Saturday, March 17, 2018

Carrier's allegorical method

i) In this post I'm going to quote and comment on chap. 10 of Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014). He keeps daring critics to read his book. And he did that with me on Facebook. Fine. I'm happy to meet the challenge. 

That said, responding to his book is tedious because it's a jungle packed with dead wood. You have to carpet-bomb his book with Agent Orange to clear out all the dead wood, and once the defoliant has done its job, you discover that it was nothing but dead wood. 

Although I've read other chapters, I'll comment on chap. 10 because that's the central chapter of his magnum opus for Christ mythicism. The excerpts constitute representative samples of Carrier's methodology. I may do another post as a mopping up operation, but this post will focus on chap. 10. 

If the four Gospels are true accounts, then at one stroke that proves Christianity and disproves atheism. That moots everything else in Carrier's overstuffed book. 

ii) One preliminary observation. Carrier routinely assumes that if various features or incidents in the life of Christ have OT parallels, that goes to show that the Gospel rewrote an OT story to make it a story about Jesus. Carrier acts as though OT parallels ipso facto disprove the historicity of the Gospels. 

This is amusing because Christians have always made a point of documenting OT parallels. It's not as if Carrier is drawing our attention to something neglected or damaging. 

iii) The fact that Jesus fulfills OT prophecy confirms rather than undercuts the historicity of the Gospels. In addition, typology is based on the principle that there's a God who directs the course of history, a God who prearranges some events to foreshadow later events. The similarities are by design. As an atheist, Carrier rejects that, but typology is entirely consistent with historicity. There's nothing about typology which implies that the antitype is fictitious. That's not an implication of typology, but atheism. Given atheism, then we wouldn't expect history to have these mirror images. 

vi) I'd add that even apart from typology, if OT prophets performed miracles, then it's to be expected that Jesus will perform similar or greater miracles. If Jesus is the Son of God, he's not going to do less than OT prophets. So it's consistent with the historicity of the Gospels that Jesus perform the same kinds of miracles as OT prophets. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

John Lennox on Stephen Hawking

What is the "Rock" in Matthew?

Much Of The Resurrection Evidence Comes From Former Critics Of Christianity

A helpful way to think about the evidence for Jesus' resurrection and Christianity more broadly is to notice how much of the New Testament was written by former opponents of the Christian movement. Even under a very liberal view of New Testament authorship, more than a quarter of the documents were written by a former enemy of Christ. Under more moderate or conservative views of New Testament authorship, as much as 55% of the documents were written by people who had been opponents of the religion (Paul, James, Jude).

Note, too, that even under a highly liberal view in which only seven letters were written by an opponent of Christianity, and only one opponent (Paul), the fact remains that other prominent church leaders and resurrection witnesses were former enemies of the religion (the brothers of Jesus). That includes two of the most prominent leaders, Paul and James (as reflected in Acts 15 and Galatians 1-2, for example). Whether you look at this issue from the perspective of New Testament authorship, early church leadership, or both, much of the testimony we have for Jesus' resurrection comes from people who had previously been opposed to Jesus and his movement.

Stopgap Adam

On Facebook I had this exchange with a theistic evolutionist:

C. S. Lewis argued for a different approach, by which Adam is not a genetic event, but the physical ancestor of all modern humans who was the first anthropoid endowed by God with nous. Lewis' theory would not be reflected in a sharp genetic ancestor (and so is not historically demonstrable), but is a perfectly plausible historical possibility.

But the "historical Adam" of biological evolution is hardly equivalent to the Adam of Gen 2-3 and Rom 5/1 Cor 15.

Your claim here is ambiguous. If you're saying that the scientific description of the historical Adam is not the same as the ANE story of Adam or the typological description of Adam by Paul, well of course! That's not big deal. However, if you are saying that the referent of the historical Adam is not the same as the referent of the biblical character of Adam ... why not? I see no obvious reason why the same historical individual cannot play both the scientific role and the biblical role.

Well, I wasn't discussing the "scientific" description of Adam, but an evolutionary description. More to the point, an evolutionary narrative of Adam bears no resemblance to the Gen 2 narrative of Adam's origin.

This isn't just a conservative Christian view of theistic evolution. Peter Enns makes the same point in a book review: 

In the long run, however, I am not convinced that all—or even most—of these readers will feel comfortable following Collins. Collins's synthesis requires an ad hoc hybrid "Adam" who was "first man" in the sense of being either a specially chosen hominid or a larger tribe of early hominids (Collins is careful not to commit himself to either option). Although I am sympathetic to Collins's efforts to blaze such a path (and he is not alone), I do not see how such an ad hoc Adam will calm doctrinal waters, since the Westminster Confession of Faith leaves no room for anything other than a first couple read literally from the pages of Genesis and Paul, and therefore entails a clear rejection of evolutionary theory. Further, this type of hybrid "Adam," clearly driven by the need to account for an evolutionary model, is not the Adam of the biblical authors. Ironically, the desire to protect the Adam of scripture leads Collins (and others) to create an Adam that hardly preserves the biblical portrait. Evolution and a historical Adam cannot be merged by positing an Adam so foreign to the biblical consciousness.

An evolutionary narrative is describing Adam's history and origin with respect to his biological and material past, while the biblical narrative is describing Adam's history and origin with respect to his relationship to God and the spiritual teleology of creation. The referent is the same, but the contexts of description are dramatically different. That's because the evolutionary story and the biblical story do not compete, but complement.

No, they're not coreferential or complementary but divergent accounts. Gen 2 describes the absolute origin of Adam (and Eve). God making Adam from inorganic material, then animating the pristine corpse. Adam didn't exist at all prior to that action. 

Gen 2 describes the origin of Adam and Eve as the direct product of special creation. 

Genesis describes all humans descending from a single breeding pair (Adam and Eve). 

By contrast, the evolutionary narrative is an undifferentiated continuum. You can't shoehorn Gen 2 into an evolutionary narrative. These are independent and incommensurable explanations. Theistic evolution is a slapdash pastiche of disparate explanations. 

A truly incarnational theology…

The Incarnation is a unique, unrepeatable event. It's chic silly-putty to stretch that into some broader principle. 

There the claim is simply that a careful understanding of our evolutionary past does not show that there was no Adam and Eve.

Of course it does. There is no unique Adam and Eve in the evolutionary narrative, but hominids and humans with separate genealogies. At best there's a last universal common ancestor, but that's hardly equivalent to Adam and Eve in Genesis.

Your remark sort of reminds me of those people who try to redefine marriage to suit their own moral desires contrary to God's vision.

How very droll given your Orwellian redefinition of Adam and Eve.

The biological history of the human species is the current scientific framework for talking about Adam's material and biological origins.

If you take macroevolution/universal common descent as a given, then that's a framework for excluding Gen 2-3,5; Rom 5; 1 Cor 15. 

or a deliberate attempt to sow confusion and discord in the Church so as to discredit Christians who are working within contemporary scientific disciplines to demonstrate the reliability and truth of the Bible's claims.

i) More of your Orwellian double-talk where you pretend that a narrative of human origins which is completely at variance with Gen 2 demonstrates the "reliability" and veracity of biblical claims. 

When BioLogos was founded, it immediately went on the attack against both young-earth creationists and intelligent design theory, even though ID theory is compatible with theistic evolution. So which side is sowing discord in the church? 

ii) BTW, there are different versions of theistic evolution. Using Gerald Rau's taxonomy (Mapping the Origins Debate), which do you subscribe to: nonteleological evolution, planned evolution, or directed evolution?

Genesis 2.7 reads in the ESV, "Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." This lone sentence does not say how God made man. "Formed" is not a description of a process, it's not an explanation, but a claim about who is the author of the process that brought Adam into being (who did the "forming"). God is that author."

i) You erect a false dichotomy between who did it and how it happened. The text says both. 

ii) I never suggested the verb alone carries the whole semantic weight. The text doesn't merely say that God "formed" Adam but describes the process. 

Saying "God formed me from my mother's womb" (Is. 49.5) does not mean I did not gestate 9 months through natural processes nor that I did not grow up through adolescence the natural way.

i) Completely different context. Gen 2 is a creation account whereas Isa 49:5 takes the existence of ordinary procreation for granted. 

ii) Moreover, Isa 49:5 explicitly refers to the process of gestation. So your analogy is vitiated by drastic disanalogies

In the same way in Genesis 1.25 scripture says that God made all the beasts of the earth, without saying how God made these creatures. Scripture does illuminate the "how" in the previous verse, where God says, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." We see that in the actual process of creation, living creatures evolved out of the earth, though again without further specifying how (perhaps out of the plants that evolved out of inorganic matter in v.12?). Yet the fact that the earth brought all life forth does not make it any less God's action. God is still the creator of all things.

i) Your interpretation is grossly anachronistic. You're filtering the ancient text through the theory of evolution, but the original audience didn't have that interpretive frame of reference. 

ii) Gen 1 describes the origin of aquatic organisms in relation to bodies of water and terrestrial organisms (plants, land animals) in relation to the surface of the earth, since that's the habit in which these organisms reproduce. Likewise, ancient Jews could see wild vegetation emerging from the earth, and Gen 1 narrates the origin of that cycle. Seeds produce fruit-trees, which in turn produce more seeds. A continuous alternation. 

So Genesis 2.7 tells us that God is the author of man and has made him to be possessed of God's own spirit. It does not tell us how God has made man, but we can see from 1.12 and 1.24 that an evolutionary process as the how of Adam's creation does not in any way negate God as the author of Adam's being.

i) You're reinterpreting a more detailed creation account of man (Gen 2) by reference to a less detailed creation account of man (Gen 1). That's retrograde. It's the more detailed account that qualifies the less detailed account, not vice versa.

ii) Your statement is equivocal. Ruach has more than one meaning, which is context dependent. In Gen 2:7, it's about making a lifeless corpse alive by breathing into it. That's not infusing the Spirit of God, but has reference to biological life.

You propose instead to read Genesis 2.7 as: "God making Adam from inorganic material, then animating the pristine corpse." This is the so-called "literal" reading of the text. It strikes me as a picking and choosing from the text. For to follow it through you'd have to also believe that God has a physical body who used his hands to physically crafted the pristine corpse out of dust by molding the soil as a potter molds the clay. And you'd also have to believe that God has a physical mouth and physically breathed into Adam's nostrils as if doing CPR and thus brought him to life (again, how? What was the process by which breath animated the corpse?) Do you also believe that this physical God performed surgery on Adam, and similarly made woman with the bone and nearby soil? Going to scripture, we see that God is a spirit, and in both Genesis 1 and John 1, he creates through his Word, not through a body. This Word produces natural processes that serve God's commands, and through those natural processes all that God creates is produced. If you reject the heresy of God having a physical body, then I must ask why, if you don't read those portions of Genesis 2.7 literally, do you read the rest literally?

What you overlook is Pentateuchal angelology, including the Angel of the Lord. According to the Pentateuch, God does sometimes assume human form (or angelomorphic form) to physically interact with earthly surroundings. There are several theophanic angelophanies in the Pentateuch. 

Evolutionary biology agrees that God made Adam from inorganic material, just not directly.

Evolutionary biology says nothing of the kind. Rather, you're reinterpreting Gen 2, then gluing that onto a theory of evolution. 

All life began with inorganic compounds, and then evolved from simple bacteria and plants to human life. Adam was indeed made of the dust of the ground, and he does indeed have God as his author. Evolutionary biology agrees with your further remark that 'Adam didn't exist at all prior to that action [of God breathing in his spirit].' Indeed, Adam did not precede whatever pre-human anthropoid received the image of God to know that God exists and has a purpose for Adam. Adam was the first human, because Adam was the first humanoid to stand in a relationship with God as his image-bearer living under covenant. He was no mere beast of the field, but a new creation, something unlike ever living creature around. Adam was both the first human in the biblical sense and the first to stand in covenant with God.

In Gen 2, God doesn't select a hominid from preexisting hominids, on whom he confers the image of God. You're interjecting stuff from outside the text. You're creating gaps in the text that are not in the text, then filing in the artificial gaps with extraneous postulates foreign to the narrative viewpoint. That's not how to exegete an ancient text. 

"Special creation" is nothing more than the claim that at one moment of time Adam did not exist, and at another moment of time Adam did exist, with God as the ultimate cause of Adam's existing. If you further claim that between those two moments, there were no natural processes by which God created Adam, you have read into the text something it does not say. Does the text say that on Day 4 of creation, God made the sun and moon and stars with no natural processes?

i) You repeat the same hermeneutical blunder when you simplify Gen 2 by reducing it to a more general creation account (Gen 1). 

ii) In addition, there are critical disanalogies between the origin of man and the origin of other creatures. Gen 1-2 doesn't dissolve them into a single common process. 

Or does it just say that he made them, allowing us to affirm all that General Revelation testifies about how God made them, through the evolution of galaxies and solar systems?

When interpreting an ancient text like Gen 1-2, the only general revelation that's pertinent is the prescientific information available to an ancient observer. You're methodology is like a urologist who reinterprets Ezk 1 in terms of flying saucers and extraterrestrials. 

For all truth is God's truth.

Which doesn't tell us what is true. Only that if something is true, it's part of God's overall truth.

What amazes me is that all of this stuff has long been settled in the Church universal. Why continue to be a stumbling block to people accepting the Gospel by insisting that they must choose between the best science of General Revelation and a particular exegesis of Genesis 1-2? John Stott, probably the greatest instrument of God in the last century second only to Billy Graham for proclaiming the Gospel, wrote the following excerpt back in 1970, nearly fifty years ago! How slow we are to learn!

If you wish to make John Stott your pope, that's your prerogative. But he's not the voice of the "church universal". And funny how you appropriate the "church universal" in the same breath as you preemptively discount how Gen 1-2 was understood for centuries and millennia prior to Darwin.

What has been the historic Christian doctrine with respect to the relationship between the testimony of God's creation and the testimony of God's written word (e.g. Augustine's doctrine of creation, Aquinas' doctrine of primary and secondary causation...

One problem is that you commit a level-confusion. Science isn't general revelation. Science is a fallible human interpretation of nature. In addition, scientists make assumptions about induction and the uniformity of nature, while some take that a step further by making methodological atheism axiomatic for the scientific method. Those are assumptions they bring to the study of nature, not assumptions they derive from the study of nature. 

Calvin's doctrine of accommodation in the books of Moses.

That's widely misunderstood. For a corrective:

Do you not listen to those God calls to teach you?

Why should I presume that God called Aquinas to teach me?

Do you set yourself up as an authority to judge everyone else?

As opposed to what? Blindly submitting to a teacher? I'm directly answerable to God for what I believe. I don't have the right to contract that out to a second party.

Calvin, Aquinas et al. are entitled to a respectful hearing, but their opinions are only as good as the supporting arguments they adduce in defense of their opinions. Their opinions and reasons must be open to scrutiny. 

That responsibility varies according to the aptitude and opportunities of Christians. 

It isn't even possible to submit carte blanche to any particular teacher since Christian philosophers, theologians &c. disagree with each other. 

Well, unless you believe in the infallibility of the church (are you a Roman Catholic?), traditional interpretations have precedent but they are not guaranteed to be without error…Steve, do you defend a geocentric model of the solar system? The geocentric view of the universe was more widely held by the historic church than any particular interpretation of Genesis 1-2, understood to be the correct interpretation of a large number of scripture passages, not least of all Joshua 10. And as Sproul is at pains to show, it was scientists studying God's creation that corrected our interpretation of scripture. Why is it okay for the Church universal to change its historic understanding of Joshua 10 on the basis of scientific inquiry into the world, but it's not okay for the Church two hundred years later to improve its understanding of Genesis 1-2 on the basis of scientific inquiry into the human past?

You need to keep track of your own argument. You were the one, not me, who make the alleged witness of the church universal a criterion to justify theistic evolution. I pointed out that your appeal was wildly unrepresentative. That's responding to you on your own grounds. That doesn't commit me to your standard. Rather, it shows that you're inconsistent by your own standard.

Can you accept that Christians can reasonably disagree about whether or not biological evolution conflicts with scripture?

Why should I presume to vouch for the bona fides of theistic evolutionists in general?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Is secular moral realism defensible?

Milestones: Sowing and Reaping

A life-long pastor friend of mine once told me, “John, it’s good that you have a secular career to support your theology work. There’s no money in theology”.

To be sure, when the secular work becomes interrupted, the theology gets interrupted as well.

On Tuesday (March 13), quite by chance, I achieved two major milestones in my life. Of course, I don’t believe in “chance”, but two things came together nicely.

Early in the morning, I passed a certification test that will enable me to be employable for at least several years to come – this is good because I’m 58 now, and my career focus in the technology world has shifted from “I want to be a rising star” to “hold on and be useful for a little while longer”.

And later in the day, I also received a copy of my first article to be published in a theological journal. (I’m hoping that this part of my work-life expands, even as the first part recedes).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hidden in Plain View: A Review

The Quest: Faith, Science, and Creation in the 21st Century

Miracle battery

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mk 5:24-34). 

i) This is an enigmatic passage. On the face of it, this might suggest that Jesus is a supercharged miracle battery. You only have to touch him, and there's an involuntary transfer of miraculous energy, like an electrical current. 

ii) One thing to keep in mind is that Mark uses "power" (dynamis) as a synonym for "miracle". So we could translate v30, "a miracle went out from him". It's not that he contains miraculous energy, but rather, he's a source of miracles. 

iii) In the OT, some objects are "sacred" objects. They've been consecrated for sacred use, and there's an automatic cause/effect relation if they are misused. An example is the ark of the covenant. It's that's mishandled, the result is fatal (2 Sam 6:6-10). It's not because there's anything naturally special about the ark of the covenant. It's just a gilded wooden box. But God arranged a cause/effect relation.

An analogy would be the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. God has assigned a particular result if someone ate the fruit. Another example is 2 Chron 26:16-21, where King Uzziah contracts a visible, conspicuous skin disease because he makes unauthorized use of sacred objects. 

It's based on the principle of ritual purity and ritual impurity, where a person becomes defiled by profaning a sacred object. The result is automatic.

iv) Apropos (iii), I think there's an element of that in the Markan account, which views Jesus as a sacred object (so to speak). Merely touching Jesus can produce an effect without his consciously willing that effect, like contact with sacred objects in the OT. 

v) But in the Markan, that's qualified in a couple of respects. Because Jesus is thronged by the crowd, many people are touching him, yet only she is healed. The differential factor is her faith. 

vi) In addition, she is ritually impure due to chronic bleeding. Normally, ritual impurity is contagious. Someone who's ritually impure transmits that on contact. 

But in the case of Jesus, the process is reversed. She doesn't contaminate Jesus by touching him; rather, he heals her by being touched by her. So that's in studied contrast to the OT. Rather than sinners desecrating Jesus by physical contact, it has the opposite effect: they are restored. 

Stephen Hawking

So Stephen Hawking has died. My poorly organized or scattered initial thoughts:

  1. Hawking lived far longer than most people with ALS live. (So much so that some people have been so incredulous they've speculated the real Hawking died in the early 1980s and was replaced by a double!) Median survival is 3-5 years, but Hawking was diagnosed with ALS at age 21 and died at age 76.

    Given his original poor prognosis, I wonder if in his quietest moments Hawking ever thought he needed to get right with his Maker. After it turned out he was living longer than most with ALS, I wonder if Hawking in his solitude ever considered this might be something of a mercy.

    More likely he simply chalked it up to sheer dumb luck that he was living longer than the vast majority with ALS. If so, then perhaps Richard Dawkins put it best:

    In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

  2. Physicists can correct me if I'm mistaken, but my understanding is as follows:

    a. Hawking's main scientific contributions involve black holes (e.g. black hole theory) and quantum effects associated with black holes ("black holes ain't so black", as Hawking has put it). I believe he did other work including work attempting to unify quantum theory and gravitation, and his search for a unified theory was at the core of what he most hoped for, though I think most of this was in concert with colleagues like Roger Penrose. I think this is more or less the extent of Hawking's major scientific contributions.

    b. As such, I think Hawking's public reputation as "the next Einstein" is overstated. I suspect it's largely due to images of an intelligent scientist trapped in a wheelchair. As if beholding a pure mind almost but not quite unbound from its physical shackles. So physically fragile, yet mentally intact. It almost seems like the opposite of dementia. To my knowledge, his mind never significantly waned, even as his body deteriorated. The lights are on upstairs, though the house has broken down into a dilapidated dump.

    c. I've heard and read many physicists say Hawking did fine and respectable work with black holes, but they have likewise said Hawking was far from the likes of Einstein or Feynman. Einstein made "miracle" contributions which revolutionized physics and, indeed, how we now think about the world. Feynman had huge and varied interests, and, reflecting this, he made a wide-range of contributions to multiple areas in physics and even other sciences (e.g. he once made a minor but not insignificant contribution to biology, he helped kickstart the field of nanotechnology, he did interesting work in computer science when his son Carl Feynman decided to become a computer scientist and he started taking an interest in his son's work). Had Feynman been born a generation or two earlier, his contributions might have been more astounding than they were, but by his day there wasn't as much earth-shattering physics to uncover, not in comparison to those of earlier generations including Einstein. And, of course, Feynman always had that very unique if askew way of looking at physics that most other bright fellow physicists couldn't quite see or follow - often to the consternation of Murray Gell-Mann, among others.

    d. If we judge Hawking alongside colleagues of his generation like Martin Rees and Roger Penrose, my impression is Hawking is at best on par with Rees, but considerably inferior to Penrose (though Penrose is about a decade older than Hawking). No doubt Hawking was intelligent, but I don't think he towered above the rest of his colleagues like the public tends to think. At most, Hawking hovered a few inches above his colleagues. He was no giant.

  3. After the publication of his A Brief History in Time, which made him a wealthy and famous man, Hawking mainly became a populizer of theoretical physics and cosmology to laypeople.

    Hawking is likewise known for working his atheism into his popular books, at least among Christians. Sure, he's not as militant as other atheists (e.g. Dawkins), but it's fairly clear where Hawking's sympathies lie. His atheism was somewhat muted or hidden in A Brief History of Time, but it became more obvious later in life. For instance, I think the conclusion of Hawking's A Brief History of Time sets up human intellectual autonomy against God:

    However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we would know the mind of God.

    The Grand Design attempts to eliminate the need for God. Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow have written in the book:

    It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.

    In fact, much of the book asks questions better suited for philosophers and theologians to address, even (ironically) as the book pronounces the death of philosophy. Perhaps Hawking should've heeded Feynman's words:

    I believe that a scientist looking at non-scientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy - and when he talks about a non-scientific matter, he will sound as naive as anyone untrained in the matter.

  4. I found Hawking's end of the world predictions amusing whenever they would come out in the media. By turns he feared global overpopulation would lead to an inhospitable planet for humans as well as famines and starvations and the like, A.I. would rise up against their human creators and destroy the human race, hostile intelligent extraterrestrials would invade and subjugate humanity, and so forth. Hawking may have been an intelligent man, but he wasn't a very original thinker, at least not when it came to apocalyptic scenarios! These might as well have been taken from the latest scifi or disaster flick.

    Still, because Hawking feared the end of humanity, and because he has said he was always inspired by "the stars", Hawking would often argue for space exploration and off-world colonization. (I guess Elon Musk is attempting to make that happen now.) I suppose Hawking believes humanity is in a precarious situation if all we have is this little rock orbiting an insignificant star to fall back on. However, as an atheist physicist and cosmologist, he surely must've realized at some point that even if humanity could somehow settle the entire universe (or multiverse), humanity will end with the end of the universe itself. It's like we live in a colossal bubble, but there's nothing outside this bubble, and if this bubble bursts or collapses, then it takes everything inside of it with it. If this life, universe, and everything is all there is - if the cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be - then there's no escape from it. There's no hope beyond it. And death is inevitable for everyone and everything. Maybe Hawking was hoping for an oasis in the desert or a restaurant at the end of the universe. If so, that kind of hope is like hoping for pie in the sky, by and by.

  5. As far as his personal life, Hawking's first wife was the devout Christian Jane Wilde. Jane knew him before he was diagnosed with ALS. She married him and stuck by his side as he deteriorated. She helped him as he completed his PhD (and she herself is no ignoramus as she later completed her PhD in medieval languages at the University of London). She was his wife, the mother of his children, and more. I haven't seen the movie, but apparently their romance is portrayed in the film The Theory of Everything. Yet Hawking eventually left Jane to marry his nurse. (I'm pretty sure that's not in the movie.) [I spoke too soon! This isn't correct. See the combox below. And thanks, JeremiahZ.]

    Jane once said about Hawking when they were still married:

    I pronounce my view that there are different ways of approaching [religion], and the mathematical way is only one way, and he just smiles.

    And Hawking once said to her:

    There is no room for God in my universe.

  6. On the one hand, it's quite a feat Hawking was able to remain relatively optimistic for so long despite his physical condition. As Hawking has said:

    If you are disabled physically, you cannot afford to be disabled psychologically.

    On the other hand, although it's evident Hawking's daughter Lucy adores her father, she has said the following about her father (Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind, p 147):

    I think a lot of people don't realise just how stubborn he is. Once he gets an idea in his head, he will follow it through no matter what the consequences are. He doesn't let a thing drop...He will do what he wants to do at any cost to anybody else.

    Perhaps this is "the ultimate triumph" of Hawking's life.

  7. By contrast, the great physicist James Clerk Maxwell had a more modest and constrained view of science and scientists:

    Science is incompetent to reason upon the creation of matter itself out of nothing. We have reached the utmost limit of our thinking faculties when we have admitted that because matter cannot be eternal and self-existent it must have been created.

    I think men of science as well as other men need to learn from Christ, and I think Christians whose minds are scientific are bound to study science that their view of the glory of God may be as extensive as their being is capable.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Did the historical Jesus claim to be divine?

God's flying chariot

The "Son of Man" is a favorite self-designation of Jesus. The Bible is based on the famous vision in Daniel:

9 “As I looked,

thrones were placed,
    and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
    and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
    its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
    and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
    and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
    and the books were opened.
11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

13 “I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    will worship him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed.
(Dan 7:9-14)

A few observations:

1. This is one of many passages depicting messiah as the heir of God's kingdom. 

2. As one commentator notes:

The Aramaic word for "worship" (pelach) used here [v14] always has reference to deities (apart from Dan 7:14,27, it is also used in Dan 3:28; 6:16[17],20[21]). I. Duguid, Daniel (P&R 2008), 117. 

3. The symbolism of the nubilous entourage is multilayered:

i) At a generic level, clouds can signify the abode of celestial beings (cf. Ps 97:2). They live above the clouds. 

ii) In theophanic settings, clouds are associated with the Shekinah. 

iii) Finally, Scripture sometimes represents Yahweh as a storm god. His "chariot" is a thunderstorm. That's emblematic for Yahweh's identity as a warrior God, avenger and judge, viz. 

2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him
    and burns up his adversaries all around.
4 His lightnings light up the world;
    the earth sees and trembles.
(Ps 97:2-4)

He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
    he rides on the wings of the wind;
(Ps 104:3)

Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud
    and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
    and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
(Isa 19:1)

The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
(Nahum 1:3)

9 He bowed the heavens and came down;
    thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub and flew;
    he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
    thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him
    hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
    and the Most High uttered his voice,
    hailstones and coals of fire.
14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
    he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
(Ps 18:9-14)

Dan 7:9-10 is reminiscent of Ezk 1, where the theophany resembles a lightning storm at a distance. God's flying chariot. And that blends into the nubilous symbolism of v13. Dan 7 presents messiah as God's successor or coregent, with divine insignia. 

The Last Adam

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:28).

That' a unitarian prooftext. A few observations:

i) This occurs in the same letter where Paul uses a divine title for Christ: "The Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8). That's a variation on a divine title (e.g. Ps 24:7-10; Ps 29:3; Eph 1:17). The Kurios of glory is the Greek equivalent of the Yahweh of glory.

ii) This occurs in the same letter where Paul adapts the Shema (Deut 6:4) to make Jesus the Lord (=Yahweh) of the Shema (1 Cor 8:6). Yes, I know that gives unitarians heart palpitations, but it's unmistakably what's happening in 1 Cor 8:4-6). 

iii) God assumes a number of economic roles, viz. creator, redeemer, sustainer, judge. These are contingent roles. They are inessential to what God is in the sense that while only God can discharge those roles, God would still be God if he didn't undertake them.

iv) Likewise, social roles can either be temporary or permanent. If a man is widowed and remarries, he's no longer the husband of his first wife. That role was temporary. By contrast, if he fathers a child, that role is permanent.

But again, even on human terms, these are contingent roles or relations. It's essential to human nature that we have the capacity to be a spouse or parent, but inessential that it be realized. We'd still be human without it.

v) In addition, it's possible to have multiple roles which vary in authority or social status. The same individual can be equal or superior in one role, but unequal or subordinate in another role. For instance, a grown son who's a successful businessman might hire his own father. His father is his son's employee. In that respect, a subordinate. But that doesn't mean the son outranks the father in every respect. 

vi) As one scholar documents, in 1 Cor 15, Paul is using Adam typology for Christ. That's implicit in v27, where he quotes Ps 8:6–but explicit in v45, where he designates Jesus as the Last Adam. Cf. G. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology (Baker 2011), 261-62. 

So that's an economic role, grounded in the humanity rather than the deity of Christ. The Son qua Last Adam is eternally subordinate to God, but the Son qua Son is on a par with the Father, as the Yahweh of glory and the Yahweh of the Shema (see above). 

Put another way, the Son in his humanity is naturally subordinate to God. But that's not all there is to Jesus in Pauline Christology. The inequality of the Son qua Last Adam is consistent with the coequality of the Son qua Son. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Mariolatry and unitarianism

There's an interesting parallel between Mariolotry and unitarianism. For instance, Catholics draw hairsplitting distinctions between dulia, hyperdulia, and latria. There's the veneration paid to the saints, the special veneration paid to Mary, and the adoration reserved for God. 

Likewise, unitarians say Jesus is rightly "worshipped", but not in the say way God is worshipped.

By the same token, Catholics say it's proper to pray to Mary. Even though she's only human, Mary can simultaneously process millions of prayers in dozens of foreign languages every day.

Likewise, the NT records prayers directed to Jesus (e.g. Jn 14:13-14; Acts 7:59; 9:6; Rev 22:20). So unitarians must believe that Jesus, even though he's merely human, can simultaneously process millions of prayers in dozens of foreign languages every day.

What is more, Catholics believe Mary is the Queen of Heaven. Likewise, unitarians believe that Jesus, though just a man, is sitting at God's right hand, and subjugating God's enemies from heaven. 

See the conquering hero comes!

1. The NT contains two kinds of passages about Jesus: egalitarian passages and subordinationist passages. Egalitarian passages represent the Father and the Son as coequal. The Son is fully divine. Yahweh Incarnate. Recipient of divine honors. The Son exercises uniquely divine prerogatives. Conversely, subordinationist passages represent the Son is in some way inferior to the Father. Theologians struggle about how to harmonize these.

i) Liberal scholars think the canon reflects conflicting theological viewpoints. A collection of documents that are sometimes at loggerheads. They think Mark has a low Christology while John has a high Christology. Acts as a low Christology while passages in Hebrews, Paul, and the "Deutero-Paulines" reflect a high Christology. 

ii) Unitarians resolve the tension by laboring to neutralize all the egalitarian passages.  

iii) In Nicene theology, the Son is subordinate because he derives his existence from the Father. 

2. Actually, I think it's easy to see how the Son can be essentially on a par with the Father, yet subordinate in some respect.  The Bible was revealed in a world of monarchies, dynasties, and warrior cultures. It plays on these social metaphors. There are three intertwined motifs and/or metaphors that coalesce into a messianic paradigm:

i) Father/son

In human affairs, fathers and sons are essentially equals. Fathers may be initially superior because they are farther along in the lifecycle. They have lead time to get established in the social hierarchy. But with the passage of time, a son catches up with his father and eventually overtakes him, as his father declines. In that respect, sons are temporarily subordinate to their fathers. 

ii) King/prince

This is a special case of (i). Typically, a royal son is the designated heir. So long as the king is the reigning monarch and the firstborn son is the crown prince, his son occupies a subordinate role. But eventually he succeeds his father. The prince is the future king. 

iii) Warrior king

This is a special case of (ii). Although the firstborn son is the heir apparent, that's not an unconditional birthright. Sometimes the firstborn may be passed over if he disgraces himself, dishonors his father, is disloyal or inept. Likewise, a wise monarch won't knowingly entrust his kingdom to a son if his kingdom will fall apart or be overrun due to his son's incompetence. 

So the heir apparent may have to prove himself on the field of battle. Prove himself to be, not merely the rightful heir, but a worthy heir. Someone able to defend the kingdom. Able to preserve the royal patrimony. 

In some cases the reigning monarch appoints his son to be coregent. That's a temporary arrangement until the old monarch abdicates or dies in office. 

If you read various messianic prophecies and NT passages, you can see how Scripture exploits these three nested motifs as a messianic paradigm. For instance, in Dan 7, the divine monarch (Ancient of Days) has white hair. He's depicted as an aged king whom the youthful prince (Son of Man) will succeed. 

Indeed, the whole raison d'être for royal dynasties, royal inheritance, royal succession or coregencies is the mortality of the reigning monarch. Soon or later, someone must take his place. Will the transfer of power be peaceful or bloody? 

Of course, theological metaphors are somewhat anthropomorphic. So we need to make allowance for disanalogies as well as analogies in application to the Deity. 

However, it has a literal element. The Son qua Incarnate undergoes physical and psychological development. After the Resurrection and Ascension he rules from heaven, directing the course of history to subjugate enemies of God's kingdom. And upon his return, he will defeat them once and for all time. Let's quote some representative passages:

McGrew reviews Bauckham

Sunday, March 11, 2018

It's Greek to me

A stock objection to the historicity of some dominical statements is the claim that they rely on puns or double entendres which only work in Greek, yet Jesus normally spoke Aramaic. One example is the use of anothen ("above", "again", "anew") in Jn 3. I've discussed this before, but I'd like to make some additional points:

i) My post is not addressed to hardline skeptics. My immediate aim is just to consider whether the narrator slipped up. Is Jn 3 internally inconsistent or anachronistic? Did the narrator neglect to consider what a realistic conversation in that setting would amount to?

ii) Do we have a representative sample of 1C Aramaic? In addition, the types of ancient language that are apt to be preserved are official, literary, and/or legal texts and inscriptions rather than vernacular. Colloquial usage is underrepresented. 

iii) Since Nicodemus initiated the conversion, it would be in whatever language he used at the outset.

iv) As some scholars point out, he has a Greek name, so he may well be polyglot. 

v) As the Son of God, Jesus knows every human language. His divine consciousness can share information with his human consciousness on a need to know basis. 

A critic might object that this begs the question. However, I'm just discussing whether the account is inconsistent, not whether it's factual. From the narrative viewpoint, Jesus is omniscient. So the account can't be faulted on those grounds. 

vi) Sometimes two polyglot conversation partners who are with a group of people will speak a language the two conversation partners understand but the group does not. They don't want everyone within earshot to know what they are saying to each other. Using a language only they know preserves the secrecy of their communication. 

vii) Apropos (vi), at this stage, Nicodemus is noncommittal. He's intrigued by Jesus and impressed by Jesus, but he hasn't made up his mind. He has some questions for Jesus. Questions about Jesus that he brings to Jesus. 

He comes at night to be discreet. One or more of the disciples were probably in attendance when Nicodemus came to see Jesus. He doesn't want the disciples to eavesdrop on the conversation. He doesn't wish to fuel gossip or rumors about his interest in Jesus. At this stage of his investigation, it's premature to stick his neck out. Later he will be bolder, but at this preliminary stage, he has some questions he needs to settle to his own satisfaction, by taking his questions about Jesus straight to Jesus. How Jesus answers them, as well as subsequent developments, will be decisive. 

viii) A critic might ask, in that event, what's the source of this account, if one or more disciples who overheard it didn't understand. It's possible that Jesus explained it to them after Nicodemus left. Certainly they'd be curious. Mind you, that might be breach of confidence. 

Or Nicodemus might have recounted the conversation to the narrator (the apostle John/Beloved Disciple) after Nicodemus became a convert. 

Over and above that is the general phenomenon of the omniscient narrator in Scripture. Unbelievers regard that as a fictional convention. By contrast, believers attribute that to inspiration or revelation. 

God Incognito

1. Unitarians reject church councils like Nicea and Chalcedon, reject the Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, &c. They think Christianity was hijacked by the emperor, along with power-hungry popes and bishops.

But to be consistent, they should reject the NT canon that comes down to us from the same nefarious process. Logically, they should say the church made a mistake when it canonized books like the Gospel of John, the letters of Paul, Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation. Given their viewpoint, it would be more intellectually honest for them to admit that the NT canon has conflicting Christologies. Marcion was more consistent. 

2. Suppose for the sake of argument that the Synoptic Gospels don't teach the deity of Christ. That doesn't disprove Trinitarian theology. In principle, all that Trinitarian theology requires is for the Synoptics Gospels be consistent with Trinitarian theology, be consistent with the "higher" Christology of John, Paul, Hebrews, and Revelation. 

Compare two statements:

i) The Synoptic Gospels don't teach that Jesus is deity

ii) The Synoptic Gospels teach that Jesus isn't deity

Those are not convertible propositions. Even if (i) were the case, that's consonant with the witness to the deity of Christ in other NT documents.

3. The original audience for the Gospels was comprised of basically two kinds of readers: Jews and Gentiles. The ancient world had an honor code about hospitality to strangers. The basis for this honor code was cautionary tales. You should be nice to strangers because you never know who you might be dealing with. You never know when the Yahweh or the Olympians might pay a visit in disguise.

There are tales about that in Greco-Roman mythology (e.g. Acts 14:11). In addition, this has a counterpart in the OT. A "man" might turn out to be an angel, while an angel might turn out to be Yahweh!

Sometimes the Angel of the Lord has that deliberately enigmatic quality, to throw people off-guard. How people act when they don't know who they're dealing with exposes their true character.

There are OT stories in which God appears to people incognito. They don't initially know who he is. The reader may know, because the narrator tips off the reader, but a character in the story must discover the true identity of the stranger in their midst.

I think there are parallels between this and the Synoptic Jesus. At times he seems to be deceptively human, as if that's all there is to him, but at other times, he says and does thinks that make the hair of spectators stand on end. There's that sudden, hair-raising recognition you get in OT theophanies as well as Greco-Roman myths about divine spies slumming as humans to test what humans are really like when they don't know the immortals are watching them. Indeed, when unbeknownst to them, they're speaking to Zeus or Yahweh face-to-face. You had to be on the alert lest you dis a deity! 

The Synoptic Jesus is open-textured in that regard. There's more to him than meets the eye, and that can manifest itself in a flash. The Synoptic Gospels are peppered with those "uh-oh" moments where the God-incognito motif rises to the surface. The mysterium tremendum. Both Jewish and Gentile readers would be very sensitive to that motif. 

4. Likewise, just consider the provocative "Son of God" title. In terms of the father/son metaphor, fathers and sons are essentially equals. They occupy the same plane.

Fathers may be initially superior because they get a head start. But in time the son catches up with the father and overtakes the father. Sons succeed their fathers. They may be temporarily subordinate, but not indefinitely. Take the related theme of royal sons who eventually ascend to the throne. 

If you put father and son on different sides of the scales, it takes constantly pressure to keep the side of the scales with the son lower than the side of the scales with the father. For the metaphor naturally balances out. Divine sonship already connotes two of a kind.