Saturday, November 17, 2018

Why don't more pastors speak out?

What about Quetzalcoatl?

A village atheist trope makes the following challenge to Christians: have you disproven the existence of Allah, Manitou, Quetzalcoatl, Ra, Shiva, Thor, Zeus, &c.? 

There are lots of problems with that objection:

i) It cuts both ways. Why is that supposed to be a problem for the Christian but not the atheist? Has the atheist run through the entire list of gods and individually disproven the existence of each one? Why is it incumbent on a Christian to do that but not an atheist? Either it's a problem for both or for neither one. 

ii) Does an atheist think you must eliminate every conceivable alternative to know something or be warranted in what you believe? Has the atheist evaluated every school of thought in Eastern and Western philosophy? We all take intellectual shortcuts. 

iii) I'm unaware of any appreciable evidence for the existence of Quetzalcoatl, Ra, Shiva, Thor, Zeus, &c. The onus is not on me to disprove something for which there's no discernible evidence. 

The evolution of the nose

At the 12th World Congress on Evolutionary Biology, held in Stockholm, an acrimonious debate broke out between Prof. Obstkuchen and Prof. Knödel on the evolution of the nose. Prof. Obstkuchen said the function of the nose isn't for breathing. Rather, the nose was an adaptation to keep the eyes apart. If the eyes are too close together, that impedes depth perception or peripheral vision.

Conversely, Prof. Knödel said the function of eyes isn't for seeing. Rather, eyes were an adaptation to keep the nose centered. An off-center nose throws the esophagus off-center, too, which impedes swallowing (like the S-bend in a sink pipe). Just imagine a nose on the left side or right side of the face!

Both biologists offered learned but divergent backstories to explain the stochastic evolution of the nose and eyes.

The White House press corps

I'm struck by the fact that David French and Ben Shapiro are siding with CNN over the Acosta kerfuffle. They act like Trump violated Acosta's Constitutional rights. 

This is concerning because it goes to the issue of judicial philosophy. Conservatives typically champion strict constructionism rather than a living Constitution. 

A president can't shut down the press. The press has a right to report on the Executive branch. Has the right to investigate the Executive branch. 

However, there's no Constitutional right to have a White House press corps. There's no Constitutional right for journalists to be stationed at the White House. There's no Constitutional mandate that a president hold press conferences. Or have a press secretary. Those are traditions that developed long after the Constitution was ratified.

There's no Constitutional mandate that a president call upon a particular reporter. There's no Constitutional mandate that a particular reporter from a particular news outlet have access to the White House. Those are traditions that developed long after the Constitution was ratified.

Banning a reporter from the White House grounds isn't a criminal penalty. The only folks who are really entitled to be on White House grounds are White House employees. 

It's disturbing when David French and Ben Shapiro hail the ruling of a judge in favor of Acosta. That's the kind of judicial overreach that conservatives are supposed to oppose. Inventing Constitutional rights that have no basis in the text, logic, or history of the Constitution. Their antipathy towards Trump is skewing their judgment. 

BTW, I've never seen the point of the White House press corps. The press secretary will defend whatever the current policy happens to be, whether the policy is logical, illogical, factual, or demonstrably false. It's a vacuous, predictable game in which reporters pose argumentative questions while the press secretary gives evasive, disingenuous, scripted answers. This is equally true for Democrat or Republic administrations. It's not a productive way to elicit useful information.  

We're both vegans!

I contend we're both vegans, I just eat one fewer animal than you do. When you understand why you only eat some animals rather than all animals, you will understand why I don't eat yours.


I think Tim Hsiao makes some good general points in this article:

However, I disagree with using retribution as the primary paradigm for child discipline. 

i) Why not deploy a remedial theory of punishment in the case of children and retribution for adult offenders?

ii) Part of the problem concerns the incidental connotations of corporal punishment. "Corporal punishment" is a conventional designation, but can be misleading if we treat that conventional label as the frame of reference. With regard to young kids, we should reframe the issue in terms of conditioning rather than punishment. Analogous to dog training.

ii) Sometimes children do things that are morally wrong even from a child's perspective. They can be cruel. They may steal. 

iii) That needs to be distinguished from foolish or dangerous things kids do, that are innocent of malice. Kids are impetuous. 

iv) I don't think physical pain is the major factor in the corporal punishment or discipline. What makes it effective has less to do with the degree of physical pain than humiliation. A psychological effect.

Skinning your knees by falling off a bicycle is more painful than a light spanking, but spanking has a psychological effect that mere pain doesn't. It's a reproof from a parent. More like an honor/shame dynamic. Putting a misbehaving child in its place. 

The shocked or hurt expression of a child who's swatted isn't primary due to the pain, which may be minor, but the humiliation–and the fact that it was done by someone they're so emotionally dependent on.

Another cliche example is a young child who shoplifts. The parent discovers the stolen item after they return home, takes the child back to the store, where the shamefaced child must present the stolen item to the storeowner and personally apologize. There's nothing physically painful about that experience, but what makes it a disincentive to future shoplifting is the acute embarrassment.

Even in the case of the public caning of juvenile delinquents, the primary deterrent isn't physical pain but public humiliation. The psychological rather than physical unpleasantness of the experience. 

Take the famous case of Michael Fay. The corrective effect of his caning has less to do with physical pain than public shaming.

v) Take the cliche of a cliche example of a young child who does something hazardous because kids his age are impulsive, oblivious to danger, and shortsighted regarding the consequences of their actions.

The purpose of swatting them isn't punitive in that context. Rather, it's to make it memorable and unpleasant in order to create a disincentive which will override the impulse to engage in that kind of risky behavior in the future. Associate the behavior with something unpleasant or fearful. 

vi) It can be useless to reason with a young child who wants to do something he shouldn't–because children can be willful. They don't care about the reason. They just want what they want. So a parent needs to make it unpleasant, to create a disincentive. 

This isn't a question of justice or fairness but prudence. Conditioning prudent behavior. 

BTW, I'm not suggesting parents shouldn't give children reasons. They should. But oftentimes children aren't listening, so a reason will be ineffective, although it's still important for parents to reason with their kids.

vii) I wouldn't say young kids are either amoral or moral agents. There are moral elements to a child's psychological makeup. Take their sense of fairness or betrayal ("You promised!"). However, kids lack the cognitive ability to entertain the kind of counterfactual reasoning that's a part of moral deliberation and decision-making. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Affirmative claims

It's common for the average atheist to say the burden of proof is on the Christian, because the Christian is affirming something to be the case whereas the atheist simply lacks belief in deities. 

The implication is that an existential claim or affirmation has an initial presumption against it, which the claimant must overcome by providing countervailing evidence. If so, that's a general principle which applies to all kinds of existential claims, and not to Christianity in particular. But is that reasonable? Is that a principle atheists accept in general?

Suppose two students are standing outside a class room, peering into the class room through the open doorway. One student says the class room is occupy. His classmate, with the same view, says he has no opinion on whether the class room is empty or not. 

Suppose the first student said the class room is occupied because, peering through the doorway, other students appear in his field of vision. He sees students (or the impression of students) inside the class room. Is there an initial presumption that his affirmation is false? Is something additional required to overcome that initial presumption to the contrary?  

He simply finds himself in an epistemic situation where he's confronted with manifest evidence that something is the case. What more is required? There's no shift from a presumption to the contrary to an affirmation. Was there a prior point at which the onus was on him to justify his belief? 

And what about his classmate? Even though students appear in his field of vision as well, does he have no burden of proof so long as he makes no claim one way or the other? Is the onus not on him to explain how he can be noncommittal in the face of evidence that eliminates one of the two options (either it's vacant or occupied)? Is he justified in withholding judgment at that point?

Jewish evangelism

One of the sore points in Jewish evangelism is the position that Jews are damned unless they believe in Jesus (i.e. the messianship, deity, and Incarnation of Jesus). Of course, that's not unique to Judaism. That's standard exclusivism, which applies to non-Christians generally. And there wouldn't be much point evangelizing Jews if it didn't matter what you believe about Jesus.

Many people naturally resent being told they're hellbound unless they become Christian. Suppose, though, we turn this around. Imagine if Christianity said all Jews are going to heaven. Would Jews be impressed?

Religiously conservative Jews think Christianity is an idolatrous, polytheistic heresy. So why would they care if a false religion gives their own religion the thumbs up? Isn't a Christian endorsement of rabbinic Judaism worthless from their standpoint? 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Hopeless grief

Does life matter?

Does life matter? Surely there's no more important question in ethics. 

1. According to nihilism, including antinatalism (which is a paradigm version of nihilism), it's better not to exist in the first place. And that's not just a hypothetical position to fill out the logical continuum of possible views, but a live option. Nihilism regards human existence is irredeemably tragic. 

2. According to Epicureanism, existence and nonexistence are equivalent. Prenatal and postmortem nonexistence are interchangeable. Although nominally heathen, the Epicurean view of life and death, as well as the nihilist, are essentially atheistic. We're on our own. 

It would be interesting to see a debate between an Epicurean and a Christian annihilationist! An Epicurean doesn't think oblivion is bad. 

There are some people who say postmortem nonexistence is significant in a way that prenatal nonexistence is not. They only agree with one side of the Epicurean comparison. 

3. Here's one way to view the issue: Suppose you're the proud father of a teenage son. I offer you $10 million to step into a time machine and contracept his existence. If you take the offer, you will travel back to point shortly before he was conceived, and do something to preempt his conception. 

I doubt most fathers would accept the offer. For one thing, they couldn't stand to lose their son. But over and above that, they couldn't bring themselves to do that to their own son. To deprive him of existence. 

Yet on the time-travel scenario, by taking that preemptive and retroactive action, the father made it the case that his son had no existence to begin with, for the new timeline replaces the original timeline. It's as if he never existed. He has no counterpart in the new timeline. And the father may or may not remember the original timeline (depending on how we detail the thought-experiment).

On Epicurean grounds, his nonexistence is insignificant. Yet I expect most fathers would balk at the prospect. 

And that's germane to the question of whether God, if there is a God, ought to intervene more often to prevent evil. Is that a reasonable expectation? 

Problem is, whenever God intervenes, that's analogous to a time-traveler who changes the past to change the future. Which doesn't mean that God never intervenes. But there are tradeoffs. When people imagine a better world, an improvement over the status quo, they men


On Twitter, atheist Jeff Lowder directed the following comments at Christians:

Sincere question for conservative Christians: what is the Biblical case against allowing transgendered persons from transitioning to the gender identity they identify with? What reason(s) do you have which would not also prohibit the correction of birth defects?

I can see how Genesis provides support for a (the?) gender binary, but I don't understand the Biblical basis for condemnation of individuals who wish to transition to the gender they most closely identify with.

It also assumes that pronouns have to be a reference to anatomical sex rather than gender identity. 

Besides, does anyone really think it makes sense to refer to a trans person like Laverne Cox (pictured below) using male pronouns?

i) Even from the standpoint of Protestant epistemology, the case against transgenderism isn't confined to Scripture. God gave us a mind, a world, and five senses. So we can supplement biblical arguments with extrabiblical arguments. 

ii) Does Jeff mean morally prohibitive or legally prohibitive? For instance, some Christians might say it shouldn't be illegal for consenting adults to "transition", but that ought to disqualify them from church membership, church office, military service, &c. 

iii) Conversely, there should be conscience clauses for physicians who disapprove. 

iv) "Transitioning" shouldn't be mandated coverage in healthcare plans, although people can pay extra for extra coverage if they so desire. To make it mandatory compels other  people to subsidize your perversion.

v) It should be illegal for minors to "transition". 

vi) If someone actually suffers from gender dysphoria, hormone therapy, plastic surgery, and/or sex-change operations won't fix that condition, which is psychotic rather than physical. Indeed, "transitioning" aggravates the problem, to judge by suicide rates for those who've "transitioned". So it's not analogous to corrective surgery. 

vii) The distinction between gender identity and "anatomical sex" begs the question. Whether we should grant that dichotomy is the very issue in dispute. 

viii) Unless Jeff is hopelessly uninformed, he ought to realize that this isn't just about letting transgender people "transition", but about radical accommodations. Unisex public bathrooms and locker rooms. "Transgender women" (i.e. biological men) sharing shelters for battered women. Dissenters fined, fired, or imprisoned. Students punished if they "misgender" a classmate. 

ix) Sorry, but the correct term for "Laverne" Cox is "freak". It's demeaning to real women to call a biological man a woman. 

x) Trangender ideology is incoherent:

Transgender contradictions

Witch lights

You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
(Ps 91:5)

The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
(Ps 121:6)

These are rather obscure allusions. Ross offers a naturalistic interpretation. He thinks they refer to surprise attacks at night. A military assault or invasion.

By contrast, Goldingay presents evidence that Ps 91:5 may have its background in nocturnal demons, although he's noncommittal on that interpretation. And Ps 121:6 might be a comparable metaphor. 

On a possibly related note is the disputed identity of Azazel in Lev 16 (cf. Lev 17:17). Michael Heiser defends a supernatural interpretation:

There is, though, the danger of anachronism when we use later traditions to interpret earlier texts.

But let's assume for argument's sake that these have supernatural referents. That's a reasonable, albeit inconclusive identification. 

I thought about these biblical passages when reading this:

Now, I'd like to have more corroboration. And this raises a similar issue. Assuming the reports are accurate, are these mysterious lights natural, but unexplained phenomena–or occultic entities? 

Is this the kind of thing that the biblical passages are alluding to? Since we don't live in the ancient Near East, we don't have the same experience or frame of reference. But given the proliferation of witchcraft in the ancient Near East, would there be analogous phenomena? 

In that regard it might be instructive to do a cross-cultural study of witchcraft in American Indian tribes. Are there similar reported phenomena?

Finally, you can see how this luminous phenomena, if genuine, might feed into ufology, where secular observers reinterpret their experience in reference to categories supplied by scifi movies. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Faithful waiting

How to read Genesis

I recently read/skimmed Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and the Truth in Genesis 1-11 (Zondervan 2018) by John Collins. 

1. It's a seasoned and erudite exegetical defense of old-earth creationism. Collins has a sophisticated hermeneutic that he applies to Genesis. 

The book fights on two fronts. On the one hand, it takes aim at the hermeneutics of young-earth creation. 

On the other hand, it takes aim at scholars like Peter Enns, Dennis Lamoureux, Robin Perry, Paul Seely, Kenton Sparks, and John Walton–who think the Bible suffers from a hopelessly obsolete, prescientific outlook. (Kyle Greenwood is another example, but he doesn't figure in the discussion.) That target looms larger in his treatment than young-earth creationism. 

Collins does a nice job of showing that the way Enns, Walton et al. read the Bible is naive. Does a nice job of showing that ancient Near Easterners were more observant than Enns, Walton et al. give them credit for. 

That's not just his conservative opinion. Take this quote: 

People in the ancient Near East did not conceive of the earth as a disk floating on water with the firmament inverted over it like a bell jar, with the stars hanging from it…The textbook images that keep being reprinted of "the ancient Near Eastern world picture" are based on typical modern misunderstandings that fail to take into account the religious components of ancient Near Eastern conceptions and representations. O. Keel & S. Schroer, Creation: Biblical theologies in the Context of the Ancient Near East (Eisenbrauns 2015), 259-60n34.

So his monograph defends the inerrancy of Scripture against an influential academic fad that's eroding evangelicalism. In that regard it's useful for young-earth and old-earth creationists alike. 

2. I disagree with some of exegetical decisions. And there's a disappointingly thin discussion of the flood account. But in general this is an exceptional treatment. 

3. I'd like to focus on one particular issue, and that's his provocative endorsement of anachronism in Scripture (6.C). 

i) Normally, anachronism is a telltale sign of fiction, forgery, or the limitations of an author who's out-of-touch with the period he's writing about. However, Collins argues that anachronism can be a technique to make the past come alive for a later audience. If successful, his argument pulls the rug out from under a stock objection to the historicity of some biblical accounts. 

ii) One concern his whether his argument proves too much. Anachronisms are a way in which we distinguish apocryphal Gospels from 1C Gospels. Or take the Donation of Constantine. Likewise, what if a Mormon apologist redeployed this argument to salvage the Book of Mormon? Admittedly, Mormonism has many defeaters. 

iii) At least from my reading, it isn't clear to me if by anachronism, he means a Biblical narrator sometimes updates the treatment, or if he's staking out the more radical position that there's nothing in the past which underlies the narrative. Consider two possible illustrations:

a) Long-range prophecy depicts the future in terms of the past. It uses imagery familiar to the original audience. The oracle reflects the kind of world they knew. 

b) The Warriors (1979) is a cinematic adaption of a novel by Sol Yurick, which is, in turn, a modern adaptation of a true story by Xenophon. In the original, the Greeks are trapped deep behind enemy lines and must fight their way back to the homeland. In the modern adaptation, this is recast in terms of New York street gangs. That preserves some correspondence between the original setting and the modernization, but with great artistic license. 

I don't know if that's the sort of thing Collins has in mind. One issue is whether that's too loose a view of historicity. I find some of his examples more plausible than others. 

Gunshot victims

Two additional observations about the contretemps between the ACP and NRA:

i) No doubt ER physicians see lots of gunshot victims. But to extrapolate from that to an epidemic of gun violence suffers from selection bias. For instance, suppose an oncologist discovers an ominous pattern: all his patients have cancer! Does that mean there's an epidemic of cancer? Obviously not. He's in a profession that selects for patients with cancer. The fact that a disproportionate number of ER patients are gunshot victims doesn't make that a representative sample of the general public. 

Gun violence in the USA is concentrated among certain demographic groups in certain cities in certain states. 

ii) Some people are gunshot victims because they were unarmed. They couldn't defend themselves thanks to cities with gun bans. Some people are gunshot victims because bans on guns eliminated the deterrent to armed robbery, armed burglary, and armed mugging. 

Yes, it really is a homosexual scandal

Hospital security

There's currently a row between the NRA and the American College of Physicians. The ACP is lobbying for more gun control. I'd like to draw attention to an obviously irony in this debate. Ever heard of hospital security? Increasingly, hospitals have armed guards on the premises. So doctors demanding more gun control for private citizens have a job in a workplace where they're protected by armed guards. They benefit from the very thing they deny to private citizens. How many of them would even go to work without a security detail on hand? 

Perhaps the rejoinder will be that if we had even more gun control, there'd be less need for hospital security. But that goes to the debate about how effective gun control really is.

And is it coincidental that states which abridge Second Amendment rights increasingly abridge First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights. Gun control becomes a subterfuge for security forces which exist to protect the ruling class and force at gunpoint the social policies of the ruling class.

I vow to thee, my country

Last Sunday, to commemorate Veterans Day, the church choir sang "I vow to thee, my country". It has inspirational lyrics set to a classy tune. Here's the text:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

And here's a fine performance:

1. Patriotism is a controversial issue in Christianity. On the one hand there's the knee-jerk cliche about how patriotic displays have no place within the four walls of the church. Likewise, that nationalism is idolatry. Our only allegiance should be to Jesus. On the other hand you have churches that bilk patriotic holidays. It's easy to get more emotional charge out of patriotism than the average sermon, and some pastors piggyback on that sentiment to give their preaching a boost.

Then there's the more balanced view that a Christian is a citizen of two worlds. Although Christian identity takes precedence, that doesn't cut earthly ties. Indeed, Christian identity is naturally expressed through earthly ties–though not exclusively.

2. Then there's the question of the message. Pretty music and inspirational rhetoric can seduce us into singing things that aren't true.

i) The two stanzas present a point contrast between heaven and earth, this life and the afterlife. That's nice.

ii) I don't know what Rice means by "all earthly things above". Typically, heaven is above and earth is below. So the imagery seems confused.

iii) Especially in the context of war, "the love that asks no question" seems like blindly following orders.

iv) Then there's the question of what your "country" stands for. Does that represent your family? A way of life? Liberty? A common history and culture? A people? Freedom to practice the true religion?

What's the altar? Is that a metaphor for willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice (i.e. dying in combat)? And how does that relate to the "dearest and best"? If the "dearest and best" stand for things like family, does that mean you should be prepared to sacrifice your family for your country? In one sense, Rice may mean patriotism requires parents to risk their sons in battle. On the other hand, doesn't paternal or filial duty require you to protect your family at the risk of your own life? You're not putting them at risk, but endangering yourself for their sake. So the message seems confused. But perhaps it depends on which family member is in view. Men protecting women and children. Some family members are required to make the final sacrifice on behalf of other family members. Or for the common good.

3. The theology of the second stanza is vague. Is a faithful heart the ticket to heaven? Faithful in what sense?

4. The message of the hymn is fuzzy. I'm not sure if Rice had a clear idea of what he meant. It may be impressionistic. More intuitive than exact.

5. When parsing hymns, we should make some allowance for the fact that the dual constraints of a metrical scheme and rhyming scheme limit the choice of words, so that precision of thought and expression may suffer. And poetic imagery is open-textured.

6. In light of (2) & (5), it's better to bring our theology to hymns rather than taking our theology from hymns. In one respect, what's important isn't so much what the hymn means to the hymnodist but what it means to the singer.

Stay in their lane

Political Map: how Democrats see America

“Life After Google” (Introduction)

Life After Google
Life After Google
My blogger profile says that I work in “marketing automation”. As a young writer, with a then-young family, I gravitated toward advertising copywriting as a career, and later into other forms of marketing and marketing communications.

Marketing and advertising have been around for a long time, and the most successful marketers and advertisers have long used “data” of one form or another – information about you that they could use either to target you or to personalize their messaging to you or both. With TV and radio and even printed publications, the information was very generalized – marketers appealed to certain “demographics” rather than to individuals.

The founder of Macy’s, John Wanamaker (1838–1922), an early pioneer in marketing, is credited with saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half”. That was a big problem in the world of business where, it was known, “if you can measure it, you can manage it”. Advertising in print, radio, and TV, were expensive, but the results were largely unmeasurable and therefore the entire system seemed unmanageable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Schreiner interview on Romans

Medieval bestiary

A common argument against the inerrancy of Scripture is to compare Scripture to alleged parallels in pagan sources, then infer that Bible writers shared the prescientific outlook of their pagan neighbors. In that regard I'd like to expand on a comparison offered by John Collins in Reading Genesis Well (Zondervan 2018), 260n34.

Suppose a modern reader thought a medieval bestiary was a reliable source for what medieval folk knew about animals. Yet medieval peasants clearly had accurate knowledge of farm animals and game animals. So a medieval bestiary is not a representative sample of what-all they knew about animals. Which is not to deny that a bestiary may reflect a degree of ignorance and superstition, just as pagans in the ancient Near East suffered from ignorance and superstition. But it means we need to be avoid the knee-jerk assumption that some of their depictions were necessarily meant to be realistic. 

What's a rainbow?

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen 9:8-17).

i) As a rule, the aim of biblical exegesis is to read the text like the original audience would read it. Modern readers know both more and less about the world than the original audience. We know less about a particular time and place in the ancient world than the original audience to whom a book of the Bible was addressed, but we know far more about the world in general than the ancient audience. This carries the risk that we sometimes unconsciously import assumptions into the text that the original audience didn't share. 

For instance, a 21C American doesn't have to travel to Africa to recognize African animals. In theory, a 21C American could never travel beyond a 50-mile radius of his birthplace, but know a lot about the rest of the world. By contrast, many ancient readers had an extremely provincial knowledge of the world they lived in. In many cases, no knowledge of the world at large. Just their little corner of the world. Their village and thereabouts. 

ii) In addition, the same text can reflect more than one viewpoint. In the case at hand, there's the viewpoint of Noah and his descendants (e.g. Abraham), to whom the covenant sign was first revealed. In addition, there's the viewpoint of audience that Moses was writing for. The Exodus generation.

iii) Consider the impression a rainbow might have on the original audience. Let's assume that Noah resided in Mesopotamia. And that's certainly Abraham's fatherland. At least by modern standards, rain is rare in most of that region. Mind you, we have to be careful about extrapolating from the present to the past. From what I've read, the ancient Near East has become more arid over the millennia. But that means for Noah and his descendants (e.g. Abraham), sightings of rainbows might be highly unusual. 

Egypt is much drier. And depending on the area, rainfall is rarer by far in the Sinai desert. 

Now the implied audience for the Pentateuch consists of people who migrated from Egypt to the Sinai. It's possible that most of them never saw a rainbow. An unheard of phenomenon. Imagine the impact of a downpour in the Sinai, followed by a rainbow–if that was a novel experience. An extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. 

On the other hand, Palestine has rainy seasons, so they will be moving into a region where rainbows are more common. As such, the text had a shifting significance, depending on the reader's experience of rainbows. It's a useful exercise for a modern reader to put himself in the situation of Noah and Abraham, then Israelites in Egypt, then Israelites in the Sinai, then Israelites in Palestine, to consider the impression a rainbow would making depending on the regional climate. 

Studied inaccuracy

Here's a neglected consideration in debates over inerrancy. Consider artwork. It's sometimes amusing to see Medieval depictions of exotic animals (e.g. African animals), because it's clear that the artist never saw a real animal like that. Likewise, before the advent of linear perspective, artistic representations were often inaccurate in terms of scale. 

On the other hand, we know from cave paintings of animals that "primitive" cave painters using primitive resources under poor conditions could nevertheless depict animals with amazing accuracy. It required talent rather than formal training. 

However, in some cases the inaccuracy isn't due to technical deficiencies. Take paintings of the Madonna and child where Jesus looks like a tiny man. A miniature adult. It's not because the painters didn't know how to draw a baby. Rather, that was an artistic and theological convention. Likewise, Byzantine icons are stereotypical. 

Although these depictions are inaccurate from a representational standpoint, that's intentional and functional. They achieve the purpose they were designed for. Theological code language. Not unrealistic because they don't know any better. A modern counterpart are comic books. 

That's something to keep in mind when critics allege that Scripture is inaccurate. A consideration they're failing to make allowance for. 

I'm a schismatic!

In light of Catholic ecumenism, it's worth recalling that all Protestants are still officially classified as schismatics: 

schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff (1983 CIC 751). 

Pining for the ethnostate

This is interesting because it presents a true alternative, "minority" viewpoint, in contrast to the ersatz perspective of Reformed Margins and the like. The perspective of a genuine "outsider" (in relation to the USA). 

In that regard he takes an unexpected, iconoclastic position. There is something to be said for slowing immigration until we can absorb what we've already have taken in. 

That said, I can't relate to making 

a goal the cultural and genetic assimilation of new Americans to the traditional Americans of each place. This would mean immigrants and their descendants tended to become culturally and genetically whiter, but the older diversity of now-indigenous American cultures (not only White but also Black and Amerindian) would better emerge as these native peoples’ cultural interests were protected by statute and custom.

i) I guess he defends the notion of an ethnostate because he identifies strongly with the ethnostate of China, so he accords the same prerogative to other countries. That said, I don't see the value of linking cultural assimilation to genetic assimilation. Although culture often originates in a particular racial or ethnic milieu, it's separable from the original milieu and portable. In addition, culture is also a product of cultural diffusion–a synthesis between two or more cultures. Take the impact of Greece on Rome, or the impact of Greco-Roman culture on Diaspora Judaism and Christianity. 

ii) I don't know quite what he means by protecting cultural interests by statute. 

iii) Then there's the whole question of which American culture immigrants should be assimilated to. Even white America doesn't have a homogenous culture. For instance, there's the legacy of Western civilization, but most Americans are consumers of pop culture rather than high culture. Most Americans aren't into classical music, Renaissance/Baroque painting, the 19C novel, Shakespeare, Dante, Racine, Greco-Latin literature, philosophy, &c. Their culture is lowbrow rather than highbrow. Rock and country music, Hollywood movies and TV fare, national sports, cars, comic books. Ethnic (albeit Americanized) food. Musical subcultures (blues, jazz, black Gospel).

In addition, there's the national mythos. The Pilgrim vision of America as the Promised land. The pioneer vision of America as the New Eden (e.g. Hudson River School). The Antebellum South. The iconic Old West of Hollywood lore. The Roaring Twenties. The high school caste system. And so on and so forth. 

iv) It's interesting that he and Dominic Foo identify so strongly with Anglicanism. Is there some affinity between the pageantry of the Chinese imperial court and Anglican worship that makes it appealing to them? 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cut your nose to spite your race

Arminian theologian Randal Rauser has posted a response to my own:

Since Rauser and I occupy opposite ends of the theological spectrum, he may disagree with some of my illustrations. 

All it would mean is that one should carefully evaluate which are the serious psychological cases where accommodation to the requested use of alternative pronouns, titles, and proper names would be justified for the sake of minimizing psychological harm.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The next gen: going where no apologist has gone before

I follow some of the next generation Christian apologists. Nice to see new talent in the pipeline. A few general observations:

1. Because the UK is increasingly threatened by Islam (abetted by politicians who collaborate with Muslims immigrants), some Christian apologists in the UK include Islam as a major component of their apologetics.

2. Younger apologists study older apologists. Up to a point that's good. But itt carries the danger of tunnel vision, where they copy all the same menu and arguments. That unduly narrows the resources of Christian apologetics. 

3. Some Christian apologists have a particular area of expertise. However, a Christian apologist is required to cover a wide range of objections to Christianity. To some degree a Christian apologist must be an autodidact and jack-of-all-trades. If someone has a high enough IQ, they can teach themselves just about anything. 

There are different kinds of intelligence. Some people are philosophically-minded, some are scientifically-minded (with a knack for math), while others are historically-minded (with a knack for foreign languages). Apologetics is interdisciplinary, so it's useful to have apologists with different fortes. 

4. A Christian apologist ought to have a firm grasp of systematic theology with considered positions on most topics in systematic theology. He needs to know what he believes before he's in a position to defend it. The basic task of a Christian apologist is to defend the Bible and systematic theology. Don't go hiking without a weather report. Don't go hiking unless you know what to put in the backpack. Bad idea to find out what you need when it's too late to bring it with you. In the age of social media, it's easy to garner a following. But the danger is to become successful before you're ready. 

I've only sampled the apologists I'm about to comment on, so this represents my provisional impressions. 

Andy Bannister

The most seasoned of the bunch. Has a doctorate in Islamic studies. Does lots of clever YouTube shorts as well as debates. 

Cameron Bertuzzi

Bright philosophy type. Quick study. Does some good interviews. 

Cameron has lots of potential. However, he's theologically off-center. Has some bad theological role models (e.g. BioLogos, McNabb, Rauser, Swinburne, Walls). Center-left evangelical theology bleeding into progressive Christianity.

Seems like he's trying to build his boat and sail it at the same time. Needs to figure out what he's supposed to believe–as well as developing a more traditionally evangelical center of gravity. 

On Facebook as well as his own site:

Blake Giunta

Very bright philosophy type. Quick on his feet. Has a clever interactive apologetic platform:

Wesley Huff

NT scholar. I think he picked up Arabic when his parents were missionaries in the Middle East, so he also debates Muslims. Seems to have both feet on the ground theologically. On Facebook and Youtube. 

Jonathan McLatchie

Strong formal background in the life sciences. Conducts helpful webinars. Smart and wide-ranging with an ink-blot memory. 

Neil Shenvi

Ivy League scientific background. Branching out into the culture wars as well as apologetics:


"The question is whether acceding to a *specific kind* of request ... reinforces a person's false self-perception."

One can have morally sufficient reasons for reinforcing a person's false self-perception. For example, if you're interacting with an Alzheimer's patient in a care facility who believes he's a fifteen year old boy living on the farm, the ethical response is to agree with his false self-perception because challenging that perception would lead to greater harm.

That's ingenious but it depends on the example:

i) I doubt the transgendered are any one thing. Some people genuinely suffer from that psychotic disorder. Some impressionable people (mostly adolescent girls) have been swept up in a social contagion. In many cases, gender dysphoria naturally resolves itself. Some people are gaming the system. Claiming to be trans instantly elevates their social status. 

ii) Sure, there are people with incurable conditions we need to accommodate. But the degree of accommodation varies. Take doping adolescent with puberty blockers. That does irreparable damage to their physical (and psychological) maturation. Adolescence is an irreversible phase in the life cycle. Not to mention sex change operations, which are even more harmful. 

A better comparison would be body dysmorphic disorder. Does Rauser think surgeons should amputate perfectly healthy, functional body parts to accommodate their delusion?

iii) To take another example, if someone suffers from lycanthropy, should they be allowed roam naked in the woods year round, where they are likely to die from hunger, thirst, infection, or exposure since they lack the natural equipment and survival skills of a real wolf? Or should they be committed to a secure mental institution for their own good?