Saturday, July 14, 2018

Into darkness

It's striking how some movies and movie genres tap into biblical themes. Take the symbolism of light and darkness. Both the vampire and werewolf mythos trade on that motif. Both are creatures of the night. Unlike vampires, werewolves can function in daytime, but their true identity is manifested at night, under a full moon. Conversely, the true identity of a vampire is manifested by sunlight. Both werewolves and vampires usually appear to be human, but the quality of light reveals what they really are. This is a theme in John's Gospel.

You also have movies and TV dramas about journeys. Road films. The journey is a major biblical motif that operates at different levels. Exile and homecoming. 

The Warriors (1979) combines both motifs. The action begins after sunset and concludes at daybreak. The ultimate basis of the plot is Xenophon's Anabasis. In the original, a Greek army invaded Persia. But their leader was killed in action. His army had to fight their way back home, against hostile tribes. 

In Sol Yurick's modern adaptation, the plot centers on New York city street gangs. The leader (Cyrus) of the largest gang announces a one-night truces, inviting representatives of the major gangs to a powwow in the Bronx. The objective is to unite the gangs. Together, they outnumber the cops. United, they can run the city. That's the theory.

A gang (the Warriors) from Coney Island ride the subway into the Bronx. Cyrus is shot, and the blame is pinned on the Warriors. They must fight their way back to Coney Island. 

The subway is a unifying device. The opening scene begins after nightfall with a shot of an illuminated ferris wheel. We then see the cabin lights of a subway train–like a phosphorescent millipede floating in darkness. The Warriors board the train. They travel into the heart of darkness. The pace quickens as they approach their destination.

As a street gang far outside of their jurisdiction, they are extremely vulnerable. Traveling into what would normally be enemy territory. So long as the truce holds, they are safe, but when Cyrus is shot and they are scapegoated, they find themselves deep inside enemy lines, with hostiles lurking around every corner. 

The power of the film lies in simple visual symbolism. Elemental themes of danger, darkness, travel, and bonding–as well as choreographed fight scenes. Rather Dantean. A gang girl (hooker) whom they meet in the Bronx decides to come with them. 

Due to its secular, nihilistic viewpoint, the film has no great message to impart. Indeed, as Swan exclaims, when they finally reach Coney Island, "This is what we fought all night to get back to?"

It has winners and losers, but no heroes. Life and death without purpose or redemption. 

Consider what a Christian filmmaker could do with the same themes. There are parallels with the Fourth Gospel. Jesus journeys into darkness. A journey into time (night) and space (the earth). He invades the world he made, a world that's turned against its Maker, under the dominion of a diabolical usurper (12:31). A shaft of light, slicing through the darkness. 

The denizens of this world are nocturnal creatures. And some of them are repelled by the light (Jn 3:19). Darkness is their element. 

Although omnipotent, he allows himself to be captured by the enemy and tortured to death. The journey is a round trip. From heaven to the realm of darkness and back again. But he doesn't simply return to his own abode. He leads people from the realm of darkness to the realm of light (14:3,18; 16:16; 17:24). 

Likewise, Christians are born behind enemy lines. Their mission is to lead some of their nocturnal neighbors into the light.

In addition, some Christians are literally behind enemy lines. Whatever you think of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were Christian soldiers who were a witness to Muslims. Their presence brought light to the polar night of Islam. 

Stock numbers

Some numbers in Scripture don't make sense to modern readers. Presumably, they made sense to the original audience (unless the number we read is a scribal error). These numbers may be puzzling in their own right, or be puzzling in relation to in parallel accounts where there's a numerical discrepancy. 

There are different possible explanations. Here I'd like to consider a neglected explanation. What if Bible narrators sometimes use stock numbers? Stop and ask yourself, was the narrator in a position to know the actual figure? And if he didn't know the actual figure, was it a literary convention to use stock numbers? For instance, 2 Kgs 19:35 says the angel of the Lord slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. 

Did someone actually do a headcount? How long would that take? Also, the corpses weren't lined up in neat tidy rows, where you could walk up and down each row, taking a tally. Presumably, this was a pile of corpses, scattered about, with some bodies on top of other bodies. Moreover, it would be easy to lose count. For that matter, is it as easy to count up to thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands in the Hebrew numeral system compared to our modern numeral system? 

What if the narrator didn't know the actual figure, so he used a stock number. He plugged a big number into the account to indicate that lots of soldiers were slain. Big numbers to indicate a big event. 

That's different from hyperbole. It's not conscious exaggeration, but using a large number to indicate this was something big. Really big. Something big happened here.  

The original audience understood that this wasn't the actual figure but a wild estimate. Absent revelation, there'd be many situations in which the narrator didn't know how many people there were, somebody's age, how long it took for something to happen. 

Take the angels at the tomb. One or two? What if the narrator didn't know, so he inserts a stock number into the account. Stock numbers are equivalent to "many", "some", "a few", "a lot". 

We ourselves use stock numbers, viz. six feet under, eleventh hour, inching along, third degree, take five, a ton, a dime a dozen, five will get you ten, forty winks, nine times out of ten, ten-to-one, million/billion/gazillion, a mile away. 

Starting-points in apologetics

1. What's the best starting-point in Christian apologetics? Is there one best starting-point?

For sometime now, a popular paradigm has been to take the resurrection of Jesus as the starting-point. Increasingly, this is paired with the claim that inerrancy is expendable. 

2. The choice of starting points depends in part on the forum and who makes the first move. If, say, you're writing a book-length treatment on "The case for Christianity," then you control the presentation, and you can structure the argument according to what you deem to be the most logical sequence. Here's my basic approach:

3. But in the context of personal evangelism, with its spontaneous give-and-take, you don't have that degree of control. I agree that inerrancy is not the best opening gambit in arguing for Christianity. But what if the seeker or unbeliever initiates the discussion? What if they raise questions regarding the veracity of Scripture? 

There's nothing necessarily wrong with attempting to redirect the discussion away from inerrancy. One reason an unbeliever may be an unbeliever is because he doesn't know the right questions to ask. So it can be valid countermove for a Christian apologist to reframe the discussion. 

4. There are different kinds of unbelievers. Some unbelievers have a few intellectual impediments, and if you clear those up, they will be satisfied. That will create an opening for the Gospel. 

If you duck their questions, they will view that as an intellectual evasion. They will take that to be a tacit admission that you lack confidence in the Bible. If you duck tough questions, that makes a bad impression. That Christianity can't stand up to rigorous scrutiny. It has no answers for tough questions. 

5. There are other unbelievers who aren't listening. For every objection you answer, they will move the goal post. 

So one preliminary question you might ask is: "What are your real reasons? If no matter how many objections I field, that doesn't make a dent, then this is a waste of time". 

You could follow up by asking what are their best objections? That's one way to narrow it down. 

6. I wouldn't make the Resurrection the starting-point. For one thing, that's a rather complicated argument. 

I think it's more efficient to begin at the other end of the spectrum by debunking naturalism. Theoretically, there are intermediate options between naturalism and Christianity, but once you dispose of naturalism, the intermediate options are easy to dispose of, and many unbelievers don't take the intermediate options seriously. 

I'd also focus on the argument from miracles. There's a wealth of well-documented cases. I think that's more accessible than argument for the Resurrection. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Life begins at conception

"Life begins at fertilization, science teaches":

  1. The aforementioned article cites several medical and scientific textbooks stating life begins at conception aka fertilization.

  2. It's a helpful list. There are others like it elsewhere (e.g. The Ethics of Abortion by Christopher Kaczor if I remember correctly).

  3. There are newer editions of some of the cited textbooks. I assume the reason the older editions are cited is because more recent editions aren't as clear in stating when life begins.

    I don't know the exact reason(s) why more recent editions are less clear on when life begins, though I have my guesses. I know it's not because the medical science on when life begins has somehow radically changed between editions!

  4. However, even considering the recent editions aren't quite as clear as the older editions, here's a quotation from the latest (9th) edition of Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects (2016) edited by Keith L. Moore, T.V.N. Persaud, and Mark G. Torchia, p. 1:

    Human development begins at fertilization when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male. Development involves many changes that transform a single cell, the zygote, into a multicellular human being. Embryology is concerned with the origin and development of a human being from a zygote to birth.

    Also, here's a quotation from the latest (10th) edition of The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (2016) edited by Keith L. Moore, T.V.N. Persaud, and Mark G. Torchia, p. 1:

    Human development is a continuous process that begins when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male (Fig. 1-1). Cell division, cell migration, programmed cell death (apoptosis), differentiation, growth, and cell rearrangement transform the fertilized oocyte, a highly specialized, totipotent cell, a zygote, into a multicellular human being. Most changes occur during the embryonic and fetal periods; however, important changes occur during later periods of development: neonatal period (first 4 weeks), infancy (first year), childhood (2 years to puberty), and adolescence (11 to 19 years). Development does not stop at birth; other changes, in addition to growth, occur after birth (e.g., development of teeth and female breasts).

    All that's slightly more oblique, but the scientific facts are still unavoidable. The debate is primarily over the philosophical and ethical ramifications of the science, not the science itself.

  5. Scientific textbooks have their limitations. They're typically a decent summary of the fundamentals, but often textbooks don't reflect the latest bleeding-edge research. In fact, many textbooks are at least a couple of years out of date by the time they're published. The latest research tends to be presented at medical and scientific conferences and published in medical and scientific journals (e.g. Nature, Science). But again, textbooks are generally suitable for the established fundamentals, which is what's in view when it comes to when life begins.

  6. The article likewise quotes scientists and physicians on when life begins. Of course, experts are the ones attending conferences, contributing to scientific papers, and writing textbooks or chapters in textbooks. Textbooks themselves are based on the work of experts. So expert opinion on a topic in their field of expertise carries considerable weight. Just keep in mind scientific and medical experts aren't necessarily philosophical or ethical experts and vice versa.

Crossed wires

I'm going to comment on an article by Christian apologist Frank Turek:

I'm going to comment on the article in its own right as well as in relation to something else. Turek is a graduate of SES. In addition, he's an SES faculty member. 

Large numbers in the OT

The formation of the OT canon

A possible model for the formation of the Hebrew canon may be suggested here in broad outline. Deut 31:26 records that the "book of the law" (presumably Deuteronomy or a text similar to it) was to be placed in the most holy place of the tabernacle. As the Word of God was being written, it continued to be collected and preserved in the Jerusalem temple, where it could be read and copied by others who were interested in its contents. By 586 BC copies would have been taken by the exiles out of the country, while other copies may have been hidden near Jerusalem. Even if copies were not already present at Jerusalem, Ezra returned with the books of the Law (the Pentateuch). He and others may have brought back various books of the Bible to Jerusalem. In any case, a collection in the temple allowed the priesthood to regulate what they considered as Scripture and what they did not. At some point prophecy was regarded as having ceased, and the final scrolls came into the collection [Thus 1 Macc 4:46, "Until a prophet should come," suggests the absence of prophecy]. After that, as far as the sources attest [1 & 2 Maccabees, as well as sources cited above that attest to major divisions and the number of books in the Hebrew Scriptures], no further scrolls were added to the Hebrew Bible as preserved in the Jerusalem temple. As noted above, these were the thirty-nine books that came to be known as the Old Testament. The rabbis recognized the authority of these texts after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. R. Hess, The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Baker 2016), 8-9.

The hallucination hypothesis

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Judaism and exceptions to abortion

Ben Shapiro writes:

But for the sake of clarity, here is my position on the morality and law of abortion: (1) I believe abortion is murder because life begins at conception; (2) I believe that the government has an interest in stopping murder; (3) I believe that there should be exceptions for when the mother’s life is in danger, including when her mental health prevents her from carrying her to term.

I disagree with the second half of his third point. I don't see how a mother's mental health or rather illness (e.g. post-partum depression) is an exception, constituting endangerment to her life, though it could be a mitigating factor. If someone shoots and kills an innocent person, but is found to have been mentally ill at the time, would this mean their killing an innocent person is an exception to murder? Again, I could see how it'd be a mitigating factor in the trial - like I could see how it wouldn't necessarily be, say, first or second degree murder - but I don't see how it wouldn't be murder in general.

(In fairness, this is a reason why Shapiro is an orthodox Jew rather than an evangelical Christian, as Shapiro's interlocutor wrongly alleges. Orthodox Jews evidently make exceptions for abortion that evangelical Christians would not.)

Operation Mincemeat

On April 30th, 1943, the corpse of Major William Martin washed up on a beach in Spain. When the body was examined, the Nazi authorities discovered not only the typical wallet litter (license, receipts, bills, pictures, etc.) but a letter from a General to the now-deceased Major Martin alluding, with subtle undertones, to an Allied invasion of Greece. The Nazis, justifiably suspicious of being punked, launched an extensive investigation, employing pathologists and document specialists, seeking to authenticate the body and the letter.

While this research unfolded, the Allied forces did something truly remarkable; something that appeared to validate the intelligence in the letter. They began troop movements, seemingly staging for an invasion of Greece.

For the Nazi authorities, this confirmed the veracity of Major Martin’s letter.

Now convinced that the Allies planned an invasion, they redistributed their forces to fortify the Balkan peninsula, pulling troops away from Sicily…just as the Allies had hoped.

The whole thing was a ruse.

The Nazi army had been duped, the unwitting victims of an elaborate web of disinformation known as “Operation Mincemeat.” The military build-up near Greece had been a tactical ploy, complete with fake troops and inflatable plastic tanks. “Major Martin” was a real corpse, but the letter and identity were all fake, planted on the body as a diversion. And how did the Allies fool the Nazi experts? Well, they created a backstory for “Major Martin” that was so thorough and complete that it included running his obituary in a London newspaper.

The Allied invasion site was actually Sicily, five hundred miles away from Greece and the very place the Germans had withdrawn their troops to fortify Greece. This seduction of the Nazi’s away from Sicily to Greece has been called “the most spectacular single episode in the history of deception.”

By staging for Greece but landing in Sicily, the Allies pulled off an amazing head fake, completely outwitting the enemy.


Is it permissible to use the body of the deceased in this manner? Does it dishonor the dead? Is this wrong? I don't think so if he or perhaps his family gave permission to use his body this way after his death. It doesn't seem different in principle from organ donation. Just that it's full body donation. (Maybe there's a distinction to be made between donating for medical research or other medical purposes and donating for war. But I am assuming it's arguable that both share the common cause of intending to save lives. Maybe doing so in war is not as directly saving lives like in medicine, but it indirectly does save lives by preventing more from dying.)

However, if no permission was given by him or his family, then would it be unethical to use his body this way? I'm inclined to say it might be unethical if he wasn't a soldier but a civilian. Minimally I would expect using the body of a soldier would take priority over using the body of a civilian.

If he was a soldier, then it seems more debatable. Presumably a volunteer soldier is willingly serving in order to protect his family and people back home. His way of life. His freedoms and liberties. These would be under threat if the enemy won. What's more, the soldier knows the risks of war, yet is willing to sacrifice his life for these ends. Hence I would think a reasonable presumption to make is, if the soldier is willing to die for his people and country, then he would be willing to allow his body to be used in this fashion if he has died, if doing so aids his people in winning the war against a terrible enemy, which would have been his ultimate goal as well.

The Enfield Poltergeist Tapes Made More Accessible

Earlier this year, I signed a contract with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to fund the digitizing of their collection of Maurice Grosse's Enfield tapes. The collection consists of more than 100 audio cassettes recorded over several years, mostly from September of 1977 to April of 1979. The tapes were given to the SPR by Grosse shortly before his death in 2006. The large majority of the tapes were able to be digitized, but some were in too poor a condition for it. Other material, though only a relatively small amount, had to be excluded for copyright reasons (e.g., recordings of television and radio broadcasts about the Enfield case and other topics). The digital version of the tapes is accompanied by about 60 pages of notes on the tapes' contents (written by Melvyn Willin of the SPR), including some information on the tapes and portions of tapes that couldn't be digitized.

The digitizing of the tapes is important for a lot of reasons. Any backing up of that sort of material is valuable, especially now that the tapes are about 40 years old. And putting the content in a digital format makes the tapes far more accessible. Researchers no longer have to travel to England to access the tapes in a particular facility. Using a digital file on a computer is much easier than rewinding, fast forwarding, tracking time, and such with cassettes, especially when you know that the cassettes are so old and so susceptible to breaking down. With the passing of time, more witnesses involved in the Enfield case will die, memories will fade, and records will be lost. Better use can be made of those resources if people have more access to the Enfield tapes sooner rather than later.

Decades ago, as negative a critic of Enfield as Anita Gregory referred to the potential evidence for the case in these tapes and the need to study them more. (See pages 184-85 of her doctoral thesis found here.) Though he's skeptical of Enfield, Chris French commented in a documentary that he expects there to always be interest in the case. It will be discussed for generations to come. We don't even know that the phenomena have stopped. The family who moved into the house after Peggy Hodgson's death in 2003 reported ongoing paranormal events, which caused them to move out.

I've only listened to a small minority of the audio so far. I intend to write posts about the contents of the tapes as warranted.

We should be grateful to the SPR for preserving the tapes, producing a digital version, and making copies of it available to researchers. I especially want to thank Melvyn Willin, who helped with the project from the start and saw it through to completion. Most of the work, including the digitizing of the tapes, was done by him.

The tapes wouldn't exist if Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair hadn't gotten involved in the Enfield case and done so much work on it, including the production and preservation of so many tapes. During a BBC radio program on Enfield earlier this year, Richard Grosse, Maurice's son, commented on how enthusiastic his father was about the Enfield case and what he'd captured on tape. That enthusiasm was still evident in a documentary he participated in just before his death. The case and the tapes deserve further study.

Faith and fear

Catholic converts

There's a pecking order among Catholic converts/reverts. In some cases, the person may occupy more than one rung on the ladder:

1. Historical pivots

One of the most historically influential figures was Henri de Navarre. Raised Protestant, after assuming the French throne he sided with the Catholics. That had enormous impact on the religious history of France. To his partial credit, his regime tolerated Protestants. 

2. Theological pivots

John Henry Newman is the most influential convert in modern times, maybe of all time. His theory of development was codified at Vatican II. He changed his adopted denomination. You might say he saved Catholicism by destroying traditional Catholicism. The theory of development gave Catholicism elbow room, but at the expense of an incurable identity crisis. 

3. Pointy-heads

Figures influential among the Catholic intelligentsia. Their impact is limited and indirect, viz. Elizabeth Anscombe, Frederick Copleston, Cardinal Dulles, Peter Geach, Alasdair MacIntyre, Thomas Merton, Ed Feser, Thomas Joseph White. 

4. Popularizers

Retail salesmen rather than wholesale thinkers, viz. Francis Beckwith, Chesterton, Graham Greene, Scott Hahn, Ed Feser, Thomas Merton, Malcolm Muggeridge, Richard John Neuhaus, Frank Sheed, Adrienne von Speyr, Evelyn Waugh, Thomas Joseph White.

5. Celebs

Public figures who convert to Catholicism, but don't have much religious influence, viz. Tony Blair, Robert Bork, Bobby Jindal, Robert Novak. They're Catholic trophies. 

6. Has-beens

One-time players whose influence has waned with the passage of time, viz. Clare Boothe Luce, Cardinal Manning, Jacques Maritain, Malcolm Muggeridge, Frank Sheed. 

7. Coincidental Catholics

Converts who don't spend much time plugging their newfound faith, viz. Michael Dummett, Bas van Fraassen, Nicholas Rescher. In this case, philosophers who happen to be Catholic rather than Catholic philosophers in the sense of philosophers whose Catholicism is central to their philosophical outlook or whose work significantly intersects with Catholicism from time to time. Their conversion is an intellectual accessory rather than an intellectual revolution. 

8. Extras

Dime-a-dozen hucksters with shoestring "apostolates" who compete with each other for attention and donors. 

When you lose inerrancy, that's not all you lose

I recently had an exchange with chapter Director of the Reasonable Faith (W. L. Craig's outfit):

Dr. Craig's "web of theology" analogy aptly illustrates this notion. For example, Bart Ehrman's failure to make the distinction led him to reject Christianity altogether based on his inability to maintain inerrancy, which he held to be central to the faith.

1. The ease with which some younger-generation apologists demote inerrancy reflects a flawed apologetic paradigm. Inerrancy is grounded in the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration. 

And that, in turn, is grounded in distinctive biblical theism. The God of Scripture is a God who speaks to and through chosen individuals. That differentiates the true God from the mute idol-gods of paganism. And that differentiates true prophets from false prophets. 

Although the Bible is a historical document, it isn't just a historical document. In addition, the Bible is a religious document with a theology of inspiration, revelation, and providence. Just peeling away a historical layer is reductionistic and misrepresents the fundamental nature of Christianity as a revealed religion. 

2. It also reflects an ill-conceived strategy regarding the alternatives. The motivation is that even if the Bible is fallible, that doesn't justify apostasy, for a fallible but reliable Bible is an adequate fallback.

But the proper response isn't to ditch inerrancy; rather, the proper response is to take atheism off the table. Explain that naturalism is not a viable alternative. Naturalism sabotages reason, meaning, and morality.

Hopefully you agree though that one can in principle ditch inerrancy without necessarily ditching faith in Christ for salvation. In other words, inerrancy is less than central to the Gospel, that the stakes of ditching inerrancy are lower than the stakes of ditching faith in Christ for salvation and rejecting inerrancy.

No, I don't grant that. There's a distinction between saving faith and what is necessary for Christianity to be true. But we don't want to drive a wedge between them, do we?

Or it's actually setting the bar for salvation where it should be and not letting things like the number of horses in Solomon's stalls be an impediment to and distraction from the Gospel of Christ. Hopefully though we can agree that there are such things as "peripheral matters of theology"... that not everything in Scripture is foundational and that there are things in the Bible that, if wrong or missing, would not destroy Christianity.

But Scripture itself is foundational.

I'm not sure we're using "foundational" in the same sense. By "foundational" I mean that there are things in Scripture that, were they wrong or missing, would not destroy Christianity. For instance, Christianity does not rise or fall on Shamgar's killing of 600 Philistines with an oxgoad (Judges 3:31). Imagine we find out that Shamgar killed 30 men with a spear. Would you abandon Christianity because of the discrepancy? I should hope not.

1. That's a hopelessly atomistic view of the issue. It's like saying, because I can survive frostbitten toes, because I can survive an amputated toe, I can survive Antarctica in my tighty-whities. The question isn't whether the body can survive the loss of a toe, but what sustains the entire body, toes included. 

If you jettison inerrancy, then you implicitly jettison the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture since it doesn't make a heap of sense to say a verbally plenarily inspired text is fallible. So the question isn't whether Christianity can survive minor errors in the Bible, considered in isolation, but whether Christianity can survive without the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture. Whether that sustains the entire faith, just as oxygen sustains the entire body. The body can survive without certain appendages, but it can't survive without oxygen. If a toe dies from oxygen deprivation, the body can survive, but the body itself can't survive without oxygen. The issue isn't (hypothetical) compartmentalized errors, but what keeps the entire organism alive.

2. Dropping the metaphor, if you jettison plenary verbal inspiration, what's the prophetic status of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah, &c.? 

3. What makes the death/resurrection of Christ important? That's contingent on the theological significance of his death/resurrection. And that, in turn, is contingent on theological interpretation. Take how Paul and the author of Hebrews interpret the atonement of Christ. But if their letters are uninspired, what makes the death/resurrection of Christ special? The bare events of crucifixion and resurrection are ciphers. 

4. What about biblical promises regarding eternal life? What's the value of uninspired promises regarding eternal life? Absent revelation, Bible writers have no more insight into the nature of the afterlife, if any, than Buddha. 

5. Apropos (4), the historical reliability of a document depends on testimonial evidence. But the traits of a trustworthy eyewitness don't qualify him to know anything beyond what he can naturally perceive with the five senses. It doesn't go beyond the empirical. Doesn't give him foresight into the future, the afterlife, or insight regarding God's nature and intentions. 

6. What about the teaching of Jesus? Is that essential to Christianity? Consider these speeches, debates, and dialogues: 

Sabbath controversies (Mt 12:1–45)
Sabbath controversies (Lk 6)
Sabbath controversies (Lk 13-14)
Jesus and Nicodemus (Jn 3)
Jesus and the Samaritan women (Jn 4)
Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6)
Debating religious authorities/before Abraham was, I am (Jn 8)
Debating religious authorities/I and the Father are one (Jn 10)
Last Supper (Jn 13)
Upper Room Discourse (Jn 14-17)

That's just a sample. I think it's well established that people remember events better than words. And while they may sometimes remember the gist of what somebody said, that's not a detailed verbal recollection. Yet many of these pericopes involve extended speeches and conversations. Unique, one-time events. Not something the disciples heard repeatedly. But absent plenary verbal inspiration, these are, at best, uninspired translations of uninspired recollections. That's two big steps removed from what Jesus actually said. So we lose the teaching of Jesus.

BTW, many disputes in Christian theology and ethics turn on exactly how the statements of Jesus are worded in the Gospels. But if, at best, this is just a fallible translation of someone's fallible memory of what Jesus said, then the wording is unreliable.

God has spoken

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).

1. This is the locus classicus for the inspiration of Scripture, although that's misleading since the database for biblical inspiration is far broader than one traditional prooftext.  

2. I've discussed "God-breathed" before. I think that's Paul's way of saying Scripture is equivalent to divine speech–the spoken word of God committed to writing. And that dovetails with OT exemplars of inspiration (i.e. "The word of the Lord came to X").

"Breath" is associated with speech, speaking, the spoken word. So what's breathed out by God is divine speech. That stresses the immediacy of Scripture as the very word of the living God. 

So it could be paraphrased: "All Scripture is the word of God". 

3. Syntactically, the statement can be rendered two different ways:

i) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

ii) Every Scripture which is breathed out by God is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

According to (ii), Scripture falls into two different classes: inspired Scripture and uninspired Scripture. And only inspired Scripture is profitable for those things.

But it's inexplicable to suppose Paul is dichotomizing Scripture into two divergent subsets, inspired and uninspired, only one of which is profitable. On that view, what's the purpose of the uninspired Scripture? And what's the distinction between uninspired Scripture and uninspired writings generally? 

Rather, Paul must mean that inspiration is a necessary condition for what makes a writing Scripture. Not a sufficient condition since not all inspired speech is committed to writing or preserved for posterity. 

Put another way, Scripture has its source of origin in the process and product of inspiration. Not all inspired speech becomes Scripture, but all Scripture must be inspired. And that dovetails with OT models, which Paul undoubtedly has in mind. 

4. Finally, there's the scope of Scripture. Minimally, Paul is alluding to the OT. However, some NT writings by then in circulation might also be in view. 

And whether or not Paul has any NT writings in mind, they are implicitly covered by Paul's statement. The principle is the causal and logical relationship between inspiration and Scripture. If NT writings meet that condition, then they too are Scripture–just like the OT writings. 

TERF wars

Steve sends along this article: "Lesbians Accused Of Hate Crimes For Objecting To Transgenderism At London Pride Festival".

The article was penned by a homosexual man.

If I understand correctly (the difference in "attraction" is less clear to me), here is how it plays out:

Homosexuals: sexuality is fixed.
Transgenders: sexuality is fluid.

Homosexuals: identity is fixed.
Transgenders: identity is fluid.

Homosexuals: attraction is fluid.
Transgenders: attraction is fixed.

If so:

1. Witness how homosexuals and transgenders are fighting among themselves. How it has devolved into such bitter and hostile internecine warfare. How both attempt to devour one another.

2. LGBTQ supporters want everyone to regard both homosexuals and transgenders as normal or within what's normal. However, judging by the above, both homosexuals and transgenders don't regard one another as "normal". Both vehemently disagree on fundamentals about identity, sexuality, and (it seems) attraction.

3. A telling quotation from the article:

When a heterosexual man identifies as a woman, he often expects to fully enter the lesbian world and be embraced, even if he is still physically male. Many lesbians view this as a demand for them to engage in sex with a man under social pressure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Merit offsets

Once upon a time there was a monk named San José del Inmaculado Corazón de María. (To be precise, he wasn't technically a saint at the time. That's what he went by after canonization.) 

During his lifetime, San José was already renown for his supererogatory merit. According to the celestial bank manager at the Thesaurus Meritorum, San José had the highest credit rating of any monk in the past 700 years.

However, San José had one peccadillo: he was a cannibal. His ancestors were Amazonian headhunters, and despite his fervent conversion to the One True Church®, he could never kick the habit. Tofu failed to sate his appetite for something more exotic. 

Although his Father Confessor had reservations about San José's culinary proclivities, his unrivaled merit score made him far too valuable for the monastery to discharge. Besides, so long as his supererogatory merits offset his dietary transgressions, he was still so holy that he could bypass Purgatory with merit to spare. Like a rechargeable phone card, his get-out-of-Purgatory-free card was always topped up with pulsating ergs of merit. On birthdays, he'd indulge (pardon the pun) in a sampler platter from multiple victims, then charge it to his get-out-of-Purgatory-free card. 

He even loaned it out to his bishop in exchange for a daily supply of fresh meat. What his bishop did with it I will leave to your sordid imagination. 

The hermeneutics of inerrancy

1. Apologetic shortcuts

Atheists constantly attack the Bible. They allege that Scripture is riddled with errors and contradictions. They constantly recycle the same stock objections. 

Now, some of these passages require individualized treatment, but in many cases, atheists raise the same kinds of objections, so it's unnecessary to address each and every objection separately. Rather, we can debunk the false assumptions that underlie similar kinds of objections. Many objections to the inerrancy and historicity of the Bible fall under some general categories. Therefore, a Christian apologist can take some shortcuts by noting these rules of thumb. Although I've discussed all these principles at one time or another, there's some value in collecting them in one post. I'm probably overlooking some categories, because I've written so much about it. 

Roe, Roe, Roe your boat, gently down the radical left's progressively irrational dystopian dream

Here is an example of a pro-abortionist on the verge of an apoplectic fit against the possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed:

Human knowledge and technology have reached the point where the womb has become a sort of Pandora's Box. Whereas in the past, societies could gloss over the seemingly impossible details of the beginnings of human life and accompanying rights because it was all a mystery or an act of God, that's no longer an option for modern society.

The "life begins at conception" position is really the ultimate slippery slope. If we're going to afford full rights to a single cell, then we're going to have to:

  • Establish some kind of monthly monitoring system of all womb-bearing humans to know when a new human enters the picture. This would be incredibly invasive. To the point where I doubt even the staunchest, most misogynistic supporter would be thrilled to have a government official probe his wife's vagina every month.

  • Every natural, self-aborted pregnancy (something like 70-90% of all conceptions) would trigger an investigation and likely charges of involuntary manslaughter against the woman.

  • It would open any women found to be pregnant up to criminal charges on the basis of any unhealthy behavior on her part that could potentially elevate the risk for miscarriage.

  • The logical outcomes of making zygotes US citizens is either Handmaid's dystopia or the sterilization of all humans and the move to artificial wombs and test tube babies.

The alternative is education, contraception, and rights begin at birth.

Peter on Backpack Radio Live With Vocab Malone

Yesterday, I got to participate on Vocab Malone's livecast. We discussed the role of art, satire, and story in Christianity. For anyone interested, you can watch it here:

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Catholic canon

Catholic apologists regard the Protestant canon as an Achilles heel of Protestant theology. While the canon is a legitimate issue, that's a two-sided issue. What about the Catholic canon?

What's the basis of the Tridentine canon? Is it evidence? Was the evidence sufficient to favor the Tridentine canon?

But Catholics and Protestants have access to the same evidence. It's not like the Tridentine Fathers had an extra cache of evidence from the secret Vatican archives that tilted the scales in favor of the Tridentine canon. Protestants are looking at the same evidence as Catholics. 

Or is the contention that the evidence is inconclusive, so that must be supplemented by the authority of Rome. The Tridentine canon enjoys a level of certainty that goes beyond the evidence, due to ecclesiastical authority. According to that paradigm, raw ecclesiastical authority is the makeweight which closes the gap between the evidence and certainty.

But in that case, certainty is detached from evidence. In principle, there could be direct certainty with no evidence whatsoever. Certainty by sheer ecclesiastical fiat. Yet Catholic apologists typically argue for the Tridentine canon based on the evidence, as they see it. 

If, on the one hand, evidence is sufficient to settle the canon, then the magisterium is superfluous. If, on the other hand, evidence is insufficient to settle the canon, ecclesiastical authority conjures certainty out of thin air, with nothing corresponding to back it up. That's the dilemma. 

Shift in the balance of power

When Trump picked Gorsuch, that replaced one conservative with another conservative. So that left the status quo intact. That left the balance of power intact. 

However, Trump's second pick has the potential to shift the balance of power, by replacing the capricious swing-vote Kennedy with a more dependable conservative (Kavanaugh). 

For the first time in a long time, that may give SCOTUS a stable working conservative majority. Kennedy oscillated between liberal and conservative positions. 

That's still a slender margin. And "conservative" nominees can prove to be disappointing. They don't always live to their reputation. But assuming that he's confirmed, this may be a dramatic change in ideological direction of the Court.

It's possible that Trump will have chance to replace more justices–especially if he's reelected. And the fact that he's picked two conservatives in a row is gratifying.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Is inerrancy dispensable?

Is it inconsistent and disingenuous for someone like me when dealing with skeptics to affirm my belief in inerrancy, but at the same time tell those skeptics that the truth of Christianity doesn't depend/hinge on the truth of inerrancy? It seems to me it's not. If I'm wrong, I'm open to correction. Also, it seems to be very useful to say that to skeptics because it deflates so much of their objections since many of them depends on the assumption of inerrancy. 

I find that if I can convince skeptics that Christianity could be true even if inerrancy is false, it sometimes humbles them enough to be open to the possible truth of Christianity. Or it flusters them to the point that they don't know what to say next. Or they start backpedaling or conceding various points on issues they were insistent upon just a few moments ago. 

Skeptics want to argue about and focus on inerrancy for various reasons. 

- To create a barrier and buffer to protect their disbelief.
- Because to defend inerrancy inductively and comprehensively, one would have to deal with each and every possible Biblical difficulty, discrepancy and apparent contradiction. Thus strengthening their buffer. Since such debates can go on indefinitely.
- It distracts from the real issue. Namely, the issue of the truth of Christianity.
- In order to address all or even just the main apparent contradictions/discrepancies/errors a Christian would have to know a vast amount of knowledge, and they know most Christians aren't that knowledgeable or even have the aptitude to use that knowledge to formulate responses.

So, it seems to me that by asserting that Christianity could be true even if inerrancy were false does two things. 1. It disarms to a great degree skeptics of their objections, and 2. also arms Christians with a way of dealing with both a.) their own personal doubts and b.) answering their skeptical neighbors.

There are hundreds of alleged Bible difficulties. If we play into the skeptics methods, s/he can have us address every problem one by one from the smallest to the largest (in that order) in order to insulate his disbelief. Possibly saving the most difficult ones for last as a refuge/festung. Though, usually, they'll pick ones they think are really tough. 

The context of this statement is Andy Stanley's position, which is similar to W. L. Craig's. 

1. We need to unpack inerrancy. That's a one-word label. An abstraction. But what does it stand for? Over and above the concept of inerrancy is what it refers to. Inerrancy is an umbrella term that covers at least three or four categories:

i) Truth-claims about the past

The historical narratives of Scripture are true.

ii) Truth-claims about the future

Prophetic statements of Scripture are true. 

iii) Truth-claims about morality

Biblical teaching on personal and social ethics is true

iv) Truth-claims about God's nature and intentions

What God is really like–compared to religious distortions. 

But suppose the Bible is fallible in these departments. Suppose Abraham never existed. God never appeared to Abraham, to call him out of Ur. God never made a covenant with Abraham. That's pious fiction. Suppose Gen 2-3 is pious mythology. Suppose Jesus was wrong about what sins are damnable sins. Suppose Jesus mispredicted the end of the world. Suppose the Bible is wrong about the afterlife. Suppose Paul is wrong about the nature of the atonement. Suppose Hebrews is wrong about the nature of the atonement.  Suppose the Bible misrepresents the character of God. Suppose God never delivered the Jews from Egypt. That's pious legend. Suppose God never made a covenant with David. That's national mythology. And so on and so forth. Is it really the case that the truth of Christianity doesn't hinge on the inerrancy of Scripture?

A fallible Jesus is much more consistent with a merely human Jesus than God-Incarnate. 

Suppose the Bible does indeed contain hundreds of errors. Historical falsehoods. Prophetic falsehoods. Ethical falsehoods. Suppose Bart Ehrman's list of contradictions and blunders in the Gospels is accurate. How can the Bible be a reliable source of information regarding the big questions if that's the case?

2. This goes to divine providence. How involved is God in human history? If Biblical prophecies and narratives don't correspond to what God is actually up to, then perhaps God is more deistic. What if, in practice, we're on our own? Petitionary prayer is futile. God doesn't intercede. There's nothing to back up the inspirational stories. 

3. If the Bible is inerrant, then that's reality. Should we tell people to selectively disregard reality? 

4. As a Christian apologist, the onus is not on me to play by the rules of the skeptic. I don't jump when he says jump. He doesn't get to dictate the criteria. My duty is to tell him what I believe and why I believe it. I explain and defend my plausibility structure. I present the evidence that I find convincing. He doesn't set the bar for me to jump over. 

If he finds my presentation unpersuasive, so be it. I'm not responsible for what he does with his life. I give my reasons. I scrutinize his objections. The rest is up to him. 

5. Defending inerrancy doesn't entail that we must have independent corroboration for every particular claim of Scripture. Rather, we have corroroative evidence for the reliability of the source. 

It's not incumbent on a Christian apologist to have an explanation for each and every difficulty in Scripture. An anthology as ancient as Scripture is bound to have many obscurities at this distance from events. 

6. That said, we don't need to reinvent the wheel each time. There are prepared answers for most every objection. Some are better than others, but there's no dearth of intelligent answers. 

7. You can find out in a hurry that some people are a waste of time. Sometimes there are too many layers to peel away, and they aren't listening anyway. 

8. Sometimes we respond to a person on their own grounds, for the sake of argument. But that's a pressure point. It's not conceding their position. And it's just at temporary stage in the argument. 

For instance, if someone says, "For all you know, we might be trapped in the Matrix!"–I can point out that even if we were trapped in the Matrix, naturalism would still be false. The Matrix only pushes the same issue back a step. One must still account for the Matrix, as well as intelligent agents within the Matrix. Some retooled theistic proofs will apply to a Matrix-like situation.

But that doesn't make the Matrix an adequate substitute for Christianity. Although I might temporarily play along with their thought-experiment for discussion purposes, that's not where it ends. 

9. As I've often said, rather than starting with the perceived problems of Scripture, we should start with the problems of naturalism. Incinerate naturalism. Burn it out with a flamethrower so that people realize that they don't have that to turn to. 

Trump's pick for SCOTUS

Many conservatives were rooting for Amy Coney Barrett. They were mildly disappointed that Trump picked Brett Kavanaugh. Time will tell, but I never shared their unbridled enthusiasm for Barrett.

i) She was praised as a devout Catholic. Although Catholics can make fine judges (as well as horrible judges), there's increasing division between liberal Catholic priests and the hierarchy, on the one hand, and conservative Catholic laymen and women, on the other hand. At what point does the top have an adulterating influence on the bottom? When the hierarchy keeps moving left, how conservative can we expect the laity to remain? Mind you, Kavanaugh is Catholic, too.

ii) From what I've read, she has two adopted kids and five biological kids, including one special-needs child. I don't see how she has time to be a mother to seven kids, giving them individualized attention, and also be so career-oriented. 

iii) As a complementarian, I think that men are temperamentally more suited to a judicial role than women. Put another way, it's hard enough to find ideologically (and theologically) reliable men in positions of leadership. 

Oracle against Tyre

A few years ago I did a post on Ezekiel's oracle against Tyre:

Here's a supplementary article:

With that in mind, I'd like to make a few additional points:

i) There were two distinct but interrelated Tyres: mainland Tyre and the island-city.

ii) Nebuchadnezzar sacked mainland Tyre. Later, Alexander used the rubble from mainland Tyre to construct a bridge from the mainland to the island, enabling him to use battering rams against the fortified island city. In that respect, Alexander's conquest of the island was an extension of Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of the mainland. 

iii) In Scripture, when one party acts on behalf of a second party, the action may be attributed to the party on whose behalf the action is taken. Take a king who sends a general. The king may get the credit. 

iv) The fulfillment was multistaged. A short-term oracle along with a long-term oracle. 

v) Ezekiel says: 

I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves Ezk 26:3.

Notice that the destruction of Tyre isn't attributed solely to Nebuchadnezzar. Rather, it will suffer a series of devastating attacks, from different adversaries, like successive waves.  

vi) Scripture contains two prophetic allusions to Alexander the Great: Ezk 26 and Dan 8:5-8; 11:2-4. 

vii) Naming individuals in long-range prophecy is dicey. Isaiah is exceptional in that regard (Isa 44:28; 45:1).

On the one hand, the identity of the referent is incomprehensible to the seer and his contemporaries, since he won't be born for generations. In addition, if an oracle is too specific, that carries the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy or evasive maneuvers. 

On the one hand, the prediction in itself may be a contributing factor in making the prediction come true if someone plays that role or people respond accordingly. If, say, there's a prediction that a Fortune 500 company is in financial straits, that very forecast may precipitate a massive sell-off, which causes the company to go broke. 

Conversely, someone might take preemptive measures to thwart the prediction. Consider Herod's reaction to the messianic oracle (Mt 2). Or the reaction of Joseph's siblings to his prophetic dream (Gen 37). 

Therefore, Biblical prophecy is generally framed in ways that are recognizable after the fact, but not in advance of the fact. 

viii) For Jews living in the intertestamental period, at the mercy of pagan rulers (Rome, Persia) or persecutors (Antiochus), it would be encouraging to recognize their ordeal described in prophecies (Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel). That reassures them that Yahweh is still in control. He hasn't deserted them. 

Andy Stanley, apologetics and inerrancy

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Was blind but now I see

Jeremy had two kid brothers: Josh and Jesse. Jeremy was normal, but Josh was born blind while Jesse was congenitally deaf. As a result, Josh and Jesse were exceptionally close to Jeremy because he had to compensate for their sensory impairments. He was like Josh's guide dog. Jesse could navigate the world more easily than Josh, but had a harder time communicating with strangers. Josh knew his brothers by scent as well as the sound of their voice and footsteps while Jesse knew his brothers by sight. 

They went everywhere together, did everything together. They might of done that anyway, but their dependence on Jeremy made them inseparable. 

This situation continued into their upper teens. They were deeply involved in the church youth group. In the course of networking they discovered a man with a reputation as a healer, so they contacted him. 

The man said he had no ability to heal on the spot. If someone asked for healing, he prayed to God about that situation. Sometimes he got a sign from God that it was God's will to heal that person. When that happened he laid hands on that person. 

So he prayed about their situation. Months later he contacted the boys and said he had a sign. They got together. He laid hands on Josh and Jesse, restoring their sight and hearing.

The brothers were ecstatic. Each brother was now discovering a new world. In some ways the same world, but they had never been able to experience it by sight or sound before. They knew they were missing out on something. They only knew it by description. Now they found out for themselves.

Jeremy was very excited for his two brothers. However, because his younger brothers were no longer so dependent on their big brother, they began to do more things apart. In fact, they kind of resented having to rely so much on Jeremy over the years, so they relished their newfound freedom to strike out on their own without a handler. 

Jeremy understood, and tried to be sympathetic, but it hurt when he was left behind. In fact, at one point Jesse told him to his face that he didn't need Jeremy anymore. He just wanted to explore the world on his own. When Jeremy as a normal boy with a blind brother and a deaf brother, that made him extraordinary, but now he was demoted to being utterly ordinary. 

Jesse dropped out of church and drifted. Jeremy and Josh lost contact with their brother. 

Josh disapproved of Jesse's ingratitude towards Jeremy. He was thankful that Jesse took up the slack over the years. Although Josh relished the ability to see, and the independence that afforded, yet after he had a chance to do things on his own, he reverted to doing things with Jeremy. There was some adjustment. They were now equals. And that created opportunities to do things together they couldn't enjoy before. Different but better. 

The miraculous healing was a gain, but it carried an unforeseen loss, by breaking up the bond which the three brothers used to share. Jeremy and Josh continued to pray about Jesse, but at the time of writing, he was out of touch and out of reach. Jesse was easier to talk to when he was deaf. Now that he could hear, he wouldn't listen. He was deaf in a different way. Worse than before. Much worse.