Saturday, August 11, 2018

Modal collapse

I'm going to comment on a post by Joshua Sommer:

. . . if God is identical with his essence, then God cannot know or do anything different from what he knows and does. He can have no contingent knowledge or action, for everything about him is essential to him. But in that case all modal distinctions collapse and everything becomes necessary. Since God knows that p is logically equivalent to p is true, the necessity of the former entails the necessity of the latter. J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 525.

Stanley interview

Jonathan Merritt recently interviewed Andy Stanley:

Stanley's an intellectual lightweight, but he's influential, which is why it's important to evaluate his statements.

1. Introducing the program, Merritt acted like the Enlightenment brought reason and logic into the discussion, as if Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Maimonides, and medieval scholastics never existed. He also acted as though the historical criticism of Scripture was a 19C invention, which ignores pagan critics (e.g. Porphyry) and Muslim critics (e.g. Ibn-Hazm). Maybe he really is that uninformed. 

2. Is Stanley unaware of the fact that Merritt is a homosexual activist? Is Stanley unaware of the fact that Merritt is using Stanley's concessions, evasions, and obfuscations as a wedge tactic to mainstream homosexuality in the church and the general culture? 

There's nothing wrong with pastors talking to homosexuals, or homosexual journalists and activists, but you need to be cognizant of their agenda and not allow them to control the dialogue. Apparently, Stanley is such a babe-in-the-woods that it never occurs to him that he's a tool for Merritt's social agenda. 

3. Stanley says there was no "the Bible" before the 4C. That's straight out of Dan Brown's playbook.  

4. He chronically alternates between the Mosaic covenant and the OT in general, as if those are equivalent. 

5. He says 

If I didn't believe in the virgin birth, do you think I'd tell anyone? That's a career-ending move.

So by his own admission, he has no credibility when he assures us that he really does believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.  

6. He says 

The only reason any of us take any of the stories in the OT seriously is because Jesus did. If there had been no NT, no Jesus, you and I wouldn't believe [Adam and Eve and the flood]. We'd put that in the category of ancient myth. 

i) It's true that for Christians, our belief in the NT contributes to our belief in the OT. But Stanley disregards the fact that Christianity must be validated by the OT. 

ii) There are independent reports of the flood in Mesopotamian traditions. Likewise, there's archeological corroboration for many things in the OT. Why does Stanley ignore that evidence? 

7. He says:

Then they have to wrestle to the ground when Jesus referenced many of these things, was he referencing these things as something that happened in history, or was he referencing them like [the apocryphal story" of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. Why we watch fictitious movies. We cry even though it never happened, but we walk away inspired. 

Then a person has to decide, what did he mean? And I'm comfortable letting the conversation go from there. They should have the same view of the OT that Jesus did. But then the challenge is to discover how did Jesus view his own scriptures. I'd never press anyone that if you can't accept all of as historically true then you can't really be a Christian. I think that's a little bit absurd. 

So he just leaves those two options hanging out there. Are they historical reports or apocryphal tales? Flip a coin. 

It doesn't occur to him that he has a pastoral responsibility to explain and defend how Jesus viewed the OT. Not just leave it open-ended, but take a stand and give supporting arguments. 

Perhaps that's because, in reality, he's skeptical, but he doesn't want to put his cards on the table, face up, so he constantly plays coy. 

8. He says

The base of faith Is not about a text. Christianity did not begin because somewhat read something but because someone saw something. The text is secondary to the event. Unlike other religious systems we have an event-based faith. 

He makes a big deal about relative chronology, but as far as that goes, when did Christianity begin? He acts as though Christianity began with the Resurrection. But is that the starting-point? Or did it begin with the Incarnation? What about the public ministry of Jesus? The ministry of Jesus consisted of words and deeds. Not just events. And not events first, then words later. Rather, the ministry of Christ constantly alternates between things he says and things he does. On the one hand he performs miracles and exorcisms. On the other hand, he makes speeches, has conversations.

He predicts his own resurrection. So his words precede the event. 

From the get-go, the Christian faith was as much about what observers heard as what they saw (Acts 4:20). Equally word-centered and event-centered. 

9. He says

Over time it's become a text-based faith. Whole theological systems built around either one of those camps. 

That's because we lack direct access to the events. We weren't there. Our only point of entry is mediated by historical records. So we can't turn the clock back and put ourselves in the position of eyewitnesses to the public ministry of Christ. 

10. He says

Who is Jesus is answered for us by what Matthew said, Mark said, Luke said, John said, what Peter said, what James said, what Paul said. Seven 1C witnesses. 

True, but that's text-based. And if you're going to appeal to the NT witness, you have to defend the historicity of the sources. 

Lectures on Revelation

Friday, August 10, 2018

Good truths and true goods

There's a cliche that's often spouted by Christian apologists: follow the evidence wherever it leads. 

Up to a point that's wise advice although it can suffer from a naive positivism. 

Problem is, Christian philosophers and apologists often discuss the true in separation from the good. They argue that we should believe Christianity because it's true, and they discuss how God is the exemplar good and source of finite goods. But this tends to be compartmentalized. 

If, however, the true and the good don't converge, then why should anyone care about truth? If the truth isn't good, why should we pursue whatever the cost? You might pursue the truth, but once your pursuit convinces you that it doesn't lead you to the good, what's the point? If life is a cosmic tragedy where there's no happy ending for anyone, why should I follow it over the cliff? Even if I can't avoid it, that's hardly a noble goal. 

Don't get me wrong: the truth can be bad in sense that, say, cancer is bad in itself (although it can be a source of good). I mean bad in an ultimate, unredeemable sense of cosmic nihilism. There's no reason anyone should have a commitment to that. 

I'm not suggesting that truth is dispensable. There are churchgoers who don't think Christianity is true. They think it's a myth, but a good myth. It gives structure and direction to their lives. They don't have anything better to replace it with, so they continue singing traditional hymns and reciting a traditional liturgy. 

On the one hand there are atheists who separate the true from the good, pursuing truth for truth's sake, even if that diverges from the good. Even if there's no good to be found.

On the other hand, there are churchgoers who separate the good from the true, pursuing good for goodness sake, even if that diverges from the truth. Even if there's no truth to be found. 

We need to oppose both those extremes. The true and the good must coincide for either to be of ultimate value. If the good isn't true, then the good is illusory. If the true isn't good, then it has no claims on us. 

The Prime Directive

I was asked to comment on the Prime Directive. As someone who watched TOS when it premiered, as well as watching a number of spinoffs, that question has a certain nostalgia. I doubt any deep thought went into whatever TV producer concocted the Prime Directive. I assume it was one of those on the fly decisions. But despite its philosophically undistinguished origins, the Prime Directive is an interesting, provocative concept. 

The Prime Directive is a blanket ban on interference with the internal development of less advanced alien cultures and societies. However, that proved to be dramatically suffocating, so it was routinely flouted by screenwriters, although sometimes a ST episode centered on the controversial nature of the directive. Let's begin by considering some defenses and real-world counterparts to the Prime Directive:

The Overlooked Science of Genealogical Ancestry

Although he's a theistic evolutionist, he concedes the scientific possibility of a first human breeding pair by special creation.

Are Christian Scholars Apologists?

Could ANYTHING convince you God exists?

Bet you can't eat just one!

Watch first episode free:

But is it like potato chips where you can't eat just one?

Sitting Orthoducks

This is a sequel to my previous post:

Perry is responding to James White. I have my own way of framing issues. 

And this is true for for evangelical and Reformed bodies as well. Given the absence of any manifestation of the world as a good creation of God in the space employed for worship, the conclusion one can often draw from a spatial void is that God is everywhere in general but nowhere in particular. This is, needless to say problematic for a paradigm that turns on God not only creating the world, but acting in and through history. This is just to say that if you’re view of worship is primarily about getting the right ideas into the heads of people, something is probably wrong and might just resemble incipient Gnosticism.

i) I disagree with the Puritans on the role of Christian art. I like traditional church architecture (Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic). However, I never confound religious art with the presence of God. Art is a human creation. 

ii) I don't think God is literally anywhere. But he manifests himself, the way a painter is present in his artwork. I don't think God is more present in a sanctuary. In many cases, he's less present in a sanctuary. From a NT perspective, Christians are sanctuaries. 

and you speak of the soul as imprisoned in the material body

That goes back to Plato. It has no counterpart in Reformed theology.

…individuals at Pulpit and Pen, who are apparently bereft of any tact and grace…

That's an understatement. 

The old boy network

Perry Robinson has a final "substantive" (in his words) post on the Hank Hanegraaff scandal:

Topically, it's basically two posts in one, linked by the Dividing Line episode. Perry's view of parachurch ministries forms a kind of segue. A lot of his is about philosophy and theology, some of which I agree with and some of which I don't. Then there's the ethical indictment, which may be the ultimate target. I'm going to discuss the ethical indictment in this post, then the philosophical/theological issues in a separate post. 

I've quoted some representative samples. But Perry's post has additional supporting material. If you wish to see all his documentation, you need to read the original post. 

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Asian-Americans Are Finally Cluing Into The Racism Underlying Identity Politics

Scripture's self-attestation

The development of doctrine

I'd like to make one comment on this:

So the new position is classified as a development of doctrine. And that's justified by appeal to the teaching of John-Paul II and Benedict XVI. A couple of points:

i) Strictly speaking, doctrine is not supposed to develop. Rather, allowance is made for evolution in how doctrine is understood. So I assume "development of doctrine" is shorthand for developments in the understanding of doctrine.

ii) The frame of reference for the development of doctrine isn't supposed to be the teaching of the 20C pope, but the deposit of faith:

This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. (5) For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. De Verbum 2.8. 

The deposit of faith is apostolic tradition:

81 "And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. 

83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. 

84 The apostles entrusted the "Sacred deposit" of the faith (the depositum fidei),45 contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church.

That's the benchmark. That's the point of departure. So the starting-point a development of doctrine isn't something a pope says, much less a 20C pope. Rather, that's supposed to trace all the way back to the deposit of faith. To justify the new position on capital punishment, it's necessary to demonstrate that this is a legitimate extension or extrapolation of apostolic tradition–and not a legitimate extension or extrapolation of John-Paul II's position on capital punishment. 

But in reality, this is all about power. The pope has all the high cards, so he can impose it on his sect by papal fiat. Appeal to development is just a cosmetic cover. 

Rebooting the argument from miracles

1. On the face of it, the biblical argument from miracles is circular. By that I mean, if you're using biblical miracles to prove the bible, that appears to be circular inasmuch as that presumes the veracity of the biblical accounts. But there are some mitigating factors:

2. The argument from miracles isn't confined to biblical miracles. There are many well-documented Christian miracles in modern times. And that in turn lends credence to biblical miracles. It demonstrates that miracles don't only happen in old "stories". Once you establish, independent of ancient records, that certain phenomena happen, that makes the ancient records more credible. 

3. In addition, these are linked. For Christian miracles fulfill biblical promises. 

4. Moreover, the unbeliever must provide an alternative explanation for the biblical reports. 

5. Unlike the Koran, the Bible isn't a one-man testimony. It consists of many independent books. Some miracles are multiply-attested. The showcase example is the Resurrection. But that has led to the neglect of some other dominical miracles that also enjoy multiple-attestation. There are miracles reported in two or more Gospels. The same miracle or the same kind of miracle. That's like overlapping accounts of WWII by Churchill and Eisenhower. It provides mutual corroboration. Moreover, there's other internal and external evidence for the historicity of the Gospels. 

6. A stock objection is that the Synoptics Gospels are not independent. Rather, Matthew and Luke copy Mark. That's true to some degree, but simplistic and misleading:

i) Assuming traditional authorship (which is highly defensible), Matthew, Mark, and Luke moved in the same circles, so there were many opportunities for information-sharing before they took pen to paper. For instance, Mark could get some of his material orally from Matthew, then Matthew is, in effect, quoting himself when he "copies" Mark. 

ii) The argument from undesigned coincidences (revived and refined by the McGrews) demonstrates that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have independent sources of information even when discussing the same event. And it's demonstrable that John has independent knowledge when discussing the same event. 

My aim is not to provide a full-blown argument, but to draw attention to a neglected argument from miracles, and suggest a strategy for making that case. 

Miraculous draught of fish

4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink (Lk 5:4-7).

They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish...8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish (Jn 21:4-6,8).

Healing Centurion's servant

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment (Mt 8:5-13).

7 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well (Lk 7:1-10).

46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants[b] met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee (Jn 4:46-54).

Multiplication of food

15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children (Mt 14:15-21).

36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men (Mk 6:36-44).

12 Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces (Lk 9:12-17).

 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten (Jn 6:5-13).

Walking on water

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mt 14:22-27).

45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night[a] he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mk 6:45-50).

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid” (Jn 6:16-21).

Healing the sick at Gennesaret

34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well (Mt 14:34-36).

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well (Mk 6:53-56).

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Commonalities: Today’s “Cultural Marxists” and the Real Marxists of Yore

It seems to me that there are certain parallels between the Marxists of yore (I’m thinking late 20th century) and the “Cultural Marxists” of today. (Many of these “Cultural Marxists” of today are profiled and documented at the site that I recently have mentioned).

To be sure, not all of them are the same, but on the other hand, we see certain commonalities, such as an overt belief in naturalistic atheism; a crafted message/agenda that offers certain but limited resemblance to true things – designed to suck in the ignorant, and from which deviation is a kind of betrayal and is punishable; a pure will-to-power (primarily through the use of governmental power – and the related shrill hatred for Trump that they feel – Trump being the ultimate “anti-Cultural-Marxist” of our day, but even a kind of power derived from shouting someone down on Twitter and destroying – to the extent that they are able – individual lives and careers); and even a willingness in some instances to resort to violence.

It’s easy for these groups to say, “we’re not like the Soviet Marxists; we have good intentions”. Well, that all reminded me of some of the things I’d read back when I was a kid in my late teens.

The following, from Václav Havel, may be considered to be a “worst-case scenario” given who the Cultural Marxists are and what they are doing, but the similarities are there. Havel was a poet and playwright from Czechoslovakia, under the Soviet regime. After the fall of communism, he was elected president of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) and then president of the Czech Republic (1993-2000) when the country was split into two countries (Czech Republic and Slovakia).

Why doesn't God prevent evil?

I believe Rauser was raised in a conservative charismatic church, but he's been a "progressive Christian" for many years, so his testimony can't be dismissed as the confirmation bias by a "fundamentalist".

This example is interesting from a theodical standpoint. Why doesn't God prevent evil? Why didn't God simply prevent the accident in the first place? 

But if he did, the accident would be a nonevent. There'd be nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to remember. God's intervention would be indetectable.

By allowing the accident  to happen but miraculously mitigating the natural effects, this becomes a witness to God's existence and special providence. It became known to Rauser's family and church. And now he's talking about it in the public domain. That's edifying in a way that prevention is not. 

The same holds true for many cases where, rather than preventing evil, God defeats evil. Overrules it for good, as a witness to his providential presence. 

When I was about ten years old, I was riding my bike home from school when I crossed the street just up the hill from our house … except this time I didn’t do my usual shoulder check for oncoming traffic. A second later I suddenly heard a car horn blast followed by the sickening squeal of tires. Then, just as I turned to my left I saw the grill of a large Buick as if it were hovering but a few terrifying feet away from me. You know how people talk about time slowing down when their life is in danger? That describes my experience. Though it was a mere split second, even now I can still visualize the grill of that Buick, frozen in time, looming in space mere feet away from me.
The next moment I was sent sailing through the air and rolling on the asphalt as the car came to a lurching halt on the graveled shoulder of the road. Here’s where the miracle bit takes center stage. Incredibly, I never felt the impact of the car. At the moment when I should have been making contact with a chrome grill, all I felt was a cushion of air. Even more incredibly, though I had been sent flying off my bike and skidding on the asphalt with no helmet or pads, I got up with no injuries at all, save a single scrape on my elbow.
Shortly thereafter, as I was wheeling my bike up the driveway, our Christian babysitter, Mrs. White, burst out the front door. She said that she had been sitting on the couch watching TV when God told her that I was in trouble and she needed to pray for my safety. So pray she did until she sensed God telling her that the danger had passed.

The Incarnation of the Son

One objection to the Incarnation is how it's possible for just one person of the Trinity can become Incarnate, if the Trinity is indivisible. Let's consider a few comparisons. In some standard accounts of personal identity, my identity as an individual is indivisible. Yet in another sense, my existence is subdivided. It has temporal parts. I can't step back in time to when I was a high school student. Yet I'm the same individual. There's a distinction between me in 1978 and me in 2018. I'm exemplified at different times. 

Transworld identity is another example. What if my parents lived in a different city. I'd be the same individual, but I can be exemplified in different places. 

The point is not that a "part" of the Trinity becomes Incarnate, but just to demonstrate, as a matter of principle, that something can be indivisible in one respect, yet only be partially exemplified or represented. 

Is penal substitution possible?

A stock objection to penal substitution and vicarious atonement is that it's just not possible for one individual to assume the guilt of another individual. I've discussed this on various occasions, but now I'd like to approach it from a different angle:

i) Keep in mind that both sides have a burden of proof. The fact that critics of penal substitution/vicarious atonement raise the objection shouldn't put Christians on the defensive, as if the viewpoint of the critics is the default position. Both sides need to argue for their position. Critics are not entitled to shift the onus onto Christians. 

ii) Then there's the issue of whether this is even the kind of question we can settle a priori. In many cases, we believe something is possible because it is actual. Reality entails possibility. 

In many cases we don't attempt to justify the possibility of something a priori. Rather, we believe it's possible because we have concrete evidence that it's possible. Because we have evidence that something really happens or really exists. 

In the first instance, Christians believe in penal substitution/vicarious atonement because that's a revealed truth. Because that's what happened on the cross. That's the design of the atonement.

That's not based on intuition but experience. And that can be a legitimate source of knowledge. We rely on that for many things.

iii) What's the general principle that underlies the objection to penal substitution/vicarious atonement? In human affairs, there are many cases in which one party acts on behalf of another party, or in place of another party. 

Moreover, this may be asymmetrical. For instance, a private lacks the authority to do some things a general is entitled to do whereas a general has the authority to do whatever a private can do. So a private can't take action above his grade but a general can take action below his grade.

In that respect, a superior can take the place of a subordinate, but a subordinate can't take the place of a superior. By parity of argument, the Incarnate Son can take the place of sinners. 

iv) Consider an illustration. Suppose a gamer designs a video game with artificially intelligent characters. Most of the virtual characters are coequal. 

However, the gamer has one character who represents himself. Within the world of the game, that character has authority over all other characters, because he's the virtual counterpart of the designer. As their superior, he has the right to take the place of another or others. 

Answering life's biggest questions

"Answering Life’s Biggest Questions with Dr. Josh Rasmussen [The Pat Flynn Show]"

The myth of the sockpuppet Jesus

Paul and gender

The Bridge of Reason

The Epistle of Dude reviews The Bridge of Reason: Ten Steps to See God by Joshua Rasmussen.

"Quick rebuttals to Carrier's claims"

"Quick rebuttals to Carrier's claims" by Epistle of Dude.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Fire from heaven

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench (1 Kgs 18:38). 

i) What kind of "fire" fell from heaven? An obvious candidate is lightning. If so, this might well be a case of polemical theology. Baal was a storm god, so when Yahweh backs up his own prophet (Elijah) by raining thunderbolts on the burnt offering, in a showdown with the priest of Baal, that publicly humiliates the reputation of Baal. 

ii) Perhaps, then, we should visualize a storm cloud suddenly, spontaneously forming over the burnt offering. That's all the more striking given the drought. 

Will all Israel be saved?

And in this way all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:26).

What Paul meant by that is hotly-contested. Any interpretation is probably inconclusive.

i) Some think it refers to the "new Israel": the community of messianic Jews and Gentiles Christians (e.g. Stanley Porter, O. Palmer Robertson). That's a defensible interpretation. 

ii) Some think it refers to an endtime restoration/ingathering of the Jewish people. A latter day revival. I incline to that view. In fact, the growing messianic movement may be a case in point. 

iii) Based on OT usage, I also think it's probably an idiomatic phrase for a representative sample of Jews. (ii) and (iii) aren't mutually exclusive. 

iv) Some think it refers to the universal salvation of the Jews. But given how the OT distinguishes the righteous remnant from apostate Jews, including oracles of eschatological judgment, as well as how the religious leaders turned on Jesus, it's hard to believe Paul thought that would all be erased. 

v) In Israel you can see devout Jews pray facing the Wailing Wall. With all due respect, I'm afraid that illustrates the vacuity of rabbinic Judaism. To pray in front of a wall, a retaining wall, a relic of the Second Temple. That's so retrograde.  

vi) In the course of church history, many Jews never rejected the historical Jesus. They never rejected the NT Jesus. Rather, they rejected the Roman Catholic Jesus or the Eastern Orthodox Jesus. For them, the church was the face of Jesus. So many Jews massacred by Catholics. In that sense, they never knew what they're rejecting.

What if God saved them? What if they are part of "all Israel"? I just throw that out therefore consideration, as a neglected interpretation of Rom 11:26. Prophetic fulfillment can be surprising.

vii) Having said that, I hasten to add that absent divine intercession, humans are born lost. It's not something we have, then lose. Rather, we're born apostates–unless God intervenes. 

That's a problem with asking, "What about those who never heard the Gospel, through no fault of their own?" That overlooks the condition they're in. The starting-point isn't mere lack of enlightenment, but alienation from the life of God (Eph 2:3; 4:17-19; Tit 3:3). The revelation of Christ exposes their latent animosity (Jn 3:19-20). 

The Authenticity Of The Enfield Levitation Photos

People's memories of and impressions about the Enfield Poltergeist are often connected to the iconic photographs of Janet Hodgson wearing red pajamas and going through the air in her bedroom, allegedly in the process of levitating. Watch here until 34:15 for more information about those levitation incidents and to see some of the photographs and a skeptic's reaction to them. Most skeptics I've come across are even more critical than the one in the video I just linked. The photos are quickly dismissed as obvious frauds. They're just pictures of Janet jumping from her bed. In an article on Enfield, Joe Nickell includes a drawing in which he illustrates how the photos supposedly were faked.

I recently listened to one of Maurice Grosse's Enfield tapes that's highly relevant to this subject (tape 13B). It was recorded during a night when the poltergeist was unusually active, on November 7, 1977. During that night, a doppelganger of Grosse was seen, several levitations of Janet and Margaret occurred, and Janet, Margaret, and their brother Billy seemed to experience a shared nightmare, among other paranormal events that occurred. This post will focus on the levitations. It should be noted, though, that the context in which the levitations occurred, involving so many witnesses reporting so many paranormal events of such significance, adds credibility to the levitation reports.

I've been referring to levitations, since that's the term that's normally used. As I've explained before, though, some of the incidents in question would be better described as throwing instead of levitation. As we'll see, there's some of each in the November 7 events.

Medieval Jewish polemics

Recently I was reading Daniel Lasker's Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages.  

1. The Jewish polemic suffers from a couple of basic limitations:

i) As the author notes, their knowledge of Christian theology seems to derive from Catholic missionaries. Popularizers of Christian theology. They apparently lack direct acquaintance with high-level thinkers like Anselm and Aquinas. As a result, the Jewish critics often seem to be attacking a caricature of Christian theology, and they are sometimes unaware of how sophisticated Christian theologians responded to the stock objections they raise.

ii) Both the Jewish critics and their Christian counterparts operate within an Aristotelian framework. In one sense that's a point of strength. It means the Jews are responding to Christian exponents on their own ground. However, for a modern Christian reader, many of their objections lack traction unless you're a Thomist. 

Monday, August 06, 2018

Can you be sure?

From what I've read, in the history of philosophy the quest for certainty extends back at least as far as Plato. For Plato, as I understand him, the physical world is not an object of knowledge because the physical world undergoes constant change, which means the object of knowledge is in a state of perpetual flux. For Plato, the object of knowledge is abstract archetypes. 

This had counterparts in Indian philosophy. Take the stock example of whether a coiled object is a snake or a rope. In a land with a superabundance of kraits, cobras, and vipers, that question is of more than academic interest!  

Augustine baptized Plato by relocating archetypes in God's mind. Divine ideas.

Aquinas was more of an empiricist. Ockham was more skeptical regarding the fortunes of religious knowledge. 

Descartes renewed the quest for certainty, with austere results. Some Counter-Reformation apologists revived Pyrrhonian skepticism to deploy against Protestant theology, but that backfired. John Locke and Bishop Butler shifted to probability arguments.  

Is the quest for certainty a mirage? If you combine a Reformed doctrine of providence, which you subscribe to, with a reliabilist theory of knowledge (like Plantinga's proper function account), then special providence is a trustworthy belief-forming process. Of course, reliabilism is disputed, but every thing in philosophy is disputed. One objection to reliabilism is the Cartesian demon, but every epistemology is prey to that artificial thought-experiment.

It's necessary to distinguish between what we know and what we can prove. It may well be the case that no apologetic method can yield absolute certainty. That's due to the fact that not everything we know is reducible to proof. We know more than we can prove. 

There's a difference between certainty in terms of knowledge and certainty in terms of proof. Formal arguments suffer from that limitation.

I can recognize someone's voice on the phone. I couldn't begin to present a rigorous philosophical justification for my recognition. Not everything we know is susceptible to stringent analysis.

That said, I'd like to reframe the debate. In general, that's not how I assess Christianity. I don't begin with whether we can achieve certainty regarding the claims of faith. I think that's a worthwhile discussion, but it sucks up too much oxygen. 

Another approach is to look at the competition. And the competition isn't that impressive. I don't think it's hard to dispose of naturalism. That leaves religious options. The major religious options are Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism (although that's technically atheistic), neopaganism, and Taoism–along with some cults (e.g. Mormonism). In a sense, Judaism is a serious contender, but Christianity incorporates Judaism. Likewise, Christianity incorporates the "truth" of paganism (i.e. witchcraft) into its own worldview. What's evil and diabolical can still be true. 

My point is not to make the case here and now. My point, though, is that if by process of elimination, Christianity is the last man standing, then it's pretty irrelevant to ask whether it's a sure thing. If that's the only viable option, then whether or not it's a sure thing is beside the point.

To take a comparison, suppose I'm on the 40th floor of a skyscraper that's on fire. Suppose my floor has four doors leading to emergency exits. I try each door, but three of the four doors are locked. Suppose I'm unsure if the unlocked door leads to an emergency exit. What if I'm misremembering? What if I mistook it for another door? But if all the other candidates are locked, then my level of certainty is irrelevant. Even if they did lead to an emergency exit, they're not live options. The remaining door, the unlocked door, is the only viable choice. Even if it doesn't lead to an emergency exit, I'm not going to stand there, with flames licking at my heels, while I calculate the probabilities. 

Likewise, if the ship is sinking and there's one lifeboat left, I'll jump into the lifeboat. I won't sink under the waves debating whether the lifeboat is seaworthy. By default, that's what I'm left with. 

Les Fleurs du mal

I'm not a regular reader of Leighton Flowers. I try to be fair to freewill theism by taking the most capable exponents as my foil. However, I got a Facebook notification about this post, so I will bite: 

Soteriology 101
When we object to the concept of divine determinism and you appeal to the crucifixion as your proof that God brings about all moral evil, are you saying that God is sovereignly working so as to redeem the very sins He sovereignly worked to bring about? Is Calvary just about God cleaning up His own mess — redeeming His own determinations?
Appealing to God’s sovereign work to ensure the redemption of sin so as to prove that God sovereignly works to bring about all the sin that was redeemed is an absurd, self-defeating argument. It would be tantamount to arguing that because a police department set up a sting operation to catch a notorious drug dealer, that the police department is responsible for every single intention and action of all drug dealer at all times. Proof that the police department worked in secretive ways to hide their identities, use evil intentions, and work out the circumstances in such a way that the drug dealer would do what they wanted him to do (sell drugs) at that particular moment in time does not suggest that the police are in anyway responsible for all that drug dealer has done or ever will do. We celebrate and reward the actions of this police department because they are working to stop the drug activity, not because they are secretly causing all of it so as to stop some of it. Teaching that God brings about all sin based on how He brought about Calvary is like teaching that the police officer brings about every drug deal based on how he brought about one sting operation.

Yes, at times the scriptures do speak of God “hardening” men’s hearts (Ex. 7; Rm. 9), blinding them with a “spirit of stupor” (Rm. 11:8) and delaying their healing by use of parabolic language (Mk. 4:11-12, 34; Matt. 16:20), and He always does so for a redemptive good. But the reason such passages stand out so distinctly from the rest of scripture is because of their uniqueness. If God worked this way in every instance these texts would make no sense. After all, what is there for God to harden, provoke, or restrain if not the autonomous will of creatures?

If everything is under the meticulous control of God’s sovereign work what is left to permit and/or restrain except that which He is already controlling? Is God merely restraining something that He previously determined? Why blind eyes from seeing something the were “naturally” predetermined not to see? Why put a parabolic blindfold on a corpse-like dead sinner incapable of seeing spiritual truth? These are questions many Calvinists seem unwilling to entertain at any depth.

1. In my (albeit limited) experience, Flowers is like atheists ("Street Epistemologists") who stick a microphone in the face of ordinary Christians and pepper them with trip-wire questions. The atheists then think they prove something by catching Christians offguard. But most Christians aren't theologians, philosophers, or Bible scholars. And even seasoned, expert debaters like William Lane Craig prepare for their debates. 

2. The appeal to Acts 2 & 4 is not to prove meticulous providence, but to prove that predestination and providence extend to evils. Even paradigm evils like the Crucifixion. If God predestines the worst, then a fortiori, he predestines lesser evils (as well as goods). And that's hardly the only prooftext for absolute predestination or meticulous providence.

3. Flowers makes it sound circular: "Does God clean up his own mess"? To take a few human illustrations, men–and I do mean men (i.e. human males)–like to test themselves, stretch themselves. They create physical challenges (sports) and intellectual challenges (games). They create problems in order to solve problems. But that's not absurd because the goal is to develop certain skills or camaraderie.  It isn't like digging a hole to fill a hole. 

Or take the quest genre, where the hero leaves home, faces challenges on his journey, undergoes trial by ordeal, then returns home. However, that's linear rather than circular because the quest is a maturing experience. He achieves enlightenment. So it's not a return to the status quo ante. Rather, the man who comes home is a different man from the man who left home.

Suppose a rich man has two teenage sons. They're not juvenile delinquents. They're not sadistic or sociopathic. But their moral character is underdeveloped. Because they had it so easy, they are soft and self-absorbed. They lack sacrificial virtues. 

So he arranges for them to explore a desert island. And he instructs the guide to abandon them. Now they're thrown back on their own resources, in a survival situation. The brothers depend on each other. 

The danger is illusory. Unbeknownst to them, their dad fitted the island with hidden cameras so that he can monitor their situation. He had a subdermal chip implanted in their arms to keep track of them. So their life is never at risk. But they don't know that. From their perspective, the hazards are real. 

The father picked an island with fresh water, edible plants, and game. He made sure his sons had elementary survival skills. Their backpacks are equipped with the necessities. 

But it's a challenge. They don't know when–or if–they will be rescued. Suppose, after two years of having to tough it out together on the island, their father rescues them.

But that's not the father cleaning up his own mess. Rather, he inserted his sons into a testing environment to cultivate soul-building virtues. The rescue is not a reversion to the status quo ante. Rather, they are different–and better-for their hardy experience. 

4. No, God isn't restraining something he previously determined. Restraint is part of what he determined all along. God has a variety of means to realize his plan. 

Take Gen 20, where God appears to Abimelech in an ominous dream. That's how God deters Abimelech from violating Sarah. He doesn't first predestine Abimelech to violate Sarah, then counteract what he predestined by the ominous dream. Rather, he predestined that Abimelech not to violate Sarah, and the ominous dream is the deterrent. 

If God hadn't restrained Abimelech, then Abimelech would act on his impulses. There's a possible world with an alternate history in which Abimelech violates Sarah. That's because God can imagine alternatives. But God chose not to instantiate that timeline–at least not in our universe (but maybe a parallel universe).