Saturday, June 09, 2018

My Take on White v. Wood

Note: There has been an addendum added to this post at the end.

I’ve been discussing the White/Wood Controversy on Facebook, and one of my friends mentioned he thought it would be a good idea to write something more in depth about it.  Before beginning, I want to give a little bit of background.

In the early part of the 2000s, I was a channel regular at #Prosapologian, James White’s IRC.  In fact, for some time I was an Op there, and it’s even where I got my website name of CalvinDude, since that was my chat handle there.  White very definitely blessed me with his ministry through some formative parts of my life.  It was through White that I was first introduced to presuppositionalism, and in fact I believe it was after one of his Dividing Line broadcasts that I heard of, so sought out and listened to, the Bahnsen/Stein debate on the Existence of God and later picked up Bahnsen’s book, Always Ready: Directions For Defending the Faith.

There were really only two topics that White and I ever disagreed on in the channel.  The first was paedobaptism (since White is a Reformed Baptist and I am a Presbyterian).  The second, ironically enough, has some bearing on the current dispute because it was about what type of language is permissible for Christians to use.  To his credit, White has remained consistent on that from the time we had our discussion up until today.  But then, so have I, so fundamentally we’re still going to disagree on that part.  That said, I have continued to follow White off and on and watch several of his Dividing Line episodes each year (I sadly lack the time to watch all of them).

It is also through White that I first heard about David Wood.  And soon after, Wood debated John Loftus who, back when I was first contributing to Triablogue, was a frequent foil.  It was also around this time that Wood was unjustly arrested in Dearborn at the Arab Festival, along with Nabeel Qureshi and others, which introduced me to the full ministry of Acts 17 Apologetics.

In short, then, I’ve followed White for about 15 years now, and I’ve followed Wood for about 8.  I’ve learned a lot from both of them and believe both are genuine brothers in the LORD.  But when it comes to the controversy, I do have to say that I very strongly believe the evidence backs David Wood.  This isn’t to say that White’s objections have no merit, nor that they do not need to be responded to.  In fact, I applaud White for two things in his critique: one, for wanting to remain Biblically consistent; and two, for his intense desire for the Gospel to be proclaimed.  The disagreement I have is that I believe that Wood satisfies both of those requirements, whereas White clearly does not believe that to be the case.

Islamicize Me!

This is a sequel to my post on the "Islamicize Me":

I've now watched White's two responses to that series. I also watched the long ramshackle response by Wood, Vocab Malone, and Jon McCray.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Thomistic classical theism

Apparent to whom?

1. Traditionally, young-earth creationists espouse apparent age, although nowadays I think "mature creation" is the preferred appellation, and Jonathan Sarfati, for one, repudiates the concept of apparent age. 

2. By definition, "apparent" is relative. Apparent to whom? Is there an appearance that's uniform to everyone? Consider some candidates:

i) God

ii) Angels

iii) Prescientific observers

iv) Scientific observers

From God's viewpoint, does the world appear to be older than it really is? Is that question even meaningful in relation to God? 

How old did the Grand Canyon appear to pre-Columbian Indians in the region? How does that appearance compare to a conventional geologist? 

3. Apropos (2), when we affirm or deny apparent age, who's the normative observer? Whose viewpoint sets the standard? 

If you think apparent age is true, in relation to whom is it true? If you think apparent age is false, in relation to whom is it false? Is it true or false depending on how it appears to a scientific observer? A prescientific observer? To the Creator? To the Archangel Michael?

4. The dispute over apparent age is not about present-day appearances but what lies behind appearances–the process that caused the present-day appearance. Not about what you see, not about the present, but about an inferred past. 

5. To a great extent, the appearance of nature is cyclical. That caught the attention of Ecclesiastes, three thousand years ago. 

But what's the apparent age of a cyclical process? There's a sense in which a circle is timeless, because periodicity is indefinitely repeatable. You walk into a room and glance at the second hand of the clock. It moves around the dial in a clockwise direction. If you went into the room a day before, a week before, a day later, a week later, you'd see the second hand doing the same thing. So when it did start moving? From the present, you can't reconstruct when the second hand began moving. It has no implied chronology. Maybe the clock began ticking yesterday, or last year, or ten years ago. Someone wound it up, but when? There's no clue.

That may be why there were medieval and ancient debates over the eternity of the world. Circular action is timeless in a way that linear action is not. Sheer repetition. 

6. Finally, it's striking how the extremes of naturalistic evolution and young-earth creationism can meet. Both sides draw a contrast between appearance and reality: 

Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. 

Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p1. 

[Mature creation] a theory that God created many things in a mature form (fulfilling function at the moment of creation), thus appearing as if they had developed when they had not. 

Kurt Wise, Faith, Form and Time, p282.

What does it mean to "have a personal relationship" with Jesus?

1. What does it mean to have a "personal relationship" with Jesus? Traditionally, I think that stands in contrast to dead formalism and liturgical churches. In contrast to the notion that salvation is mediated through priesthood and sacraments. You don't experience God directly but indirectly via rites and rituals. 

In addition, it stands in contrast to salvation or fellowship with God as an essentially corporate rather than individual experience. It's your membership in the group that confers salvation or percolates fellowship with God. Once again, you don't experience God directly but indirectly through the "community of faith". 

But ironically, "having a personal relationship" with Jesus is apt to replace one formulaic piety with another formulaic piety. Still ritualistic–just a different set of rituals, viz. the altar call, sinner's prayer.

2. Here's another perspective:

When I think back to the “ethos” of that American evangelicalism of the 1950s and 1960s one thing stands out to me as mostly missing in contemporary American evangelicalism—a fervent, passionate experience of intimacy with Jesus. Maybe that wasn’t true of all evangelicals, but it seemed so to me. Everywhere I turned in that evangelical world the one thing that stood out above all else was Jesus as not only lord and savior but also as friend.

“Friendship with Jesus, fellowship divine. O what blessed sweet communion, Jesus is a friend of mine” and “He’s a faithful friend, such a faithful friend; I can count on him, to the very end….” I could go on and on and on with the songs we sang in church (especially on Sunday evenings) and at YFC “rallies” and at summer “Bible camp” and that I heard on Christian radio which was always the background noise in our home—with my stepmother singing along or humming the songs to herself.

Jesus was a living presence in our home and the center of attention in every church service. People talked about Jesus a lot when they sat around tables in the church fellowship hall. “How is it between you and Jesus?” was a frequent question—especially if someone had a “downcast countenance.” Testimonies of Jesus’s faithful friendship and help in times of trouble and need were frequent. “Jesus will walk with me down through life’s valley; Jesus will walk with me over life’s plane…if he goes with me I shall not complain” and “Where Jesus is, ‘tis heaven there….”

Although I could not see him with my physical eyes, I knew Jesus was among us and with me—all the time and everywhere. And his presence was one of love and compassion as well as disappointment when I sinned.

The ideal of that possibly lost evangelical Christianity was something beyond discipleship; it was real friendship with Jesus. Discipleship was part of that. But above discipleship was friendship, intimacy, close fellowship, presence of Jesus in the day-to-day rhythms of life. I will dare to say that without something like this friendship with Jesus, discipleship is just duty and drudgery.

Where has that experience gone? I’m not talking about in my own personal life; I still experience it—even if I find it mostly absent in contemporary church life. But I have trouble noticing it as an emphasis in contemporary American evangelical life. It seems that we have put Jesus up on a pedestal which is not bad, of course, but does he ever come down? Do we encourage children and youth especially to experience him as living, dynamic, compassionate, guiding, comforting presence in daily life?
One aspect of that Jesus-centered evangelical Christianity was an emphasis on the name of Jesus. “Jesus is the sweetest name I know” and “Precious name, O how sweet, hope of earth and joy of heaven, precious name….” 

For some of you out there this all sounds foreign and strange, even weird. I understand that and yet I don’t—if you consider yourself evangelical in any sense of the word...Some will consider this sentimental clap-trap and that doesn’t bother me—anymore.

The problem with that paradigm is twofold:

i) This isn't actually experiencing the presence of Jesus in your life from day to day. Rather, it's make-believe. A conditioned feeling by constantly hearing and singing music about having a personal relationship with Jesus. The lyrics are an ersatz substitute for the experience. There's a fundamental difference between singing about an experience and having the experience you sing about. That's a way to cultivate the feeling that Jesus is present, but it's a psychological projection. Constantly telling yourself that's the case. 

ii) In addition, what many Christians actually experience is the apparent absence of God, especially in time of crisis. They desperately pray for divine intervention, but nothing happens. A piety based on hymns and choruses about having an intimate relationship with Jesus when that's put to the test during a personal ordeal. It's spiritually hazardous because it fosters a false expectation. What's there when the music stops? What's there to back up the lyrics? While the music promises a tangible presence, there's nothing tangible to fall back on when the edifying lyrics collide with unedifying reality. 

I'm not saying God never intervenes. In addition, what may seem pointless at the time, what may seem like divine abandonment at the time, can take on providential significance in retrospect. But the kind of gauzy spirituality that Olson hankers for can set up Christians for a crisis of faith when the promised experience amounts to a broken promise. Sometimes devotional music promises too much but delivers too little. 

3. Here's another viewpoint:

And then you have community. Community is incredibly important and then you have – like in so many faiths, you have a shared sociology. You have a shared history and so there are many elements that go into the Jewish worldview. Now in the Jewish religion, there are really only two major parts to it. It’s actually simple. One is belief and the other is practice. Now for a lot of evangelicals, a lot of Christians, belief is always the most important thing. And when we think about practice, we think about living out the gospel in the way that we treat one another, the way we treat the poor, the way we are stewards of our stuff, and et cetera. Jewish people, that’s not exactly what Jewish people mean by practice. You have belief, which has to do with your view of God, man, the future, the Bible, everything else, but most Jewish people done spend a lot of time on that. It’s not emphasized really in Judaism.

The question is how do they feel personally. Even though we are part of the people of God, if they’re adherent to the Jewish religion in some form, you don’t think about that as much. You don’t think about your personal relationship with God and you think about your corporate relationship with God. But Jewish people do not believe we need to get saved because there’s nothing wrong with our being born the first time. It sounds like a little bit of John 3 there and so this is really critical. A lot of Christians have a completely missed understanding of why Jewish people keep the law. Jewish people do not keep the law to get saved. Jewish people keep the law out of joy and out of a desire to simply be obedient. And you even have the understanding you’re gonna get forgiven for things you didn’t get forgiven of before, but it’s not for personal salvation. 

i) That definitely sharpens the contrast. If you think that you, as an individual, are at risk of damnation, then it's all-important to get right with God. In that case it's crucial that God be concerned with individuals; that God be concerned with what's going on in your life. Does God care you? Does he care about what happens to you? Well, if you're not in danger, there's nothing to worry about. The particular becomes urgent when your destiny is riding on how God views you and you view him. 

ii) And even apart from eternal salvation, people often find themselves at a crossroads where they're very isolated and vulnerable. For years they've be coasting, when it suddenly hits them how terribly alone they really are and always were. It finally caught up with them. The world is indifferent. People pass out of their lives. It's all so transient. When people feel lost, the question of whether there's a God, a God who takes an interest in individuals, becomes paramount.  

Reign of terror

"Is Jordan Peterson on a Suicide Mission?" by Grayson Quay.

Robert George on Masterpiece Cake ruling

I'd note that so-called civil rights commissions should be abolished. These are despotic organizations that subvert representative democracy. They function as an autonomous fourth branch of gov't, unanswerable to the electorate or citizen review.   

A Response To Anita Gregory's Doctoral Thesis On Enfield


JSPR = Journal of the Society for Psychical Research

SPR = Society for Psychical Research

THIH = Guy Playfair, This House Is Haunted (United States: White Crow Books, 2011)

For the background to this post and an explanation of why her thesis is important, see here. You can download the thesis here after registering with the site. I'll be responding to her thesis in hyphenated sections. If you aren't interested in the topic covered in one section, you can move on to another by following the hyphens. You can also use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to find what you're looking for.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Is Jack Chick running the Roman church?

Muslim mockumentaries

James White recently criticized David Wood's mockumentary series on Islam:

i) I've watched some of Wood's videos on Islam, but not this particular series ("Islamicize me"), and I don't plan to.

ii) Both Wood and White have strengths and limitations. And they're a study in contrasts. There's a generational difference. In addition, White is a P.K. White is more straight-laced. In addition, White is status-conscious. 

White raises a valid issue, but to some extent acts like a throwback to the Eisenhower era. His cloistered upbringing left him in a starchy time warp. 

Wood is a typecast New Yorker. Loud, in your face. In addition, he lacks empathy, due to his personality disorder. As a result, he's somewhat lacking in social intelligence. Tone-deaf to how normal people react. Sometimes Wood seems to be baiting Muslims. 

iii) We've also had a generation that's grown up on South Park/Team America/Borat fare. (I've only read reviews.) Wood reflects that edgy profane satire. 

iv) It's useful to have different kinds of apologists with different styles. There's a place for the gentle, respectful approach of a missionary like Ken Temple. We also have a younger generation of UK apologists who operate at a more academic level, viz. Andy Bannister, Wesley Huff, Luis Dizon, Jonathan McLatchie–although Huff and Bannister can be hip and cool. 

v) Insofar as Islam fosters an honor/shame culture, it can be tactically useful to spotlight the embarrassing, disreputable nature of so much Islamic custom and tradition. A lot of Muslims are ignorant of their own tradition. In addition, the cultural elite walks on eggshells around Muslims, so they benefit from the rude shock value of exposure to how their religion looks to unsympathetic outsiders. 

And in fairness to Wood, his methods were effective with Nabeel. It's striking because he and Nabeel seem to be opposites. Nabeel: the sweet, gentle, tearful, heart-on-his-sleeve guy, compared to Wood, the brash raconteur and provocateur. 

vi) Scripture is not averse to mockery. In Ezk 18 & 23, the prophet even resorts to obscenity for shock value. 

White is aware of that and counters that we're not prophets. But that's hardly adequate. If Christians don't get their speech code from Scripture, where should they get their speech code? Moreover, inspiration isn't the same as sanctification. Revelation and inspiration don't make an apostle or prophet more saintly than a garden-variety Christian. That said, Scripture uses obscenity and ridicule rather sparingly. 

vii) White says we should avoid ridicule because Muslims and atheists will retaliate by lampooning the OT. But that's an odd objection. To begin with, Muslims and atheists already do that. They're not doing that in response to certain Christian apologists. That's something they do regardless of what we do. 

And it's unavoidable that Christian apologists need to have prepared answers to stock objections to OT ethics. Even apart from Muslims and atheists, it's not uncommon for Christians to find this material unnerving. We need to have prepared answers for our own benefit, irrespective of what outsiders think.

viii) White seems to suggest that the unseemly material in the Koran/Sunnah/Hadith should be off-limits in Christian apologetics and Muslim/Christian debate, both because that's disrespectful to Muslims and because we ought to treat such material in Muslims sources the way we'd like Muslims and atheists to treat the OT. 

This goes back to White's dismally confused notion of double standards. Yet it's only a double standard to treat the Koran/Sunnah/Hadith differently than the OT if you're a religious pluralist. But from a Christian perspective, we don't make the same allowance for uninspired Muslim sources that we make for the OT. Muhammad was a child of his times. His social mores mirror the culture-bound, time-conditioned outlook of a backward degenerate.  

Sure, a Muslim will say that assessment begs the question, but it's not a question of merely asserting the superiority of the Bible over the Koran. A Christian apologist will give reasons for the superiority of the Bible in contrast to the inferiority of the Koran/Sunnah/Hadith. 

3D chess

But wait… the Trinity just is the one true God – that’s what it is for a theology to be trinitarian. To be numerically identical to the one God, that entails being divine, surely. So the Trinity is a divine being, and the Son (given that “Jesus is God”) is a divine being. But they’re plainly not the same being, as they differ: one is tripersonal, and the other is in some sense 1/3 of the Trinity.

But why the “in”? Perhaps his idea is that we can encounter a whole by (“in”) one of its parts?

Is, then, he saying more than than Jesus is a part of the one God, and should be called “YHWH”?

Tuggy suffers from a persistent mental block on this issue. That's due in some measure to his atrophied conceptual resources. 

i) For instance, the part/whole distinction can break down when we shift from physical objects to abstract objects. Take Hilbert's Hotel, which plays on the counterintuitive implications of actual infinite mathematical sets. 

Even when Hilbert Hotel is full, there's always vacancies. It can accommodate a finite stream of new guests if the current guests vacate their room and move one room over, since there is never a last room. 

There's even room for an infinite stream of new guests. Just put all the current guests in even-numbered rooms and the new guests in odd-numbered rooms. 

There are different rules when dealing with timeless, spaceless objections. Tuggy is unable to make that mental adjustment. 

ii) To recur to another illustration, if you have two mirrors facing each other, they generate reciprocal reflections. Each mirror doesn't contain half the image. Rather, each mirror contains the whole image. Two-in-one. You can see each of the two mirrors reflected in either one. 

Unitarians play 2D chess while Trinitarians play 3D chess.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Memory wipe

Proponents of purgatory often view purgatory as postmortem sanctification, which completes what was incomplete in this life. They view sanctification as a process that can't be accelerated. 

Let's take a comparison. A hypothetical example of instantaneous psychological transformation. Consider science fiction scenarios like Dark City in which people have implanted memories. They think they remember a childhood they never had. If it's the false memory of a happy childhood, that makes them feel nostalgic. They have fond memories of their spouse, even though, in reality, their spouse is a complete stranger. 

But let's take a less drastic example. Selective memory erasure rather than false memories. Suppose two neighborhood boys are close friends. At least they used to be close friends until one boy murdered the father of the other boy. Now they're enemies. Never again can they look at each other the same way. The murderer sees the boy as the son of the man he murdered, while the son sees the murderer as the guy who killed his father. 

But suppose their memories of that event were erased. The boy of murdered father no longer remembers that the other boy was the murderer. The murderer no longer remembers that he killed the boy's father. At that point the friendship resumes as if there was no interruption.  

Suppose a year or so later, the son remembers that the other boy murdered his father, but the other boy no longer remembers killing him. That will certainly interject emotional tension into the relationship. It might destroy the friendship. 

Yet it's different if the murderer can't recall what he did, and the malice is gone. In that respect, he's a different person than he was before. 

Now, I'm not saying heaven involves a memory wipe, although it's possible that God erases especially damaging memories. I'm just using that as analogies for instant psychological transformation. 

Fork in the road

i) A popular theodicy is the greater-good defense. While that has an element of truth, I don't think there needs to be a greater good to justify the existence of evil. 

ii) Suppose a man gets married, fathers two sons by his wife, then she has an affair and leaves him for the other man. In addition, she leaves the kids behind.

Suppose he has a time-machine in the basement. He could travel back into the past and obliterate the original timeline. In the replacement timeline, he has a successful marriage. He has different sons. 

In a sense, this is better than the first time around. It has the advantages of the first timeline without the disadvantages of the first timeline. Admittedly, it's not better for the sons in the first timeline, since they don't exist in the second timeline. 

However, even though there's a sense in which the alternate timeline is better, it's too late for him to consider that. Although it's possible for him to start from scratch by stepping into the time machine, he is now far too invested in the original timeline to erase it and start over from scratch. He's too attached to his actual sons to trade up for a better life. It's inconceivable that he'd zap them out of existence to be dealt a better hand. 

If he was standing at the fork in the road before turning right or left, and if he had foreknowledge or counterfactual knowledge of where each led, he'd opt for the greater good. But having already gone down one road, if he had a chance to go back in time, knowing the outcome, he'd decline. Emotionally speaking, he's crossed a line of no return. He can't make a dispassionate choice. Despite the fact that he never wanted to be a single dad and divorcé, that's offset by the actual good of having a life with those two sons in particular. For him, the anguish of marital betrayal is offset by the sons he had by that marriage. Even though the package of a happy marriage is a better good overall, he will opt for the lesser good, because that's what he's actually experienced. 

iii) Finally, from a Christian standpoint, there's the hope of eschatological compensation for missed opportunities in this life. 

Museum piece

One reason I'm not a Thomist is because Thomism is a museum piece. Aquinas was an apologist for medieval Catholic theology. What else would he be?

But no one believes in medieval Catholic theology anymore, (apart from sedevacantists). That theological paradigm is defunct. 

That doesn't mean one can't salvage some enduring elements from Thomism, but the success of the salvage operation depends in part on whether you're Catholic or Protestant. There's less continuity between Thomism and evangelicalism than Thomism and modern Catholicism. 

It's necessary to dissemble the Thomistic package for spare parts. You can scrounge up some replacement parts in the junkyard, from totaled cars. 


I read the novel Frankenstein years ago when I was in high school or perhaps in junior high school. I recall enjoying it. However, it's been years since then, I've certainly forgotten quite a lot, and I don't know if the story would hold up today. My caveats for this post.

Engaging Judaism

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Gospels and the Gettysburg Address

Bart Ehrman harps on how we should read the Gospels horizontally as well as vertically. We should compare parallel accounts. When we do, we notice differences. Of course, that's hardly a novel observation.

Redaction criticism typically attributes variations to theologically motivated editorial changes. That may occasionally be true, but that's a problem when it's treated as the default explanation.

To take a comparison, the Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous speeches in American history. And it's multiply-attested in contemporary sources. We have copies in Lincoln's own hand, as well as transcriptions by newspaper stenographers who heard the speech live. Yet there are variations in our sources:

Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address at a public cemetery dedication 151 years ago today. But was the mention of God really taken out of the famous speech by the president himself?
No one will really know for sure, since audio of the event wasn’t recorded. That technology was another two score years away in the future.

But there are at least nine versions of the Gettysburg Address from the time period, with some in Lincoln’s handwriting. All are slightly different, and not all accounts agree that Lincoln mentioned God during the 270-word, two-minute speech.
Lincoln was invited as guest speaker at the Gettysburg cemetery event as a courtesy, and it wasn’t entirely expected he would attend. The famed orator Edward Everett was the featured speaker.
Lincoln and his staff arrived on the day before the event, and Lincoln compared notes with Everett. The president also worked on his speech that night.
The Gettysburg Address itself is not in question. The Associated Press and three newspapers transcribed the remarks for publication. Lincoln gave his draft copy and a copy written right after the speech to his secretaries.
In later days, Lincoln wrote out three other copies as mementos, giving us a total of nine versions of the speech. All nine are different.
The gist of all the versions is the same, and all the versions contain the quotes widely taught in history class.
However, the first two versions, in Lincoln’s own handwriting, omit the mention of God in the conclusion.
“The nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” Lincoln wrote in his first two versions. Later versions added the word “under God” so that the sentence reads, “the nation, under God, shall …”
The inclusion of God in the speech is perhaps the most significant difference among the versions. The fifth version of the speech, which was signed and dated by Lincoln, was considered the “final” version and included “under God” in its last sentence.
But is that what Lincoln actually said on the battlefield?
In “The Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln: Volume 7,” the dispute seems to be settled.
The Associated Press report of the speech, written by Joseph Gilbert, along with reports from newspapers in Philadelphia and Chicago, all agree that Lincoln said “under God” as his speech concluded.
In that book’s footnotes, it’s explained that the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune had the words in its independent accounts.
“These papers corroborate Gilbert's version, however, in having the phrase ‘under God,’ which Lincoln must have used for the first time as he spoke,” the book says.
It also appears that Lincoln used the Associated Press version as a reference point when he wrote out the third, fourth, and fifth versions.
A fourth printed version, from the Boston Advertiser, shows that Lincoln used the words “under God” as the address concluded.
How is that possible? One explanation is the difference between the spoken word and the written word. Some speakers write out their speech in advance. That's their script. 

But when they speak before a live audience, they may depart from their prepared remarks. In addition, if they make copies from memory, they may introduce further variations, in part because they don't recall exactly how they worded it the first time, and because they're not even attempting to reproduce the original wording verbatim. They reserve the right to paraphrase their own statements. What matters isn't the precise phraseology, but communicating the same ideas. 
In principle, all the variant accounts of Lincoln's speech could be authentic. They could all be his own words. He casually reworded what he said, when he delivered the speech and when he made copies of his own speech. 

Stale grievances

Supernatural dreams

1. One of my objectives is to expand the evidential base for Christian apologetics. Christian apologists imitate each other. As a result, Christian apologetics can get mired in a rut, recycling the same types of arguments and evidence. These may be fine as far as they go, but it neglects other lines of evidence. 

2. Evidence for Christianity can be direct or indirect. Naturalism is a primary foil to Christianity. Contemporary mainstream naturalism is defined by commitment to physicalism and causal closure. Minds are produced by brains. There's no mental activity outside the brain. The physical universe is all there is. We inhabit a closed system. There are no agents outside the universe.

Although debunking naturalism doesn't prove Christianity, it eliminates a major competitor. And that can be part of a multi-step argument for Christianity.

3. Some Victorian intellectuals took an interest in paranormal activity. This led to organizations like The [Cambridge] Ghost Club and the Society for Psychical Research. In the late 19C, three members of SPR published Phantasms of the Living (1886), by Edmund Gurney, Frederic W. H. Myers, & Frank Podmore–based on more than 700 case-studies. Two volumes, totalling over 1400 pages. Second volume of supplementary material. 

One of the topics is supernatural dreams. Vol. 1, chap. 8; Vol 2, chap. 3.

There's a vetting process by which the authors select the most credible examples, to differentiate veridical dreams from merely coincidental dreams. If there's empirical evidence for supernatural dreams, that debunks naturalism. If all mental activity is confined to the brain, it isn't possible for a dreamer to have extrasensory knowledge. On that view, all dreams are imaginary, although they may make use of the dreamer's experience.  

4. Scripture records many revelatory dreams. Sometimes the dreamer is pagan, sometimes the dreamer is Christian or Jewish. Secular readers think these are fictional dreams. Part of ancient superstitious folklore.

There is, however, abundant extrabiblical evidence for supernatural dreams. Some Christians shy away from this material, but it's no different in kind from archeological corroboration. 

5. The aforementioned book interprets the veridical dreams as telepathic. In a sense that may be true, but that just pushes the question back a step. Most of the dreams cluster around death and danger. But if the explanation is that some humans are naturally telepathic, why would their dreams be bunched around family and friends who are dying or endangered? If they can read other people's minds, wouldn't they dream about lots of other things their loved ones were doing? 

In most reported cases, the dreamer doesn't normally have veridical dreams. This is usually a one-time event, concerning the death of a loved one (or loved one in mortal peril). Telepathy fails to explain the selectivity of the dreams. 

So that might suggest the dreams are revelatory. The ultimate source isn't the ability of the dreamer to access someone else's thoughts. 

6. Perhaps it might be countered that in a crisis, the dying or imperiled individual has especially intense feelings which generate a stronger signal. But that doesn't strike me as a plausible explanation:

i) Telepathy doesn't operate like the inverse-square law, where waves of energy are diminished by relative distance. These dreams are often about people hundreds or thousands of miles away. Conversely, there are cases of simultaneous or synchronized dreams where two dreamers in the same house have the same dream. Telepathy is action at a distance. Proximity is irrelevant. 

ii) Dying people don't necessarily panic. Some people have a peaceful death. Some moribund people are too enfeebled to generate much emotional energy. Some people are unconscious at the moment of death. So you can't chalk it up to an agitated state of mind. 

7. A number of the informants were Christian. Perhaps it's more likely that God sends revelatory dreams to Christians. But even in Scripture, revelatory dreams aren't confined to believers. 

We can speculate as to why that is. In some cases it may make them more open to the Gospel. Or make them more culpable if they steel themselves against the evidence. 

Monday, June 04, 2018

The Volokh Conspiracy on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case

Ben Shapiro on Masterpiece Cake ruling

David French is more optimistic while Ben Shapiro is more pessimistic:

A lot hangs on the future composition of SCOTUS

Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling

Masterpiece cakeshop victory

Could be better, could be worse:

Cult of Mary

In my debates with Ehrman, when he has raised the topic of Marian apparitions, I have responded that I do not doubt that the percipients saw something. What they saw is what I question. Elliot Miller and Kenneth Samples coauthored the book The Cult of the Virgin: Catholic Mariology and the Apparitions of Mary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992). In this book, they discuss the three major accounts of Marian apparitions: Lourdes, France; Fatima, Portugal; and Medjugorje, Croatia. I know Samples personally. He has interviewed several of the seers to whom Mary has appeared in Medjugorje. Although Samples is a Christian whose Protestant theology does not incline him to believe that Mary has appeared to others, he is convinced that these seers have seen a spirit being. In fact, I had an opportunity to inquire further of Samples on the matter. He told me that several of the seers in Medjugorje continued to have visions of Mary. In fact, he was with one of the seers while he was experiencing such a vision, although no one else in the room saw her. Samples told me he asked the seer if Mary had ever spoken to him. The seer said she had, recommending a specific book which the seer was to read. When Samples looked up the title of the book, it was occultic. This led him to believe that a demonic spirit is what is appearing to the seers.

Marian apparitions

In Catholicism, there are different kinds of visions and apparitions, including Christophanies and angelic apparitions. Jesus is said to appear to famous Catholic mystics. 

Reputed Marian apparitions occupy a central place in Catholic piety. But that raises question: What niche do Marian apparitions fill that isn't already covered by Christophanies and angelic apparitions? If, according to Catholicism, Jesus can and sometimes does appear to people, aren't Marian apparitions inferior and superfluous? What distinctive purpose do Marian apparitions serve if some people have visions of Jesus?

It might be countered that God often works through intermediaries. But isn't that a function of angels? If it's a question of supernatural emissaries, angels already play that role.

Catholics say Mary points people to Jesus. But even if that were the case, why are most reputed apparitions visions of Mary rather than, say, visions of St. John the Evangelist? Isn't St. John the Baptist well-positioned to point people to Jesus? Why aren't there more Catholic reports of St. John appearing to people? "I'm the Beloved Disciple. I was the closest confidant of Jesus. I was an eyewitness to more of his ministry than anyone else". 

Moreover, angelic apparitions or apostolic apparitions wouldn't draw attention to themselves in the way Marian apparitions do. People know that angels are merely creatures, and apostles are merely emissaries. 

By contrast, reputed Marian apparitions draw attention to herself. She (allegedly) tells San Juan Diego to build a shrine to her–not to her Son.

She (allegedly) introduces herself to Bernadette as the Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and to Lúcia, Francisco, and Jacinta as the Lady of the Rosary. That draws attention away from Jesus. 

It's striking that the catalyst for Christian revival in the Muslim world is dreams and visions of Jesus rather than Mary. And that makes sense. Between visions of Jesus and visions of angels, there's no niche for visions of Mary. 

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Is Gen 1 about who made the world rather than how it was made?

Theistic evolutionists commonly assert that Gen 1 is about who made the world and not how it was made. Let's consider one implication of that contention. On a conventional reading, man is the pinnacle of creation because days 1-6a are leading up to the creation of man. It's a way of indicating that man is more important than animals or the ecosystem. Not all lifeforms are equal. Humans are more valuable in God's sight than subhuman organisms. 

But that only follows if Gen 1 is about more than who made the world. That only follows if the narrative progression tells us something about how God made the world. About God's intentions regarding his creatures. About relative ranking. 

In ancient Near Eastern mythology, I don't think that's a given. There's nothing that special about human beings. Not coincidentally, the post-Christian view of contemporary environmentalism degrades the significance of human existence.

Flaming ministers

“He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire” (Heb 1:7).

1. Angels are common agents in Scripture, but is there any empirical evidence for angels? To my knowledge, this is a neglected topic. Is there anything more reliable than New Age or RadTrad Catholic sites? 

One potential source of information is a book by Emma Heathcote-James, Seeing Angels: True Contemporary Accounts of Hundreds of Angelic Experiences (London: John Blake, 2001). That's based on her doctoral dissertation at the University of Birmingham, which drew on 800 firsthand accounts. Given the academic background, it's a more reputable source than a lot of stuff on the subject. She's not obviously flakey. 

2. The book quotes and summarizes scores of reported angelic apparitions and related phenomena. I assess it the same way I assess reported miracles generally. I make allowance for flimflam, coincidence, wishful thinking. There is, though, a degree of cumulative credibility based on multiple independent reports of similar phenomena. One has to be a knee-jerk skeptic to dismiss all of it out of hand. What may be implausible in isolation becomes plausible if repeated by different observers at different times and place. 

If it's a question of establishing whether something exists or ever happens, the bar is quite low. How much does it take to disprove a universal negative? Not much.  

i) Atheists trap themselves in circular reasoning. They discount reported angelic apparitions (and other supernatural phenomena) because there's no evidence that angels exist. And what's the evidence that angels don't exist? It can't very well be absence of reported angelic apparitions. 

Only if we know in advance that angels don't exist are we entitled to automatically disregard eyewitness accounts of their existence. We have to know what the world is like, a world where angels don't exist. But how do we know what the world is like? That's something we discover, and reported phenomena contribute to our knowledge of the world. It's viciously circular to discount reported angelic apparitions on the grounds that such reports can never count as evidence for the claim in question. 

It's not as if there's evidence against the existence of angels which must be overcome by sufficient counterevidence. At best one might attempt to claim that there's insufficient evidence. But one can't justifiably claim there's no evidence, then use that to dismiss ostensible evidence to the contrary. The claim that there's no evidence for something is highly vulnerable to disconfirmation. The threshold for disproof is extremely low. All you need is some positive evidence.  

One doesn't have to believe every anecdote in her book. If even a handful are true, that's enough. 

There's a funny story about Laplace, the famous mathematician and scientist of the French Enlightenment. He didn't believe in meteorites. Farmers told him they saw rocks fall from the sky, but he waved that aside as backward superstition. He closed his mind to the evidence.  

ii) You also have cessationists who are impervious to testimonial evidence. But that's a dangerous place to be in. If extraordinary and miraculous things only happen in Scripture, while nothing like that happens outside the pages of Scripture, that creates a troublesome hiatus between what Scripture says is real and reality as you and others experience it. I'm not suggesting that every Christian, or even most Christians, need to experience something extraordinary or miraculous. But it's a problem to drive a wedge between the world of Scripture and the world outside of Scripture.

3. One superficial problem with the book is the classification system. She puts all reports in one angelic basket. That's in part because her informants have limited categories, so they describe an experience in angelic terms even if it's not specifically angelic. The book records a number of phenomena which are not necessarily or even probably angelic, although they are (if true) supernatural:

i) Audible voice

That could be God speaking directly to someone.

ii) Christophany

A few cases appear to be Christophanies rather than angelophanies. 

iii) Shekinah

Many of her informants describe supernatural light. Although angels can be luminous, many of these reports don't envision or depict an angelic figure, but just supernatural light. So that could be a luminous theophany, like the Shekinah. 

iv) Many cases aren't angelic apparitions, but apparitions of the dead. Grief apparitions and crisis apparitions. At least one case suggests bilocation. 

v) Some cases involve near-death or out-of-body experiences. 

vi) Generic miraculous intervention. Could be direct divine action. 

4. Some of the reputed angels look human. Their angelic identity is implied, not by their appearance, but by their supernatural abilities. 

Other reputed apparitions correspond to traditional Christian iconography. That could mean the apparition is imaginary–unless angels accommodate expectations, based on Western religious art, to be recognizable. 

5. She doesn't always identify the religious affiliation, if any, of the informant, but in many cases her informants profess to be Christian. In a few cases they were unbelievers for whom the encounter is a spiritual catalyst. 

6. The nature of the angelic apparitions and other phenomena vary, although they revolve around common situations. 

i) Miraculous intervention to protect people in danger

ii) Guidance for people who are (physically) lost

iii) Encouragement during a time of crisis. A deathbed experience. Angelic visitations to the sick or dying. Or luminous theophanies rather than angelophanies.  

iv) Supernatural warnings and premonitory dreams.

7. One intriguing case involved a visual apparition to someone congenitally blind. 

It's an interesting book. I wouldn't stake my life on it, but I find much of it credible. 

Magical birth canal

"Our bodies, my choice":

Magical birth canal: