraphs of "The General Deliverance."

Steve Hays But you always coast along with the same glib happy-talk message, like a motivational speaker. Never once have I seen you seriously attempt to put yourself in the shoes of someone's whose experience is radically different from your own. You presume to speak on behalf of everyone. That deep down, everyone sees things the same way you do ("In your heart you know he's right"). 

So are you now admitting that your ubiquitous appeals to intuition are bogus? That your real position isn't based on intuition, but your interpretation of the Gospel?

Jerry Walls And I very much realize Calvinists do NOT see things like I do.

Steve Hays Jerry, I'm not just talking about Calvinists.

"But what I cannot see if Christ reveals the heart of God…"

Well, when Christ was here on earth he did a whole lot more for some people than others, so that appeal is a two-edged sword. 

BTW, love is not God's only essential attribute. 

"how he could not love all the little children."

Stalin used to be a cute little kid. Mao used to be a cute little kid. Attila the Hun used to be a cute little kid. Genghis Khan used to be a cute little kid. Idi Amin used to be a cute little kid. Pol Pot used to be a cute little kid. Ted Bundy used to be a cute little kid. And so on and so forth.

Jerry Walls And God could have given them all irresistible grace and determined them to have been persons we would celebrate as heroes of the faith..but instead he determined them to be the sort of persons you cite in a litany of humanity at its worst...

Steve Hays Jerry, the God of freewill theism could have determined them not to become mass murderers. According to freewill theism, it's not that God is unable to do so, but that he refuses to do so. 

So how does the God of freewill theism love everyone when he fails to protect innocent people (including children) from humanity at its worst? If you knew that a psychopath had designs on one of your granddaughters, would you stand by and do nothing to protect her?

Steve Hays 

"And God could have given them all irresistible grace and determined them to have been persons we would celebrate as heroes of the faith..but instead he determined them to be the sort of persons you cite in a litany of humanity at its worst..."

Jerry, for a philosopher, that's a very shortsighted criticism of Calvinism. If God gave everyone irresistible grace, you'd have a very different kind of world with a different set of people. Your proposal creates an alternate timeline. Suppose, in 5000 BC (to pick a figure out of the hat), God gives everyone irresistible grace. That has a snowball effect. Different people will be born as a result. 

All the people who were born as a consequence of living in a world where God doesn't give everyone irresistible grace will be denied existence on your alternate timeline. So there are billions of losers in your alternative. Billions of men and women who miss out because they can only exist in a world where God doesn't give everyone irresistible grace. How would that be loving to the billions of people who never got a shot at existing in the first place?

Jerry Walls Only actual people can be wronged. A world where everyone loves and honors God would be a good thing.

Steve Hays I didn't say that God was wronging them. But unless you're an Epicurean, there's a sense in which deprivation of existence is harm.

Take antinatalists who refuse to have children. That deprives people of the opportunity to exist in the first place. That's the most radical deprivation there can be. 

Yes, a world in which everyone is virtuous is a good thing. What you're overlooking is competing goods. A world in which everyone is virtuous comes at the expense of billions of people who don't get to share in the good of existence. It's a tradeoff between one set of goods and another set of goods. Your alternative eliminates some goods to make room for other goods. The winners win at the expense of the losers.

Steve Hays I also notice you dodge my point that in Calvinism and freewill theism alike, God could determine humanity at its worst not to commit atrocities. There's no difference between Calvinism and freewill theism in that respect. In both cases, God is able, but unwilling. What's different is the reasons or priorities that God has for refraining to exercise his omnipotence in that regard.

Jerry Walls Bottom line: on the Calvinist view, God could determine all persons "freely" to love him; on the Arminian view, he could not. Yet God prefers many people "freely" to sin and do treacherous things rather than "freely" to love him and each other according to the Calvinist view. We have fundamentally different views of the love and goodness of God, and it is clear that neither one of us are likely to change our views. So l will leave it at that. 

Steve Hays Jerry, you're ignoring the fact that it isn't possible to be equally loving to everybody if one person is harming another person. How can the God of freewill theism be equally loving to the murderer and the murder victim? The more he loves the murderer, the less he loves the victim–by failing to protect her. Isn't protecting her from murder the loving thing to do? There are disguised tensions in your position.

Jerry Walls P.S. No one can refuse to have children on the Calvinist view unless God determines them. On the Calvinist view, God can determine anyone he wants "freely" to have as many children as he wants. And as for the murderer and murder victim: on my view he can give them both optimal grace and every opportunity for final salvation and perfect happiness. On the Calvinist view, he can determine things so that no one ever murders anyone. Rather, all "freely" love and respect each other. But again, we have gone over this all before, and we just have radically different views of love and goodness.

Steve Hays 

"P.S. No one can refuse to have children on the Calvinist view unless God determines them. On the Calvinist view, God can determine anyone he wants 'freely' to have as many children as he wants."

True, but a red herring.

"And as for the murderer and murder victim: on my view he can give them both optimal grace and every opportunity for final salvation and perfect happiness."

God allowing the murderer to kill her is hardly the most loving option for her. That's not acting in her best interests.

To say we have "radically" or "fundamentally" different views of the love and goodness of God is another dodge. It's also a question of consistency.

Jerry, you're smart enough to realize that your responses are evasive. I find that ironic since you routinely accuse Calvinists of lowballing the unattractive consequences of Calvinism, yet you camouflage the unattractive consequences of freewill theism by staying safely vague.

Steve Hays There are several problems with Jerry's postmortem saving grace postulate:

i) It has no basis in revelation

ii) It bears a startling resemblance to Hick's eschatological verification, which makes it conveniently unfalsifiable in this life. If Jerry's wrong, the lost won't find out until it's too late to do anything about it.

iii) It's like seeing a woman in a burning building. I could rescue her, but I don't. She survives, but suffers excruciating chronic pain from third-degree burns. I pay her medical bills, including years of painful skin grafts. At the end of that process she's finally restored to what she was like before the fire. But surely it would be better not to put her through that agonizing ordeal in the first place.

Steve Hays 

"Only actual people can be wronged."

I'd like to revisit that claim:

i) Suppose I'm privy to the counterfactual knowledge that if my parents go on vacation at a romantic resort, they will conceive another son. Suppose I'm also privy to the fact that he'd have a happy childhood and a wonderful life.

However, I resent the prospect of having a kid brother. I like being the only child. I like having my parents undivided affection and attention. I don't want to share my bedroom with someone else. I don't want a kid brother making demands on me and co-opting my time. Therefore, I dissuade my parents from taking that vacation, as a result of which that brother is never conceived. 

Isn't there something deeply wrong with that? Not just my selfish attitude, but the fact that I denied my would-be kid brother the opportunity to exist and have a wonderful life. 

ii) Furthermore, in Jerry's "Pharaoh’s Magicians Foiled Again: Reply to Cowan and Welty," he takes the position that would-be hellbound persons shouldn't be in a position to prevent other would-be persons from going to heaven. So Walls does seem to think that would-be saints have a big stake in this issue.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Only One

Some heretics quote Jn 17:3 as a unitarian prooftext. That raises an interesting exegetical question: Why does Jesus call the Father the "only true God"? Monos means "only one". Cf. Louw/Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, 58.50. 

I'd say that serves as a divine title. For the NT (or Jesus) to say God is the "only one" harkens back to the Shema (Deut 6:4). On that view, the Only One is a synonym for Yahweh–the one true God.

That would also explain why, on the most likely construction, John calls Jesus the "one true God" in 1 Jn 5:20. As a divine title and synonym for Yahweh, it's equally applicable to the Father and the Son.

And in that connection, Jn 17:3 is a flashback to Jn 10:30. Arguably, Jn 10:30 is an allusion to the Shema. In the context of a debate over the identity of Jesus in relation to the identity of God, "one" would inevitably evoke the central Jewish confession (Deut 6:4). It functions as a synecdoche for Yahweh.

Finally, it's not coincidental that Jn 17:3 is stated in the context of Christ's comparison and contrast between the unity of Christians and the unity of the Father and Son. That picks up on Jn 10:30 and develops an analogy. However, it's carefully compartmentalized. Christians aren't one with the Father. Rather, Christians are one with each other, analogous to how the Father and Son are one with each other (17:11,22).

There's a mediated sense in which Christians are one with God. If the Son is directly one with the Father, while Christians are directly one with the Son, then Christians are indirectly one with the Father (or God). 

But that's because the incarnate Son is a bridge between God and man. Christians aren't one with the Son in the same sense that the Son is one with the Father. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

That crazy ark park!

Karl Giberson is indignant about Ken Ham's Ark Park:

Giberson is cofounder of BioLogos, the flagship of theistic evolution. 

1. Giberson is a physicist by training. How his area of specialization makes him professionally qualified to comment on Noah's flood? 

2. Certainly the YEC interpretation of Gen 6-9 raises some daunting logistical challenges. But these are exaggerated by the fact that critics of the YEC interpretation, like Giberson, load up the text with claims it doesn't make, then proceed to show how the account conflicts with reality. They are reframing the issue.

3. The issue of vicariance isn't just a problem of creationists. It's a problem for Darwinians. You have some very remote, very isolated islands with fauna and flora. The plants and animals didn't fly there or swim there. So how did they get there? Darwinians must resort to ingenious conjectures. 

Or take the issue of "invasive species". These are generally introduced into the indigenous habitat by humans. They didn't get there on their own steam. 

4. Giberson rattles off some stock objections to the YEC interpretation. Yet the whole point of the ark park is to show how the Biblical account is feasible. Now, Giberson may take issue with the adequacy of their explanations, but it's intellectually dishonest to attack the ark park on scientific grounds when the ark park is fielding those very objections. An honest critic would at least acknowledge the explanations and then assess the explanations. 

5. Giberson also ignores scholars and scientists who advocate a local flood interpretation. For instance, when a modern reader scans the flood account, it's natural for him to filter that description through his mental image of world geography. So he unconsciously recontextualizes the account. But, of course, the original audience didn't have that frame of reference. It didn't mean the same thing to them. It couldn't. We need to make allowance for that difference. 

6. It is, however, somewhat to his credit that he's candid enough to admit that he denies the Biblical account outright. He doesn't pretend that his objection is to the YEC interpretation of the account. Rather, he openly denies the historicity of the account. 

7. I'm always struck by how nominal believers like Gilberson presume to tell both Bible-believing Christians and atheists what Christianity is really stands for.  By his own admission, Giberson is a borderline atheist. So what makes him think he should be the spokesman for a faith he himself barely believes in?

8. Finally, he says:

Noah’s story, as a tale for children, has a certain adventurous charm and I was fascinated by it as a kid in Sunday School. But I am horrified by the story as an adult. Taken literally—the point of Ham’s new park—the story suggests that God drowned all the children on the planet for their parents’ sins. Even if we assume that all adults not sired by Noah were terrible sinners deserving to be drowned, the collateral damage in the deaths of innocent children and animals dwarfs every major genocide in history combined. If Noah’s story is literally true, God is a monster.

i) The account doesn't say or suppose that children were punished for the sins of their parents. Humans are social creatures. Kids are physically and psychologically dependent on parents. For better or worse, the wellbeing of kids is inextricably bound up with the wellbeing of their parents. 

For instance, does Giberson think it would make sense for God to drown all the parents but spare the kids? Then what? Should God create a cosmic orphanage? 

ii) Collective judgment is hardly confined to Noah's flood. Jewish children suffered during the Assyrian deportation and Babylonian Exile, both of which represent divine judgment. Likewise, when Jesus threatens divine judgment on Israel, children will suffer in that ordeal. To be consistent, if you're going to attack the flood account on moralistic grounds, it doesn't stop there. You have to attack what Jesus said. 

iii) Denying the flood doesn't solve the problem Giberson raises. After all, children die outside the pages of Scripture. Children drown in floods and tsunamis. 

God made the mechanisms that generate natural humanitarian disasters. So you can't let God off the hook by denying the Bible. That simply relocates the problem of evil. You still have the problem of evil outside the Bible. 

Just about any minimally theistic position makes God ultimately complicit in moral and natural evil. That's a logical consequence of bargain-basement theism. Process theism may be the only exception. 

iv) Conversely, any theodicy that's adequate to address evil outside the Bible is adequate to address evil inside the Bible. 

v) Finally, as is so often the case with cradle Christian apostates like Giberson, they find Christianity far more objectionable than atheism. They fail to probe the utterly nihilistic consequences of atheism. 

Course on textual criticism

McGrew podcast on miracles

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Highlights From The Barthel/Van Kooten Book On The Star Of Bethlehem (Part 2)

You can read part one here. You can read my review of the book at Amazon here.

- As far as I recall, none of the authors who places a date on Matthew's gospel puts it before the year 70. Instead, we get many comments like Beck's assertion that it was written "about 90 CE" (287). There's no interaction with the many good arguments for dating the gospel earlier. Matthew's similarities with the other Synoptics and differences from John make more sense if all of the Synoptics were written close together, followed by a larger timeframe before John was written. The imprecision of the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple make more sense if Matthew was written before those events in 70 rather than a scenario in which the prophecies were fabricated in 70 or later. The prominence of Matthew's gospel in the earliest centuries of Christianity makes more sense if the gospel was circulating under Matthew's name well before John's gospel was published. Extrabiblical sources suggest a date around the middle of the century for Matthew rather than a date at the close of the century. Etc. You can read more about these and other arguments in my collection of articles on Matthew here. It's striking how so many scholars accept and assert the later dating of Matthew without making any effort to interact with counterarguments that are so substantial.

Carrier's snow job, part 3

This is a sequel to my two previous posts:

My third and final post is a mopping up operation. In my first installment, I focused on Carrier's opening statement. In my second installment, I focused on Carrier grading his own performance. 

In the course of the debate, Carrier added to the case he laid out in his opening statement. I'm going to comment on that. 

Bergoglio’s Gig: Mixing it up

“Bergoglio Too Has His Nonnegotiable Principles”
… debates, controversies, diametrically opposed interpretations, polarizations, perplexities of faithful and priests, uncertainties in the episcopal conferences…

Monday, August 22, 2016

Highlights From The Barthel/Van Kooten Book On The Star Of Bethlehem (Part 1)

In October of 2014, a conference on the star of Bethlehem was held at the University of Groningen. A book came out of the conference, nearly 700 pages long and with contributions from twenty scholars in astronomy, New Testament studies, and other relevant fields. It's edited by Peter Barthel and George van Kooten, and it's titled The Star Of Bethlehem And The Magi (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015).

I've just posted a review of the book at Amazon. What I want to do here and in another post tomorrow is provide some highlights from the book.

Breaking into the circle

Recently, a Scripturalist cited this old post by Vincent Cheung:

This is supposedly a refutation of my critique. But Cheung misses the point. Given his setup, Cheung is not entitled to invoke God. How does Cheung know anything about God. How does Cheung know that God even exists?

Here's the dilemma: 

i) On the one hand, Scripturalists say the Bible is the only source of knowledge.

ii) On the other hand, Scripturalists deny sense knowledge.

iii) Yet the Bible is a physical object. So the object of knowledge exists outside the subject of knowledge. 

How, then, does a Scripturalist internalize the external message of Scripture? Where does he break into the circle? What's the port of entry?  

Appealing to "God's constant and active power" fails to appreciate the dilemma. Cheung can only invoke God if he is able to explain how God can be an object of knowledge in the first place. But that's the nub of the problem, because his epistemological dichotomy places an impenetrable barrier between us and the source of knowledge. 

I didn't block God from Cheung's epistemology. Rather, it's his own epistemology that puts God behind a wall. 

Keep in mind that in my experience, Scripturalists make a big deal about how you can't know anything unless you show how you know it. But Cheung hasn't shown that. 

Cheung also says:

This relates to another problem with the analogy that I will not discuss in detail — it represents my entire position in physical terms, even though my occasionalism is such that it can work in a dream, in a purely spiritual world, or in heaven, and the Bible is the physical representation of that portion of God’s mind that he has revealed to us. That is, if you destroy all physical copies of the Bible, you have not destroyed the “word of God” that is in my epistemology. 

His hypothetical scenario is a diversionary tactic. The reality of human existence on earth is that we're embodied souls, while the Bible is a physical object. So given the restrictions which Scripturalism places on knowledge, how do we access the word of God?

Occasionalism might do the trick if you knew ahead of time that occasionalism is true, but even if Scripture taught occasionalism (which it doesn't), Cheung can't know what Scripture teaches unless Scripture is an object of knowledge. So his appeal is backwards. At best, his occasionalism is a working hypothesis. If true, that might bridge the gap. But unless he can know the hypothesis is true independent of Scripture, he can't use it both to show Scripture is an object of knowledge and show that Scripture teaches occasionalism–for by his own account, Scripture is inaccessible to the human mind unless occasionalism is true. 

Because his conundrum has no exit, he deflects attention away from his conundrum by feigning pious disapproval. But that's only persuasive to undiscerning readers, who can't grasp the dilemma. 

Look ma, no hands!

This is a sequel to my prior post:

Sean Gerety8/21/2016 9:23 AM

How does Sean know he has hands?
I don’t. I opine it…

i) So, according to Scripturalist epistemology, we can't even know that we have hands. That's just an "opinion". Even though I can see my hands and feel my hands; even though I can touch one hand with another hand, even though I experience what it's like to use my hands, my belief that I have hands is just an "opinion". I don't know that I have hands. I can't know that.

ii) Given his denial of sense knowledge, how does Sean know (or does he?) what "hands" even mean?  How does he know what the word even means or refers to? 

and unlike Hays, I draw a distinction between knowledge and opinion.

i) And what is Sean's justification for claiming that I deny a distinction between knowledge and opinion? Can he quote me on that? If not, what is his evidence that I deny that distinction? Or is this just another case in which Sean makes uninformed imputations about people who disagree with him?

ii) The question at issue isn't whether there's a distinction between knowledge and opinion, but where to drawn the line. Specifically, are all beliefs based on sensory input nothing more than opinion? 

Does Sean believe we have sensory organs? If so, what's their purpose? What function did God design eyes and ears to perform?
I do believe we have sensory organs…

But since Sean rejects sense knowledge, why does he believe that we even have sensory organs? Isn't belief that we have sensory organs itself the result of sensory perception? We can sense our own senses. 

and it would seem God designed eyes and ears in order for men to better function in the world God created. 

And what function would that be if not, in part, to give us information about the physical world we inhabit? 

Then again, unlike Hays I don’t believe that beliefs alone qualify as knowledge. 

Once again, what is Sean's justification for claiming that I think beliefs alone qualify as knowledge? Can he quote me on that? If not, what is his evidence that I think beliefs alone qualify as knowledge? Or is this yet another case of Sean making uniformed imputations about people who disagree with him? 

Also, unlike Hays, I prefer not to beg the question and conclude that because God designed eyes and ears that they are therefore a means of cognition. 

i) Sean is fond of asserting that it "begs the question" to say sensory perception is a source of knowledge. But what does he mean by that? For instance, if I come home, and the furniture has been rearranged, I infer that someone rearranged the furniture in my absence. The furniture didn't rearrange itself (barring an earthquake).

But in the case of sensory perception, I don't infer that I have hands. I don't infer that there's a physical world. Rather, my senses constantly show me a physical world. That's not something I infer from experience; rather, that's something sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch present to my mind. Isn't that prima facie evidence for the existence of an external world? 

ii) If I have evidence that something is the case, and no evidence to the contrary, how is it begging the question to believe what I have evidence for? 

iii) Since Sean defines opinion as belief that falls short of knowledge, does Sean think some opinions are more reasonable than others? If so, what counts as differential evidence? Does Sean think some opinions are more likely to be true? Of does he think all opinions are equiprobable? 

iv) For instance, it's hypothetically possible that the woman Sean takes to be his wife is really an android. Maybe he married a human woman, but then the government, in a covert experiment, swapped his real wife for an android. The android appears to be his wife. The android's behavior is indistinguishable from his wife. 

Is it begging the question for Sean to believe the woman he lives with is his actual wife, and not an android? Or is Sean warranted in believing that Mrs. Gerety is his wife, absent evidence to the contrary? Likewise, unless I have reason to believe things are not as they seem to be, why is my belief that I typed this sentence using my hands mere opinion rather than knowledge? 

God made stomachs too in order to function in God’s world, but I don’t think stomachs are means to knowledge or that eating is cognitive. 

i) Surely that comparison is counterproductive to Sean's position. Our stomach doesn't show us the world in the way that our eyes and ears show us the world. 

For instance, the five senses bombard me with evidence that I'm not the only person in existence. There are other embodied persons. I can see them, hear them, touch them. 

That's not a function I assign to my sensory organs. Rather, that's feedback which my senses present to my mind. I don't infer that the purpose of my sensory organs is collect information about the physical world. Rather, that's something I directly experience. That's something my senses show me. That's an involuntary, irrepressible deliverance. 

The only alternative explanation is if this is simulated sensory input. That what I take to be the physical world is an illusion–a la idealism or virtual reality. But is it "begging the question" to think that's not the case? Or is there a presumption that what my senses present to me is real absent counterevidence? 

ii) Moreover, Sean missed the point of the analogy. Does Sean believe the function of the heart is to pump blood? Or is that "begging the question"? Does Sean believe the purpose of lungs is to oxygenate blood? Or is that "begging the question"? 

If he admits the vital function of organs like the heart and lungs, then what's the difference between that and the informative function of sensory organs? If he admits that the function of the heart is to pump blood, why does he refuse to believe the function of eyes and ears is to collect information about the physical world? 

iii) As a boy, I had a dog. Sometimes I played a game: as an experiment, I'd hide from my dog. I'd be out of sight. My dog couldn't see me. But my dog always found me. She found me by scent. It's demonstrable that different animals have different sensory acuities. How does Sean account for that if he imagines that there's no more reason to think we acquire knowledge about the world through the senses than the stomach? 

Instead, I believe “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Of course, that's metaphorical. And the meaning of figurative language is parasitic on literal language. 

What does Sean believe about the world? Does he think our organs and body parts actually exist? Or does he think God feeds delusive input into our minds to simulate the illusion of a physical world with bodies, eyes, ears, &c.?
I believe a lot of things about the world including the reality of hallucinations.

i) Since Sean denies sense knowledge, how does he detect hallucinations? What's his standard of comparison to distinguish veridical sensory perceptions from hallucinations?

ii) Is Sean insinuating that because the senses sometimes deceive us, therefore sensory perception never yields knowledge? If so, then by parity of argument, because reason sometimes deceives us, we can't ever trust our minds. So we can't know anything at all. 

I also believe that God indeed feeds delusive input into the minds of men to simulate all sorts of illusions, including the illusion that there is no God and no judgment. For a list of other delusive input God feeds into the minds of men, I think Hays can find a partial list starting in Romans 1:22ff.

That's equivocal. The question at issue isn't false beliefs about certain ideas, but whether our perception of a physical world is a global illusion. And this isn't about unbelievers in particular, but humans in general, including Christians. 

I would go a bit further and say that God’s word consists of all the propositions God has revealed to include all the necessary inferences as well. This is an important point because propositions are the meanings of a declarative sentences, the message, and while seemingly obvious, only propositions can be true or false. Sensations, whatever they may be, cannot be true or false, so it would seem that “sense knowledge” – a phrase Hays frequently uses – is either begging the question or just nonsense. I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.

i) Sean's objection is confused. To begin with, the question at issue is not whether sensations are true or false, but whether sensations can form the basis of true or false beliefs about the world we perceive. Is Sean unable to grasp that rudimentary distinction? If, say, I see a waitress pour a glass of milk, I believe the glass has milk because I saw her fill the glass. I don't think milk magically appeared in an empty glass. Does Sean think that's "begging the question" or "nonsense" If so, why so? 

ii) Can sensations never be true or false? Take signage. Suppose I see a male or female symbol on a public restroom. Even though that's not a verbal proposition ("declarative sentence"), it has semantic content. 

Take traffic signs. Suppose I see a sign of a deer. The sign is wordless. But it's a warning. It indicates a deer crossing. So even though it's just a "sensation" (rather than a "declarative sentence"), it's a meaningful symbol.

Take a traffic sign that says "one way" inside an arrow, pointing right or left (as the case may be). By itself, that's not true or false. If, however, it's positioned at an intersection, then it is true or false. Suppose the sign is misplaced. It indicates that's a one-way street, but it's actually a two-way street. Then the sign is false. The "sensation" is false. That's because, in this instance, the "sensation" has a semantic context. A semantic frame of reference. 

iii) What about sensations of sentences. That's symbolic discourse. Sensations organized into letters, organized into sentences, are true or false. Sensations can be structured to communicate assertions. Sensations of that kind have true value. So Sean needs to bone up on semiotics. 

Since, however, Sean denies sense knowledge, doesn't that mean he thinks colors are essentially ideas? The color red is just a concept of red?

Not sure what else colors might be other than ideas? I had a friend who couldn’t see any colors at all. Maybe he is the one seeing the world as it really is? How do I know? Unlike Hays, I try not to be so presumptuous concerning things I don’t know.

i) Sean confuses objectivity with relativity. For instance, some people suffer from food allergies. When some people eat certain foods, they have an allergic or anaphylactic reaction. Other people can consume the same food without any allergic or anaphylactic reaction. So that's person-variable. But the fact that it's relative to the person doesn't mean the food in question lacks objective properties which trigger allergic or anaphylactic reactions in some consumers. Likewise, some consumers don't have that reaction because their bodies have objective properties, like a particular enzyme. 

ii) By the same token, some physical things have a particular colorful appearance because the thing has certain objective properties, light has certain objective properties, and the visual processing system has certain objective properties. And that combination generates color. 

iii) A color can be an idea, or at least it can simulate an idea. For instance, I can imagine a red car. I can form the mental image of a red car. Likewise, if I used to own a red car, I can remember what it looked like. I can "see" the red car in my mind. In that respect, a color can be merely mental. Color can be conceptual rather than perceptual in that respect.

However, that's different than actually perceiving a red car in my field of vision. A car that's objective to me. A car that I physically observe. Color perception in that respect isn't merely mental. 

iv) If Sean thinks color is just an idea, does that mean he thinks we project the idea of color onto colorless objects? The difference between a red rose and a white rose is what color I project onto the rose?  

What does Sean make of all those Biblical commands to "write" down God's revelations, viz., Exod 17:14, 34:1,27; Deut 17:18, 27:3,8; 31:19, Isa 30:8; Jer 30:2; 36:2,28; Ezk 24:2; 43:11; Lk 1:3; Rev 1:11,19, 21:5. ? That means committing the word of God to writing. Paper and ink (or papyrus or velum or stone).
I would refer Hays to what he wrote above and that God’s word “isn’t paper and ink, but the message.” 

i) That misses the point. Why does God command prophets to commit his revelations to writing unless written words constitute a source of knowledge regarding what God revealed? If you want to know what God revealed, you need to read (or hear) the sentences. The sentences are physical objects. Perceptual objects. But they convey information to the mind.

Prophets are commanded to write, while their audience is commanded to read, or listen to what's read aloud. That's how people learn what God has said. That's how people know the word of God. By seeing sentences or hearing sentences.  

ii) That's the irony of Scripturalism. Scripturalists don't take Scripture as their point of departure. Their epistemology isn't based on Scripture. No one who began with statements like Lev 24:7; Deut 17:19; Josh 8:34-35; Neh 8:1,3; Mt 12:3,5; Mt 19:4; 21:6,42; 22:31; 24:15; 2 Cor 1:13; Col 4:16; 1 Tim 4:13, and Rev 1:3 would deny the possibility of sense knowledge.