Saturday, June 17, 2017

I and the Father are one

Some guy named Roman A. Montero–evidently a unitarian–attempted to respond on Tuggy's behalf to a post of mine:

The context is whether or not Jesus is the Christ, as it explicitly says in verse 24. 

The context is the true identity of Jesus. Moreover, messiahship is an umbrella category and something of a cipher. Nothing that precludes a divine messiah

John 10:30 is NOT a reference to the Shema the only connection is the world “one” and John doesn’t even use the same Greek word for one as the LXX does in Deuteronomy 6:4 (John uses ν and Deuteronomy uses ες, when the NT quotes the Shema it uses ες, the original word for one used in the Greek Shema). So no, it wouldn’t trigger that association.

i) That's confused. To begin with, unless Montero imagines that the exchange originally took place in Greek, which is highly unlikely, Christ's opponents didn't hear him use ν rather than ες. Presumably, the exchange originally took place in Aramaic. 

ii) Since there's a shift from a singular subject in Deut 6:4 to a plural subject in Jn 10:30, it's logical for the narrator to shift from masculine to neuter in translating the statement into Greek.  

No he doesn’t use “Son of God” as a synonym for “God”, he uses it to mean “son of God”. “Son of God” is never used in any Jewish literature to refer to YHWH. It is used to refer to Kings and to lesser Deities (later understood as angels). So their charge was either completely confused (which would make sense for Johns portrayal of the Jewish enemies of Jesus, they were often confused) or they thought calling ones self a “son of God” in the sense of a lesser deity was blasphemy. 

Compare these two statements:

The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 

do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

i) Notice that in v36, Jesus attributes to them the allegation that they accused him of blasphemy for calling himself the "Son of God", when, in v33, they actually accused him of making himself "God". So Jesus himself is using "God" and "Son of God" as interchangeable terms. They allege that he makes himself "God". Jesus treats their allegation was equivalent to "Son of God". Unless Montero thinks that Jesus is misrepresenting the charge of his opponents, he must concede that in this passage, Jesus uses "God" and "Son of God" as synonymous designations. 

ii) In the OT, there's a king/prince motif that parallels a father/son motif, where the prince is the royal heir (e.g. Pss 2; 72; 89; 110; 132; Isa 9; Dan 7). The concepts of fatherhood and sonship are used in the context of royal succession. It's easy to see how that implies a divine son of a divine father. Even if that's merely latent in the OT (which is debatable), it's patent in the NT. 

We can’t just assume they mean that Jesus is calling himself YHWH.

Since Montero himself says θες can be employed in OT usage to denote figures that are not truly define, how can they accuse him of blasphemy unless they understand him to be making divine claims in the proper sense of Yahweh? 

Yeah, they use “God” as father, because the Father is God. John 1:1 is almost certainly not calling God YHWH, the same with 20:28 and 1 John 5:20, but those are different issues.

i) The Father is deity. So is the Son.

ii) It's unclear what Montero is attempting to say in reference to Jn 1:1. In the second clause ("and the Word was with God"), θες functions as a proper noun to designate the Father, whereas, in the third clause ("and the Word was God"), θες functions as an abstract noun to denote the deity of the Word. An interpretive paraphrase would read:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the Father, and the Word was deity."

We have the same interplay in Jn 1:18. The prologue clues the reader into the true identity of Jesus. That gives the reader an advantage over various characters in the succeeding narratives. The reader already know what others in the story must discover. 
iii) In addition, Jn 1:1-5 is casting the Word/Son in the role of the Genesis Creator. The primordial giver of life and light. So that classifies the Word/Son as Yahweh. 

And that recurs in Jn 10:28, where Jesus claims the stupendous prerogative to confer eternal life. 

Saying Christ is Deity is not the same as saying he is YHWH. 

Depending on the context, it most certainly is the same thing (see above).

His entire point is that it IS used for lesser Deities and thus it is NOT blasphemy. Meaning he is in that category. The way Jesus responded would make NO sense if he was YHWH in the flesh.

i) In makes perfect sense in an argument from the lesser to the greater (a minore ad maius), which is a common rabbinical type of argument. 

ii) It makes no sense that Jesus would include himself in the category of heathen deities–or angels, for that matter. 

Actually there is NO precedent for “Son of God” to mean YHWH, it can mean a lesser deity or a king (both of which can also be, in a lesser sense, called god), but never YHWH. What you need for your theology is not that Son of God can mean divinity in some broad sense, but that it can mean YHWH, it cannot.

There's OT precedent where father/son correspond to king/prince in settings where the son/prince is rightful heir to Yahweh's kingdom. 

Ironically you charge Dale with equivocation, but you’re entire argument argues by equivocating between θες as a term for lower Deities lower case “gods” and θες as used for “yhwh”, you can’t bridge that gap without warrant. 

My "entire argument" was never predicated on the use of θες in Jn 10.  Indeed, my primary argument concerned the evocation of the Shema in Jn 10:30. That verse doesn't use θες. Instead, it does something even more powerful. 

The same goes for the equivocation apologists constantly use between κριος as a title for a “lord” and κριος as a replacement for the divine name, you can jump from one to the other without making a case for it. Also make sure you check the Greek before you say one verse is a reference to another.

The argument is not that κριος in general is a Greek synonym for "Yahweh", but in NT passages that quote or allude to Yahweh, then reapply distinguishing prerogatives of Yahweh to Christ. 

The exegesis is simple, Jesus is NOT blaspheming because it’s not blasphemy for beings that are below YHWH to be called “gods” much less “God’s Son”, and if they focused on his works they would know that he actually was the Christ and was sent from God and one with him, in the same way the apostles would be one with both him and God (John 17). It’s quite straight forward. 

Jn 17 compares the unity of the apostles to the unity of the Father and Son. But these represent separate groups. The apostles constitute one group while the Father and Son constitute a different group.

Unless you have an axe to grind.

As if unitarians have no axe to grind! 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cool of the day?

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Gen 3:8, ESV).

To my knowledge, Meredith Kline was the first scholar to challenge the traditional rendering of Gen 3:8. Rather than a refreshing afternoon breeze, he thought it denoted a storm theophany. Jeffrey Niehaus, who developed that interpretation, renders the verse: “Then the man and his wife heard the thunder of Yahweh God as he was going back and forth in the garden in the wind of the storm and they hid from Yahweh God among the trees of the garden”.

And that's been defended by John Sailhamer and Douglas Stuart. John Walton is sympathetic, but noncommittal. John Collins is critical, but that's because he's invested in the theory that Gen 2:5 reflects the dry season. 

Linguistically, there's not much to go on one way or the other. However, a storm theophany would certainly fit the judicial context. 

If, moreover, Adam and Eve had never experienced rain or thunderstorms (Gen 2:5), then a storm theophany would be all the more terrifying. 

It would be similar to the inaugural theophany that Ezekiel witnessed (Ezk 1). From afar, that appeared to be an electrical storm, but as it drew near, it was clearly far more than that. Ps 18 provides a poetic description. 


A friend asked me if I've done much study in cryptozoology or Fortean topics. If so, were there any cryptids or anomalous phenomena I found particularly compelling? 

We need to draw an initial distinction. Some cryptids, if they exist, are biological organisms. Therefore, assessing reported sightings depends in part on what's naturally possible or probable. 

Conversely, some cryptids, if they exist, are numinous beings. So naturalistic criteria don't apply. 


That may have its basis in the giant squid

Giant anacondas

It's possible that there are larger anacondas in the wild than we've discovered. However, beyond a certain length, an anaconda would have the girth of a subway train. How realistic is that? 

Loch Ness monster

Several issues:

i) I guess the theory is that after the ice age receded, it left behind a geographically isolated species. Old glacial fiords. I don't think there's anything antecedently improbable about that.

ii) One issue is how many breeding pairs would need to reside in Loch Ness to maintain a replacement rate. You'd expect more sightings if there are more specimens.

iii) I believe Loch Ness has been probed by sonar beams, but nothing turned up.

iv) To me, the famous grainy 1934 photograph looks like a bathtub toy for kids (e.g. rubber ducky). And the picture has no frame of comparison to judge the scale of the object. 

I'm guessing the Loch Ness monster is a legend, perhaps to promote tourism. 


i) If it exists, what is it? Is it an Old World ape that migrated to the New World across the  Bering Land Bridge during the ice age? Or is it supposed to be humanoid (e.g. Neanderthal)?

ii) If it has humanoid intelligence, I'd expect it to produce corresponding material culture (e.g. Neolithic). That would be easy to detect. 

iii) To my eyes, the famous  Patterson–Gimlin film looks like a man in a monkey suit. Like those low-budget sci-fi flicks from the 50s. 

iv) I've read about Indian tales of Bigfoot. But in Indian tales, Bigfoot is a numinous being. So that either rules out naturalistic explanations or else Indian tales reflect legendary embellishment.

v) A difficulty with Indian stories is establishing their indigenous pedigree. Since most tribes were oral cultures, it's hard to say how old the stories are. 

And that raises the question of whether Indian stories have evolved due to contact with the white man. Could these be hybrid stories that reflect cross-pollination between Indian folklore and European folklore? 

vi) I'd add that (iv-v) also apply to wendigo. 

vii) I don't have an informed opinion about the Yeti. Perhaps such an animal could exist in the remote religions of the Hindu-Kush without scientific confirmation. Or maybe it's a tall tale for gullible tourists. 


From what I've read, this was first reported in 1995. That would be pretty inexplicable on either naturalistic or supernatural grounds. 


I actually read a reported example of that recently Forget where.

In general, I believe that Old-Hag syndrome probably has an infernal source. I believe that individuals and cultures that practice witchcraft and necromancy can expect to encounter evils spirits, whether demonic or vengeful apparitions of the damned.

In her book, The Hands Feel It, academic anthropologist Edith Turner talks about specters and other spooky phenomena reported by locals at an Eskimo fishing village where she lived for a year. The village was located on old Indian burial grounds. Some of the graves were Eskimo witchdoctors.

Some of the villagers were Christian while others continued to practice indigenous witchcraft. Under the circumstances, I find it plausible that spooky things happened. 

Tales from the crypt

Stranger Things? Does God Still Speak?

One day, recently, as I was just going about my weekly Saturday routines—mostly working in the yard—suddenly and “out of the blue” a face from the distant past came to my mind. I immediately remembered his first name but struggled to think of his last name. His first name was “Dean” and I knew him very well for about three years—at that same church where I served as assistant pastor many, many years ago. Dean and I saw each other two or three times weekly—at church on Sundays, at men’s breakfast prayer meeting midweek, and at Bible study on Wednesday evenings. He was somewhat older than I, but we were in Christian fellowship with each other—together with a group of men. We attended retreats together and he served as counselor at the summer Bible camp I organized and led each summer. All that is to say that for about three years we knew each other well. Then, when I moved far away, we lost touch. I had not thought of him in years.
Soon after his face came to my mind and I remembered his first name I remembered his last name. For the next three days, after his face and name came imposingly and seemingly arbitrarily to my mind, I thought of him along these lines: “I need to look him up and see if I can find his address or phone number and contact him.” I had no idea why. It didn’t even occur to me that God had anything to do with it. If I analyzed it at all I simply assumed it was a “brain hiccup.”
After three days during which I could not stop thinking about Dean I finally got around to looking him up using the world wide web. I entered his name and the city where we both lived in a search engine. (I assumed he still lived there.) What I found was his obituary. He died three days before—on the day his face and name suddenly came to my mind, in that city where we knew each other many years ago.

SBC on the alt-right

Recently, the SBC passed this controversial resolution:

WHEREAS, Racism and white supremacy are, sadly, not extinct but present all over the world in various white supremacist movements, sometimes known as “white nationalism” or “alt-right”; now, therefore, be it RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil; and be it further RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it further RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

It raises a host of issues:

1. It's fine to denounce racism. That said, how often must the living make ritual atonement for the misdeeds of the dead?

2. What's the objective of these denunciations?

i) Is it to disassociate oneself from an invidious social movement? Certainly there's a place for that. "They don't represent me!" 

ii) Is it to induce a cheap sense of moral satisfaction?

iii) Is it to persuade? I'd like to focus on (iii). If the objective is to convince people to leave the alt-right, merely denouncing the alt-right is ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. That plays into the alt-right narrative of the arrogant, out-of-touch "establishment". 

3. There's a risk of bringing Christianity into disrepute. I don't mean denominations ought to avoid taking public positions on social issues. I mean that given high rates of biblical illiteracy, it's not enough to use Christian buzzwords. You must make far more effort to explain and justify your Christian frame of reference. 

4. The resolution will inevitably be read against the backdrop of the last presidential campaign. Given that context, some people will feel, not without reason, that this is a veiled attack on Trump voters. Many conservatives felt they were boxed into a dilemma. The cultural elite is hostile to whites, men, Christians, and heterosexuals. Where are conservative and/or libertarian voters supposed to turn? It came down to choosing which candidate would do the least damage. One-sided resolutions like this fail to acknowledge and respect their predicament. 

5. By the same token, the obsession with white racism is arbitrarily selective. What about the racism of Black Lives Matter or La Raza? What about the way the Obama administration, and his attorneys general (Holder, Lynch) discriminated against whites? What about colleges that discriminate against white and Asian applicants? 

6. The phrase  "unintentional racism" has the Freudian connotation that whites are presumptively racist, and they can never do enough to overcome the odious presumption.

7. Voters have legitimate grievances about:

• judicial tyranny 

• infringements on the Bill of Rights

• affirmative action

• illegal immigration

• Muslim immigration

• voter fraud

• the regulatory state

When voters with legitimate grievances are demonized, when they are denied a reputable outlet to express their grievances and seek redress, that prompts many of them to take refuge in disreputable outlets. Resolutions like this are apt to be self-fulfilling oracles of doom. They contribute to the very phenomenon they denounce. 

8. Admittedly, some members of the alt-right are hateful and spiteful. They are not amendable to rational or ethical appeals. 

9. Now I'd like to tackle a couple of hot-button issues to illustrate my contentions:

i) Historically, whites are the majority race in the Republic. Of course, Indians were originally the majority race. I'm referring to the point at which they were overtaken by whites. I don't know when the tipping point occurred. And that's irrelevant to my analysis.

There are advantages to being the majority race. Political power. Power in numbers. I don't mean the power to push others around, although it can be abused in that way, but the power to protect yourself and your dependents from being pushed around by an oligarchy. To be a member of the majority race confers a degree of default power. It's harder to be oppressed by the cultural elite. You have the power of the ballot box.

But as the Caucasian share of the electorate shrinks, that leads to loss of political clout and eventually a shift in the balance of power. That will make whites vulnerable in a way they haven't traditionally experienced. I think it's understandable that some white Americans are apprehensive about that prospect.

To say it's understandable doesn't mean it's justifiable. But it's an issue that I think we need bring out into the open and discuss. 

ii) From a theological perspective, I'd say that's a price you pay to be a Christian. It would be unjust to exclude other races and ethnicities just because they pose a threat to your power-base. No particular race or ethnicity has a natural claim on this piece of real estate. Christians must be prepared to relinquish certain perks and sacrifice their self-interest for the good of others. 

iii) In addition, that's an incentive to evangelize immigrants, so that we share Christian social values in common. Of course, that's not the primary reason to evangelize the lots, but that's a significant fringe benefit.

iv) Christians of all races and ethnicities are brothers and sisters. That's a deeper, more important bond than race. 

10. Although I haven't researched the issue, I'm guessing that some working-class white resent successful Asians in America. They may feel that Asians are squeezing out white job applicants and college applicants. They may feel its unfair that the natives must compete with immigrants. The natives should get first pick. Assuming that reflects a widespread sentiment in that demographic group, how should Christians respond?

i) If anything, Asians are underrepresented in college.

ii) Many Asians in American aren't immigrants. They've been here for generations.

iii) America is the land of immigrants. We've always had that competitive dynamic. 

iv) In the Revolutionary War, we overthrew the monarchy and aristocracy. We have a competitive system based on achieved status rather than ascribed status. A meritocracy. That favors risk over security. If you can rise higher, you can fall farther. That's the tradeoff. 

In some ways that may be, or seem to be, harsher. A sink-or-swim system. 

The alternative is socialism. Socialism is deceptively appealing. One problem with socialism is that it punishes the creation of wealth. The result is to make society poorer. The end-result is to reduce the quality of goods and services. The security is illusory. The safety net is shredded because there's not enough wealth to sustain quality or access. Take public pension systems that go bankrupt.  

Not only does a free market system create wealth, thereby producing jobs as well as raising the quality of goods and services, but because there's more disposable income, people can be more generous in charitable donations. You still have a safety net. 

And by growing the economy, tycoons aren't enriching themselves at the expense of others, but raising the standard of living generally. 

Another problem with socialism is the loss of individual liberty. Your choices in life are dictated by unaccountable bureaucrats. 

Knowledge and ignorance of God

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom 1:19-21).

1. I'm going to use this passage as a launchpad to discuss a number of related issues. Some presuppositionalists appeal to Rom 1 to justify the claim that apologetics is superfluous. You don't need to prove God's existence, because sinners already know that he exists. There are, however, several problems with that appeal. 

2. According to traditional Reformed theology, 

The knowledge of God is innate or naturally implanted in the human mind…It is best construed as an innate disposition, present from birth, to form belief in God in a spontaneous manner upon mental maturation and experience of the world. It is contrasted with knowledge acquired by testimony or teaching, lengthy investigation, or reflective thinking and logical analysis. Belief in God, then, originates from the natural constitution of the human person as a rational moral agent. Michael Sudduth, The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology (Routledge, 2009), 57. 

But for several reasons, that doesn't ipso facto moot the need for apologetics:

3. Counterbalancing the aforesaid statement, Reformed theology also accentuates the noetic effects of sin. Does Rom 1 indicate that the knowledge of God is an occurrent belief? Or has "suppressing the truth," becoming "futile" and "darkened" in reason, succeeded in either eradicating the natural knowledge of God or at least rendering that inaccessible? Is there a residual subconscious knowledge of God? I think Rom 1 lacks the specificity to answer that question. 

It's possible that the reprobate or unregenerate are ignorant of God's existence. That, however, wouldn't be innocent ignorance but culpable ignorance. Assuming they're ignorant of God's existence, that's the result of hardening themselves to God. 

In that event, apologetics is useful in compensating for the loss of natural knowledge of God. In addition, even if they are in a state of denial, apologetics is a pressure point which makes it harder for them to evade their subliminally repressed knowledge of God. 

4. In addition, Christian theism is much more specific than Rom 1:20. So even if the reprobate or unregenerate retain natural knowledge of God's "eternal power" and "divine nature", that falls well short of Christian theism, which depends on historical knowledge of Bible history, the life of Christ, and theological interpretation, provided by the Bible. So it may still be necessary to provide arguments for Scripture. 

5. For that matter, much of the NT is devoted to defending the Gospel by refuting heresy and false teachers. But that's a department of apologetics. 

6. Let's consider an illustration to model the traditional Reformed view. Suppose I have a clock by my bed. An analogue clock with an illuminated dial. 

Let's say I wake up at night and glance at the clock. It displays 3AM. 

Looking at the readout causes me to believe that it's 3AM. I don't consciously infer that it's 3AM. My belief that it's 3AM is automatically formed by seeing the readout. 

That's an example of tacit knowledge, in the sense that I have evidence for what I believe, but my belief is a spontaneous, prereflective belief. Although I have evidence for my belief that it's 3AM, I don't have to provide evidence to have that belief. I simply find myself in that doxastic state. When exposed to certain kinds of evidence, we are psychologically designed to respond to that evidence by forming a corresponding belief. The evidence, in conjunction with our psychological makeup, automatically produces a corresponding belief. By analogy, Christians can be justified in their faith even if they can't provide a formal justification. 

7. The fact that my belief is not the result of reflection or logical analysis doesn't mean I can't defend my belief, if challenged. I can go back a step and say I believe the readout is true because clocks are designed to keep track of time. Moreover, I set the clock by consulting an international standardized timekeeper via the Internet. So that's analogous to apologetics.

8. Of course, that's not a failsafe. What if there was a power outage while I was asleep? Power was restored an hour later. So the readout is wrong. 

If, moreover, I have other electric clocks in the house, they will be synchronized, because they share a common power source, so I can't recognize and correct my error by looking at another clock.

In response to that challenge, I could go back another step. There are various ways to recognize and correct for error in that eventuality. It might cause me to be late for my appointment. I'd find out the hard way. Or I might check my wristwatch. Because it's battery operated, it has a separate power supply, so that provides an independent standard of comparison. Same thing with my computer clock. 

And the same principle holds true for apologetics. In philosophy, to prove one thing, you take another things for granted. But if challenged, you can take a step back to defend your operating assumptions. 

9. Another objection is that I might misread the clock or misremember the readout. So even if the clock is accurate, I could still be mistaken. 

That's true, but as with (8), I have multiple opportunities to correct my mistake. Is it plausible that I will consistently misread or misremember every clock? My belief isn't confined to a single impression or a single source of evidence. I have redundant evidence. Even if a particular instance could be mistaken or misleading, it's hardly plausible to suppose that every instance is mistaken or misleading. 

10. This goes to a larger issue. Some people think that unless you can rule out the hypothetical possibility of error, that you really don't know what you believe. But that's a dubious principle. If the clock is accurate, and my memory is accurate, then I'm not mistaken. How does that not count as knowledge? If, in any particular case, my source of information is reliable, and my interpretation is correct, how does the fact that I'm mistaken in other cases nullify cases in which I'm not mistaken? 

This goes to a failure to distinguish between first-order knowledge (knowing X) and second-order knowledge (knowing how you know X). A distinction between knowledge and proof. But even if I can't eliminate the hypothetical possibility of error, how does that imply that I don't know something in all the cases where I'm not in error? In cases where I have good reason for what I believe?

11. Suppose a skeptic said, how do you know someone didn't sneak into your bedroom while you were asleep and reset your wristwatch? The same person monkeyed with your fuse box to cause a temporary power outage. Now your electric clock and wristwatch are synchronized so that both give the wrong time!

Suppose I can't disprove that baroque hypothetical. So what? Why should I fret over skeptical thought-experiments that are beyond my control? What's the point of positing a hypothetical dilemma in which I can't distinguish truth from error? What purpose does it serve to show me that I can't do anything about it? My predicament would be exactly the same if you didn't point that out to me.

If atheism is true, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose by believing it. If Christianity is true, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by believing it. So these are not symmetrical options. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Induction and universal generalizations

According to Gordon Clark, induction is a fallacy. To take a stock example, if I see a 1000 black crows, that fails to justify the inference that all crows are black, because the 1001st crow might be white.

But there are some problems with that objection:

i) To begin with, is a white crow a crow, or is it a related species? Two different, closely related species. 

ii) Let's take a different comparison. Suppose I've only seen white rabbits. But that's because I've only seen rabbits in winter. If I saw rabbits in summer, I'd see brown rabbits.

So it would be invalid to infer that all rabbits are white. That's an unrepresentative sample, based on seasonal variations.

Yet once we take seasonal variations into account, then the reason to believe rabbits must either be white or brown is deeper than observing a sample of rabbits. Rather, that involves the principle of camouflage. 

In that event, I wouldn't believe that rabbits are white in winter just because every rabbit I've seen in winter is white. Rather, their pigmentation would be grounded in a principle that's not dependent on counting instances of rabbits.

iii) Take another example: Suppose a 15C American Indian has noticed that solar eclipses only happen at a new moon whereas lunar eclipses only happen at a full moon. What is more, everyone in his tribe has made the same observation. His parents and grandparents have made the same observation. And according to Indian lore, handed down from one generation to the next, that's always been the case. Of course, that, in itself, is insufficient to justify a universal generalization. 

Suppose, by contrast, you ask an astronomer. His reason wouldn't be based on repeated observations. Rather, he'd provide an underlying explanation for that observation, based on the relative position of the sun, moon, and earth during solar and lunar eclipses. 

A similar example would be the observation that the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. If all you have to go by is observation, then, in principle, the sun could reverse course. But an astronomer has a differ explanation, based on the earth's counterclockwise rotation. 

Scientists observe regularities in nature. But that's just a starting-point. Their belief in the "uniformity of nature" isn't merely based on sampling natural phenomena. Rather, they attempt to go behind the phenomena to discover a mechanism that causes that effect. Therefore, it's simplistic to say inductive logic is fallacious, as if "natural laws" are merely based on repeated observations. 

iv) In addition, exceptions wouldn't invalidate the principle, because natural laws have ceteris paribus clauses. An exception is due to the introduction or interference of an overriding cause. 

Normally, water can't travel uphill. That generalization isn't simply based on the common observation that water normally travels downhill. Rather, it's grounded in the absence of some additional factor to counteract the force of gravity. But sometimes there are natural factors (e.g. storm surge) or technological factors (e.g. water pumps) that exert a countervailing influence. 

In that respect, a white crow is not a real exception to the principle, inasmuch as the generalization is implicitly qualified. All things being equal, all panthers are black, all ravens are black, &c.

Albinism is a genetic condition that produces a different pigmentation. But the generalization allows for differential factors. 

In sum, if a Scripturalist is going to attack the principle of induction, he will need to attack the principle of causation that underlies many scientific explanations. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Pontifical Academy for abortion

Latest dispatches from the Vicar of Christ:

Is lying ever right?

The omnipotent genie

Some Arminians try to turn tables on Calvinists by claiming that the Arminian God is more sovereign than the Calvinist God. A God who can give humans autonomy is more sovereign than a God who can't. A God who knows the future without foreordaining the future is more sovereign than a God who can't.

One problem with that retort is that it begs the question of whether that is, in fact, possible.

But there's another problem with that riposte. Suppose we take it to a logical extreme. Can God make a genie that he can't control? If God can't make a genie that he can't control, then God is less powerful. 

Can God make a genie who's more powerful than God? If he can't, then God's not omnipotent.  

If an Arminian balks at these hypotheticals, then he needs to explain his own comparison doesn't suffer from the same fallacies. 

Socially-conditioned belief

A common objection to Christianity faith is that Christian faith is just a historical accident. Most Christians were raised in a country where that's the preferred religious option. Of they were born to Christian parents, which predisposes them to be Christian. 

But an obvious problem with this objection is that you could say the same thing about atheism. Folks are more likely to be atheists if their social conditioning is secular.

In addition, the objection proves too much. For instance, I have many scientific beliefs because I was raised in a scientific culture. If I was raised in a prescientific culture, I wouldn't have these beliefs. But does that undermine belief in science?

Will just a few be saved?

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mt 7:13-14).

23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able...29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God (Lk 13:23-24,29).

A popular trope that critics of Calvinism mechanically resort to is the allegation that according to Calvinism, God reprobates most human beings. Problem with that allegation is that Calvinism has no official statement on the percentages. 

In my experience, critics who say this usually refuse to offer any justification for their allegation. They seem to think that's an implication of Calvinism, but they rarely construct an argument to that effect. On the rare occasion that them attempt to justify their allegation, they appeal to their interpretation of Mt 7:13-14/Lk 13:23-24. So let's discuss this:

i) To begin with, that's not an implication of Calvinism. Rather, that's a hybrid position in which the critic of Calvinism takes his own interpretation of Scripture as a frame of reference, combines that with the Reformed doctrine of reprobation, then alleges that "according to Calvinism," God reprobates most human beings. But he didn't get that from Calvinism. Rather, he's imputing his interpretation of Scripture to Calvinism, then deriving a conclusion. He lacks the critical detachment to distinguish his own assumptions from the opposing position. 

ii) The imagery of these two prooftexts is somewhat ambiguous. The imaginary probably envisions city gates, with roads leading into the city or away from the city. But the relationship between the gate and the roadway is unstated. Is the gate at the end of the road? That envisions a journey to the city, where the gate is the entry-point. Or is the gate an exit from the city onto the road? 

If the gate is an exit, then this suggests that getting through the gate is just the starting-point in what may be a long, treacherous journey. Leaving is when the hard part begins. The challenges lie ahead.

If the gate is an entrance, then this suggests that if you get to that point, you have it made. You arrived at your destination. Now you're safe. You put the treacherous journey behind you.

iii) What's the distinction between the narrow gate and the wide gate? The wide gate envisions the main gate into a city. That's used by visitors, traders, and the hoi polloi. By contrast, the narrow gate is a side-gate used by people with special entree. They know the porter. 

iii) The imagery of the narrow gate has ironic implications for critics of Calvinism. If we press the imagery, then most folks cannot enter by the narrow gate even if they want to, even if they try to, because it would generate a bottleneck. Indeed, Lk 13:24 makes that very point. 

So by that logic, God has not made universal provision for the salvation of everyone. It's not simply that only a few will avail themselves of the opportunity. Rather, the narrow gate screens out most seekers. They can't go through all at once. They must line up single file. People in the front of the line have an advantage. For folks waiting in back, it's too late. If you don't make it inside before the gates close for the night, you'll be turned away. "Outer darkness". That's the gist of the imagery.

iv) Notice, though, that Jesus doesn't answer the question of whether few be saved. He probably leaves it up in the air as a stimulus to the reader. Each reader needs to answer that question for himself by heeding the warning and taking appropriate action. 

v) Does the passage imply that only a few will be saved? We need to compare that with the messianic banquet in Lk 13:28-29. That evokes a motif in Isaiah (e.g. Isa 25:6-9; 26:5; 43:5; 49:12; 55:1-2), including the image of Gentiles flooding into God's kingdom (Isa 59:19). That envisions a multitude. 

Why does Scripture use disparate imagery? Why does some imagery picture a few while other imagery pictures a multitude? Probably to encourage initiative and perseverance, on the one hand, while discouraging presumption, on the other hand. 

vi) In addition, it may be that Christ's statement is not a prophecy about church history in general, but focused on the hostile reaction to his message and mission in 1C Palestine. The short-term situation that his immediate followers will confront. No doubt that has analogues in church history, but it's not a statement about every place and every time. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Richard Bauckham Is Wrong About John's Authorship

He thinks the fourth gospel was written by a close disciple of Jesus named John, but not the son of Zebedee. The second edition of his Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2017) has a new chapter that expands upon his earlier treatment of the subject.

There's some merit to Bauckham's arguments against authorship by the son of Zebedee and for the existence of another prominent early church leader named John. Like his case for the authorship of the first gospel, however, what he says about the authorship of the fourth gospel becomes much less significant when you look at it in light of the evidence as a whole. He substantially underestimates or ignores a lot of evidence against his position.

I mostly agree with the seven arguments against identifying the author as the son of Zebedee that Bauckham discusses on pages 562-71 (e.g., the gospel's focus on Jerusalem rather than Galilee; the gospel's lesser attention given to the Twelve in some contexts, in contrast to the Synoptics; the lack of attention given to James the son of Zebedee). Authorship by somebody other than John the son of Zebedee makes more sense of some of what we see in the gospel. But the arguments don't amount to much, individually or collectively. It doesn't take much on the other side to outweigh what Bauckham is offering in support of his position. That's true of not just the seven arguments he provides on the pages cited above, but also the arguments he brings up elsewhere.

Did I not bring Israel out of Egypt?

I was recently reading this book: "Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt?" • Biblical, Archaeological, and Egyptological Perspectives on the Exodus Narratives. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier, Alan R. Millard, and Gary A. Rendsburg. Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement - BBRSup 13 (Eisenbrauns, 2016). 

Here's the table of contents:

Part 1 Egyptology and Linguistic Matters
1. Egyptian Religious Influences on the Early Hebrews
James K. Hoffmeier

2. Onomastics of the Exodus Generation in the Book of Exodus
Richard S. Hess

3. Egyptian Loanwords as Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus and Wilderness Traditions
Benjamin J. Noonan

4. The Significance of the Horns (qrn) of Exodus 27:2: The Egyptian (tst) and Levantine Four-Horned Altars
David Falk

Part 2 Exodus in the Pentateuch/Torah

5. The Practices of the Land of Egypt (Leviticus 18:3): Incest, 'Anat, and Israel in the Egypt of Ramesses the Great
Richard C. Steiner

6. The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II and the Exodus Sea Account (Exodus 13:17–15:19)
Joshua Berman

7. The Literary Unity of the Exodus Narrative
Gary A. Rendsburg

8. Moses, the Tongue-Tied Singer!
Alan Millard

9. The Egyptian Sojourn and Deliverance from Slavery in the Framing and Shaping of the Mosaic Law
Richard E. Averbeck

10. "Tell Your Children and Grandchildren!" The Exodus as Cultural Memory
Jens Bruun Kofoed

Part 3 Exodus, the Wilderness Period, and Archaeology

11. Recent Developments in Understanding the Origins of the Arameans: Possible Contributions and Implications for Understanding Israelite Origins
K. Lawson Younger Jr.

12. Exodus on the Ground: The Elusive Signature of Nomads in Sinai
Thomas W. Davis

Part 4 Exodus in the Hebrew Prophets

13. "I Am Yahweh Your God from the Land of Egypt": Hosea's Use of the Exodus Traditions
Jerry Hwang

14. Some Observations on the Exodus and Wilderness Wandering Traditions in the Books of Amos and Micah
J. Andrew Dearman

"Your Arguments Against the Death Penalty Are Junk"

"Your Arguments Against the Death Penalty Are Junk" by C'Zar Bernstein.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Wild West

A couple of years ago, Jonathan Sarfati wrote a provocative critique of Omphalism and the apparent age theory:

From my perspective, his position is somewhat ironic because I find myself on both sides of Sarfati. On the one hand, he's hostile to old-earth creationism while I'm sympathetic to old-earth creationism. On the other hand, he's hostile to Omphalism while I'm sympathetic to Omphalism. So I'm both to his right and to his left (so to speak) on the alternatives. 

1. Before commenting directly on his critique of Omphalism and apparent age theory, I'd like to take a step back. There's a certain tension in Sarfati's epistemology. For instance:

It also documents how evangelicals who disagree with 24-hour creation days acknowledge that the text teaches this, but disagree primarily because they are intimidated by so-called ‘science,’ which they believe teaches differently. Science should not be dismissed, but it must be kept in its proper ministerial role as a servant to the Bible, and never placed in a magisterial role over and above the Bible.

The problem with this statement is that Sarfati has devoted his entire professional life to defending his interpretation of Scripture on scientific grounds. So he seems to think it's necessary to harmonize his interpretation of the creation account and the flood account with science. In that respect, his position isn't fundamentally different from old-earth creationists like Gleason Archer and Hugh Ross or theistic evolutionists like Alister McGrath, Bruce Waltke, and Dennis Venema. 

No doubt he'd bristle at the comparison. He'd probably say the difference is that he takes Scripture as his starting-point whereas they take science as their starting-point. I doubt some of them would agree with that characterization, but even if it were correct, the fact remains that both he and they are using science as a benchmark. It's unclear why he'd devote his life to science and the scientific defense of Scripture unless he believes the young-earth interpretation must take science seriously, unless he believes the young-earth interpretation requires scientific legitimation. If he doesn't think that, why spend so much time reconciling the "true" interpretation of the Bible with the "true" interpretation of the scientific evidence?  

In that regard, his position may differ from a young-earth creationist like John Byl. Both Byl and Sarfati are scientists, but Byl is an instrumentalist, so he doesn't think Scripture, or exegesis, requires scientific warrant. 

2. Now let's move on to the next article:

In contrast, there is an errant concept of ‘creation with apparent age’. One obvious flaw is that age has no appearance! Rather, we infer an age from appearance, after making certain assumptions about processes changing over time, and about the starting conditions.

I agree with that. I've been saying the same thing for years. 

3. Moving along:

One striking feature of the record of God’s creative acts in Genesis 1 is that the created things are fully ready to perform their appointed tasks. On Day 3, God created the plants mature, already bearing seeds. Later on, on Days 5 and 6, He created animals as adults ready to multiply, and finally Adam and Eve, likewise as adults, able to speak and multiply. For inanimate objects, on Day 4, God created the sun and stars already shining. All this is creation with functional maturity.

Functional mature creation is a legitimate distinction. The question, though, is whether functionality is the only justification. 

Most modern readers actually misunderstood what Gosse proposed. Gosse’s failure was unfortunately to propose the unbiblical idea that time moved in a circle, which God interrupted when He created. Gosse called this time of real history since creation, ‘diachronic’; while ‘before’ creation, the cycling time was unreal, ‘virtual’ time he called ‘prochronic’. Thus Adam and Eve would have been created with a navel to reflect a prochronic history of growing from a mother’s womb, even though there was no real ‘diachronic’ history of such a thing. Indeed, no evidence in the present could differentiate features produced in diachronic or prochronic time:

… we cannot avoid the conclusion that each organism was from the first marked with the records of a previous being. But since creation and previous history are inconsistent with each other; as the very idea of the creation of an organism excludes the idea of pre-existence of that organism, or any part of it; it follows, that such records are false, so far as they testify to time; that the developments and processes thus recorded have been produced without time, or are what I call ‘prochronic’.
However, he won not a single convert to his views at the time, precisely because Christians thought that it would make God a deceiver. As shown, this was not Gosse’s intention, but this is what everyone inferred. Also, scientists didn’t like it because it was ad hoc, and making no practical difference was also thus untestable. 
However, although Gosse was trying to defend the Bible, the Bible teaches a real linear history. Indeed, this was one feature that led to the blossoming of modern science in Christianized Europe.13 Conversely, a cyclical view of history goes back to the pagan Greek philosophers and is still followed by eastern religions. Gosse’s view also contradicts 2 Peter 3:3–6.

4. I don't wish to get bogged down in exegeting Gosse, but I'd like to make a preliminary point in his defense:

As I understand him, Gosse doesn't think time is moving in circles. Rather, he thinks physical processes are cyclical. In that respect, creation ex nihilo must commence at some point in what would be an ongoing cycle. It must break into the circle. 

5. Now to the main point. Like other critics of Omphalism or mature creation, Sarfati charges it with "deception". One problem is that, in my experience, critics never bother to define the concept of deception. They seem to think that's self-evident. I think it's necessary to distinguish between two kinds of "deception":

i) Intentional deception

ii) Incidental deception

I don't think (ii) is truly deceptive, but for convenience, I'll use the same term for both ideas. 

Years ago, in the house where I was then living, I once heard something banging on the side of the house. I went into the living room and saw a bird repeatedly flying into the window. The bird didn't know the difference between a window and thin air. Because it could see through the window to open space behind the window, it kept flying into the window. It was too dumb to know what a window is, and too dumb to learn from its mistake. 

Now, I didn't buy a house with windows to confuse birds. And that eventuality hadn't occurred to me when I bought the house.

But suppose I built my own house. Suppose I installed windows in the foreknowledge that some birds will be confused by windows. Am I guilty of deceiving birds? No, because I didn't install windows for that purpose, even though it has that effect. I install windows because I like a house with natural daylight, and I like to see outside. The fact that some birds are confused by windows is just a side-effect of why I install windows. I'm sorry that some birds find that disorienting, but I'm not going to live in a windowless house just to spare the birds. 

It's a dangerous principle for Sarfati to suggest that God is a deceiver if humans are confused by some features of the natural world. After all, it's easy for people without scientific knowledge to misinterpret some natural phenomena. 

6. Let's revisit the issue of functionality. Because Sarfati is a scientist, it's natural for him to have a utilitarian bias regarding explanations. Scientists like to find out how things work. But is functionality the only justification for why God made the world the way he did?

That depends in part on how we view the creative process. Not only is God creative, but God has endowed humans with creativity. We create for a variety of reasons. Some of our creations are utilitarian, but some of our creations are recreational. Take fiction:

7. Suppose a director produces a TV drama about the Wild West. Historical fiction. There are several timeframes in play:

i) The plot could take place anywhere between the 1830s and the 1890s, give or take. So that's the timeframe of the story or the plot. Everything happens within that timeline. 

Let's say the pilot episode is set in Deadwood, on January 1, 1870. Within the world of the fictional story, that's when time begins. That's when things start to happen. Nothing really happened before then. The very first scene takes place on January 1, 1870. Time begins when the story begins. That's the first moment of creation. Unless there are flashbacks, no character can go back in time to a date before the earliest plotted event. 

ii) However, the story could just as well begin at an earlier point. Sometime in the 1860s or 1850s or 1840s or 1830s. So when it begins is somewhat arbitrary. There's a distinction between the actual timeline of the historical plot, and the ideal timeline, of which the plot is just a segment. 

iii) Then there's the timeframe of the screenwriter. Say he wrote the script in 2010. The screenwriter exists outside the timeframe of the plot. There's no correlation between his timeframe and the timeframe of the plot.

iv) Then there's when the director begins to shoot the script. Say that starts in 2017. Once again, there's no correlation between the timeframe of the plot, which is set in the 1870s, and the timeframe for making the series. 

(i) is analogous to world history. (ii) is analogous to the plot as it subsists in the timeless mind of God, while (iii) is analogous to God instantiating his idea in real space and real time. 

v) The Western will have a stage set of a frontier town. We've seen variations on the stock layout in countless movies and TV dramas, viz. saloon, jail, livery stable, bank, barber shop, general store, hotel, telegraph office, train station–along with Indians, horses, buggies, cattle, cowboys, covered wagons, ladies in bonnets.

This exists, not for functionality, but authenticity or verisimilitude. Everything needs to belong to the right historical period. Nothing can be later than the date of any particular episode. Likewise, you can't mix and match different times and places. If the series is set in the black hills of South Dakota, c. 1870, the director can't cut to scenes from the Middle Ages or shots of Tuscany. 

vi) Suppose the pilot episode shows a character reading a newspaper. Suppose the camera shows the viewer what the character is reading. On the one hand, the paper can't have any stories later than January 1, 1870. On the other hand, the paper will have stories from December 31, 1869 or earlier. The paper will report local stories from a yesterday, and national stories from last week. 

Yet those are stories about a past that, in a sense, never happened in the timeframe of the drama. They predate the plot. 

By the same token, suppose one of the characters is a preacher. Suppose the camera takes you into his study. You see him pull a King James Bible off the shelf. That was originally published in 1611. Yet that falls outside the timeframe of the plot.

But for the plot to be historically accurate, it's necessary for the plot to have that background material, because, in a cause/effect universe, the present is the result of the past. Because the plot is part of a historical continuum, it must grow out of the past, as if that past is real, whether or not that actually happened. Historical authenticity requires historical continuity. 

8. Suppose God made a world the way we make a TV series about the Wild West. Would that be deceptive? Here I'd evoke my distinction between intentional and incidental deception (see #5). I don't think there's anything unethical about a universe in which the first inhabitants find themselves in a present-day world with an ideal past, just like characters in a TV series. 

Suppose these are artificially intelligent virtual characters in a computer simulation. The "present" will be whenever the plot kicks off. That's what makes it the present, in relation to past and future. If the plot began a century earlier, that would be the present–in relation to its past. You can push it backwards and forwards. The past defines the present, and vice versa. The first moment is the present. To begin at all, it must begin at some point. Yet that's inherently relative.

I'm not saying that's how God did it. But if we take God seriously, we need to take that possibility seriously. I don't think there's a particular presumption for or against it.