Saturday, July 28, 2018

At the tomb

One puzzling detail in John's resurrection account is why Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to touch him (Jn 20:17). That's a head-scratcher. Another enigmatic detail is why she fails to recognize him by sight (vv14-16). Likewise, how Jesus accessed the upper room, when the doors were locked. If the accounts are legendary, it's inexplicable why the narrator would fabricate baffling details. 

i) I've commented on all these details before. A naturalistic explanation for the Magdalene's failure to recognize Jesus is that it was still too dark to see clearly. If the women set out as soon as possible, if they set out before sunup, at first light, when it was just bright enough to find their way to the cemetery, it may have been too dim for the Magdalene to make out Jesus' features. In addition, if he was standing with the sunrise behind him, his face would be in the shadows. 

ii) Here's a supernatural explanation. Jesus was about 33 when he died. The hot dry climate is hard on the complexion. He spend lots of time out of doors, so he may have had a prematurely aged appearance. A very weathered complexion. Not to mention how fatiguing his ministry was. 

One effect of glorification is rejuvenation. If a Christian dies at 95, they don't be resurrected at 95. They will be resurrected at an optimal age. 

Suppose Jesus was resurrected as a 20-year-old. In that event, the Resurrection may have taken some twenties years off his appearance, if he was looking closer to 40 at the time of death. If so, he'd bear an eerie resemblance to the Jesus she knew, but how could it be Jesus if he wasn't nearly that young? That may explain her disorientation. 

iii) I suppose there's the question of whether Jesus underwent the aging process. If senescence is due to original sin, and Jesus is impeccable, then was he exempt from the aging process? That may depend in part on whether Adam and Eve were naturally mortal or immortal. Was immortality conferred by the tree of life?

But even if senescence is a consequence of original sin, a vicarious atonement might require Jesus to assume the punitive effects of original sin despite his impeccability. 

Demons demons everywhere!

Some readers are struck by how often the Synoptic Gospels mention demoniacs. Were there really that many demoniacs running around 1C Palestine? Were Jews that susceptible to possession? The OT never mentions exorcism. A few quick considerations:

i) Perhaps OT prophets weren't granted the authority to cast out demons. Maybe that was reserved for Jesus and his disciples. When the dark side got wind of the fact that God Incarnate was traipsing around Palestine, it was DEFCON 1 for the occult. Hit Jesus with everything you've got.

The conflict between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light comes to a head with the advent of Christ. Open warfare.

Jesus had the intrinsic authority to cast out demons to demonstrate who's ultimately in charge. To the extent that his followers can do the same thing, that's in the name of Jesus.

ii) When friends and relatives brought people to Jesus to be exorcized, that reflects their diagnosis, not his. They think the individual is possessed–which doesn't imply that Jesus always shared their suspicions. 

Since Jesus has the mojo to cure anyone of anything, it really doesn't matter what's wrong with them. In some cases the individual might be mentally ill, which friends and relatives misdiagnose as possession. Jesus can still heal that individual. His ability isn't contingent on the accuracy of their diagnosis.

The Synoptics record some dramatic cases of demonic possession and exorcism. However, that very fact may indicate that those were the most memorable cases. So the actual percentage of demoniacs may have been fairly low. 

Clinging vines

I'd like to make one more observation about "Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos". It's a well-intentioned article that has a grain of truth. However, it reinforces a damaging stereotype of complementarianism. It plays into the popular prejudice that complmentarianism is equivalent to The Handmaid's Tale

That's because the position advocated in the article isn't complementarianism. It seems to take the position that at every stage of life, females need to be under male supervision. That reflects a quintessentially Muslim viewpoint. They remain under their father's authority (or uncles or brothers) until they marry, then authority is transferred to the husband. There's nothing in-between. 

It's not good to foster a subculture of dependance, where wives are clinging vines. For one thing, in a fallen world you never know who will let you down. 

But beyond that, some women find themselves in situations through no fault of their own where they must provide for themselves. Where they must take the lead (cf. 1 Sam 25).

I had an aunt who was a widow for 40 years. Her husband died of a heart attack when they were in their early fifties. She desperately wanted to remarry, but she just wasn't eligible. 

His premature death made her a single mom. But because she had a nursing degree to fall back on, she was able to support herself financially as well as her adolescent son. In fact, I think it was a two-income home even before her husband died. He tried to eke out a living as a TV repairman. I doubt he made enough money to support the family. She had a more stable source of income than he. 

I had another aunt who was a widow for 25 years. But because she had a doctorate in linguistics, she got a job as a college prof. She was able to provide for her needs. 

There are responsible and irresponsible men, responsible and irresponsible women. Sometimes a responsible woman marries an irresponsible man. Or sometimes they're both irresponsible, but she learns the hard way. 

Who Is Left Behind? The Wicked or the Righteous?

I am not pretribulational, but I believe those who are left behind in Matt 24 are the wicked and those taken are the righteous.

Sometimes I get the sense that people want to believe that those who are taken are the wicked for judgment because they don't want to share the same view with the Left Behind movie on this point. There is another reason why interpreters have wrongly thought that those who are left are the righteous.

I am posting a video where I was recently interviewed on this topic. I don't intend to start an eschatology debate. My intention here is to bring to light some evidence that is practically ignored in the literature, both scholarly and popular. My point in this interview is to explain that the separation that occurs at the parousia depicted in Matt 24:31 is ignored in every discussion when this topic is broached.
“And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt 24:31)
And yet, it is the most important point, because the illustrations of those taken and left behind are relating back to the parousia event. It is the whole point of invoking the illustrations, similitudes, and parables in the first place. In addressing this topic, so many interpreters begin by first going outside Matt 24, rather than first starting with the immediate context. 

I also bring to light some meanings of Greek words and correcting a certain bad rendering in many English translations.

Listen to the entire interview before drive-by commenting!

The voice of the Master

Engaging KJV-onlyists

Shadow past

Given that the universe has a finite age, why did the universe begin with time rather than in time?

I'm not sure what Jeff means by that question, but according to proponents of mature creation, there's a sense in which God did create the world in time rather than with time. On that view, the universe is like a period movie set. It begins at a certain point along a timeline. It has a shadow past. 

Of course, atheists object to mature creation, but in that case they're raising contradictory objections. 

The argument from scale

I'd like to consider a couple of objections to God's existence. In terms of how they are conventionally expressed, it's not clear if these are two separate objections or one overall objection:

1. The argument from scale

The vast size and vast antiquity of the universe renders human existence insignificant by comparison. Humans occupy such an infinitesimal fraction of the universe, in time and space. 

2. The universe is overwhelmingly hostile to life

Despite the vastness of the universe, intelligent life may only exist on earth. 

These two objections are individually problematic:

Regarding (1):

i) Advocates of mature creation don't think the universe preexisted humans for billions of years.

ii) The theological value of human life is irrelevant to the physical size of the universe in relation to the human population or the position of the earth in relation to the universe. That's a category mistake. To take a comparison, if a son is drafted to fight a war overseas, is he less precious to his parents when he's thousands of miles away compared to when he's living at home or living in the same town? Spatial separation is beside the point.

Is a parent who died 40 years ago less precious to their child than a parent who died last week? Temporal separation is beside the point. 

God is a discarnate being, so the value he places on creatures has nothing to do with physical proximity. 

Suppose, for argument's sake, that humans were able to colonize the universe. We had space stations scattered across the universe. Would that enhance our significance in the sight of God? The objection is theologically obtuse.

Regarding (2), astronomers are conflicted on that issue. Some think earth might be the only planet where life exists while others think the odds are that life must exist elsewhere in the universe. 

But another problem is how these two objections cancel each other out. Supposing that intelligent life only exists on earth, doesn't that make humans extra special? Don't rare things tend to be more precious than ordinary things? Isn't an oasis valuable in relation to the surrounding wasteland? 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Debt-free virgins

Recently, a Christian blogger named Lori Alexander did a click-baity post that went viral:

It's actually a running commentary on what another woman said, much of which she agrees with. 

On a positive note, I appreciate the attitude which she and her friend exhibit. Many women would do well to emulate their spirit. However, the post suffered from many hasty generalizations.

Origen's Homilies On Ezekiel Now Available Online

Roger Pearse has linked an English version he edited that's now available online for free.


28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later raise ethical issues. Although it's a variation on the zombie genre, it resembles a rabies outbreak. Of course, this is science fiction, yet there's the question of whether something like that might be realistic: 

Could rabies be bioengineered? Could it be weaponized? The future holds terrifying prospects for biowarfare. 

Rabies causes a viral encephalitis which kills up to 70,000 people/year worldwide. Infected animal saliva transmits the viral encephalitis to humans. Rabies is one of the oldest known diseases in history with cases referred to from more than 4000 years ago. For most of human history, a bite from a rabid animal was uniformly fatal. In the past, people were so scared of rabies that after being bitten by a potentially rabid animal, many would commit suicide.

Patients killed themselves or were killed when bitten by a dog believed to be rabid.

Rotivel, Yolande. "Introduction (to excerpt of CDC article)". Federation of American Scientists.

Although rabies is now curable if the patient receives prompt treatment, it's understandable that victims used to kill themselves, given the horrific progression of the disease. I don't think we always have a duty to let nature take its course. Why wait for the worst to happen?

Assuming that suicide is justifiable in that situation, is homicide justifiable in that situation? I don't think that follows. 

For one thing, you're not going through what I'm going through. So that's my call. 

In addition, we have certain rights to do to ourselves what we don't have to do to others. If I'm entitled to walk a tightrope, that doesn't entitle me to make you walk a tightrope.

If a rabies victim tries to attack somebody, then self-defense (lethal force) is justifiable. 

In addition, it is justifiable to restrain or quarantine an asymptomatic rabies victim in advance of the furious rabies stage. 

If, however, the victim is asymptomatic, to kill him just because the victim is potentially dangerous to others is murder. Social duties obligate us to accept certain risks in the interests of others. 

To take a comparison, if there are two snakebite victims, but only enough antivenom to treat one, there's a sense in which the patients are rivals. My survival depends on you not getting the antivenom, and vice versa. But that doesn't give me the right to kill you so that I can have it for myself. 

During the progression of the disease, there's a point at which the victim ceases to be psychologically human. However, the victim is still entitled to be treated with human dignity. For one thing, the victim will revert to a human mindset after death, when the soul is released from the psychotic effects of acute encephalitis or meningoencephalitis. 

Are we primates?

i) A prima facie evidence for human evolution is the fact that some apes/monkeys have a humanoid appearance. So it may seem like special pleading for Christians to deny the connection. 

ii) The comparison suffers from sample selection bias. For instance, baboons and mandrils look decidedly inhuman. 

iii) Gen 1-2 indicates that humans do have a basic affinity with the animal world. Up to a point, comparisons aren't contrary to Scripture. 

iv) However, comparative anatomy isn't the only way or best way to approach the issue. If God designed human beings to have the abilities that Scripture ascribes to human beings, could we have a fundamentally different body plan, or is this roughly the kind of body plan we have to have? 

v) Bipedalism frees up the hands. That enables us to have hands designed for manuel dexterity rather than locomotion or weaponry.  

vi) Forward-facing eyes are necessary for eye-hand coordination. They go together. 

vii) We have flat faces because our tongues, lips, dentation, &c., are designed for speech. A fringe benefit is kissing!

viii) By contrast, animals use their snouts to reach/grasp food. In humans, our hands replace that function. 

ix) In predators, the muzzle is a weapon. The jaws are serrated knives. But that's a quadruped design. In humans, we use hands and reason to make tools, shelter, weapons. 

x) Likewise, snouts enhance the sense of smell. In humans, by contrast, the visual sense is dominant. 

xi) Our flat, fairly hairless faces contribute to facial communication. We have expressive faces. A natural kind of sign language.  

xii) It's not clear to me how well a head with a muzzle and human-sized cranium is suited to an upright posture and bipedal locomotion. Flat-faces and bipedalism may be allometrically interrelated to facilitate stability and balance. Consider horror flicks with humanoid werewolves (e.g. The Howling, Dog Soldiers). They look pretty ungainly. 

xiii) Bipedal design facilitates a variety of sex positions. Face-to-face intercourse promotes emotional intimacy. 

xiv) Manual dexterity and hairless bodies enhance the sense of touch, which promotes social bonding (e.g. stroking, caressing, holding hands). Likewise, hairless bodies make wading, bathing, and swimming more enjoyable. 

xv) Upright posture and manual dexterity facilitate hugging, holding children, and riding piggyback–which promote social bonding. 

xvi) Hairless bodies make sense if we originated in a hot climate like the Middle East. 

xvii) Permanent breasts contribute to sex appeal, which promotes social bonding. 

In general, the human body plan is pretty much what we'd expect if the Biblical doctrine of man's special creation is true. If we originated in the Middle East. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Which friend are you?

Josh Rasmussen on prayer studies

In this post I'm going to quote a paper by Christian philosopher Josh Rasmussen on the limitations of prayer studies, and how skeptics draw fallacious inferences from prayer studies:


Proof #2 - Statistically analyze prayer
Here’ the basic argument:
Premise 1: God never answers any prayers.
Premise 2: If God is real, then God at least sometimes answers prayers.
Conclusion: God isn’t real; he’s imaginary.
This proof has a cool feature: it’s logically valid. That means that if the premises are true, then the conclusion is true. But are the premises true? Have they been proven? Let’s consider each premise:
Premise 1: God never answers any prayers.
The author says that we can put premise 1 to the test through science. And when we do, he thinks the results are decisive. He states: “we have scientifically proven that God does not answer any prayers on earth.” Is that true? Let’s look at the evidence he cites. 
To start, consider the quote from the Boston Globe:
One of the most scientifically rigorous studies yet, published earlier this month, found that the prayers of a distant congregation did not reduce the major complications or death rate in patients hospitalized for heart treatments.

The Boston Globe article doesn’t cite the primary source, but I did some digging and found it here. Interestingly, the scientists who conducted the test report this

             “the lowest absolute complication rates were observed in patients assigned to off-site prayer.” 
And this article cites this same experiment as lending support to the hypothesis that intercessory prayer has a positive effect. Huh… 

Well, it is true that the measured effect of prayer wasn’t dramatic: it didn’t reduce “the major complications.” 

But if you think about it, you might not expect the effect to be dramatic even if God regularly answers prayers of this type. For as the Boston Globe article points out, “Nearly 90 percent of all the patients participating said someone was praying for them separate from the prayers commissioned by the researchers. So the study, in effect, measured whether distant prayer provided an added benefit to personal, local prayer” (emphasis added). In other words, most of those who “weren’t prayed for” received heart-felt prayers from loved ones. We might expect, then, that prayers from strangers wouldn’t bring much, if any, additional benefit. Anyway, the first study didn’t show that prayer had no effect; it appears the opposite. 

Consider next the 17 studies that allegedly found no significant effect for prayer or other healing methods. …Now where are those primary sources? Lots of websites tout the Boston globe quote, but none give a primary source. Interestingly, this article from The Telegraph copies the Boston Globe quote word for word without even citing the Globe! 

Remind me, how do rumors get started? 

Here’s the good news: I eventually found an article (2007) about 17 studies on distant prayer, and it actually cites a primary source! Now for the ironic news: the article says this: “when the effects of prayer are averaged across all 17 studies, controlling for differences in sample sizes, a net positive effect for the prayer group is produced” (emphasis added).  …So far, the evidence for Premise 1 isn’t inspiring much confidence. 
But let’s consider the famous 2006 study. It’s the largest of its kind, and it shows prayer not having a positive effect (primary source here). The study is limited to the following kind of prayer:
For physical wellbeing
At a distance
For people you don’t know
Without feedback on the patient’s condition
Scripted by the researchers
Keep in mind that those in the “not prayed for” group likely did receive prayer. The study reports that “almost all subjects [~95%] believed that friends, relatives, and/or members of their religious institution would be praying for them” (p. 937). And this doesn’t include the prayers from the patients themselves. So, the study only really addresses how much additional health benefit might result from the scripted prayers of strangers. 
The study suggests, then, that there’s not much, if any, additional physical benefit from this type of prayer from strangers. Note: there might still be some benefit: the researchers point out that “the magnitude of the reduction could be smaller than the 10% that our study was powered to detect” (p. 941). But if there’s a benefit, it is small. That’s interesting; and for truth-seekers, it’s good to know.
Should we infer from this particular study that no types of prayers have a measureable effect? Are there studies on other types of prayers? There are. Actually, there are quite a few double blind studies that report a positive health effect for certain prayers. That’s fully compatible with other studies not measuring an effect. (See these studies.) Each study controls different variables. This research article reports [with citation] that “Of 212 published studies that have assessed the effects of spiritual factors on health care outcomes, 75% report a positive effect, 17% report no effect, and 7% report a negative effect” (p. 1193). So, if anything, we seem to have evidence against Premise 1. We certainly haven’t “scientifically proven that God does not answer any prayers on earth.” The evidence is more complex. Reality is more complex. 
To be clear, I am not aiming here to show that God does answer prayers. Maybe every study that suggests a positive effect is flawed or is explicable in terms of non-divine factors. I’m only investigating whether we have evidence that shows that God doesn’t answer prayers. We want to see if Proof#2 succeeds. In light of the data we have so far, it appears not. Perhaps we should keep investigating. 
We should also keep in mind that the studies cited are limited to prayers for physical health. It could be that God setup a universe in which prayers for moral reform, better relationships, and wisdom are the most likely to have an effect. That’s a possibility not addressed by Proof # 2.
Consider now premise 2: if God is real, then God at least sometimes answers prayers. 
Ironically, it has been argued that if God were real, there wouldn’t be breaches to the natural order. But even if we don’t go that far, we might well expect a perfectly rational being to want a very orderly world—one that’s governed by predictable rules (be they deterministic or probabilistic). Perhaps a perfect being would rarely, if ever, cause a breach in the normal workings of the world. In that case, we wouldn’t find our prayers to have effects over and above the effects predicted by the laws that govern our universe, our bodies, and our minds. What if God has granted us the responsibility to learn how to heal one another? That’s certainly possible. But Proof#2 doesn’t address this possibility. Thus, Proof#2 doesn’t show that its second premise is true—far from it. 
The value of digging deep

The author challenges us to open our eyes and look at the data. To see the truth, we must actually look at the data on both sides. This takes courage. It takes persistence. It takes intellectual humility. I applaud this attitude; its reward is a deeper understanding of reality as it really is. So, thanks for the challenge. It’s a good one. I recommend it to my religious friends and to humans in general. To see the truth, we must go deep in our investigation. Then we’ll make progress—real progress.

Agency detection

Atheists dismiss reports of answered prayer and miracles as, at best, coincidence. Sometimes they invoke the law of large numbers. 

But do atheists have any principled way to distinguish a coincidence from a noncoincidence? If they don't, then it's arbitrary for an atheist to automatically discount reports of answered prayer or miracles as sheer coincidence. Before proceeding, I'll quote two concrete examples: 

Random determinism

1. One of the dividing lines in historical theology is the difference between freewill theism (e.g. open theism, simple foreknowledge Arminianism) and predestinarian traditions (e.g. Calvinism, classical Thomism, Augustinianism, Jansenism). Molinism tries to split the difference, combining elements of predestination and meticulous providence with libertarian freedom. 

In my experience, freewill theists, at least the internet variety, typically classify Calvinism as committed to "causal determination". That's become a rhetorical trope. 

Conversely, there's an attempt in some quarters (e.g. Richard Muller, Oliver Crisp) to promote "libertarian Calvinism". I think that's confused on both historical and philosophical grounds.

2. Determinism and indeterminism are usually treated as opposites. Contrasting or contrary principles.

On the one hand, the natural world generally–perhaps invariably–operates according to physical determinism. Like a machine.  

A possible exception is quantum events. There are, however, deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics. And even if quantum events are physically determinate, they could still be predestined (since predestination isn't a physical determinant). 

In the popular imagination, dynamic systems are indeterminate. However, from what I've read, the key distinction in chaos theory isn't indeterminism but nonlinearity. Dynamic systems are, in fact, deterministic, but nonlinear:

Indeterminism is often related to randomness. A classic example is throwing dice. The outcomes are random in the sense that if the dice are fair, each throw of the dice is causally disconnected from the preceding or succeeding throw of the dice. 

However, the outcome isn't uncaused. It's unpredictable because there are too many variables to consider. Yet the outcome remains determinate. 

3. At the other end of the spectrum, God is the freest entity in the world. God's actions are indeterminate in the sense that nothing absolutely causes God to choose one way or another–although God has reasons for his choices. 

This is sometimes taken to imply that God's choice of which world to create (or not create) is arbitrary. However, God isn't forced to choose between different options, since God can instantiate multiple options (i.e. a multiverse). So there's no dilemma. 

4. One neglected consideration is that the same outcome can be both random and determinate. That might seem counterintuitive, but it's a familiar principle. Consider algorithms to generate randomized outcomes. To my knowledge, that's central to encryption technologies.

Or take a state lottery, which is random by design. Computerized randomization. 

But that's deterministic randomness. The system is designed to ensure random results. You might say it's "rigged", but rigged to guarantee random numbers. In that respect, randomness isn't synonymous with indeterminism. In theory, the world might contain genuinely random events, but still be thoroughly deterministic. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Daniel and the Sibylline oracles

Unbelievers discount the oracles of Daniel as prophecy after the fact. Let's test that by using a standard of comparison. The Sibylline oracles were originally pagan oracles. These were taken quite seriously by Romans. Subsequently, Jewish writers and later Christian writers imitated the pagan exemplars to fabricate prophecy after the fact that "predicted" Roman history and the life of Christ. If the oracles of Daniel are prophecy after the fact, why do they lack the heavy-handed clues we find in the Sibylline oracles? I'm going to quote some excerpts, along with the editorial identifications: 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Is immigration a human right?

Messianic prophecy in a nutshell

Extraordinary claims are extraordinary evidence in their own right

Countdown to judgment

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,
“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay” (Heb 10:24-25,36-37). 

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (Rom 13:11-12).

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour (1 Jn 2:18).

Did NT writers entertain a false expectation regarding the imminent return of Christ?

1. For John, the "last hour" is a way of saying we're in the final stage of human history, prior to the final judgment.

2. In Rom 13:11-12, Paul plays on a metaphor. For Paul, the fallen world is analogous to night. The conversion of his readers lies in the past. They came to Christ after dark. There's their present situation, which is still at night. So the next big event will be the dawn of the Second Coming. The metaphor creates an artificial compression between past, present, and future. 

3. Modern readers need to put themselves in the mindset of ancient readers. Mortality was sky high in the ancient world. You could die at any time, at any stage of life. In the prime of life. Fatal disease. Fatal accident. Crime. Famine. Warfare. Martyrdome. The threat of death was omnipresent. You could run out of time without any advance notice (cf. Lk 12:20; Jas 4:13-14). 

4. In addition, divine judgment wasn't confined to a universal one-time event at the end of history. The OT is chockfull of divine judgments in the here and now. And you have that in the NT (e.g. Acts 5:1-11; 12:23; 1 Cor 11:30). 

5. So the notions of death and judgment shade into each other. In practice, there's no sharp line (Heb 9:27). These hortatory and admonitory statements are directed at an audience conditioned by the imminence of death, as well as divine judgment breaking into the present. A foretaste of the final judgment. The clock of God's judgment has a minute hand as well as an hour hand. 

The divine bridegroom

Extreme sports

I was watching a video of young men playing parkour on high-rise buildings. This is similar to other extreme sports, viz. Motocross, mountainboarding, rock-climbing.

i) The foolhardy hubris is arresting. A daredevil has to get lucky every time while gravity only has to get lucky once. What factors contribute to this high-risk behavior?

ii) Atheism is nihilistic. Doesn't give young people anything to live for. So secularism fuels risky behavior. 

iii) Some boys have always been attracted to dangerous stunts. That's why it's good to have contact sports (e.g. football, ice hockey, Lacrosse). While contact sports aren't risk-free, they're far safer than the activities some boys resort to if denied that outlet. 

The cultural elite, which dominates the education establishment, demonizes masculinity. Frowns on stereotypical male activities, like contact sports. But the result is to make boys pursue even more hazardous extracurricular activities.

iv) It may not be coincidental that parkour has an urban setting. Men are designed for the out-of-doors. While some guys love the big city, I think many guys find too much urbanization claustrophobic. In the past, boys had hunting, rafting, horseback riding to work off their excess energy. 

Although there are probably multiple reasons for street gangs, I think one reason is that inner city kids lack access to nature in the wild.  

Vampire hunters

Alan asked me to comment on Mealy's statement:

1. In traditional Augustinian amillennialism, the Millennium spans the entire church age or interadventual age. It is, however, illicit to take a single incident in a long narrative and stretch it to cover the entire plot (Rev 4-19).

2. A more recent version of amillennialism appeals to recapitulatory parallelism. I don't know the first scholar to use that analysis. Warfield uses that analysis. It was popularized by Hendriksen, in his classic, anti-Dispensational commentary. And that's developed by more recent amil commentators like Beale and Poythress. 

From what I can tell by the excerpt, Mealy is shadowboxing with that analysis. He doesn't think the two battle scenes (Rev 19-20) overlap. 

3. I do think Revelation has some overlapping scenes, although we need to avoid rigidly schematizing that feature.

4. The Apocalypse is a record of a vision or series of visions John had one day on Patmos. God showed him things in the vision. It's important to draw a conceptual distinction between:

i) Only shown something once

ii) Something happening only once

The fact that this is the only time John sees an incident doesn't necessarily mean this is a one-time incident. If he was only shown it happening on one occasion, that doesn't imply that it only happens once. Maybe it's an unrepeatable event, or maybe it's a repeatable kind of event that John saw just one time. Is the relationship between events in Revelation and the real world a one-to-one or one-to-many correspondence? 

5. The Apocalypse belongs to the narrative genre. The question is how the plot maps onto reality. Consider dream sequences. To some extent, Revelation is like a recurring dream or inescapable nightmare, where bad things keep happening. You think you put it behind you, but it's waiting for you around the next corner. It circles back to pounce. The plot in Revelation is characterized by alternation. 

6. What's the significance of Satan's binding? What narrative function does that serve? How does it correspond to reality?

It reminds me of a cinematic trope. In the horror genre, monsters like vampires, werewolves, and zombies personify a contagion. If they bite the victim, that turns the victim into one of them. So they multiply exponentially. This has science fiction counterparts with aliens that incubate a human host, then replace it. In real life, this is similar to parasitoid wasps–as well as rabies, where a rabid animal infects a human, making the human rabid. 

A variation on the vampire mythos is the master vampire who's the patriarch for a family tree of vampires. They all descend from him. He turned them directly or indirectly. If you kill the master vampire, all his descendants revert to human. If you can track down the progenitor, you don't need to destroy all his progeny, one-by-one. Kill multiple birds with one stake. 

Because these monsters are so contagious, public safety requires total eradication. A single surviving carrier will recreate an outbreak all over again. 

I think that's the point behind oscillating events in Rev 19-20. There are times and places in church history where Christians enjoy a respite from persecution. But that can lull them into a false sense of security. Because evil is infectious, like a communicable disease, you can never be sure if you put it behind you once and for all time. So you dare not drop your guard. Eventually, Satan and his minions are permanently quarantined, but you don't know ahead of time where you are in church history. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Hard determinist on the outside–softie on the inside

Jewish objections to Jesus

In this post I will field some Jewish objections to Christianity. For purposes of this post, I'm using "Jew/Jewish" in contrast to Christian. I think the NT writers were Jewish. I think Messianic Jews are Jewish. But in this post I'm going to reserve "Jew/Jewish" to denote Jewish critics of Jesus (e.g. Orthodox Jews, rabbinical Judaism). "Jew/Jewish" as an antonym for "Christian".

Why Study The Paranormal?

On Facebook, in a thread about my recent post on the Enfield Poltergeist, Steve Hays made a comment about how discussing the paranormal is useful in responding to naturalism. Here's something I wrote in response:

There are a lot of reasons to study the paranormal. Responding to naturalism is part of what's involved. A lot of people who aren't naturalists raise issues relevant to the paranormal as well (agnostics who say that they're open to the supernatural, but that there isn't enough evidence for it; people who believe in the paranormal, but significantly underestimate how much evidence there is for it; etc.).

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Exploring Islam

Dragged Out Of Bed By A Poltergeist

One of the most memorable incidents described in Guy Playfair's book on the Enfield Poltergeist is an occasion when the poltergeist pulled Janet Hodgson out of bed and dragged her out of the room, around a few bends, and partway down the steps. Less than ten minutes later, she was dragged out of bed again (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 101, 212-13). Both events were caught on audio tape, and you can listen to some brief sections of the recording in a documentary here.

The vast majority of Enfield skeptics I've encountered just ignore these events. They don't even attempt to explain them. A rare exception is Deborah Hyde, who made the remarkable suggestion that Janet was suffering from sleep paralysis.

Unfortunately, both Playfair's book and the documentary linked above leave out a lot of significant evidence for the authenticity of these dragging incidents. I want to discuss several lines of evidence, some of which I've never seen addressed before, derived largely from the audio of the events.

They occurred starting at about 1:20 A.M. on December 3, 1977. The recording is found on tape 32B of the digital version of Maurice Grosse's Enfield cassettes. The audio is about 26 minutes long. The first dragging incident occurs at 9:55, and the second occurs at 16:32. Click here to see a floor plan of the house, which will help you visualize what happened. The family was sleeping in the front bedroom upstairs, and, by this time in the case, the beds were arranged differently than you see in the floor plan. My understanding is that the bed Janet was in at the time required her to move or be moved a large distance and around some objects and bends (around one of the beds, around the door, down the first flight of steps, and around to the second flight of steps; Grosse describes the sequence at 52:28 on tape 83A). Go here to see video footage of the staircase in question. And go here, here, and here to see video footage of the room in question, footage that apparently was taken the month before the events under consideration. But the beds were frequently rearranged, so we can't assume that they were positioned the same way on December 3. In fact, the beds are in different positions in different segments of the same television program linked above. So, we have to go by descriptions of the events on the night in question to determine where the beds were at the time.