Saturday, February 10, 2018


Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. 3 And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. 9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”
10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died (1 Sam 4:1-11). 

A winning formula for losing is to assume you can't lose. That happens in politics, economics, and sports. If you think you're unbeatable, that attitude makes it more likely that someone will beat you. That's because you underestimate your opponent. You get cocky and lazy. 

Watching the Catholic church is like those sci-fi stories in which alien invaders take over by means of infiltration. They quietly replace humans with alien lookalikes. Your neighbors begin to change. Your coworkers begin to change. Even your spouse and kids begin to change. By the time you realize what's happening, it's too late. You're cornered and outnumbered. 

Pious Catholics and Catholic apologists assume their denomination is invincible. They think Mt 16:18 is a promise to and for their denomination. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church of Rome. 

In the meantime, outsiders like me watch as key institutions in Catholicism are co-opted by modernists. Catholic colleges and seminaries. The priesthood. The episcopate. All the way up to the pope. Like alien invaders who systematically replace humans with alien operatives. 

Assuming your denomination can't be taken over is the very way your denomination can be taken over. Your false sense of security gives the modernists an opening. The Israelites thought the ark of the covenant made them undefeatable. And, ironically, that's why they got creamed.  

All in a day's work

A stock objection to young-earth creationism is that too much is happening in Gen 2 to wedge into one day. Indeed, it describes daylight activities, so it has to be squeezed into about 12 hours, give or take, and that's unrealistic. 

I think some of the strain can be relieved by recognition that, contextually, Adam didn't name every kind of animal on earth, but only animals that frequented the garden. But there are additional issues.

One striking difference between Gen 1 and Gen 2-3 is that unlike Gen 1, with its 7-day framework, Gen 2-3 lack temporal markers. Considered on its own terms, there's no indication long it took for incidents described in Gen 2 to happen. It doesn't say one thing happened at a particular hour, or day later, week later, month later, year later. There's some chronological progression, but no indication how long a particular incident took, or how soon after one incident another incident occurred. If all we had to go by was Gen 2, there'd be no reason to assume it all happened on the same day. Like Jonah, the action in Gen 2-3 reflects narrative compression. 

So where does the pressure to wedge it into one day come from? Well, it comes from attempting to synchronize day 6 in Gen 1 with events in Gen 2. Since Gen 1 says mankind was made on day six, and Gen 2 recounts the creation of Adam and Eve, the assumption is that Gen 2 must be synchronized with day six in Gen 1–at least in regard to the origin of Adam and Eve. 

There may be an element of truth to that, but I think it's simplistic. To take a comparison, consider the "discrepancy" between Gen 6:19 & 7:2. Yet that's not a real contradiction. Rather, that's what Mark Futato dubs the synoptic/resumptive-expansive technique, where the narrator introduces a subject in general terms, then talks about something else, then circles back to that subject, but qualifies the original statement with additional information. Gen 7:2 is the definitive statement, not 6:19.  

With that compositional technique in view, while it's necessary to say that Adam was created on day six, I don't think it's necessary to confine all the activities in Gen 2 to day six. The creation of man would be initiated on day six, but needn't terminate on day six. 

The description of day six in Gen 1 is a general statement that can be further modified by Gen 2–just as Gen 7:2 modifies the scope of 6:19. Indeed, a basic function of Gen 2 is to supplement Gen 1 by providing more detailed information regarding the creation of mankind. As such, I think the synchrony can be limited to the terminus ad quo rather than the terminus ad quem. Although Gen 2 overlaps with day six of Gen 1, they needn't coincide. 

If we make that adjustment, then I think Gen 2 is consistent with young-earth creationism–although that adjustment is equally consistent with old-earth creationism. 


God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Gen 1:5). 

The sequence of dusk followed by dawn is puzzling to commentators. Sarna thinks it reflects the Jewish calendar, where Passover and other festivals begin and end at sunset. 

Dusk to dawn is a way of saying "night". The literary function may be to transition from one day to the next. 

Sunlight is a positive theological metaphor. That's because humans are diurnal creatures who rely on eyesight. If we were nocturnal creatures, then sunlight wouldn't have the same emblematic significance.

The syntactical relation between v1 and v2 is disputed. If v1 is included in the events of the first day, then there was, in the absolute sense, a first day. 

Because sunup and sundown are cyclical–indeed, paradigmatic examples of periodic phenomena–it seems like there's always another day before today. But according to one reading of Gen 1, if you step into the time machine, you can only go back as far as the first day. There's no day before that. Nothing before that. No time or space. There's God, but the time machine won't take you to God.

Twilight is ambiguous. Is it the beginning of a new day or the ending of the day? Will it get brighter or darker? If you woke up outside at twilight, could you tell if it was dawn or dusk?

If you had a sense of direction, you could infer that from the direction of the light. Of course, the significance of east and west in that regard is something we appreciate from experience. But if, like Adam, on the day he was made, we had no prior experience of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, we couldn't detect or predict what twilight represented. To experience the new world for the first time would be bewildering, in a nice way. 

Friday, February 09, 2018

Aim low

Roger Olson recently posted "Why My Conversations with Calvinists are Rarely Productive".

What's ironic about his post is how it replicates the Street Epistemology of atheists. Fact is, most folks aren't good at defending their beliefs unless they do that for a living. That's hardly unique to lay Calvinists. That's true if you start grilling the average Christian. 

That's especially true if you question them on the spot. That's why even someone as brilliant and educated as William Lane Craig engages in meticulous research for every debate, so that he will have prepared answers at the ready. 

As a rule, when you quiz most folks on why they believe what they believe, it doesn't take long before they run out of answers. If you challenge Ben Shapiro, Michael Medved, or Mark Levin on their political beliefs, they can go several layers deep because they're smart, articulate, and do that for a living. They have lots of facts and figures at their disposal. But even they have to work full-time on those issues to stay on top of the issues.

By contrast, if you conduct man-on-the-street interviews, they usually bottom out very fast. That proves nothing regarding the truth of their beliefs. 

Even for professional philosophers, it's hard work to provide a rigorous justification for your position. 

If you attack soft targets, you get predictable results. That's true for just about anything. Freewill theists are no exception. 

What sometimes happens is that you have a bright young cradle Christian who takes his faith for granted, suddenly finds himself in a situation where his faith is challenged, comes up short, then begins to relay his faith from the bottom up, one story at a time. Not everyone has the aptitude or opportunities to do that. But it's beneficial for others if they share the results of their experience. 

It's funny how Olson acts as though his experience confirms his negative view of Calvinism. Acts as though he scored a coup. He's too hidebound to realize that you get the same result whenever you challenge people to justify their beliefs, unless that's their area of specialization. Some people have the talent, but not the training or leisure time. 

Olsen is recycling objections that people like me have repeatedly refuted. 

The ethics of football

Kirk Knudsen • 

I have an entirely different take on this issue. I started playing football in 7th grade, and played every year through my senior year of college (10 years total), at a Bible college in MN. I never suffered a major injury playing football nor missed time for a football injury, and have never suffered a head injury playing football or basketball (which I played for 12 years). I coached high school football for three years following college. I greatly enjoy the game. I think it would be helpful in this post to differentiate the injury status/level of various levels of football. As far as I know, most who have played football only through high school do not have anywhere near the traumatic head injury levels or long term effects professionals see The game gets exponentially bigger, faster, and stronger for each level beyond high school. The speed, strength, weight, and total time invested/involved all greatly impact the short and long-term effects of head or any other injuries.

To me it seems unfairly narrow, as well as inaccurate to say the only two reasons people would watch football are money or that people enjoy seeing each other hurt each other. There is much strategy, coaching, teamwork, planning, and athleticism to be observed. Moves and counter-moves for those who know the game make for interesting and engaging scenarios as teams seek to adjust to and stop each other from what they are trying to do. The game moves fast, generally involves much scoring, and takes a great deal of thought, team work, athleticism, and strategy to do it well, plus in any given game there are many individual match-ups to observe. Those are just a few more reasons to watch it. I know many who greatly enjoy watching football, and I've not heard one of them say they enjoy watching someone get hurt. That seems like a point to demonize those who oppose your position on this topic, which doesn't seem fair or necessary to me.

For me personally, I have learned more about leadership, coaching, team work, dealing with adversity, discipleship, relationships, conflict management, and working with others you don't like in football than in any other single venture. Those lessons have been highly valuable in my now 20+ years of vocational church ministry. That by itself suggests there are many reasons to like and participate in football. I've never been paid in any form for playing, nor benefitted monetarily. In the three years I coached, I was paid $800 for two of the seasons, averaging 20+ hours per week from August into November. I coached because it gave me (then a youth pastor) access into kids lives and into our schools doing something I knew and loved.

I have no interest in soccer. As a college player, I was 6' 6" and weighed 285. That won't work in soccer. Soccer allows for basically one kind of body type and a comparatively narrow set of skills to succeed. Football offers opportunity for athletes of many different skill sets, sizes, and athletic abilities to participate and be successful. The teamwork required allows men to work together in their respective tasks and be highly successful even if they never touch the ball or if their long-term endurance isn't a great strength (to be a great soccer player, you need to have the ball with some regularity and you need great endurance).

I think there are concerns, and you address some of them for football (which also apply to other sports too). Players are starting too young and expected to invest far too much time too early in their lives into sports. I don't think it benefits us to have elementary aged kids playing extensive game schedules in any sport. Second, more time needs to be given by schools and organizations offering football to training coaches well, instead of letting any warm-body coach. If football coaches from the junior high level up were offered more training in how to coach and teach players to avoid head injuries (and injuries in general) I think it would go a long way towards minimizing the injury problems. Finally, I think football at all levels need to continue to penalize hits to and from the head more aggressively. If players start missing game time for head hits, and unsafe play, they will decrease.

Sacramental intention

In Catholic theology, right intent on the part of the officiant is a necessary condition of a valid sacrament. That raises an interesting question. Given the degree to which modernism pervades the Catholic priesthood and episcopate, how many priests and bishops who celebrate Mass subscribe to transubstantiation? How many even believe in the real presence?

If they don't assent to what the Eucharist represents, according to traditional Catholic theology, how can they exercise right intent when they consecrate the communion elements? 

If not, then when faithful Catholics attend Mass, they aren't receiving a valid sacrament. The communicant isn't receiving sacramental grace. It's just plain old bread and wine. 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Papal dilemma

Ratzinger has expressed muted concern over the direction that his successor is taking the church. His diplomatic understatement no doubt reflects a much deeper dismay or panic. His life's work is unraveling. 

Why doesn't he intervene more forcibly? Of course, at his age, he doesn't have the stamina for a knockdown drag out fight. But this is just a question of making public statements.

My guess is that he's be reticent because Francis presents an intractable papal dilemma. It's exceedingly rare to have two living popes. Suppose they have a very public disagreement over the fundamental direction of the church. Suppose Ratzinger says he's the voice of authentic Catholicism while Francis says he's the voice of authentic Catholicism? Which pope are faithful Catholics suppose to follow? Flip a coin?  

I suspect Ratzinger doesn't say more because that would expose the Catholic conundrum. So long as this is a hypothetical scenario about contradictory popes, it's easier for Catholic apologists to paper over the divergence. But if you have two living popes at loggerheads, the system self-implodes. 

It's a game of chicken: blink or head-on collision. Ratzinger can only oppose Francis by causing a track wreck that destroys the papacy. Mutual annihilation. 

So there is no solution. At best, Catholicism was an idealistic theory. But things have come to a head. If you have two leaders at the top of the pyramid, and they give the faithful contradictory directions, there is no referee. 

The pope was supposed to be the referee. When popes disagree, the practical incongruity of the system is exposed. 

In one sense this is nothing new. There's plenty of diachronic contradiction between a former pontificate and a later pontificate. But when it's simultaneous, that brings the dilemma from the background to the foreground. 

Civil war in Rome

If I didn't know any better, I'd almost suspect that Catholicism is a blueprint for anarchy:

Is determinism unlivable?

I think that you’ve successfully identified a problem with determinism in general, Leif, of which Calvinism is but a specific instance, given the Calvinist’s view that God determines everything that happens.

A determinist cannot live consistently as though everything he thinks and does is causally determined—especially his choice to believe that determinism is true! Thinking that you’re determined to believe that everything you believe is determined produces a kind of vertigo. Nobody can live as though all that he thinks and does is determined by causes outside himself. Even determinists recognize that we have to act “as if” we had free will and so weigh our options and decide on what course of action to take, even though at the end of the day we are determined to take the choices we do. Determinism is thus an unliveable view.

This presents a real problem not just for the Calvinist, but for the naturalist. For insofar as naturalism implies that all our thoughts and actions are determined by natural causes outside ourselves, free will is an illusion. But we cannot escape this illusion and so must go on making choices as though we had free will, even though we don’t. Naturalism is thus an unliveable worldview.

i) It's hard to find much of an argument here. Even if libertarian freedom were true, some aspects of human experience are undoubtedly deterministic. For instance, when Craig hit adolescence, he found himself attracted to females. That's naturally caused by hormones. Is it unlivable to be casually determined to find women physically appealing? Empirical evidence would seem to suggest that men have found that pretty easy to live with!

ii) Or consider the role of habit in human behavior. We train our minds to remember certain tasks so that we don't have to consciously think about them. Like learning a foreign language, learning to play a musical instrument, learning to sightread music, learning to play a sport, learning the route from one place to another, learning to read a text. Much of this operates at a subliminal level. We've programmed our minds to do certain things automatically. 

Now, if we had to stop and think about what we were doing, about how to do it, that might have a paralyzing effect–but of course, that defeats the purpose of forming mental habits! The whole point is to delegate that to the unconscious part of your mind so that you don't have to consciously execute every step in the process. 

Is that kind of mental self-programming unlivable? Hardly. To the contrary, it would be unlivable if we couldn't free up our conscious attention span. It works because we don't have to be aware of it. 

iii) How does Craig's argument actually disprove determinism? If determinism is true, then agents do in fact live consistently with that reality. They have no alternative. If determinism is true, then what they feel about it has no impact on the reality of their determinism. Their actions will be determined whether they know it or not. 

If my beliefs and actions are determined, this doesn't imply that I know what the determinants are. I just make up my mind based on the conscious and subconscious factors that feed into belief-formation and decision-making. 

If I knew ahead of time what I was determined to do, then that would introduce a countersuggestive dynamic. But a determined agent doesn't know in advance what he's been determined to do, so abstract belief in determinism has no particular impact on the outcome. And to the extent that belief in determinism affects the outcome, that in itself is just another determinant in the outcome. 

iv) The fact that we consider alternate courses of action doesn't mean those are all viable options. After all, we can imagine many unrealistic courses of action. And their impossibility may not be apparent, if we don't act on them. In some cases their impossibility becomes apparent when we attempt to act on our choice. It turns out our choice was shortsighted and oversimplified the variables. In reality, there were many impenetrable barriers in the way of realizing our chosen pathway. Surely that's a commonplace of human experience. Has Craig never found his plans frustrated by uncooperative factors beyond his control? 


I'll comment on Tim Stratton's attempt to rebut my response:

Au contraire! Hays’s mistake is question-begging. He assumes predestination is equivalent with determinism…Thus, Hays begs the question (a logical fallacy) in favor of his favorite kind of predestination.

Stratton is hopelessly befuddled. He originally said, “Thus, the Calvinist assumes that the means by which God predestines all that He has decreed is via causal determinism.”

So he was attributing a position to Calvinism. Attempting to state what Calvinism represents.

It doesn't beg the question to use Calvinistic definitions when defining Calvinism! The question at issue isn't whether Calvinism is true or false, whether Molinism is true or false, but what Calvinism stands for. Stratton is so lacking in critical detachment that he can't accurately state the opposing position on its own terms. Instead, he confounds his own position with the opposing position when attempting to expound Calvinism. 

Not only was he unable to see his blunder for himself, but even when I explain it to him, he repeats the same blunder. His elementary confusion has yet to sink in. 

However, Molinists have offered a model demonstrating exactly *how* God can predestine all things without violating the libertarian free will of the creature! That is to say, Molinism offers a model of divine predestination which is not fully deterministic. 

Molinism does no such thing. Rather, Molinism posits two controversial assumptions:

i) Human agents have libertarian freedom

ii) God has foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge of human choices.

As John Martin Fischer explains, Molinism simply takes those two key assumptions for granted:

So, what Hays must do is argue and demonstrate exactly how the Molinist model fails — not merely assert that it is no good or assert that “predestination means the same thing as determinism.” That is, unless he is content with basing arguments on logical fallacies.

All I need to demonstrate is that Stratton's original response to Bignon was poorly-reasoned. That doesn't require me to disprove Molinism. 

Killing Pope Ratzinger

The title of this blog article, “Killing Pope Ratzinger”, is to provide a kind of a sequel to my earlier piece, “Killing Pope Francis”. First Things journal has wanted to be rid of “Pope Francis” almost from the beginning.

Of course, Triablogue readers have known that Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”) would be “Opposing Ratzinger” from a blog article of that same title early in the papacy.

Joseph Ratzinger, the former (and perhaps “emeritus”) “Pope Benedict” is in the news right now.

First Things”, in an article entitled “Benedict in Silence”, is lamenting that the former Prefect for “John Paul the Great” did not speak out doctrinally on the conflicts over the “interpretation” of “Amoris Laetitia” (and other Bergoglioan papal initiatives):

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Take up your cross

From an American physician working with refugees in Greece:

One man I saw this week was openly wearing a prominent silver and gold cross around his neck. I didn't notice it at first, but as I was listening to his heart with my stethoscope the bright golden object swinging in front of me was suddenly hard to miss.

Realizing I wasn't in America, where crosses are so ubiquitous they've become a little trite to me, I exclaimed, "You're wearing a cross!"

"Yes," he nodded.

I pondered the implications of wearing that specific symbol in the Islamic world. A cross is better described as cross-hairs for a man like him. Yet he wore the symbol proudly, unapologetically. Should our roles be reversed, would I have the same courage?

"You are a Christian then." I said, continuing in my new role of Dr. Redundant.

"Yes." He nodded again, smiling.

Through my translator, I learned that a few months ago in Iran he was awoken in the night by the figure of a man calling him to follow Christ. He said he was convinced that the man speaking to him was Jesus, the Son of God. He knew almost nothing of the Christian faith, as he was raised a Muslim.

Still, upon waking the next day, my patient committed himself for following Christ. He felt he had to do this. It was an inner compulsion; he had been called to a new faith, a new life, no matter the cost to him.

But it was indeed a 'costly' decision. Read anything about the Islamic regime of Iran (I recommend the the wonderful autobiography Persepolis as a cursory intro if interested), and you will know that the government of Iran is itself a religious organization. Along with typical functions of any secular government, like providing running water, working roads, electricity and health care (which in many instances, the Iranian government does quite well), it also enforces a highly conservative interpretation of Shia Islam.

How do they enforce such a thing, you ask? How do you get a nation of 77.5 million people to follow extremely strict religious rules? How can you enforce an entire nation to put every woman in robes and headcoverings, to allow no music, no dancing and to enforce frequent observance of Islamic practices like 5x daily prayer?

With "religious police" of course!


Some version of the above rushed through my mind as I stared at the cross hanging from my patient's neck. An Iranian, 4 months in Greece, wearing a bright silver and gold cross. Wow.

As it turns out, the father of this man was a member of this religious police force. This patient had chosen to convert from Islam to Christianity as the son of a man who is tasked with enforcing and promulgating Islam in the country. More irony.

Imagine the shame on their family for such an act! Aside from endangering himself, my patient was possibly even endangering his own father (and mother).

Many immigrants come to Europe because they think it is rich, with jobs and money flowing like wine at a wedding party. Increasingly, they are finding that Europe is no utopia. Millions are unemployed. Millions are poor. Upward mobility is rare.

But one reality of Europe is that it does remain a place where you can follow a religion in nearly any any way you choose, to include no religion at all. Say what you will about the EU, but it remains a place of tremendous religious freedom, rivaled perhaps by only the U.S.

So it is understandable that this man left Iran. But it is still amazing that he was willing to do it. He left with nothing. No family, no friends. He slunk away in the night, alone. As the son of an important man, his life had no doubt been comfortable and safe. He upended all of that.

My patient arrived at the Pireaus Port of Athens after crossing the Agean Sea from Turkey. He arrived nearly destitute, having given most of his money to a trafficker to get him to Greece. I think he slept on the concrete sidewalk the first night.

The next morning, he says he prayed that the God of his new faith would spare him, and shortly thereafter was approached by members of a Christian church in Athens who offered him a bottle of water. It was through this church that I met him.

Greek authorities soon placed this man in the Elliniko refugee camp, where he made no secret of his faith, sharing it with any around him who would listen. Not long after his arrival, a riot broke out in the camp with Muslims targeting Christians.

The violence carried on for quite some time, as Greek police made no move to stop it, one even pointing out that if some of the refugees died, "there will be fewer of them for us to deal with." My patient was beaten severely in the melee.

It is inhumane, of course, for anyone to think as these police did. But their attitude is understandable nonetheless. Would you wade into the middle of that mess?

Somewhere in this story, my patient picked up his cross. I don't know if it was in Iran or somewhere in Athens. But he wears it daily. It is not merely jewelry to him, given at some Christmas party. It wasn't bought from one of the ubiquitous Christian Book Stores in America, with every possible permutation of "cross trinkets" available for sale. It was bought for a price; worn for a higher one.

Gun control backfires

It's not just her baby

Garrett Kell:

This is where a father’s responsibility must be highlighted. While the woman’s body is her body, it is not just her baby. It is their baby.

Regardless of whether they planned to have a child together or not, it is their baby. Regardless of whether the father desires to be responsible for his choices or not, it is their baby. This is true of every pregnancy, including the one I chose to take part in ending. When we had our abortion, it wasn’t my body, but it was my baby.

Please hold back any desire to roll your eyes here. There are few things more precious than a father’s love. This is one of the reasons the world has fallen in love with Jack and Randall from the hit show This Is Us. There’s something in us that want fathers like Jack and Randall; or if we are fathers, we want to be like them.

This is also why the Internet celebrated the father who charged a disgraced doctor who sexually assaulted his three daughters. The importance of fathers resonates within us all. Those who had wonderful fathers celebrate them and those who did not know the ache that is left behind.

Abortion is not just about a mother’s choice. It is also about a father’s responsibility. By perpetuating the lie that men need to stay out of the discussion about abortion-because it is a woman’s body-is not only untrue, it is catastrophic for generations to come.


We need a generation of men who will love their unborn children and go the utmost lengths to encourage the mother to have their baby. They must be willing to help raise the child or place it for adoption.

We also need a generation of women who will encourage men to take responsibility and show the sacrificial love and empathy that ought mark men, not push them out of the conversation about abortion.

Though abortion uniquely affects women, it is not only about women. It is also about the child in her womb, and the child’s father.

Because in the end it is her body, but it is their baby.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Jars of clay

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you (2 Cor 4:7-12).

7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:7-10).

The argument from evil has a cliché form. It's about moral and natural evil in general. Evils that befall humans in general. Evils that men in general perpetrate on their fellow man.

It's useful to ask yourself if the problem of evil in that sense even registers in the Bible. Christian philosophy and apologetics have deployed massive ingenuity in responding to the argument from evil, according to that stereotypical formulation. I'm not saying we shouldn't respond to unbelievers on their own level (at times), but how they frame an issue ought not condition our own understanding.

In Scripture, the argument from evil is much more specific. It's not about the pain and suffering which men in general suffer, but the suffering of God's people. Why doesn't God do more to protect his own people? Isn't that what a father is expected to do? Isn't that what a "Good Shepherd" is supposed to do?

Yet evil is so indiscriminate. Believers and unbelievers suffer alike. Sometimes believers suffer more than unbelievers.

To some degree that can be explained in terms of Christian witness in the face of persecution, but lots of Christian suffering isn't due to persecution. So what's the explanation, if any?

I think there's a theodicy in 2 Corinthians. Christian suffering provides a point of contrast. What believers suffer is no different from what unbelievers suffer. But how they suffer makes the difference.

Suffering exposes what, if anything, lies behind or inside suffering. In the case of believers, suffering provides a point of contrast between jars of clay and what they contain. The jars become translucent as they flicker with the inner light of grace. In the case of unbelievers, there's nothing behind the suffering. Just the blackness of an empty soul in pain. Darkness through-and-through. Night without first light, moonlight, or starlight. But Christian suffering turns believers into lamps and lanterns.

Imagine a child's cancer ward where a Christian child, who's dying of cancer, goes from bed to bed to befriend and witness to his fellow patients. Imagine unbelievers visiting the cancer ward, as they overhear Christian parents in the next bed praying for their child and reading Scripture. Cultivating heavenly-mindedness in the shadow of death. In one respect the same suffering, but in another respect, suffering transfigured by hope.

Deconversion propaganda

Contact sports

In this clip, David Platt makes some good points:

1. He can get away with it because he's such a likable guy. But as a rule, I think it's a mistake for pastors to scold parishioners about sports. They're talking to the wrong audience. They should be grateful that people do attend their church, given all the competition for their attention. 

2. A danger with invidious comparisons is that it cuts both ways. What if someone replies that he'd find church more exciting if the pastor didn't make it so boring. Are there things pastors can do to make church legitimately more interesting and engaging? 

3. Another issue is recognition that there are things we can change and things we can't. Scolding sports fans won't change minds. It's not likely to make them less fond of sports. Rather, it alienates the from the church.

A better strategy is to take advantage of popular interest in sports. Use that as a vehicle to reach the lost. Don't wait for sports fans to come to church; rather bring church to them! For instance:

Douglas Groothuis
Abstract: I argue that football is morally objectionable because it is intrinsically violent and thus is conducive to vice in both its players and its fans. By way of contrast, I argue that baseball is only contingently violent, that it is not based on violence, and that it is, as such, a morally superior sport. 

1. Football is intrinsically violent. It cannot be played without heavy padding and physical punishment. Professional players typically undergo multiple surgeries for repeated injuries. Many of these injuries are permanently debilitating. The nature of the sport encourages a toleration for, and even promotion of, violence. Players attempt to injure each other to take them out of the game. Many young men are seriously injured while playing football. Why risk the damage to a growing body? If the body is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and the temple of the Holy Spirit for the Christian, why should anyone treat one’s own body and other’s bodies to so much physical abuse? We were not designed for this kind of punishment.

He raises some valid questions and concerns. That said:

i) There's the danger of elitism. Groothuis is a philosophy prof. The fact that football is unappealing to him isn't the benchmark for boys and men who have a passion for football.

ii) Overshadowing all of life is the inexorable specter of human mortality. That prompts us take risks we'd otherwise avoid, because sooner or later we're going to die anyway. Due, moreover, to the aging process, there's an unrepeatable window of opportunity to do certain things. If you wait too long, that's a lost opportunity you never get back. You can be health nut and still die of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. 

iii) There's lots of talk about "racial reconciliation", but few venues are better than a ball field to achieve that objective.

iv) We live in a society where the cultural elites are making every effort to suppress masculinity. But the predictable result is to make many young men recoil against feminism. It creates a backlash. 

If we don't have contact sports with rules and protective equipment, boys will resort to aggressive behavior without the safeguards. The alternative won't be less violence but more violence.

v) Speaking of which, I'm bemused by social commentators who say football is violent. In a very tame, domesticated way that's true, but we've become so spoiled by contact sports that we've forgotten what real male violence looks like. Left to their own devices, males have a propensity for extreme violence. Consider the Iroquois. That was a heathen warrior culture. Here's an example of what men are capable of doing when they lack any cultural Christian restraint:

As they went they saw the Iroquois braves slaughtering the remaining Indians [Hurons] in the village, setting the wigwams afire, and throwing the wounded people and little children into the flames. Both priests were tied to stakes. Mocking baptism, the Iroquois poured boiling water over their heads to scald them. They then cut off the nose, ears, lips, and other body parts of de Brebeuf, smashed his teeth with a club, put red hot hatchet blades on his shoulders, put hot coals on top of his head, and then smashed his skull with a tomahawk. They pulled out the eyes of Lalemont and forced hot coals into the sockets, they sliced open his thighs in the form of a cross and then burned him at the stake. Both priests prayed as long as they could and proclaimed their love and forgiveness for their torturers. (The account of their martyrdom was made public by some of the Indians who had witnessed it and later were converted to the Catholic Faith.) Because de Brebeuf died so stoically without crying out, something the Indians greatly admired, they cut out his heart and liver after his death and ate them raw, so they could, in their belief, obtain his kind of courage and ability to endure pain.

That capacity is always lurking just under the surface. Remove Christian ethics, then watch men revert to unmitigated savagery. Instead of whining about the "violence" of contact sports, we should we grateful for outlets that channel and curb male aggression.  

Mounting up with wings like eagles

I'm usually fairly skeptical when athletes and other celebrities claim to be Christian, praise God, sport Bible verses or Christian symbols as tattoos on their bodies, and so forth. Their lived lives rarely seem to match their profession of faith. It just seems like they're paying lip service to Christianity.

That said, I'm still a bit wary in general, but I find reports about evangelical Christians on the Philadelphia Eagles have a ring of truth to them. For example, Eagles' QB Carson Wentz (injured before the Super Bowl) wanted to help make the Super Bowl an evangelistic opportunity. He has also launched the Audience of One (AO1) foundation to help "the less fortunate".

QB Nick Foles (who led the Eagles to their Super Bowl victory) has said he has always wanted to become a pastor. He's currently taking online classes at Liberty University toward that goal. He filmed a YouVersion video about some of his struggles with football and faith.

Tight end Trey Burton evidently serves as a team pastor and has helped baptize five of his fellow teammates. He wrote an article describing his faith.

Tight end Zach Ertz has said: "I was baptized in March, got married the next day...Our marriage has been built on that foundation from the word and Jesus, and it's changed my life. And just to have these guys hold me accountable on a daily basis has been phenomenal for me. I hope I do the same for them."

The Eagles' offensive coordinator Frank Reich earned an M.Div. from Reformed Theological Seminary and was a former president for RTS Charlotte.

Head coach Doug Pederson gave thanks to Jesus Christ after the Super Bowl win. Later he said: "It's all about the faith, it's all about our family, and it's all about the Philadelphia Eagles, and it is in that order." Only about a decade before he was the head coach for the Eagles, Pederson was the head coach for the football team of a private Christian high school, Calvary Baptist Academy.

Some professions of faith may be more credible than others. There are several other examples on the team.

Here's a video the Philadelphia Eagles released about the role of Christian faith on the team:

Monday, February 05, 2018

Disenchanted naturalism

The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality
by Alex Rosenberg

This is a précis of an argument that naturalism forces upon us a very disillusioned “take” on reality. It is one that most naturalists have sought to avoid, or at least qualify, reinterpret, or recast to avoid its harshest conclusions about the meaning of life, the nature of morality, the significance of our consciousness self-awareness, and the limits of human self-understanding. This is a vast agenda and it’s presumptuous to address it even in a format 30 times longer than this one. My excuse is that I stand on the shoulders of giants: the many heroic naturalists who have tried vainly, I think, to find a more hopeful version of naturalism than this one.

We all lie awake some nights asking questions about the universe, its meaning, our place in it, the meaning of life, and our lives, who we are, what we should do, as well as questions about god, free will, morality, mortality, the mind, emotions, love. These worries are a luxury compared to the ones most people on Earth address. But they are persistent. And yet they all have simple answers, ones we can pretty well read off from science. 

Most scientists are reluctant to admit science’s answers to the persistent questions are obvious. There are more than enough reasons they are reluctant to do so. The best reason is that the answers to the persistent questions are not what people want to hear, and the bad news may lead them to kill the messenger—scientific research. It’s people who pay for  science through their support of the NIH, the NSF, and the universities where most  research happens. So, scientists have an incentive to cover up.

Even if scientists came clean however, most people wouldn’t accept the answers science gives to the persistent questions because they can’t understand the answers. The reason is that the answers don’t come in the form of stories with plots. What science has discovered about reality can’t be packaged into whodunit narratives about motives and actions. The human mind is the product of a long process of selection for being able to scope out other people’s motives. The way nature solved the problem of endowing us with that ability is by making us conspiracy theorists—we see motives everywhere in nature, and our curiosity is only satisfied when we learn the “meaning” of things—whose purposes they serve. The fundamental laws of nature are mostly timeless mathematical truths that work just as well backwards as forward, and in which purposes have no role. That’s why most people have a hard time wrapping their minds around physics or chemistry. It’s why science writers are always advised to get the science across to people by telling a story, and why it never really works. Science’s laws and theories just don’t come in stories with surprising starts, exciting middles and satisfying dénouements. That makes them hard to remember and hard to understand. Our demand for plotted narratives is the greatest obstacle to getting a grip on reality. It’s also what greases the skids down the slippery slope to religion’s “greatest story ever told.” Scientism helps us see how mistaken the demand for stories instead of theories really is.

But the process that Darwin discovered–random, or rather blind variation, and natural selection, or rather passive environmental filtration–does all the work of explaining the means/ends economy of biological nature that shouts out ‘purpose’ or ‘design’ at us. What Darwin showed was that all of the beautiful suitability of living things to their environment, every case of fit between organism and niche, and all of the intricate meshing of parts into wholes, is just the result of blind causal processes. It’s all just the foresightless play of fermions and bosons producing, in us conspiracy-theorists, the illusion of purpose.

If there is no purpose to life in general, biological or human for that matter, the question arises whether there is meaning in our individual lives, and if it is not there already, whether we can put it there. One source of meaning on which many have relied is the intrinsic value, in particular the moral value, of human life. People have also sought moral rules, codes, principles which are supposed to distinguish us from merely biological critters whose lives lack (as much) meaning or value (as ours). Besides morality as a source of meaning, value, or purpose, people have looked to consciousness, introspection, self-knowledge as a source of insight into what makes us more than the merely physical facts about us. Scientism must reject all of these straws that people have grasped, and it’s not hard to show why. Science has to be nihilistic about ethics and morality.

There is no room in a world where all the facts are fixed by physical facts for a set of free floating independently existing norms or values (or facts about them) that humans are uniquely equipped to discern and act upon. So, if scientism is to ground the core morality that every one (save some psychopaths and sociopaths) endorses, as the right morality, it’s going to face a serious explanatory problem. The only way all or most normal humans could have come to share a core morality is through selection on alternative moral codes or systems, a process that resulted in just one winning the evolutionary struggle and becoming “fixed” in the population. 

This nihilistic blow is cushioned by the realization that Darwinian processes operating on our forbears in the main selected for niceness! The core morality of cooperation, reciprocity and even altruism that was selected for in the environment of hunter-gatherers and early agrarians, continues to dominate our lives and social institutions. We may hope the environment of modern humans has not become different enough eventually to select against niceness. But we can’t invest our moral core with more meaning than this: it was a convenience, not for us as individuals, but for our genes. There is no meaning to be found in that conclusion.

We have to add to these illusions of the will and sensory experience, robust experimental results which reveal that we actually navigate the world looking through the rear-view mirror! We don’t even see what is in front of our eyes, but continually make guesses about it based on what has worked out in our individual and evolutionary past. Discovering the illusion that we are looking through the windshield in stead of the rear view mirror, along with so much more that neuroscience is uncovering about the brain,  reveals that the mind is no more a purpose-driven system than anything else in nature. 

Perhaps the most profound illusion introspection foists on us is the notion that our thoughts are actually recorded anywhere in the brain at all in the form introspection reports. This has to be the profoundest illusion of all, because neuroscience has been able to show that networks of human brain cells are no more capable of representing facts about the world the way conscious introspection reports than are the neural ganglia of sea slugs!

It’s just a useful heuristic device, one with only a highly imperfect grip on what is going on in thought. Consequently, there is no point asking for the real, the true, the actual meaning of a work of art, or the meaning of an agent’s act, still less the meaning of a historical event or epoch. The demand of the interpretive disciplines, that we account for ideas and artifacts, actions and events, in terms of their meanings, is part of the insatiable hunger for stories with plots, narratives, and whodunits that human kind have insisted on since natural selection made us into conspiracy-theorists a half a million years ago or so.

Nevertheless, if the mind is the brain (and scientism can’t allow that it is anything else), we have to stop taking consciousness seriously as a source of knowledge or understanding about the mind, or the behavior the brain produces. And we have to stop taking our selves seriously too. We have to realize that there is no self, soul or enduring agent, no subject of the first-person pronoun, tracking its interior life while it also tracks much of what is going on around us. This self cannot be the whole body, or its brain, and there is no part of either that qualifies for being the self by way of numerical-identity over time. 

i) This is a lot more candid than the usual atheist propaganda. Indeed, Rosenberg says right out of the gate that most of his fellow-atheists are lowballing the nihilistic implications of atheism.

ii) Rosenberg illustrates the predicament of an atheist who strives to consistently develop an inconsistent paradigm. Naturalism suffers from internal contradictions, so that when you try to take it to a logical extreme, it generates head-on collisions. For instance, Rosenberg confidently appeals to a scientific description of reality. An objective, third-person description of what the world is really like. 

Yet he says minds are reducible to brains, and brains can't represent facts about the world. But scientific knowledge relies on the understanding of human observers! 

But that contradiction is unresolvable within his naturalistic paradigm. You can only relieve the tension by scrapping the paradigm. 

iii) He says:

This nihilistic blow is cushioned by the realization that Darwinian processes operating on our forbears in the main selected for niceness! The core morality of cooperation, reciprocity and even altruism.

According to him, evolutionary psychology has brainwashed us to practice cooperation, reciprocity and even altruism. But even on its own grounds, the obvious problem with that "cushion" is that brainwashing is only effective if you don't know you've been brainwashed. He himself is pulling back to explain how moral instincts are an illusion. But once you see through the programming, it no longer controls you. Agents must remain oblivious to their conditioning for that to pull the wool over their eyes. 

In the past, there were infidels who personally ridiculed and repudiated Christianity, yet they still promoted civil religion to keep the unwashed masses subservient to the ruling class. They felt the rank-and-file needed a religion of carrots and sticks to keep them from getting out of hand. Infidels didn't subscribe to the social mores of civil religion, but they feared the rabble.  

Ironically, Rosenberg is saying evolutionary psychology performs the same function as civil religion. The intelligentsia know it's a ruse, but it serves their purpose to keep the hoi polloi in the dark. Too much nihilism is a dangerous thing! That's a trade secret of the secular illuminati. 

Price mythicism

Jonathan McLatchie recently hosted a webinar with reputed Christ mythicist Robert Price. Perhaps an actor was playing the role of Robert Price, the way actors play fictional characters. "Robert Price" is clearly a westernized variation on the mythical trope of the Eastern sage, like bearded Hindu Swamis, and aging Tibetan monks in kung fu flicks who dispense fortune cookie platitudes to a young apprentice. Price represents a stock character is B Hollywood movies. There is no historical Price. Robert Price does not exist!

Flying solo

A friend ask me to comment on some recent posts by Perry Robinson regarding sola scripture and private judgment:

That is, the argument is not over epistemological issues (how can we know the correct interpretation of scripture?) but rather normative issues (what interpretation of scripture is binding or obligatory?)

Is Perry saying a normative (binding/obligatory) interpretation of Scripture is something over and above a merely correct interpretation of Scripture? If so, why should anyone accept that dichotomy? Why isn't a correct interpretation of Scripture obligatory? 

Perry defines the right of private judgment thusly:

Any Christian individual is ultimately obligated to adhere to belief X, if and only if they judge (determine, assess, etc.) that belief X is scriptural.

I disagree. We are obligated to believe a true interpretation of Scripture, whether or not we perceive it to be true. For instance, Mary Baker Eddy had her own hermeneutical filter based on homespun idealism. But her private judgment was unwarranted because it was dead wrong. We can't eliminate truth, or the relationship between truth and epistemic justification. 

On the Protestant thesis of Sola Scriptura by contrast, I form a judgement in such a way that whatever the church determines, it can only obligate or bind me to believe it, if and only if, I agree with that judgement.

It's not the church that obligates belief, but truth. Of course, the church can be an important vehicle when it comes to teaching the truth. 

Informally, my argument goes like this.  Defenders of Sola Scriptura contend that that position doesn’t imply that the conscience of the individual having greater authority than the whole church. That is, it is not the case, they contend, that Sola Scriptura implies or entails that everyone is their own pope. This is so, they say, because they admit of subordinate or secondary authorities. But on the contrary, on Sola Scriptura by virtue of its essential constituent, the Doctrine of the Right of Private Judgment, none of the secondary authorities are superior to and can bind the conscience of the individual. They are authoritative if and only if that person assents to them, and not, if they don’t. Hence ecclesial authorities, regardless of the number are subordinated to the conscience of the individual. This is just to say that the conscience of the individual is normatively superior to the normative judgements of the church. Hence, there is no substantial difference between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura.

Now if the judgments produced by an individual is normatively superior than those produced by the church, relative to that individual, then there is no substantial difference between Sola and Solo Scriptura. This is because any subordinate authorities on Sola Scriptura are in the end, subordinated to the normative judgment of the individual. That means, that the authority of the church stops at the doorstep of the individual and is only applicable to that individual if the individual agrees to be so bound and not if they don’t.

i) I agree with Perry that the attempted distinction between sola scripture and solo scripture is unstable. I said that years ago. 

ii) I don't know how Perry defines "the church" in this context. Is he using that a synonym for bishops in the seven ecumenical councils acknowledged by Eastern Orthodox theologians? 

iii) A problem with casting the issue in terms of authority is how you ever get started. Suppose Perry uses ecumenical councils as his benchmark. If so, doesn't that just push the question back a step? By what authority does Perry determine which candidates for ecumenical councils are legitimate? 

iv) This also goes to the question of whether Eastern Orthodoxy has formal criteria. Is there an identifiable, failsafe mechanism for determining the locus of normative authority? As I recall, John Meyerdorff denies that. He appeaal to "living tradition". A kind of spiritual instinct. 

v) What is meant by "the whole church"? All Christians, past, present, and future, in union with Jesus and the Holy Spirit? But that can't be the benchmark since we can't submit a questionnaire to all Christians, past, present, and future. 

vi) I disagree with how Perry frames the issue. It's not in the first instance a question of authority but truth and evidence. We have a duty to believe revealed truth, and the evidence for some interpretations is better than others. 

vii) Apropos (vi), it's meaningless to say, in the abstract, that an individual has more authority than the church or vice versa. Those are empty generalities. They can't be true or false because it depends on the specifics. Sometimes individuals are right while collectives are wrong. Sometimes collectives are right while individuals are wrong. There's no fact-free principle that's true in general. Rather, it depends on specific claims and supporting evidence. 

It's enough to be right. You don't need a right to be right. To get it right is self-warranting. 

viii) Perhaps Perry thinks you need some ecclesiastical authority source to be right or to be justifiably confident that you are right. If so, that becomes a question of how he verifies his authority source–which reverts to private judgment. 

ix) In addition, individual responsibility is person-variable. Some Christians are held to a higher standard because they have greater aptitude and opportunities. There's such a thing as innocent error. Doing the best you can with what you've got. To be faithful to the situation God put you in. That varies from one individual to another. Richard Bauckham, F. F. Bruce, Alvin Plantinga, and Peter van Inwagen are held to a higher standard than the average layman. 

x) It's God's intention that Christians often hold some erroneous beliefs. Christians in general are fallible. That's only unacceptable if it's supposed to be otherwise. But since I don't think God has given us an infallible church, I'm content with the relative uncertainties of our situation, since that's the situation God has put us in. I disagree with high-church traditions that erect an artificial bar that Christians must jump over, then require us to use their stepladder. That's not a Christian duty. That's a man-made a priori stipulation. Our responsibility is to be individually faithful to the circumstances that God has providentially put us in. 

Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation?  Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.  What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents ( Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 27:66ff.).

Is Perry appealing to an unpublished, secret tradition? If so, why should Christians be answerable to that?