Saturday, May 12, 2018

"Why you can't use logic to prove God"

I'm going to comment on this post:

There is much talk about logic today. It is obviously used significantly in discussions with philosophers and mathematicians. It has also been a tool of some (particularly presuppositional) apologists to argue for God. They insist that atheists cannot account for logic since it is immaterial and universal. Since logic undeniably exists, then something else immaterial and “universal” must also exist to account for it, namely God. 

There's a lot more to the argument than: since universal, immaterial logic undeniably exists, then something else immaterial and “universal” must also exist to account for it, namely God. 

This understanding of logic is taught as if it is some ephemeral abstract notion or set of principles of reason that “exists” only in the mind with no basis in physical reality. 

The position is that logic primarily or fundamentally subsists in the infinite and timeless mind of God. God's mind is the exemplar. Logic has its "basis" in God's mind. However, math and logic are exemplified in time and space. 

That is, according to this argumentation physical reality cannot account for the principles of logic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The principles of logic, such as the principles of identity, excluded middle, and non-contradiction are not just principles of rationality. They are principles of being. Let’s look to see what they are and why they must be grounded in reality and not thought.

It's important to distinguish between divine and human thought. The position is not that logic is reducible to human psychology. It's not intuitionism (e.g. Brouwer). God's thought and God's being are conterminous. 

Yes, you could say logic is grounded in "being", but not just any kind of being will do. Physical existence won't suffice. 

The law of identity states that something is identical with itself. If a thing is “A” then it is “A”. If something is a tree, then it is a tree. This seems rather mundane and uninformative; however, try imagining reality if this were not the case. The principle of excluded middle says that something is either “A” or “non-A”. It is either a tree or a non-tree. There is no middle ground (the middle ground is excluded). The law of non-contradiction says something can’t both be “A” and “not-A” at the same time in the same sense. That is, it can’t be a tree and a non-tree simultaneously.

That confuses logic with concrete exemplifications (or property instances) of abstract objects. A tree approximates the law of identity. Ideally, logical and mathematical truths map onto static, timeless relations or objects with discrete boundaries. 

But physical objects undergo continuous incremental change. Physical objects have fuzzy boundaries in space and time. They have degrees of solidity. They exchange atoms with the surrounding environment. They blend into each other. So that comparison is counterproductive. There's never an exact match between a tree and the law of identity. 

We get our understanding of these principles from the world around us. They are not just principles of thought, but of being. The law of non-contradiction is not just that a statement can’t be both true and false. The law of non-contradiction is that something in existence can’t be and not be simultaneously in the same way. In other words, a tree can’t be a tree and not a tree at the same time in the same sense. These laws are thus grounded in being and abstracted via our knowing process. We have experience of reality and then induce said principles of being and know that they apply to all thought and experience…While these laws are undeniable and are self-evident, the source of our knowledge of them is still physical reality. 

He operates with an epistemology according to which all knowledge of universals is based on a psychological process of abstraction from particulars. 

Now, I have no problem with sense knowledge or induction. Yes, we often generalize on the basis of samples. Fine. 

But that can't be the basis of knowledge all the way down. You can't derive a concept of numbers from observing physical objects, for unless you already have numerical concepts to work with, you can't group physical objects numerically. Numbering objects requires a numerical preconception. 

You can't bootstrap logical or mathematical knowledge from sensory perception. You can't group five apples by number unless you recognize that they comprise five apples, and you're not going to arrive at that classification by staring at some apples with a blank slate mind. 

It takes knowledge to learn. It takes some prior knowledge to acquire additional knowledge. An initially empty mind has no frame of reference to evaluate sensory input. The mind of the percipient must have a logical structure which enables it to organize or reorganize sensory input. An inbuilt classification-system. 

Another way we know the laws of logic is that they are undeniable. One cannot deny something like the law of non-contradiction without using it. If one attempted to do this, he would be forced into saying that his position is true and not false, and that the opposite opinion would be false and not true. We don’t argue from more foundational principles to arrive at these principles of logic. They are first principles of thought and being. The are first because they are foundational and self-evident. They can’t be denied. Further, they don’t require, nor could they require, antecedent proof. Such proof would have to use the laws of logic.

But necessary truths of logic can't derive from contingent truths of the physical world. In many respects, the physical world might have been different. Causation is a weaker principle than logical entailment.  

Physical reality is known directly and is evident to our senses. 

Actually, physical reality is known indirectly. Physical reality is mediated to the mind via sensory perception. A process of encoded and decoded information. 

Note I said “evident” not “self-evident.” Propositions are self-evident when we know their meaning. “Bachelors are unmarried men” is a self-evident proposition because as soon as we know the meaning of the terms and the proposition as a whole, we know it is true. 

But that's different from logic. That's stipulative. True by definition. 

However, things are evident to our senses. I do not need an argument that there is a tree outside of my window. I simply see it. Thus, things are evident and the laws of logic are self-evident and undeniable. (I realize I am skipping over a veritable wonderland of skepticism and rationalism which I have no desire to deal with here. I simply don’t think I need to “justify” the existence of something I just ran my car into. If someone honestly doubts the existence of external reality, I would submit that his problem is not philosophical but psychological and he needs to seek medical treatment immediately.)

That confounds the metaphysics of math and logic with the psychology of sensory perception. 

Of course, such principles can be applied to thoughts and propositions that don’t say things about reality. Logic can be applied to fictitious beings and propositions that say something like, “All monsters live in London.” However, such fictitious beings and propositions are still based in being—that is, things that exist extra-mentally. While a fictitious being doesn’t exist in reality (by definition), we get the concepts of things like monsters from reality. In other words, following the great empirical maxim, “All knowledge is grounded in reality,” we don’t have any new ideas, even of fictitious monsters, that are not tethered to or grounded in reality.

i) Fictions, hypotheticals, and counterfactuals have their source in God's power and imagination. Something is ultimately possible because God can enact that scenario. And God's infinite imagination is the repository of all concepts. God has created rational agents with some knowledge and power. 

ii) I'd add that fictions are ideas, and therefore have a discrete identity lacking in physical objections. 

This is why the presuppositional argument for the existence of God from logic fails. A common argument from them is that atheists cannot account for logic. Logic is immaterial and universal, they say, and as such, atheists can’t account for anything that is immaterial and universal. But if what I am arguing for is true, the presuppositionalist’s argument is not successful. This is because atheists can account for logic, because logic is grounded in reality and being. Yes, God is being as such, and as “being” the laws of logic are tethered to God. (God is God, God cannot be non-God, etc.) That is, in a sense they are antecedently grounded in God because they would be the case even if the physical realm did not exist.

But that means an atheist can't account for the laws of logic inasmuch as these are essentially independent of the physical world. To be sure, some atheists are Platonic realists, but that's different from Brian's paradigm. Moreover, Platonic realism is arguably ad hoc. 

Another important note is that the laws of logic are not really immaterial. Sure the abstracted propositional form of being such as “A tree can’t be a tree and not a tree simultaneously” can be immaterial. But if logic is not merely a rational enterprise and is a second order based on the first order of physical reality, then the basis for logic is not immaterial. 

God's rationality is not a second-order exercise based on God's first-order being. That's a false dichotomy. God's mind and God's being are both first-order realities, which underlie physical reality. 

Our abstractions of the principles are mental, such as numbers, but many, if not most, philosophers do not think that numbers are real. 

That's an illicit argument from authority. Moreover, it's not coincidental that mathematicians like Quine, Gödel, and Penrose subscribe to mathematical realism. 

They like logical principles are abstracted from the real world. The number 2 does not exist. But I can say there are two trees. The two-ness is simply the addition of one more tree than the first. Math then is like logic in that the numbers are abstracted from the material world and then one can perform mental operations. But these numbers do not exist (unless one holds an extreme Platonic view). And as such, the atheist can account for logic by its foundation in sensible objects—just like he can account for numbers. Thus, the presuppositional argument for logic is going to reduce to some cosmological argument that says the universe needs a grounding in something other than itself.

If Big Ben strikes three o'clock, what do I actually hear? Do I hear three tones? No. I only hear a succession of discrete tones. I hear one tone, followed by another tone, followed by another tone. My mind apprehends three tones. That's not given in the raw stimulus, but requires an act of intellectual recognition. The mind isn't just a passive recipient of auditory input, but makes a contribution by its ability to classify the auditory input using innate mathematical categories. 

Compare a human percipient to a canine percipient. Both hear the same sounds, but only the human has the additional understanding to discern the numerical significance of the tonal sequence. A dog doesn't register "three o'clock". It lacks the intelligence to group particulars. There must be something prior in the mind to interpret what was heard as three of something.   

Annotated Pentateuch

Recently I got into an impromptu debate with a Muslim apologist. I've reformatted the exchange to improve the flow of argument:

Would you be keen on discussing the reliability and authenticity of the OT? 

Kenneth Kitchen's On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003) is a standard monograph. Good place to start. In addition, conservative commentaries on the Pentateuch discuss particulars. Another good resource is Richard Hess, The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Baker 2016).

Do you still subscribe to Moses being the author of the Pentateuch?

Aside from occasional scribal updating, yes, it's Mosaic.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Christianity unhitched

I watched the whole sermon by Andy Stanley:

He means well, but well-meaning people can do kinds of damage that wicked people can't. 

Andy Stanley was raised and trained in Dispensationalism. Internecine fights over Dispensationalism (classical, progressive) are his default frame of reference. It's a very provincial outlook. Compare that to writers like Gordon Wenham and Christopher Wright on OT ethics and piety. 

One problem is equivocation, where he oscillates between the OT and the law of Moses, as if they're interchangeable. But there's a difference between the Mosaic law, OT history, the Psalter, Prophets, and Wisdom literature. The Mosaic law isn't the whole package.  

Christians disagree on how the old covenant is fulfilled in the new covenant. Their disagreement is the basis for some divergent theological traditions or denominations. Lutherans and Anabaptists see more discontinuity, Confessional Presbyterians see more continuity. You have variations within the same tradition. The LBCF sees more continuity while Don Carson and Stephen Wellum see more discontinuity, yet that's an intramural Baptist debate. 

So that's a perennial debate. But that's a separate issue from the OT in general. There's a difference between unhitching the Christian faith from the Mosaic law and unhitching the Christian faith from "the Jewish scriptures". Stanley does a bait-n-switch. Even if we grant his Dispensational view of the Mosaic law, that doesn't mean we can unhitch the new covenant from the OT generally. 

He makes the ridiculous claim that Pauline sexual immorality is independent of the OT, even though Rom 1 is based on Gen 1-2 while 1 Cor 6:9/1 Tim 1:10 reaffirm Lev 18:20. 

Andy says Christianity is about an event (the Resurrection), but that's grossly simplistic. The NT interprets the person and work of Christ through the lens of the OT. 

And it's not the Resurrection alone that vindicates Jesus. He must also be the fulfillment of OT messianism. 

And even at the level of events, the Resurrection is not the only crucial event in the mission of Christ. What about the Incarnation, miracles of Jesus, and the return of Christ? 

Andy appeals to the image of God, but of course that's an OT category! 

Andy says that in the OT, God was playing by the rules of the kingdoms of this world. Really? The OT is aggressively countercultural in relation to ancient Near Eastern social mores. 

The application is about people who've lost faith because they can't embrace OT historicity, OT miracles, the Genesis creation account, or value system/worldview depicted in the OT. 

But the NT can't be true unless the OT is true. Jesus, the apostles, NT evangelists, and/or NT authors constantly appeal to OT validation. If the OT is mistaken, they were mistaken in their assessment of the OT. 

I think Andy is personally spooked by historical, scientific, and moral objections to the OT, so he wants to unhitch that from his own faith. But they're logically and theologically inseparable. Take it or leave it. 

Yes, some folks will lose their faith while others will be turned off. That's tragic, but truth is divisive. Individual apostasy is a necessary winnowing effect to preserve the church from institutional apostasy. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Moral Psychology of Depravity and the Difficulty of Living in the Kingdom


i) On Facebook I read a comment thread about swimwear. Some Christians think beachgoers should revert to Victorian swimwear. That raises some tricky issues regarding modesty. 

ii) Hopefully it's possible to strike a balance in-between nude beaches and burkas. Some of the Christian commenters had a position that's very similar to Muslim sensibilities regarding modesty. But surely we need to do better than that.

iii) Questions of modesty raise the sorites paradox. Because modesty ranges along a continuum, it isn't possible to draw an absolute line. It's a matter of degree. And ethics in general confronts us with borderline cases. In situations like this, our intuitions are firmer at the extremes. 

Unless you take an absolutist position (e.g. burkas), the question of where to draw the line is a challenge for both sides, the stricter as well as the more permissive. Changes of degree in either direction. 

iv) Modesty is culturebound. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's completely arbitrary. Many cultures are morally decedent, so the fact that scruples regarding modesty are culturebound doesn't entail that there can't be any right or wrong. That's a special case of moral relativism based on cultural relativism. But Christians reject that inference.

v) Conversely, social mores regarding modesty are often arbitrary. For instance, National Geographic style nudity was acceptable at the same time Playboy was pornographic. Images of native nudity in the jungle was uncontroversial, while images of nude white women were pornographic. 

And there's the long history of the nude in western art. Is that pornographic? Probably an issue on which Christians disagree. The artistic nude ranges along the same continuum as pornography, but do they overlap? 

vi) Much of this is bound up with the notion of "lust". A problem is that many Christians simply plug their popular notion of lust into biblical prohibitions. But that's not exegesis. That's beginning with an extrabiblical definition, which a reader plugs into the text of Scripture. 

vii) Is there something wrong with a teenager boy on the beach who admires the body of a teenage girl on the beach, or vice versa? Or is that healthy and innocuous? 

viii) Feminist sociologists often frame the debate in terms of the "objectification" of female bodies or treating women as "sexual objects". 

I rarely if ever see the same criticism in reverse. Is it wrong for a female viewer to objectify a handsome man? Do men feel demeaned if women view them as "sexual objects"?

ix) If we mean sexual "objectification" in a reductionistic sense where that's the only thing we care about in the opposite sex, then that's wrong. But it's hard to see how sex appeal as one component of the overall male/female dynamic is intrinsically wrong. 

x) In addition, examples of sexual "objectification" typically fixate on particular body parts, but that's arbitrarily restrictive. For instance, some women have beautiful eyes (e.g. Maureen O'Hara, Elizabeth Taylor). If I admire their eyes, that's "objectification", but is it sinful or degrading to admire their eyes? 

For that matter, it's my impression that many women admired the eyes of Paul Newman. By the same token, here's a woman describing Omar Shariff: "And there, in the flesh, were those eyes: warm, dark, liquid". Are they guilty of degrading sexual objectification? 

Some women have gorgeous hair. Is it misogynistic to admire their hair? Some women have a beautiful complexion. Anything can be objectified. 

xi) Sexual objectification is usually cast in visual terms, but some men and women find voices sexy. Consider women who relish the sound of operatic tenors (e.g. Corelli, Carreras, Pavarotti). Or men who relish the sound of operatic sopranos (e.g. Sutherland, Caballé, Price, Ponselle, Milanov).  

I can't speak for women, but it's my impression that women find men with deep voices sexy. Isn't that "objectification"? Is so, is that sinful? 

xii) Fact is, humans like to "objectify" beautiful things, such as flowers, sunsets, seascapes, mountain ranges, &c. Sexual objectification is just a special case of that general phenomena. 

Aesthetically, we're selective. We take things out of context. We single out appealing elements. Nothing necessarily wrong with that. 

xiii) A common argument is that since fornication is wrong, kissing is wrong because they lie on the same continuum. That relocates the fight from premarital sex to danger zones that might lead to fornication. The need to avoid gratuitous temptation. There's a legitimate issue there, but that's a prudential judgment about behavior that's not intrinsically wrong, but risky, as a potential pathway to actual immorality.  

xiv) One reason for modesty is that immodesty is distracting. There are situations in which it's okay to be distracted by beauty (e.g. in a park, at the beach). But we need to avoid an oversexualized culture in which viewers are constantly bombarded with sensual stimuli. We need to be able to think about other things. We need to avoid a social climate where the human imagination is sexually obsessed. The media promotes a culture that's all about sex all the time. 

Should battered wives divorce their husbands?

Many evangelicals believe there are only two grounds for divorce: adultery and desertion. That creates a dilemma in cases like domestic abuse, which those two categories don't cover. Some evangelicals try to create an opening for divorce in that situation by stretching the categories. But that gerrymanders the categories. 

A compromise is to propose separation rather than divorce. But that's a makeshift solution because you end up with a situation that isn't marriage and isn't divorce. Because the battered wife remains married, she's not free to remarry. So she's bound by the restrictions of marriage without the benefits.

I'd add that husbands can also be battered. That isn't taken seriously because men can overpower a physically abusive wife. However, they can't exercise that advantage in practice since they'd be charged with domestic abuse, even if they acted in self-defense.

One solution is to make allowance for the possibility that Scriptural grounds for divorce don't attempt to contemplate every conceivable situation. Jesus wasn't asked about a husband splashing acid in her face. 

We'd consider other potential justifications for divorce based on general biblical principles. Of course, that makes it harder to draw a line. 

Depending on the topic, Jesus criticizes the religious leaders for being too lax or too strict. But one general principle Jesus has taught us is to think about the underlying rationale for a biblical command or prohibition, as well as higher duties that temporarily override lower duties, in case of conflict. 


Let's combine two traditional arguments:

i) Premeditated unjustifiable homicide is murder

ii) Murder ought to be a capital offense

i) Suicide is premeditated unjustifiable self-homicide

ii) Suicide is self-murder

iii) Suicide ought to be a capital offense

The penalty for attempted suicide or conspiracy to commit suicide should be execution. People who try to kill themselves deserve to be killed.

That's a reductio ad absurdum for a traditional argument against suicide. A dilemma. 

The appeal of the self-murder argument is that it's simple. But sometimes simple arguments are simplistic.

The "self-murder" objection should be retired. There are better arguments against suicide. 

The Reliability of the Book of Acts: A Conversation with Dr. Craig Keener

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Emergency inspiration

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes (Mt 10:16-23). 
“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved (Mk 13:9-13). 
12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name's sake (Lk 21:12-17). 

The cessationist/continuationist debate usually revolves around Acts 2 and 1 Cor 12-14. But the above-mentioned promise is a neglected text. The immediate context in which this originates concerns disciples whom Jesus has deputized to evangelize Palestine during his public ministry. However, Jesus anticipates scenarios that look ahead to wider persecution in the Roman Empire. The prospect facing Christian missionaries and martyrs. In that respect, the disciples are representatives of what some subsequent Christians will face. Maintaining a Christian witness under extreme duress. Presumably, the original audience for the Synoptics could already see their own impending situation in that threatening description and prediction. And the principle, if valid back then, would seem to be equally germane to analogous circumstances throughout the course of church history.

If so, then this is a promise for a type of emergency inspiration. Not a promise to Christians in general, but only under the specific and exigent circumstances in view. 

Babylon Bee

Lost in Space

It's been very instructive to sit on the sidelines, watching the church of Rome self-destruct. The Francis pontificate is the immediate catalyst, but it's like a tree that suffers from heart rot. It's blown over in a windstorm, but while that's sudden, what made it vulnerable is years of internal decay.

Symptomatic is the sacrilegious (by Catholic standards) Met costume show. To get the flavor of the event:

What's striking is not the event itself, but how the Cardinal Archbishop of New York inaugurated the event while the Sistine Chapel choir performed. 

We're witnessing an identity crisis in the Catholic church, from the top down. An institution so lacking in self-respect that top-level clerics play buffoons to the tune of the secular progressives. It scandalizes the laity. Scandalizes the faithful. 

It's ironic to see idealistic, greenhorn converts to Rome who fervently embrace a theological paradigm that the hierarchy of their adopted denomination no longer takes seriously. Catholic leaders no longer know what Catholicism stands for. I suppose Cardinal Nolan, having seen the fate of Cardinal Burke, just wants to keep his job.  

Why did John-Paul II and Benedict XVI let things get so out of hand? Why didn't they crack down? Why did they appoint known modernists to policy positions? 

I suspect one reason is that it's easier to maintain the illusion of power if you refrain from making empty threats. Due to the crippling shortage of nuns and priests, even center-right popes don't have nearly enough loyal scabs to replace the gays and modernists if they go on strike. And most of the remaining laity are doctrinally indifferent. 

In fairness, this has a counterpart among evangelical elites, who are just as out-of-touch with the laity, just as seduced by the siren song of the chattering class. But Evangelicals don't suffer from the same dilemma. We can replace our titular leaders. They answer to us, we don't answer to them. But lay Catholics are at the mercy of a topdown polity. When popes, cardinals, and bishops lose a sense of inner direction, the faithful must follow their lead into oblivion. 

Like a dove

The accounts of Christ's baptism, reported in all four Gospels (Mt 3:13–17; Mk 1:9–11; Lk 3:21–23; Jn 1:29-33), record how the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. If you were there, what would you see?

Perhaps that's the Shekinah. In Scripture, the Shekinah seems to be protean. Sometimes resembling a dust devil or fire devil (the "pillar of cloud/fire"). Sometimes more like a wall of fire (Exod 14:19-20). Sometimes like an electrical storm (Ezk 1). 

Maybe in this case the Shekinah assumes an avian shape, but still clearly supernatural. Incandescent or translucent. 

The bright morning star

28 Do not be amazed at this, for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice 29 and come out — those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (Jn 5:28-29).

As I've said on other occasions, when reading the Bible I think it's a good exercise to see it through the eye of a movie director. If you were filming the Bible, how would you envision these descriptions? Take the resurrection of the just. 

Here's one way I imagine the scene. Jesus returns in the Shekinah (Acts 1:9-11; Ezk 1:4-28). He hovers in the lower atmosphere. As the globe rotates, he appears over the horizon, like the morning star (Rev 22:16; 2:28; cf. Isa 14:12; Num 24:17). As light from the Cytherean Shekinah flashes across cemeteries, with graves facing east, towards the Christic morning star, bodies of the saints rematerialize in their tombs ("a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them," Ezk 37:7-8). Their bodies are then reanimated as the Spirit reunites body and soul ("and the breath came into them," Ezk 37:10). Then tombs open and they emerge ("and they lived and stood on their feet," Ezk 37:10). 

While the Cytherean Shekinah repeatedly dawns over the rotating horizon, row after row of cemeteries, from east to west, in sidereal succession, will stir to life ("Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead," Isa 26:19). Those who sleep in the dust will awake (Dan 12:2)–in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:51-52). Myriads of recreated, rejuvenated saints, facing the Cytherean Shekinah, gazing at the Christic morning star. 

Of course, not everyone is formally buried. Scripture uses graves and graveyards as a synecdoche for the dead generally. Although some of the imagery might be figurative, the oracle in Jn 5:28-29 foreshadows Jesus raising Lazarus. That's a foretaste of an eschatological scene. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Why Is There Evil in the World (and So Much of It?)

Greg Welty's popularly aimed book on the problem of evil is available for preorder on Amazon.

Dawn of the dead

51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many (Mt 27:51-53).

This is a much-mocked text which I've discussed before, but I'd like to make some additional observations. 

1. What exactly is the objection to this incident? In my experience, off the top of my head: 

i) It's only reported in one Gospel

ii) It's weird

iii) Triggers popular associations with the Hollywood zombie genre

iv) If it happened, why isn't the incident more widely reported?

v) What happened to the raised saints? 

2. At what point did this text become ridiculous or incredible? Historically, did Christians find this text incredible or ridiculous? Let's take a comparison:

i) Traditionally, in Christian cemeteries, corpses and coffins are buried pointing east. From what I've read, that's based on belief that Jesus will come from the east (Mt 24:27; cf. Isa 63:1; Zech 14:4). When he returns, the dead will be facing him. They will rise out of their graves, in his direction. 

My immediate point is not to assess folk theology, but to note that traditional Christian burial customs reflect the same basic outlook as Mt 27:51-53. Historically, Christians didn't find that absurd or unbelievable. That, in itself, doesn't make it true, but it's not as if the alleged absurdity of the account was the default impression of most readers or believers. 

ii) By the same token, it's interesting to consult the historical witness of patristic expositions. Apollinaris says:

It is plain that they have died again, having risen from the dead in order to be a sign. For it was not possible for only some of the firstborn from the dead to be raised to the life of the age to come, but the remainder [must be raised] in the same manner. Manlio Simonetti, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Matthew 14-28 (IVP 2002), 297. 

While Jerome says:

Just as the dead Lazarus was resurrected, so also many bodies of the saints were resurrected. Thus they showed the Lord rising again. And yet, though the tombs were opened, they were not resurrected before the Lord was resurrected. thus he was the firstborn of the resurrection from the dead. Now we should understand the holy city in which they were seen when they were being resurrected either as the heavenly Jerusalem, or this earthly one which was previously holy. 321. Thomas. P. Scheck, trans. Commentary on Matthew (CUA 2014), 321. 

Theophylact says:

And those who were dead in sins arose and entered the Holy City, the heavenly Jerusalem, and appeared to the many who were walking the broad road [leading to perdition]. By appearing to them, they became an exemplary model of a good life and of repentance. For if one sees a man who was formerly deadened by many passions now changed and ascending to the holy heavenly City, he imitates that man in every way, and himself repents. These things have been explained in a rather elaborate manner; but you, O reader, understand that the raising of the dead which occurred at the Lord’s crucifixion, also revealed the freeing of the souls in hades. Those who arose at that time were seen by many, lest the event appear to have been only an apparition. They arose as a sign from God, and it is evident that they again died. Some say that after Christ’s resurrection, these arose and have not yet died; but I do not know if this should be accepted.

My point is not to evaluate their interpretation, but to document how ancient or medieval Christians took it seriously. Other examples include Matthew Henry and John Gill. My purpose is not to recommend their commentaries but to document how Christians in the past weren't embarrassed by this episode. 

3. In his commentary, Evans takes the position that this pericope is a scribal interpolation. Craig. A. Evans, Matthew (Cambrige 2012), 466-68. For those who regard the scene as inherently legendary, that explanation salvages the historicity of Matthew. But to my knowledge there's no text-critical evidence whatsoever that this passage is a scribal interpolation. If that's the case, it's hard to explain the uniformity of the MS tradition. How could a scribe add that to the original Gospel without generating diversity in the record of transmission? How did his interpolation win out, leaving no alternatives in the extant MSS? 

4. Raising the widow's son is only recorded in Lk 7. Raising Lazarus is only recorded in Jn 11. So the fact that the incident under review is only reported in Matthew isn't suspicious compared to analogous accounts. If you're going to be skeptical, you need to be consistently skeptical. 

5. Bart Ehrman likes to harp on high rates of illiteracy in the 1C Roman Empire. But in that case, how many witnesses to this event would be in a position to commit their testimony to writing? And even if they did, how many witnesses would be in a position to publish their testimony? It's not like they could contact a reporter at The Jerusalem Post. At best, their testimony would circulate orally.   

6. Another question is how widespread sightings there were. That depends on many variables. How many saints were raised? What was the population of 1C Jerusalem? How many witnesses in relation to how many saints? How many people would be in a position to recognize the former decedents? Are we talking about a sprinkling of saints dispersed in the general population density of the city? How noticeable would that be? 

On minimalism, the resurrection, and more: Response to Dr. Craig's podcast

There's a striking contrast here between Craig's engagement and Licona hiding under his bed.

The Ehrmanization of evangelical scholarship

Fundamentalist scholars have no trouble with the question.  Since they are convinced that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God, then anything Jesus is said to have said in the Gospels is something that he really said.  Viola!  Jesus preached the Christian faith that his death and resurrection brought salvation.

Critical scholars, on the other hand, whether they are Christian or not, realize that it is not that simple.   As Christian story tellers over the decades reported Jesus’ teachings, they naturally modified them in light of the contexts within which they were telling them (to convert others for example) and in light of their own beliefs and views.   The task is to figure out which of the sayings (or even which parts of which sayings) may have been what Jesus really said.

Different scholars have different views of that matter, but one thing virtually all critical scholars agree on is that the doctrines of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection were not topics Jesus addressed.  These words of Jesus were placed on his lips by later Christian storytellers who themselves believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead to bring about the salvation of the world, and who wanted to convince others that this had been Jesus’ plan and intention all along.

That's boilerplate Ehrman. What's striking is not his own position–that's what we expect Ehrman to say–but how hard it is to draw a line between his own position on the words of Jesus and the position of "evangelical" scholars like Mike Licona, Dan Wallace, and Craig Evans. We're witnessing the Ehrmanization of Gospel scholarship and evangelical apologetics in some circles. 

Grave robbers!

One thing we can say with relative certainty (even though most people – including lots of scholars!) have never thought about this or realized it, is that no one came to think Jesus was raised from the dead because three days later they went to the tomb and found it was empty.   It is striking that Paul, our first author who talks about Jesus’ resurrection, never mentions the discovery of the empty tomb and does not use an empty tomb as some kind of “proof” that the body of Jesus had been raised.

Moreover, whenever the Gospels tell their later stories about the tomb, it never, ever leads anyone came to believe in the resurrection.  The reason is pretty obvious.  If you buried a friend who had recently died, and three days later you went back and found the body was no longer there, would your reaction be “Oh, he’s been exalted to heaven to sit at the right hand of God”?  Of course not.  Your reaction would be: “Grave robbers!”   Or, “Hey, I’m at the wrong tomb!”

Depends on who my friend is. If my friend is God Incarnate, if my friend performed astounding miracles at will–including the ability to raise the dead–if my friend predicted his death and resurrection, if Isaiah predicted messiah's death and resurrection (Isa 53:7-12), then the first reaction, the most logical reaction, to the empty tomb shouldn't be “Grave robbers!” Or, “Hey, I’m at the wrong tomb!”

Monday, May 07, 2018

So much for consenting adults

During the debate over homosexual marriage, Christians asked, "Where do you draw the line? What about pedophelia?"

Indignant secular progressives responded by appealing to consenting adults. But secular progressives can't be trusted. Their position is unstable. For instance:

Conquest of the rock

Queen bee

Beth Moore's open letter is getting a fair amount of buzz:

For me, Beth Moore is just a name. I certainly don't read her stuff. But apparently she has a huge female following. A few observations:

i) The tone of her letter is like the high school diva in teen dramas. Very presumptuous. Very self-important. No fewer than three times she crowns herself "a woman leader in the conservative Evangelical world", and implies that a fourth time. Even if she is a leader, I'm not impressed by folks who go around telling other folks that they are leaders. If you really are a leader, you don't need to remind everyone of your status.

She's certainly not my leader. I didn't vote for her. No one tells me who my leaders are. I pick my own leaders-they don't pick me.

ii) On a related note, she acts like she's some sort of pioneer, but she's preceded by women who've done what she's done, or done greater things, viz. Jill Briscoe (b. 1935, Cambridge grad), Elizabeth Elliot (b. 1926), Helen Roseveare (b. 1925, Cambridge grad), Elizabeth Anscombe (b. 1919, Oxford grad), Catherine Marshall (b. 1914), Dorothy Sayers (b. 1893, Oxford grad), Christina Rossetti (b. 1830).

Moore is 60. Karen Jobes is 66, with a far more impressive resume:

NT prof. Margaret Thrall, who got her doctorate at Cambridge under CFD Moule, was born around 1930–while OT prof. Joyce Baldwin was born in 1921. I had an aunt (b. 1913) who was an African missionary with a doctorate in linguistics from the University of London.

It would behoove Beth Moore to drop the queen bee hauteur and come down to our level.

iii) Apparently, she writes Bible studies for women. But good Bible commentators don't write with men or women in mind. They just exegete the text.

iv) She complains about some men who patronize her. It's quite possible that she's been exposed to sexism. However, she seems to think she's entitled to carte blanche deference just because she's "a woman leader in the conservative Evangelical world". What about...qualifications?

Naturally you have evangelical elites falling over themselves to affirm her and apologize on behalf of all the male chauvinist pigs of the world. Yet another transparent exercise in cost-free virtue-signaling.

v) Are the standards the same for misogyny and misandry? If a man compliments her appearance, is that misogyny-but if a woman compliments a man's appearance, that's misandry? Would she be as popular if she looked and sounded like Rosie O'Donnell or Roseanne Barr? Good looks are advantageous to male and female social climbers alike. Is it only sexist when we make that observation about a woman but not a man? Is anyone offended when men are "objectified"? Mae West said it's better to be looked over than overlooked.

Perhaps Moore wouldn't be so touchy if she had an academic resume. But if your career is based on charisma, don't be surprised if you're judged by externals. There are gifted autodidacts. I have no problem with that. But her pique seems to reflect an insecurity that someone like Anscombe or Sayers would be immune to.

BTW, was she a stay-at-home mom when her kids were growing?

BioLogos backs down

Inspiration in eclipse

i) There are theologically moderate Bible scholars and Christian apologists who regard inerrancy as dispensable. However, to deny inerrancy is to deny the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture. 

When people demote or dismiss inerrancy, I always wonder what they believe about inspiration. Do they limit inspiration to episodes of direct revelation, like an audible voice or God beaming visions into the mind of a seer like Ezekiel? 

Even in visionary revelation like the Apocalypse, there's lots of spoken material. What would be the point of God disclosing that to the seer if the seer had to rely on his fallible memory to recollect what was said in the vision? 

ii) Do they think inspiration doesn't figure in the composition of historical narratives? If the Gospels are uninspired, what about the NT letters? 

iii) A problem with uninspired memory is that it's better at remembering events than speeches. But if the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels is an uninspired translation of uninspired recollections, how dependable is that? At best, we have a reasonably trustworthy record of what Jesus did but not what he said. We have the deeds but not the words. We lose the words. Yet the teaching of Jesus is central to Christian faith. 

It's sometimes said that Jesus taught the same things over and over again, which drilled his teaching into the minds of the disciples. True up to a point, but a lot of Christ's teaching is contained in one-time debates and dialogues. The disciples only heard those exchanges once.

iv) Or take the parables. Those are very memorable, but what's memorable is the characters and plot, not the actual wording. 

v) Jesus has lots of quotable one-liners. However, those aren't necessarily memorable when embedded in a longer discourse. If you heard that speech, dialogue, or debate one time, would uninspired memory pick out the catchy statements, or would they tend to be lost in everything else that was said?

vi) The only access we have to the teaching of Jesus is the text. How it's verbalized. And exegesis is concerned with the actual wording of a text. Syntax and semantics. Consider how many exegetical and theological debates turn on the exact wording of a Biblical passage. 

If the actual wording is just an uninspired summary or paraphrase of fallible memory, how can that be authoritative? How can we rely on that?

vii) Moreover, how the description of an event is worded will greatly affect our understanding of the event. Uninspired speakers often express themselves poorly. So to some extent the events become hazy too. 

viii) For that matter, there are many incidents in the life of Christ which are only reported in one Gospel. A lot is hanging on uncorroborated reports. Without the safety net of inspiration, we have a composite life of Christ that's multiply-attested in some respects but thinly attested in other respects. If we confined ourselves to the multiply-attested incidents, how much would be left?  

So there's actually quite a lot at stake on the inspiration of Scripture. If inspiration is expendable, so is the teaching of Jesus. If inspiration goes down, it takes a lot with it. 

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Monogamy, polygamy, and divorce

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Mt 5:32). 

3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”(Mt 19:3-9).

i) Catholic apologists, defending the indissolubility of marriage, argue that the porneia-clauses mean something other than adultery as a justification for divorce. One argument is that Matthew doesn't use the specific word for adultery.

They also contend that the reaction of the disciples indicates a more radical position than adultery as a justification for divorce, since that was already a conventional viewpoint in Judaism. So Jesus must be saying something different. 

ii) I think Matthew uses porneia to include adultery without excluding other sexual sins. Adultery would be the most common cause of marital dissolution. That's the default justification. But in the context of the Roman Empire, there were other sexual sins, especially among pagan Gentiles, that come into play. So Matthew uses a broader word to cover adultery without restricting the grounds to adultery.

iii) Whatever else porneia may mean or not mean, it doesn't mean annulment. 

iv) Since the grounds for annulment are not only broader than adultery, but broader than sexual sin generally, if the Catholic interpretation is correct, then the disciples have little to fear, since the "new" policy is even more liberal as the old policy of Hillel. In practical, it's the functional equivalent of a very lax divorce policy. Annulment is a loophole far larger than adultery. Catholic apologists chafe at the comparison with divorce, but their distinction is sophistical. 

v) It may be that the reaction of the disciples has less to do with what Jesus says about narrow grounds for divorce than his implicit position on monogamy. In Jewish practice, a husband didn't have to divorce his wife if he found the marriage unsatisfactory. There was precedent for polygamy and concubinage as a fallback option. He could follow the venerable example of the patriarchs, judges, and Hebrew kings. That was never explicitly forbidden in divine law. He didn't have to replace his wife, but add another sexual partner to the household. Technically, he was still married to his first wife, but in practice she was passed over in the new arrangement. Put in abeyance. We don't know how many Jewish men took advantage of that tradition, but at least in principle, it was their ace in the hole. 

Yet when Jesus goes back to the creation account to overrule the Mosaic law code, he's presenting monogamy as the archetypal ideal. That blockades polygamy and concubine as escape routes. That's a new move, by forbidding what the Mosaic law permits. He delegitimates that option.