Saturday, June 03, 2017

Westminster West and Westminster East on sola fide

ISIS condemns Griffin for cultural appropriation

"ISIS Condemns Kathy Griffin For Cultural Appropriation" (warning: language).

Ghost Wars: A Battle of Unseen Churches

Let denominations bloom

Against the Pious Cant of Appealing to Tradition

Do high churches provide doctrinal clarity?

Friday, June 02, 2017

Born from above

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3).

i) Most commentators think anothen is a typical Johannine double entendre. It could either mean "above" or "again" (or "anew"). 

ii) However, this creates a potential problem. Seems likely the Jesus and Nicodemus spoke to each other in Aramaic. Yet commentators inform us that Aramaic has no word with this double entendre. (e.g. Brown, 1:130). If the narrator is uses a play on words that only works in Greek, then that raises questions about the historicity of the dialogue. 

iii) One possible explanation is that this is a paraphrase or summary of a longer exchange. But a problem with that explanation, which may well be true in its own right, is that we have a case of dramatic irony which turns on the studied ambiguity of a particular word. Jesus intends one meaning ("from above"), which Nicodemus misunderstands, while the reader shares the understanding of Jesus. So the confusion of Nicodemus depends on double entendre. But if it was clearer in the original language, how did his confusion arise? 

iv) However, I question the scholarly assumption that the dialogue can't be reproduced in Aramaic. I'm struck by the overconfidence of some commentators.

I'm no expert, but what's our sample of 1C Aramaic? How much Aramaic survives from that period? What if 1C Aramaic did have a synonym that corresponds to the Greek word? 

Likewise, isn't most of the period Aramaic literary Aramaic? But Jesus and Nicodemus were using conversational Aramaic. The spoken word has some vocabulary that the written word does not, and vice versa. Colloquialisms that don't survive in written sources that come down to us.   

For that matter, the same word can gain or lose meanings over time. Likewise, you have dialectical variations from one region to another, or one social demographic to another. So I'm dubious about the self-assurance of some commentators on this issue. You'd think they were native 1C Aramaic speakers! 

v) In addition, if they spoke in Aramaic, that doesn't mean they used Simon pure Aramaic. It's not uncommon for one language to have loan words from another language. The more so in a polyglot culture like the Roman Empire. 

OEC chronology

1. As I've said on more than one occasion, I think it's useful to explore and develop both YEC and OEC interpretations of Genesis. Recently I discussed YEC, now I'll turn to OEC. 

To my knowledge, OEC chronology is less developed than YEC chronology, in the sense that there's less effort to place Gen 1-11 in a general timeline. Biblical chronologies usually begin with Abraham, c. 2000 BC. 

2. The major events in Gen 1-11 are:

i) Creation of the world (Gen 1:1-2:3).

ii) Creation of the Garden (Gen 2).

iii) The Fall (Gen 3)

iv) Ramp up to the Flood (Gen 4-5).

v) The Flood (Gen 6-9).

vii) Tower of Babel

Where do those happen on an OEC timeline? 

3. OEC accepts conventional astronomical and geological dates. 

Like YEC, OEC accepts fiat creation of natural kinds, including the special creation of Adam and Eve.

On OEC, as I understand it, God introduces a natural kind into the ecosystem by fiat creation. Through adaptation, the original nature kind produces a number of varieties.

Natural kinds are phased in in a staggered fashion. For instance, you have the age of the dinosaurs. That includes a corresponding climate and vegetation. 

Then you have the age of birds and mammals. That sort of thing. 

Unlike YEC, OEC doesn't have a particular stake in the order of their appearance. In principle, plants could antedate animals. Marine organisms could antedate land animals. 

BTW, this isn't just a face-saving conjecture. Intelligent design theorists contend that, as a matter of fact, the fossil record does show the abrupt appearance of organisms with well-developed, novel body plans that have no precursors. Likewise, they argue that there is no incremental pathway for some organisms to develop from precursors. 

4. So when does human history begin? I suppose the answer depends in part on our ability to date and distinguish human fossil remains from extinct apes. Darwinians use comparative anatomy. A problem with that frame of refernce is that we can't gauge the mental abilities of fossils. We need living specimens. 

One possible way to demarcate humans from extinct primates is the presence of artifacts which unmistakably indicate human intelligence, viz. artwork, musical instruments, weapons, symbolic markings, domestic construction, burial customs. 

The earliest datable artifacts would give us a rough terminus ad quo. Presumably, humans antedate the earliest artifacts we happen to discover. So the terminus ad quo would be however much earlier. But that's a rough terminus ad quo. 

5. On that chronological spread, the flood might have happened tens of thousands of years ago. 

6. Scholars sometimes attempt to correlate Gen 4:17-22 with archeological periods, viz. neolithic, copper age, bronze age, metallurgy, &c.

However, that involves some dubious assumptions:

By the same token, the Tower of Babel is typically related to Mesopotamian ziggurats. But while that's possible, we need to make allowance for similar structures to develop independently.  For instance, do Egyptians pyramids, Mesoamerican pyramids, and Mesopotamian ziggurats reflect cultural diffusion? Do they go back to a common point of origin? Or do these represent independent developments? 

Whether we should expect to find remnants of the Tower of Babel depends on the date, building materials, erosion, and recycling materials. 

7. Some young-earth creationists believe the genealogies in Gen 5 & 11 are closed, while others believe the genealogies are open. The former think the universe is about 6000 years old while the latter think the universe is about 10,000 old. 

The question is whether an OEC timeline stretches the chronology of Gen 1-11 beyond the breaking point. 

i) Except for partial preterists, young-earth creationists allow for great gaps in long-range prophecy. 

ii) If the basic purpose of the genealogies in Gen 5 & 11 is to trace a lineage from Adam to Abraham, then I don't think it much matters how far apart the links are. The point is that only Abraham has that particular set of ancestors. Doesn't matter how distant they are in relation to each other so long as they converge on Abraham. You just need a sample that singles out Abraham. 

iii) If Gen 1-11 is only concerned with narrating the big events, the most theologically significant events or turning-points leading up to Abraham, then that would be consistent with vast intervals in-between. The Bible is typically severely selective in what it covers. 

No, you're not more likely to be killed by a rightwing extremist than a jihadist

Catholic polemics and the Enlightenment

Catholic apologists sometime allege that the Protestant movement is responsible for the Enlightenment and secularization. Here's a discussion in which it's the other way around: Counter-Reformation polemics were a catalyst for the Enlightenment and secularization:

Remembering the dead

Calvinism, Thomism, and the polemics of freewill theism

The God of Reformed theism is constantly impugned as a "moral monster," "worse than Hitler," "worse than Satan," &c. It makes God the "author of sin". Turns men into "robots" and "puppets". 

What's odd about this is the incessant attack on the morality of Calvinism, while Thomism gets a pass. Thomism is a very influential theological tradition that continues to have many devoted and outspoken adherents. Yet Thomism is just as "deterministic" as Calvinism. Why do freewill theists who chronically revile Calvinism ignore Thomism? Why the one-sided treatment? 

Paris accords

Several issues on the Paris accords:

i) Trump can't "withdraw" from the Paris accords since that treaty wasn't ratified in the first place. Obama never had the legal authority to unilaterally commit the USA to a treaty which wasn't ratified. 

Democrats have developed a bad habit of circumventing the Constitutional process. When they lack popular support to get a law passed, they simply ascribe the force of law to something that lacks legal authority. In this instance, they want the benefits of a treaty without ratification.

This isn't just a technicality. Ratification by the people's elected representatives is a way of making public policy more accountable to…the public! 

So this is yet another example of liberal totalitarianism. Cultural elites believe they are wiser than the general public, and so they feel justified in subverting the democratic process to get their way. 

On the substantive issue:

ii) Global warming "science" is highly politicized. Many environmentalists regard humans as a blight on the planet. They reject human exceptionalism. They subscribe to antinatalism. 

They use global warming as pretext to leverage their green policies. They think green policies are a good idea even if global warming didn't pose a threat. So, for them, this is the noble lie. 

In addition, Democrats like intrusive, expansive gov't. They can never have too much social control. Green policies give them another excuse to socially engineer the lives of the proletariat, to achieve their utopian goals. 

iii) That isn't conspiracy mongering on my part. To the contrary, we've seen them cooking the books. For instance:

iv) Here's a more balanced take on "climate change"

Conditioned to trust the system

Now that Trump has "withdraw" from the Paris accords, we will constantly be hearing the argument from authority by global warming alarmists. How we should automatically defer to the "experts" on global warming. In that regard, here's an instructive anecdote:

Dead birds. As Ralph Nader walked under the trees, he noticed dead birds.

And not just one or two. There were more than a dozen of them spread around the ground under the trees and on the sidewalk. What was doing on?

Nader knew someone regularly sprayed pesticides to kill insects on the trees at Princeton University, where he was then a student. He had watched men in trucks with big tanks of liquid chemicals pull out huge hoses and shoot streams of spray up at the trees.

"Sometimes students were sprayed going to and from classes," Nader says. "I remember getting sprayed with the stuff myself."

But what about the birds?

"They weren't mutilated," he says. "It was pretty easy to put things together and conclude that their deaths probably were caused by the spray, which I knew contained the chemical DDT. I decided to take a couple of the birds up to the school newspaper to let them know they should look into it."

When Nader arrived, he found a reporter on the paper leaning back in his chair with his feet propped on his desk. The reporter was not interested when Nader showed him the dead birds and told and him of his discovery. In fact, he acted bothered by Nader's intrusion into his office.

"Listen," he bluntly informed Nader. "We have some of the best chemistry and biology professors in the nation here. They're smart, all right? If there was a problem with DDT, don't you think they would've figured it out?"

"Look what it's obviously done to these birds," Nader replied. "You don't think it might be harmful to people, too?"

After the reporter waved him off, Nader wrote a letter to the editor for publication in the school newspaper. But the editor refused to run the letter, even after Nader went back and argued with him.

"I learned then that you can have very smart people around, but if they are not interested in finding out what might be going on–or are simply busy with their own research or consulting–things can get missed. Important things," Nader says. "It was a perfect example of what people will take for granted if they've been conditioned to trust the system". Kevin Graham, Ralph Nader: Battling for Democracy (2000), chap. 7. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Three views of human nature

Climate alarmism

An economist's atheism

Möbius strip

For critics, mature creation, or Omphalism, is the definition of a special pleading. An ad hoc expedient. Yet whatever the motivation, the idea itself is philosophically deep and powerful. 

It goes to the mismatch between existence and imagination. World history has the elements of a story: plot, setting, characters. Conversely, real events must begin at some point and terminate at some point. 

The challenge for a storyteller is where to begin the story and end the story. Stories have no absolute starting-point or endpoint, because a story could always begin at an earlier stage or end at a later stage. Although some starting-points or endings are more natural from the standpoint of dramatic logic, there's a sense in which any place a storyteller breaks into the ongoing narrative of world history will be arbitrary. In our imagination, we could always go forward or backwards. 

Imagination is like a Möbius strip: twisting around while it continuously loops back on itself with no beginning or ending.  Or, if you prefer, the garden of forking paths.

One time I was driving on the freeway, after sunset, in homecoming traffic. Ahead of me, stretching into perspectival infinity, was a moving column of glowing red tail lights–like embers in the night. The car behind me sees the same thing. The car in front sees the same thing. In this continuous stream of cars, there is no absolute frame of reference. Every driver has a view. Every view is relative. You could break into the Möbius strip further up the street or further down the street. 

Every world history originates in the mind of God. Alternate narratives in God's infinite imagination. God makes a world by instantiating one of these stories in real time and space. 

But there's a mismatch between where a story actually takes place in time, and where it takes place in the imagination. To exist contingently, in real time and space, it must have an absolute beginning. But to exist in the mind, especially the infinite and timeless mind of God, there's no particular date when it happens, in relation to preceding or succeeding events. 

The real world is a story within a story. A sample of a perpetual narrative. 

Or consider a TV drama like The X-Files. Episodes are stories within the ongoing story of the series. 

On the one hand that has an overarching plot theme, involving the gov't conspiracy, aliens, hybrids, &c. That's an evolving storyline with a relative, fairly discernible chronology. Some episodes have to happen before other episodes in that respect.

On the other hand are stand-alone episodes that doesn't intersect with the overarching plot theme. When do these stories take place within the ongoing story? They're not datable in the sense that episodes are which develop the unfolding theme of the gov't conspiracy. That could happen pretty much anywhere, unlike other episodes that have a linear placement. 

In addition, although time's arrow flies in one direction, so that we only experience reality moving "forward"–into the future, it is psychologically possible see events run backwards, rather like watching a movie in reverse motion. Although it's rare, in some cases of life review, a person sees his life replay in reverse order. 

(By "life review," I mean viz. reports of mountain climbers who fall, but survive. Take the classic article by Albert Heim, interviewing mountain climbers who reported that experience. Heim himself had that experience, which got him interested in the topic.) 

It's like we have a camera on our heads recording everything when we're awake. 

(BTW, life review is not to be confused with heretical notion of past-life regression, a la reincarnation.)

Robotic priest

A solution to the Catholic priesthood shortage!


An entry point into the world of Marian prayers is the collection put together by Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787). Liguori, an Italian Catholic bishop who was proclaimed saint in 1839 and eventually Doctor of the Church in 1871, spent many years gathering the best material on Mary he could find from various sources that were used in the liturgical practice of the church. In his book, Liguori explains that Mary is “our life, our sweetness and our hope,” and goes on to argue that Mary’s intercession on our behalf is powerful to the point of enabling sinners to regain the state of grace. Mary can be approached confidently because she can obtain for us from her divine Son anything she asks for. Moreover, devotion to her is a most certain mark of eternal salvation. This book has been shaping Marian devotions since becoming the reference point for subsequent Mariological reflection....

The Holy Rosary is considered a perfect prayer because within it is the awesome story of salvation retold in a way that highlights Mary’s central role in redemption. With the Rosary, devotees meditate on the mysteries of joy, sorrow, and the glory of Jesus and Mary, thus internalizing the blurred analogy between Mary and the Son. Gone is the story of salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection as the Bible tells it. Instead, the Rosary is a powerful tool to shape one’s own imagination in terms of the pervasive presence and agency of Mary in whatever the Triune God is and does. The whole orientation of Roman Catholic “biblical theology” is inherently Marian, in that Mary is thought of as sharing the prerogatives and roles of the Son....

Mariology is an inescapable, all-embracing, and fundamental tenet of Roman Catholic theology and practice. Moreover, it is a deeply troubling development because it is impossible to see a linear and coherent connection between this Marian devotion and the more sobering account of what the Bible actually says about Mary.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Visitation

Da Vinci has an idyllic painting of "The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne." But in reality, Mary was probably shunned by most of her relatives. How many would believe her story? 

It's striking that the first–and only reported–relatives she visits after the Annunciation are not her parents, but her Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah. This, despite the fact that it was a long and arduous trek from Nazareth to Jerusalem or thereabouts. About 70 rocky and hilly miles on foot. What prompted her excursion?

I suppose she just couldn't contain herself. She had to share the news with someone! But with whom? Most of her relatives would naturally assume that she became pregnant through premarital sex. Who's going to believe a story about an angelic apparition, announcing a miraculous conception–when a more mundane explanation was so easily available?

Elizabeth and Zechariah were the only two relatives she could count on to believe her. After all, they had an uncannily similar uncanny experience. The angel appearing to Zechariah, to announce another miraculous conception. And that promise was manifestly in process of fulfillment. At this stage of gestation, Elizabeth was unmistakably pregnant, despite the fact that she was barren even during her child-bearing years, much less in her postmenopausal condition. 

Mary's out-of-wedlock pregnancy would leave her terribly socially isolated and ostracized. Even Joseph didn't find her explanation credible. These are the only two people who'd lend her a sympathetic ear and treat the news as cause for celebration rather than denunciation. A striking example of how, providentially, one thing leads to another. 

Reprobation and hardening

I responded to someone on Facebook on the topic of reprobation:

i) The "election" of Israel refers to God's choice of ethnic Israel for his redemptive purposes. That doesn't mean "election" in the sense of election to salvation.

Mind you, a percentage of Jews were/are elected for salvation, but that's a different principle. Use of the same term to denote different concepts fosters confusion, but that's a semantic issue.

ii) People can know the truth without believing it. Likewise, people can believe in the true, then cease to believe. That's not the same thing as losing salvation.

iii) Hardening is not synonymous with reprobation. Reprobation is a timeless decision by God. Hardening happens in time. Although God may harden the reprobate, hardening serves more than one purpose. Hardening can be temporary.

iv) Keep in mind that Paul isn't necessarily or even probably talking about the same group of people. Due to human mortality, there's a constant rate of turnover every few generations.

i) God chooses individuals or collectives for different reasons. Take God's choice of Judas compared to God's choice of Paul. 

We need to distinguish how the term "election" is used in systematic theology or Reformed dogmatics from Biblical usage. They overlap but they don't coincide.

Likewise, we need to examine different functions that are served by God choosing X. That's not something to be determined by the meaning of a particular word-group.

ii) In Calvinism, one can't come to saving faith apart from monergistic regeneration. It is, however, possible to believe theological truths apart from divine grace. You have professing Christians who believe their theological tradition simply due to social conditioning. Take the cliche of the young man raised in a fideistic, "Fundamentalist" church who loses his faith when he goes to college, and is suddenly exposed to hitherto unsuspected objections to Christianity. 

iii) Take the paradigm-case of Pharaoh. God didn't harden of Pharaoh to keep him from exercising saving faith, if that's what you mean. Rather, the purpose was to make him fanatically stubborn, so that he didn't exercise prudence. 

Can you explain why hardening the reprobate would be necessary if they are depraved? Is that not like making a dead man more dead, or the deaf more deaf?… but He has to harden those that would believe and be obedient if He didn't.

1. Hardening is used in a variety of contexts. We'd really need to examine them on a case-by-case basis. Most pertinent to our discussion are passages where hardening has, or may have, soteriological significance for groups or individuals (e.g. Mk 4:12Jn 12:39-40Rom 9:1811:7,25Eph 4:18). 

2. "Hardening" is a metaphor, so there's the question of what the metaphor stands for. In addition, it's roughly interchangeable with other related metaphors in Scripture, viz. "darkened," spiritual "blindness," "deafness," "stiff-necked," and "dead" in sin. 

In context, it can be used for resistance to spiritual truth–among other things.

3. In Reformed theology, there are basically two reasons why some people can't exercise saving faith:

i) In the case of the reprobate, they've been predestined not to exercise saving faith, and no one can act contrary to whatever has been predestined.

ii) In the case of the reprobate and/or unregenerate, they are psychologically ill-disposed to accept the Gospel. They suffer from "spiritual inability". And that, in turn, is grounded in original sin.

This isn't unique to Calvinism. Any non-Pelagian tradition says divine grace is necessary to make sinners receptive or responsive to the Gospel. The difference is that in freewill theism, every sinner has prevenient grace (or the equivalent) whereas in predestinarian traditions like Augustinianism, Thomism, Jansenism, and Calvinism, that's confined to the elect.

4. Apropos 3(i), predestination or reprobation, all by itself, doesn't cause anything. It's a divine plan. It must be implemented. And that usually take the form of ordinary providence. So there are various means by which God may cause the reprobate to be unreceptive to the Gospel. 

5. Apropos (2), these varied picturesque metaphors may well be alternate representations of the same basic principle. Bible writers tend to use them interchangeably, or bunch two or more together for emphasis. 

So I wouldn't assume that hardening is necessarily something over and above "dead in sin", but a different related metaphor. 

Likewise, these metaphors can represent various providential factors by which God executes his timeless intentions in time and space. 

6. BTW, if you think hardening is inconsistent with Reformed theology, the same could be said for freewill theism. Why would God block people from exercising saving faith in Christ when, according to freewill theism, God wants everybody to be saved and has made universal provision for their salvation? 

7. In the Gospels, resistance to Christ takes more than one form. You have the Sabbath controversies. However, that falls outside the purview of spiritual inability. That's about how to interpret and apply the Mosaic law–as well as the finality (or not) of the Mosaic law.

In addition, there's resistance in the face of the miracles and exorcisms of Christ. Although these are signs of his divine mission, a hostile reaction to miraculous signs isn't necessarily the same thing as spiritual inability. For instance, modern-day cessationists are often implacably antagonistic to evidence for contemporary charismatic miracles. That doesn't mean they're unregenerate or reprobate. 

8. Finally, the tension you perceive in Reformed theology has precedent in Scripture. On the one hand, John's Gospel says no one can have saving faith in Christ apart from divine enablement (e.g. Jn 6:44,65). On the other hand, the same Gospel describes divine hardening (Jn 12:39-40).

Now, by your logic, that's superfluous. If grace is necessary for sinners to believe, all God needs to do to ensure that some people won't believe is to withhold grace. So why harden them in addition to that underlying condition? Just leave them in their default condition.

However, these may simply be different ways of expressing the same idea. One representation is more passive (i.e. their default condition, absent divine intervention) while the other is more active ("hardening").

But that doesn't necessary mean these reflect different types of divine action. Rather, these may well be varied ways of depicting the same dynamic. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Artificially intelligent Minecraft character denies existence of game designer

Divine dotage

 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen 9:11-17). 

What's striking about this passage is how the rainbow functions as a mnemonic cue to remind God of his covenant with Noah. Now, classical theists automatically interpret that as an anthropomorphism. However, open theists don't have that luxury. They take a dim view of anthropomorphic interpretations. And it's hard to see how they could consistently construe this passage as anthropomorphic, in contrast to their prooftexts for open theism. 

But consider the implications of that. The open theist God is so forgetful that he needs periodic rainbows to jog his faulty recollection that he made a covenant with Noah. And that's all that stands between us and another cataclysmic flood that might wipe out the entire human race.

If God needs the rainbow to prompt his recollection of the Noahic covenant, what about new covenant? Will we have to continue practicing baptism and the eucharist in the world to come so that God doesn't forget his new covenantal promises?

Or take this passage:

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins (Isa 43:25).

Once again, classical theists interpret the second clause anthropomorphically, but open theist hermeneutics disavows that move. Consider how much human history is inwoven with sin. How many events are either sins or caused by sins. Consider how much of the past God would have to forget to literally forget our sins. Like someone with senile dementia whose memory is honeycombed with random gaps. 

The Good Shepherd knows his sheep by name. But the open theist God is so forgetful that his failing memory will erase your name from the Book of Life. In open theism, heaven is not merely God's abode, but God's nursing home.

Were there rainbows before the flood?

In his "commentary" on Gen 1-11, Jonathan Sarfati has an interesting take on the rainbow. On p529, one objection he raises to the local flood interpretation is that:

God would have repeatedly broken his promise (Gen 9:11-16) never to send such a flood again, because there have been many local floods since them. The Genesis Account.

That's not unusual. That's a standard young-earth creationist argument. 

I'd add that, as it stands, it's an inadequate objection. God's promise is more specific: "never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" (v11).

That's consistent with less destructive local floods. 

But that's not my main point. What's interesting is that on pp612-14, Sarfati contends, contrary to some young-earth creationists, that there were probably rainbows before the flood. He bases that on the science of rainbows (dispersion), the continuity of natural laws before and after the flood, as well as examples of God designating symbolic significance or new significance to preexisting phenomena (e.g. bread and wine).

Like Sarfati, Andrew Snelling is noncommittal on whether rainbows antedated the flood (Earth's Catastrophic History, 1:283). Although he's less detailed. 

That stands in contrast to old-guard creationists like Whitcomb, Morris, and Dillow, who argue that the rainbow is a novel postdiluvial phenomenon. 

On the face of it, Sarfati's argument is rather odd because a creationist could agree with him on the science of rainbows and continuity of natural laws, but still deny prediluvial rainbows on the grounds that there was no precipitation before the flood. Dispersion and the laws of nature need something to work with to produce rainbows. 

I'd add that all by itself, a rainbow wouldn't signify anything regarding God's providential promise. You have to know the story of the flood to to appreciate the contextual significance of the rainbow. Without that background information, it's just a rainbow rather than a divine sign. When a Christian sees a rainbow, that reminds him of God's covenant with Noah. Considered in isolation, a rainbow says nothing about the extent of Noah's flood or future flooding. 

Presuppositionalism and metaphor

I sometimes run across Internet presuppositionalists who contend that we can't justify our ultimate epistemological commitments. Instead, we simply posit the "axiomatic" status of Christianity. 

But if it can't be justified, then it's just an arbitrary stipulation, and anyone can resort to the same tactic (e.g. atheists, Muslims, Mormons). 

I think presuppositionalists of this stripe are trapped by an architectural metaphor, where standards and authority are hierarchical–higher and lower. Depending on which feature of the metaphor to press, there's a topmost standard or a bottommost explanation. 

There's nothing wrong with using metaphors so long as we recognize that these are merely metaphors, with the limitations thereof, and not a literal description of how authority is logically structured. 

An epistemic "foundation" or "higher" standard doesn't imply that you can't justify your ultimate epistemological commitments. To take a comparison, suppose a friend tells me he suffers from chronic back pain. I tell him that my wife used to suffer from chronic back pain until she saw an osteopath who was able to relieve her back pain. Likewise, I suffered from chronic back pain until I saw the same osteopath, who was able to relieve my back pain. 

The fact that I'm recommending this physician doesn't imply that I'm assuming the position of a superior medical authority or appealing to a higher standard, over and above the osteopath. Rather, I'm simply presenting evidence from experience that he seems to be good at his job.

Palestinian Jews and Diaspora Jews

Bart Erhman's basic objection to the traditional authorship of Matthew is the improbability that a Palestinian Jew could write literary Greek. This raises several issues:

i) For many Jews, Greek was their native tongue. Indeed, that was so widespread that it necessitated Greek translations of the OT like the LXX. 

ii) "Palestinian Jew" is ambiguous. The fact that Matthew was living in Palestine at the time Jesus summoned him doesn't imply that Matthew was a native of Palestine. As the religious capital of Judaism, Jerusalem was a magnet for Diaspora Jews. There's no presumption that Matthew was born and raised in Palestine just because he happened to be there as an adult when Jesus summoned him. 

A textbook example is St. Paul, a bilingual Diaspora Jew who took up residence in Jerusalem–as did his sister (Acts 23:16). Barnabas is another example of a Diaspora Jew living in Palestine (Acts 4:36). 

iii) Likewise, Matthew's job as a minor gov't employee doesn't tell us much about his background, aside from the fact that he needed to be bilingual to communicate with Greek-speaking Roman officials (his employers) and Aramaic-speaking Jews.

Paul was a tent-maker. That gives you absolutely no indication regarding Paul's social class or education. 

Unless you were an aristocrat, or you were born rich, you had to take what you could get to support yourself. 

iv) There are different levels of proficiency in a language. An ability to understand the spoken word. An ability to speak it. Read it. And/or write it.

Suppose Matthew lacked the educational background to compose Greek. He could still dictate to a scribe.

Paul used scribes even though he had the educational background to do his own writing if he wanted to. The fact, moreover, that both Peter (1 Pet 5:12) and Paul used scribes tells you something about the availability of Christian scribes to assist early church leaders. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Why I left Islam

Richard Bauckham Is Wrong About Matthew's Authorship

He's mostly right about gospel authorship issues. He thinks Matthew may have had some sort of role in the origins of the gospel attributed to him, accepts the traditional authorship attributions of Mark and Luke, and attributes the fourth gospel to a close disciple of Jesus named John. But he doesn't think Matthew is responsible for the first gospel as we have it today, and he thinks the John who wrote the fourth gospel wasn't the son of Zebedee. Now that the second edition of Bauckham's Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2017) is out, I want to revisit the issue of gospel authorship with a focus on his material on the subject in that book. This post will mostly be about the authorship of the first gospel. A later post, which I'll link here when it becomes available, will respond to Bauckham's view of the authorship of the fourth gospel.

You can search the archives for posts we've written over the years that cite some of Bauckham's comments on Mark and Luke. See, for example, here, here, and here.

Regarding Matthew, Bauckham argues (108-12) that it's highly unlikely that a first-century Jew living in Israel would have had two Semitic personal names as common as Matthew and Levi. It's very unlikely, then, that Matthew is the Levi referred to in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27. And if Levi were another name for one of the Twelve, Mark surely would have explained that in his list of the Twelve, where so many other details are included (108). Since the author of the gospel of Matthew uses a passage about another man to tell his readers about Matthew's calling (Matthew 9:9), the author must have been somebody other than Matthew. "Matthew himself could have described his own call without having to take over the way Mark described Levi's call." (112) Bauckham also thinks the replacement of "his house" (Mark 2:15) with "the house" (Matthew 9:10) suggests that the author of the gospel of Matthew was only applying Mark 2:14 to the apostle Matthew and didn't think the rest of the passage was applicable (111).

Godless grief

"In a largely godless world it's hard to know what to say when tragedy strikes"

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Faith is believing what you know ain't so"

There are theists who define faith as "pretending to know things you don't know" and "belief without evidence". They contend that this is how Christians understand faith. Sometimes they appeal to dictionaries. Sometimes they appeal to what lay Christians tell them.

1. Randomly polling lay Christians on the definition of faith proves nothing. That's the wrong sample-group. When defining Christian terms and categories, it's necessary to consult representatives with the relevant qualifications (e.g. theologians, Christian philosophers). 

2. Wikipedia is a hack source.

3. Dictionaries aren't defining Christian faith, but just a generic notion of faith. So that's irrelevant and misleading. The real question at issue isn't the meaning of "faith," simpliciter, but Christian faith in particular. 

4. Apropos (3), atheists commit an amateurish semantic fallacy by failing to distinguish between the meaning of words and the meaning of concepts. The question at issue is what the idea of faith means in Christian theology, not the dictionary definition of a word. Concepts are more complex than the meaning of individual words. 

5. I don't deny that you can quote some Christian philosophers, apologists, and theologians who make fideistic statements. The fact is that there's no single concept of faith in Christian tradition. There's no one model of the relationship between faith and reason in Christian tradition. For instance, Paul Helm delineates three different concepts of faith:

One prominent view of faith is that it is an evidential gap-bridger or makeweight. On this account, there is some evidence for the truth of what is believed…so faith makes up for any evidential deficiency. 

second view of faith is that the certainty of faith is proportional to the evidence for the belief which is a component part of faith. 

A third conception of faith…as it is sometimes expressed, faith is inherently and necessarily risky. Paul Helm, Faith & Understanding (Eerdmans, 1997), 12-14.

In addition,

There is, to begin with, the distinction between evidence-sensitive and evidence-insensitive views of faith. In much of the mainstream tradition we are concerned with, personal faith involves belief, and for faith to be reasonable it must be well-grounded. So faith is sensitive to evidence, and to the status of that evidence. If evidence is called into question, then faith will, other things being equal, be weakened, unless a rebuttal can be found. P. Helm, ed. Faith & Reason (Oxford, 1999), 8.

In a recent debate, Timothy McGrew defined faith as "venturing on something you care about where the outcome is outside you're direct control".

Pope Wrecking Ball: Will He Win?

Pope Wrecking Ball
Pope Wrecking-Ball
Roman Catholicism is nothing if not a very self-serving system, designed to perpetuate itself. The pope names the Cardinals, the Cardinals are appointed from among the bishops, the popes name the bishops.

Now Rome has accidentally elected a very self-serving pope who is not “on the farm” with respect to “the mind of the Church”. He wants to change things. Relax some stringent rules. Loosen up the reins. Let some of the wanderers, frankly, to wander.

A couple of days ago, I posted an article that discussed “the papal horse race” – noting that Pope Bergoglio was on a mission to assure that his “successor” would be a like-minded one. Such a development would, as the traditionalist website Rorate Caeli has feared, take centuries to undo.

But being among “the faithful” who believe that the Holy Spirit will infallibly guide the Roman Catholic Church into all truth (and never permit it to “teach” a heretical dogma – by the setup of their system they get to say after the fact what is and what isn’t “heretical dogma”) – it is in that spirit, with that understanding, that Sandro Magister has published this article, “A Very Popular Pope, But Not Among the Bishops”.

That is, Bergoglio is in a race against time vis-à-vis the Cardinals, but he can’t make as big a dent in the bishops as he’d like. Or so it seems. Here is the article without further comment: