Saturday, December 10, 2016

9 things you should know about CS Lewis

Bryan Cross: “The ordinary Catholic life just is the long dark night of the soul”

That headline is a direct quote from Bryan, taken from a February 17 2016 Bryan Cross comment on this Jason Stellman blog post. (The topic of Stellman came up earlier this week, and so I took a look, and came up with this conversation.) In that blog post, Stellman is complaining that “my experience with God is largely characterized by divine absence, the ‘real absence of Christ’”. I don’t want to get into Stellman’s self-absorbed hand wringing, but here’s the larger Bryan Cross quote:

I don’t have the Calvary Chapel background that you do. But I do have a Pentecostal background. Of course we both went through a substantive Reformed period. But it took me some time to realize that some remainders of that original spirituality lingered on, a tradition in which spiritual experience in its subjective phenomenological sense, is extremely important, and is the measure of one’s closeness to God, perhaps even the very measure and ground of one’s faith.

Hold this thought, because this is not at all what the Reformation faith – the earliest Christian faith – was about. I’ll address this below.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Why Muslims aren't moving towards Christians

Fact and theories in theology and science

Should you confide in your spouse that you lusted about someone else?

John Piper had some advice last month that's getting some buzz:

A few brief observations:

1. His discussion is terribly one-sided. He plays into the stereotype that men are sexual animals while women are nuns. But it should go without saying that just as men have an eye for good-looking women, women have an eye for good-looking men. To take that a step further, the college hook-up culture is very much a two-way street. What about sexual fantasies in Harlequin romance novels or Amish romance novels? Those are female fare. 

With that in mind, any reasonable, realistic wife should realize that her husband will notice other women–just as she will notice other men. In a way, a spouse should find it flattering that even if there are other appealing options, your husband or wife chose you. They didn't choose you because you were the last man (or woman) on earth. You're not second best. You're not the fallback option. Despite the competition, he (or she) chose you. 

2. In fairness, Piper isn't just talking about sexual attraction, but sexual fantasies about someone other than your spouse. I agree with him that that's wrong. However, fantasizing is something under our voluntary control–unlike involuntary sexual attraction. It's easy to flip the off-switch because using your visual imagination takes a bit of mental effort, whereas it's effortless to stop doing something that's a bit effortful. You have to work at mentally imagining something, whereas you don't have to work at not mentally imagining something. 

The solution isn't to confess it to your spouse, which doesn't actually solve the problem, and creates a new problem. Rather, the solution is to just stop doing it. That's easily within your power. Just think about something else. 

3. Now, it's possible that some spouses, whether husband or wife, fantasize about someone other than their spouse because their marriage isn't romantically satisfying. If that's the case, then that is something to talk about. You should talk about that rather than fantasying or confessing to sexual fantasies about someone other than your spouse.

4. Although he doesn't exactly say so, Piper seems to think spouses should be completely transparent with each other. That's a modern conceit.

There are science fiction stories in which someone becomes telepathic. As a result, he loses all his friends. There are folks he thought had fond feelings for him. But now he discovers that was a polite facade. 

There are still people with genuine affection for him. They care about him. They really do. But now that he can read their every thought, he realizes, on the one hand, that their fond feelings are mixed with less flattering feelings, while, on the other hand, he now has a lower opinion of them. They're not as admirable as he imagined. 

That's the limiting case of a transparent relationship. And that's deadly to friendship, much less marriage. 

Tact is a virtue. Not saying everything that's on your mind. We ought to keep some things to ourselves. It's inconsiderate and even cruel to give expression to your every feeling. Once words leave your mouth, you can't take them back. People remember what you said, especially if it's hurtful–even if it's well-intentioned. 

5. He quotes Mt 5:28. But I think that's probably about seduction. I incline to Don Carson's interpretation:

Klaus Haacker (“Der Rechtsatz Jesu zum Thema Ehebruch,” BZ 21 [1977]: 113-16) has convincingly argued that the second auten (“[committed adultery] with her”) is contrary to the common interpretation of this verse. In Greek it is unnecessary, especially if the sin is entirely the man’s. But it is explainable if pros to epithymesai auten, commonly understood to mean “with a view to lusting for her,” is translated “so as to get her to lust” The evidence for this interpretation is strong (see Notes). The man is therefore looking at the woman with a view to enticing her to lust. If Haacker (see above) is right in his contention that the second auten is unnecessary on the customary reading of this verse, the problem is resolved if the first auten within the expression pros to epithymesai auten functions as the accusative of reference (i.e., the quasisubject) of the infinite (as in the equivalent construction in Lk 18:1) to generate the translation “so that she lusts,” REBC 9:184-85.

6. Piper quotes Jas 5:16: "Confess your sins to one another". I'll discuss that in a moment. But that needs to be counterbalanced by something else James has to say, and that is the need to guard our tongue:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing (Jas 3:6-10).

Rather than blurting out indiscreet "confessions," it's best to bite your tongue. Just imagine the effect of telling your spouse, "Honey, I've been lusting after so-and-so". Really, what was Piper thinking? 

7. Then there's the question of what Jas 5:16 means. What's the scope of that command? In context, it refers to friction within the body of Christ (cf. Jas 4:11-12). How church members can wrong each other and thereby foment resentment. One example which James talks about is wealthy church members snubbing poor church members. 

Now, although that's the immediate context, I don't mean the wisdom of his admonition is necessarily confined to church. However, in extending the principle to other situations, it needs to be reapplied to analogous situations. 

James isn't talking about secret sins. Hidden vices which no one else is in a position to suspect. Rather, he's referring to overt words and actions that alienate another person. 

That's very different than volunteering information about your mental life. That invites problems. That's like starting a fire to put it out. Many people have done things before they met their spouse which it would be imprudent to mention. There's no obligation to dredge up your entire past. Piper's appeal isn't comparable.

People don't need to know everything about us. People shouldn't know everything about us. That's what God is for–among other things. Some things we should confess to God alone. 

In addition, it's wise to be compartmentalize to some degree. Things you tell your spouse you wouldn't tell your best friend, as well as things you tell your best friend you wouldn't tell your spouse. Marriage isn't a substitute for friendships. It's a different kind of relationship. 

Faux simplicity arguments against the existence of God

How to make a case for the Protestant faith

Perhaps we should take a step back and consider, in general, how a Protestant might make a case for his position. Take a comparison: it's been said that you don't need direct evidence for the theory of evolution because, if there is no God, then something like (naturalistic) evolution must be true. If atheism is true, then the origin of life had to have a naturalistic cause. By process of elimination, that's the default alternative. 

By the same token, a Protestant can operate with the negative principle that unless there's good reason to believe that certain Catholic essentials or distinctives are true, then he lacks a sufficient basis for rational assent. A Protestant might add that not only is reliable evidence lacking for key Catholic tenets, but in at least some cases, there's positive evidence to the contrary. 

Furthermore, Catholicism is a package deal. It isn't necessary to systematically disprove every Catholic essential or distinctive. If you disprove even one sine qua non of Catholicism, even one dogma, then that's sufficient to discredit Catholicism in toto. It has no give in that respect. To the degree that Catholicism is a package deal, it's inflexible, the way Newtonian physics was inflexible. Newtonian physics was such a tight package that it couldn't be modified–it could only be replaced.

Consider some elements of Roman Catholicism:

• Authoritative tradition

• Apostolic succession (in a technical, Catholic sense)

• Papal and conciliar infallibility (under specified conditions) 

• Prayers to the dead

• The perpetual virginity (including in partu virginity), Immaculate Conception, and Assumption of Mary.

• Veneration of relics

• Priestly absolution

• Transubstantiation

• Baptismal regeneration

• Indulgences

• The intrinsic evil of artificial birth control.

• The intrinsic evil of lying

• The indissolubility of marriage

• Purgatory

That's a representative sample, but not exhaustive. 

Now, if Christianity is true, but one (or more) of these tenets is false, then that falsifies Catholicism. Then something like Protestantism must be true instead. Or, if there's insufficient reliable evidence for one (or more) of these tenants, then we are warranted in withholding assent to Catholicism. Or if, in some cases, there's reliable evidence to the contrary, then we ought to deny it. 

(Right now I'm discussing the Catholic/Protestant debate. We could construct a parallel framework for an Orthodox/Protestant debate.)

9 AM, October 23, 4004 B.C.

John Lightfoot (1602-1675) notoriously dated the moment of creation to  9 AM, October 23, 4004 B.C. Which has given rise to the oft-quoted trope that "Closer than this, as a cautious scholar, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University did not venture to commit himself."

Attempting to put a calendar date on the moment of creation is certainly mock-worthy. Even if young-earth creationism is true, it's not possible to date the origin of the world with anything near that degree of precision. 

That said, if young-earth creationism is true, or old-earth creationism, for that matter, then some of God's creative fiats are datable in principle, even if we necessarily lack the requisite information to do so in practice. On either view, God made some things by special creation. That being the case, you could, for instance, step into the proverbial time-machine and go back to the day when God made Adam. And you could even tell if it was morning, noonday, or afternoon by the angle of the sun. That's true for some other primeval events. In principle, these could be assigned calendar dates. The year, month, week, and day. Even time of day. Of course, any particular calendar is a human convention, and not a fact of nature. Yet you can measure time because there's a time to measure. 

In principle, you could to step into the time-machine and travel back to any Biblical event, although the earth might not be too hospitable in primordial time. Like a submarine or spaceship, your time-machine might need an artificial environment. Indeed, it's a good exercise for Christian readers to mentally take a ride in the time-machine, then imagine what they'd see when they step out.  

Thursday, December 08, 2016

What did the Wise Men see?

I'm going to quote an anecdote from Nabeel Qureshi to draw a comparison. Before doing so, I'd like to make a preliminary observation: I allow for the possibility that Nabeel is regaling readers with tall tales. It's possible that he's cashing in on his conversion. 

However, I don't find that the most plausible explanation. He's a psychiatrist by training. He could make a comfortable living that way. It would make for a less stressful, eventful life. 

Certainly I don't think he converted with the intention of cashing in. He had no advance knowledge that his conversion would be marketable. And he had so much to lose. Why detonate his relationship with his family, which means so much to him? 

It was my first time back in Britain since we had moved to Connecticut eight years prior…Tens of thousands of Ahmadis attended the United Kingdom jalsa…The people I most longed for were my friends from Scotland, the Maliks. Apart from one letter that I received from the youngest brother while I was in seventh grade, I had not heard from any of them. Public email was still in its nascent phase, and international phone calls were too expensive to justify. 
But when I arrived at the jalsa, I realized I did not know if my friends would even be there…It would be nearly impossible to look for them by walking through the jalsa too. Apart from the sheer number of people to search through, we had all grown up over the previous seven  years, and I was not sure I would recognize them even if I saw them. I sorely wanted to reunite with them, but I did not know where to start. So I turned to God. I just prayed from my heart, bowing my head and closing my eyes. "God, can you please help me find my friends?" 
When I opened my eyes, what I saw stunned me stock-still. In the air before me were two steaks of color, one gold and one silver, as if whimsically painted onto the sky by an ethereal brush. They trailed in the distance, obviously leading me somewhere.  
I still remember the words I spoke in shock: "You're kidding. I'm supposed to follow those, right?" 
What I intrinsically knew was that no one could see the stripes but me. They were not so much in the sky as they were in my perception of the sky. They were neither a mile away, nor a foot away, nor anywhere in-between They just were. And they were waiting for me.  
The jalsa was crowded, and everyone was outside the tents because there was no speech currently in session. I followed the streaks into swarms of people, sifting my way through the crowd as if in a Pakistani bazaar.  
And in fact, the streaks swirled over the jalsa marketplace…the streaks funneled downward, dissipating over a space next to a clothing tent. When I weeded my way to the clearing, I saw two men standing there, chatting and wearing skullcaps. It took a moment, but I recognized them: they were the older Malik brothers. Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (Zondervan, 2014), 103-105.

Here's the comparison: what if the Star of Bethlehem is like that? Not that exact phenomenon, but a supernatural phenomenon that's only discernible to those it was meant to guide. Something the intended observer perceives in his field of vision, even though it remains invisible to other observers, because wasn't for their benefit. 

How we construe the Star of Bethlehem is based on our conceptual resources. As a result, we may overlook alternative explanations. Because the identify of the star so often comes down to a debate between stereotypical options, that can foster tunnel vision. 

Too lucky to be luck

Here's a good definition of coincidence miracle: 

It is important to emphasize that in spite of the widespread belief to the contrary, an event may be the source of marvel and elicit genuine religious response, not only without violating any natural law, but even if all its details may be explained by known laws. As long as an event is genuinely startling and its timing constitutes a mind-boggling coincidence, in that it occurs precisely when there is a distinct call for it to promote some obvious divine objective, then that event amounts to a miracle. The promotion of a divine objective may take many forms: it could be a spectacular act of deliverance of the faithful from the evil forces ranged against them, it might come as a highly unusual meteorological event through which the priests of Baal are discredited, or it might appear as a swift, clear, and loud answer to the prayers of the truly pious. However, whatever form the wondrous event takes, it should have a religious impact on its witnesses. George Schlesinger, “Miracles,” Quinn & Taliaferro (eds.), A Companion to Philosophy of Religion (Blackwell, 1999), 398-99.

Miracles and sample bias

I'm going to quote and comment on a discussion of miracles by Christian philosopher George Mavrodes:
An organization that sponsors a very large prize lottery in the United States recently informed potential entrants that the chance of winning the grand prize was approximately one in 100 million. I suppose that this is based on an estimate of the number of entries that will be received, or something like that. So if I were to submit an entry for this lottery the probability of my winning the grand prize would be approximately 0.00000001. That is, of course, a very low probability, and I would be very surprised if I won. Assuming that the lottery is fairly drawn, every other entrant would have that same probability of winning. Suppose now that the drawing has actually been held, and that we read a short news story about it. The newspaper reports that a certain man, Henry Plushbottom of Topeka, Kansas, is the winner of the grand prize. The antecedent probability—antecedent, that is, to the news story—of Henry’s being the winner is fantastically low. But what is now the consequent probability—consequent to the news story—that Henry really is the winner? My own inclination is to say that the news story makes the probability that Henry really is the winner quite high.
If my response is rational, however, then it seems to be the case that a single testimony, a testimony given in many cases by someone whom we do not know at all, is sufficient to produce an enormous change in probability. Something whose initial probability is so small as to be almost unimaginable is converted by a single testimony into something that is substantially more probable than not. I call this the Lottery Surprise. How could a single testimony have such an enormous effect on probability? And how does this fact bear on our assessment of the probability of miracles when there is some testimony at hand?
The news story about a lottery winner, therefore, involves two items, and each of them has a very low antecedent probability. It was antecedently improbable that Henry would win, for he was only one entrant among 100 million. It was also antecedently improbable that he would be named in the story as the winner, for his was only one name among 100 million different names that could have appeared in that story. 
The fact is that the news story involves two events, each of which, taken separately, is immensely improbable. In fact, they have the very same immense improbability. But taken together they support each other in such a way as to generate a substantial positive probability. If Henry is actually the winner, then it is probable that he will be named as such in the story, and if he is not the real winner, then it is fantastically improbable that he would be the one mistakenly identified in the paper. Therefore, his being identified as the winner makes it probable that he is really the winner. 
Hume, therefore, seems to believe the following proposition: (N) No one has ever risen from the dead.
Of course, Hume may have had a negative experience about resurrections, an experience that might be reported in this way: (E) Hume never observed any resurrection from the dead, he never met anyone who had been restored to life after dying, etc.
I have no reason to doubt (E), and I have no inclination to doubt it. I think it is very likely that Hume never came across a genuine resurrection in his whole life. And the same is true of me. I also have never observed a resurrection. But although (E) is true, and the corresponding proposition about me is also true, these propositions have no real relevance with respect to the probability of (N). It is not the negative nature of propositions such as (E) that makes them irrelevant. It is, rather, the fact that Hume’s sample and my sample are far too small relative to the scope of (N). (N) is a general proposition whose scope includes millions upon millions of particular cases, all the human deaths that belong to the history of the world. Hume, we might suppose, had some direct experience of a few human deaths and of what happened soon thereafter. Perhaps a dozen or so family members and friends. But even fifty or one hundred would be far too small to have a significant bearing on the probability of (N).
Of course, Hume’s negative experience is just what we should expect if (N) is true. If there simply are no resurrections, then Hume would not run into one. But Hume’s negative experience is also just what we would expect if there are real resurrections but they are quite rare. If there are, say, only half a dozen genuine resurrections among the many millions of deaths there have been in human history, then it is extremely unlikely that Hume’s tiny sample would have caught one of them. So that sample is entirely unreliable in distinguishing between a world in which there are no resurrections—that is, the world as described by (N)—and a world in which there are only a few resurrections. But that distinction is crucial to this case. For there is probably no aficionado of resurrections, or of miracles in general, who thinks that they are as thick in the world as fleas on a stray dog.
We can construe the probability of Jesus’ resurrection as being very low in the same way as we construe the probability of Henry’s winning the grand prize as being very low. If we take Jesus to be just a randomly selected person among the many millions of human beings who have lived in the world, and if we assume that resurrections are at best very rare in the world, then the antecedent probability of Jesus’ being resurrected is very low. But this is just the sort of case to which the Lottery Surprise applies. That is, it is just the sort of case in which a single testimony generates an enormous change in the subsequent probability. George Mavrodes, “Miracles”. W. Wainwright, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (Oxford, 2005), pp. 304-22.

Mavrodes makes a number of good points:

i) How a single report can dramatically upgrade our assessment regarding the probability that something happened.

ii) Sometimes, the number of improbable incidents in a story makes the story increasingly unlikely. We think an alibi is fishy if it has improbable incidents. And the more improbable incidents, the more implausible the explanation.

But as Mavrodes explains, that can be simplistic. There are situations in which two or more independently improbable events reinforce each other rather than multiplying the overall improbability. There are situations in which we'd expect that if one improbable incident occurs, a related improbable incident will occur. 

iii) If miracles, or at least evident miracles, are rare, then the fact that many or most people don't observe them is consistent with their occurrence. That doesn't cast doubt on their occurrence. Negative experience doesn't render them suspect. Rather, that's to be expected if they are rare. That's a consequence of sample selection bias. 

iv) He says: "If we take Jesus to be just a randomly selected person among the many millions of human beings who have lived in the world, and if we assume that resurrections are at best very rare in the world, then the antecedent probability of Jesus’ being resurrected is very low."

But, of course, Jesus isn't a randomly selected person among millions (or billions).

By the same token, he says: "Assuming that the lottery is fairly drawn, every other entrant would have that same probability of winning."

But in analogy to the Resurrection, the lottery is rigged so that Jesus was bound to win. Therefore, if the Resurrection is probable even if Jesus were a randomly selected individual among millions (or billions), and if the Resurrection is probable even if the lottery is fairly drawn, then a fortiori, it is exponentially more probable–indeed, a dead certainty–if the lottery was designed to select for Jesus. 

Answering Objections To The Bethlehem Birthplace

Here's a collection of resources on the subject. The post here is the best one to read, since it covers so much ground.

Theodore Beza: The Man and the Myth

Crossing the line

i) I'm going to make a few brief observations about the Tom Chantry situation. One reason is because it's already popped up on a couple of Catholic survivor networks (SNAP; Since I castigate the Catholic abuse scandal from time to time, it's only fair that people like me address a Protestant example. It's important that we not have double standards.

In addition, the story has been reported by outlets like The Aquila Report. So I don't think it's inappropriate for me to discuss in public. 

ii) Apropos (i), it's my impression that survivor networks are a mixed bag. On the one hand, some of them perform a necessary service by drawing attention to genuine abuse. On the other hand, some of them seem to be fronts for their own ax-grinding agendas. 

Mark Driscoll illustrates both sides of the coin. On the one hand, his antics made him a deserving target. On the other hand, some of the criticism was a pretext to attack complementarianism, heteronormative values, &c. 

iii) I should say a word about the presumption of innocence. That's a legal standard regarding the burden of proof. The onus is on the prosecution to prove the defendant's guilt, rather than the defendant to prove his innocence. 

Our system is predicated on the principle that it's better to acquit the guilty than convict the innocent. And I support that legal principle. That's a necessary restriction on the punitive power of the state. 

However, I don't consider that to be a universal moral norm. Outside the confines of the courtroom, we have to make prudential judgments about whether or not we think someone is trustworthy. 

iv) I'm not in a position to have an informed opinion about Chantry's guilt or innocence. And I haven't studied the coverage in detail. In a sense, it's none of my business. I'm not in a position of ecclesiastical oversight. 

So I'm discussing the case at a hypothetical level, because it furnishes an occasion to consider some policy issues. Likewise, it's a cautionary tale. Whether or not the charges turn out to be true, the case serves to illustrate some important principles. 

v) Assuming the allegations are true, culpability isn't limited to Chantry. To elude justice that long, I think it's safe to say he must have had enablers. People to cover for him, make excuses for him, and pull strings. It stands to reason that a number of people are complicit. 

Assuming there were other people in the know, surely there's something they could have done to put a stop to it when it first came to their notice. Suppose they told him, either quit ministry and get a job that doesn't give you access to minors, or we will go public. Evidently, that didn't happen. If the charges are true, he had a phalanx. 

vi) Christian organizations should require criminal background checks for all job applications. I'm not saying that if something turns up in the background check, that should automatically disqualify the applicant. Like the infamous no-fly list, official records can be inaccurate or unfair. It does, however, supply necessary prima facie information to evaluate the suitability of an applicant. 

vii) Some organizations have a "two-deep" rule where there's no one-on-one contact between a man and an underage boy or boys. But I have misgivings about that rule. It treats all men as presumptive pedophiles. That's sexist, unjust, and prejudicial. 

Moreover, it's arbitrary. Take a male child psychiatrist or psychologist. Won't he sometimes have one-on-one counseling sessions with boys? It's not intrinsically suspicious for a man to talk to a boy he's not related to. Teachers and coaches do that all the time. So do detectives. Some men are predators, but many men and natural mentors and protectors. Let's not overreact. 

viii) This case illustrates the limitations of formal oversight structures. There's nothing necessarily wrong with having those in place. Sometimes they do good. But they're not a failsafe. They're only as good as the people on the church board. Sometimes it's a buddy system that protects perps from victims rather than victims from perps. . 

ix) It illustrates the potential danger posed by sons of famous fathers who have automatic entree in a way that ordinary folk do not. They exploit preexisting bonds of trust that their fathers developed. The danger posed by celebrity culture in the church. Riding someone's coattails. Other examples include Jonathan Merritt, Richard Roberts, Jonathan Falwell, and Tullian Tchividjian. (Admittedly, Richard Roberts is a flake of a flake.)

In fairness, there are good examples as well as bad examples. Some sons follow honorably in the footsteps of a famous father. 

x) Finally, what I find unnerving about stories like these is crossing a line of no return. There are kinds of wrongdoing where you can put it behind you and move on with your life. But there are other kinds of wrongdoing where, if you do it–even once–you can never come back from that. You ruined your life for the rest of your life. It's frighteningly easy to cross that line. 

When we read stories like this, we should think to ourselves how changing even one crucial variable in our formative years might cause us to turn out very differently–for the worse. When I was a young boy–I don't remember my age, maybe 6-7–my mother was hospitalized for internal bleeding. This was back in the mid-60s when medical science was more primitive. I wasn't afraid because my parents didn't tell me she might have a life-threatening condition. And thankfully the condition resolved itself. If she had died when I was that age, I can't imagine the catastrophic effect that would have on my development.

Although pedophiles are mercifully rare, statistically speaking, there are many ways a normal person's life can go disastrously offtrack. That's something we should all be mindful off, wary off, and grateful if we were spared. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Why the choir was late

Here's a striking example of a coincidence miracle:

It happened on the evening of March 1 in the town of Beatrice, Nebraska. In the afternoon the Reverend Walter Klempel had gone to the West Side Baptist Chruch to get things ready for choir practice. He lit the furnace — most of the singers were in the habit of arriving around 7:15, and it was chilly in the church - and went home to dinner. But at 7:10, when it was time for him to go back to the church with his wife and daughter Marilyn Ruth, it turned out that Marilyn Ruth's dress was soiled. They waited while Mrs. Klempel ironed another and thus were still at home when it happened.  
Ladona Vandergrift, a high school sophomore, was having trouble with a geometry problem. She knew practice began promptly and always came early. But she stayed to finish the problem.  
Royena Estes was ready, but the car would not start. So she and her sister called Ladona Vandergrift, and asked her to pick them up. But Ladona was the girl with the geometry problem, and the Estes sisters had to wait.  
Sadie Estes' story was the same as Royena's. All day they had been having trouble with the car; it just refused to start.  
Mrs. Leonard Schuster would ordinarily have arrived at 7:20 with her small daughter Susan. But on this particular evening Mrs. Schuster had to go to her mother's house to help her get ready for a missionary meeting.  
Herbert Kipf, lathe operator, would have been ahead of time but had put off an important letter. "I can't think why," he said. He lingered over it and was late.  
It was a cold evening. Stenographer Joyce Black, feeling "just plain lazy," stayed in her warm house until the last possible moment. She was almost ready to leave when it happened.  
Because his wife was away, Machinist Harvey Ahl was taking care of his two boys. He was going to take them to practice with him but somehow he got wound up talking. When he looked at his watch, he saw he was already late.  
Marilyn Paul, the pianist, had planned to arrive half an hour early. However she fell asleep after dinner, and when her mother awakened her at 7:15 she had time only to tidy up and start out.  
Mrs. F.E. Paul, choir director and mother of the pianist, was late simply because her daughter was. She had tried unsuccessfully to awaken the girl earlier.  
High school girls Lucille Jones and Dorothy Wood are neighbors and customarily go to practice together. Lucille was listening to a 7-to-7:30 radio program and broke her habit of promptness because she wanted to hear the end. Dorothy waited for her.  
At 7:25, with a roar heard in almost every corner of Beatrice, the West Side Baptist Church blew up. The walls fell outward, the heavy wooden roof crashed straight down like a weight in a deadfall. But because of such matters as a soiled dress, a catnap, an unfinished letter, a geometry problem and a stalled car, all of the members of the choir were late - something which had never occurred before.  
Firemen thought the explosion had been caused by natural gas, which may have leaked into the church from a broken pipe outside and been ignited by the fire in the furnace. The Beatrice choir members had no particular theory about the fire's cause, but each of them began to reflect on the heretofore inconsequential details of his life, wondering at exactly what point it is that one can say, "This is an act of God." Edeal, George. "Why the Choir Was Late." Life (March 27, 1950), 19-23.

What are the odds that 15 people would all be late for choir practice due to 15 different, independent reasons? Seems like a strong candidate for special providence.

i) However, skeptics will raise a familiar objection. And even some Christians may have nagging doubts. We might be more likely to credit that as divine intervention if it fit into a larger pattern of divine intervention. But why would God save those people when so many other Christians die in terrible accidents and natural disasters? Considered in isolation, it appears to be too lucky to be sheer luck, but compared to what happens generally, it appears to be random. After all, anomalous events happen. Like someone who survives a plane crash when all  his fellow passengers die. 

ii) But there are problems with that objection. Suppose a gambler is dealt three royal flushes in three successive games. Would it be reasonable to discount the outcome by pointing out that most gamblers aren't dealt three royal flushes in three successive games? Is it just a coincidence that he was dealt three royal flushes in three successive games? 

iii) Suppose we lived in a world where events like this happened routinely. It's easy to imagine atheists adapting to that challenge by saying it just goes to show some people have precognition and telepathy. They have a premonition, which they telepathically communicate to their acquaintances. The synchronized delay was due to natural factors. Turns out some humans naturally have telepathy and precognition!

iv) What makes examples like this so arresting is precisely because they're so rare and naturally inexplicable. To be recognizably miraculous or providential, it can't be too routine.

v) In addition, a world in which God constantly intervenes is a world in which people become careless and irresponsible, since they don't fear the dire consequence of their actions. They do reckless things because they expect a deus ex machina to spare them. Unless our actions have reasonably predictable results (at least in the short-term), we become morally frivolous and callous, since we don't think our actions, or negligence, will be harmful to ourselves or others. 

Were the Wright brothers a hoax?

It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed

When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. 
– Hume

There are several problems with this claim. For one thing, it begs the question. Hume knows full well that his audience will instantly think of Jesus. There's testimonial evidence that this very thing has indeed been observed.  If so, that would belie the "uniformity" of experience against every miraculous event. 

But I'd like to focus on another issue. There's a sense in which Hume's statement could certainly be true, even though Jesus rose from the dead. It depends on the timeframe. Suppose Jesus rose from the dead. Yet anyone who died before c. 30 AD could honestly say that a dead man returning to life has never been observed in any age or country. That never once occurred–right up to the moment it occurred!

Anyone living before the time of Christ could say what Hume said without begging the question. For anyone living before the time of Christ, it would uniform experience that no one came back to life.  

By the same token, anyone who died before the 20C could truly say that human fight has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against human flight. That was true right until December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

So, to paraphrase Hume, As a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of human flight; nor can such a proof be destroyed. When anyone tells me, that he saw the Wright brothers fly, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. 

That's a basic problem with Hume's argument. You could truly say it never happened…until it happened! Before it happened, it never happened. It never happened in the past. It never happened all the way up to the moment that changed. So Hume's objection turns out to be a tautology with no predictive value. It is, at best, a statement about the past, not the future. It's only true, if at all, for the observer's provincial sample of time. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

More Reason To Date The Synoptics And Acts Early

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about internal and external evidence that Acts was written in the early to mid sixties. In a Facebook post earlier this year, I wrote about some other evidence for Acts' earliness and reliability. What I want to do here is make some other points to supplement the previous two posts.

The dating of Acts is important not just because of the implications the dating has for Acts, but also because of the implications for the dating of the gospels. Luke was written prior to Acts. Most scholars think Luke used Mark as a source, so dating Luke earlier has implications for Mark. Even if Luke didn't use Mark as a source, the similarities between Mark and Luke, as well as their similarities with Matthew, are best explained if the three documents were written within months or years of each other rather than a decade or more apart. So, an earlier date for Luke would imply earlier dates for Mark and Matthew as well, even if none of the gospels used another one as a source.

How Biblical is Molinism (Part 4)

McGrew on miracles and NT historicity

Monday, December 05, 2016

Theistic proofs

I stumbled across this while I was drafting a post. Although I'd already completed my outline by the time I found it, this was useful for the linked material:

Although it has a few dead links and needs to be updated in a few places, it's a goldmine of online theistic proofs, as well as bibliographical references for more of the same. 

Hitler's Religion

Some atheists claim Hitler was a Christian. Here's a review of a book by a historian who provides documentation to the contrary:

Also, the reviewer is an atheist, so he might have a vested interest in saying Hitler was a Christian, but he doesn't take issue with the book. 

Evidence for God

I'm going to list and summarize what I deem to be the best arguments for God, as well as the major objections (such as they are) to God. 

I. Framing the issue

It's important to have reasonable expectations regarding evidence for God. If the God of classical theism exists, then he's not directly detectable. God is not an empirical object. God is imperceptible to the five senses. The public evidence for God involves inferring God's existence from his effects and or his explanatory power. 

That's not an unusual concept. For instance, the past is not directly detectable. At present, the past is imperceptible to the five senses. In some cases we have audio and visual records of the past. Even that's one step removed from the object. In most other cases, we infer the past from trace evidence. We infer the past from the residual effect of the past on the present. Likewise, we may infer abstract objects (e.g. numbers, possible worlds) based on their indispensable explanatory value. So the kinds of evidence for God are not unique to classical theism. There are analogous topics where we resort to the same kinds of evidence.

To take a specific example, interpreting a murder scene is an exercise in historical reconstruction. A homicide detective may have to determine the cause of death. Was it natural causes? Was it accidental? Or was it murder? A clever killer will attempt to conceal the true cause. A homicide detective must be alert to subtle clues of intelligent agency. 

Of course, God is able to make his existence more explicit via an audible voice or miracles. Indeed, many people say they've witnessed that. But that's by no means a universal experience. 

The origin and authority of the NT canon

Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Investigation

Pope Bergoglio Pulls On Thread; “Seamless Garment” Falls Apart

Bergoglio-appointed Bishop
Robert McElroy of San Diego
openly permits divorced-and
civilly-remarried-Roman Catholics
to take communion
Here’s a headline that caught my eye this morning:

New Appeal to the Pope. The Catholic Doubts of
“The New York Times”

by Sandro Magister

Then the first paragraph sent off some warning signs:

In California the bishop of San Diego, a favorite of Bergoglio, admits de facto divorces and remarriages, as in any Protestant church. From the news arises the question: Can “Amoris Laetitia” be interpreted this way, too?

It turns out that “the news” in this first paragraph (Magister’s “first paragraphs” are always summaries of his articles) is the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a “Catholic Convert” along the lines of Richard John Neuhaus of First Things, who is “mostly convinced that Roman Catholicism is the expression of Christianity that has kept faith most fully with the early church and the words of Jesus of Nazareth himself”. These are folks claim to know more than popes and bishops together, as has been noted elsewhere. So he is able to compartmentalize history somewhere, and forget it and then ignore that he has forgotten it. But anyway….

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Another Way To View The Delay Of Christ's Return

"I want us to think of Christmas this year not as a great event in the flow of history, but as the arrival of the end of history which happened, as it were, but yesterday, and will be consummated very soon by the second appearing of Christ. Let me make one last effort to help you see it this way. Most of you probably know someone who is 90 years old or older—probably a woman. I want you to imagine 22 of these ladies standing here in front, side by side, facing you, each one still alert and able to remember her childhood and marriage and old age. And then instead of seeing them side by side as contemporaries, have them turn and face sideways so they form a queue, and imagine that each one lived just after the other. If the one on my far left were alive today, do you know when the one on my far right would have been born? At the same time Jesus was. Jesus was born just 22 ladies ago. That is not a very long time. Just 22 people between you and the incarnation." (John Piper)