Saturday, January 12, 2019

Unitarian reductio ad absurdam

By Christian apologist Vladimir Šušić, contributor to

Why do you call me good?

Mk 10:18 is a unitarian prooftext. Here's a helpful analysis:

Jesus uses questions and riddles to lead his audience into the mystery of who he is. Cf. Tom Thatcher, Jesus the Riddler: The Power of Ambiguity in the Gospels (WJK, 2006). 

Jesus ends by telling the rich young man that the "one thing" he still lacks is to sell all he has and follow him. This ending is essential for unlocking the riddle of his words. Yet it is constantly overlooked by those who claim Jesus is denying that he is God. After making his declaration about the goodness of God, Jesus does something stunning: he adds a command to follow him to the obligation to keep the Ten Commandments. In a 1C Jewish context, this would have been shocking. In Jewish Scripture, the Ten Commandments are written by the very "finger of God" (Exod 31:18). Yet here Jesus is adding the command to follow him as if that was on par with keeping the commandments.  As Simon Gatherole writes:

What is most striking is that having established the one good God as the one who defines what is required of human beings, in the final analysis Jesus is the one who defines what is ultimately commanded…If God alone is good and able to give commandments, then Jesus does as well. By implication then, he is also good. And he is good not in the sense implied by the rich man, but in the absolute, divine sense used by Jesus himself. Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus (Image 2016), 151-52.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Prologue to John

Richard Bauckham on the Prologue to John:

John begins at "the beginning" of everything", the beginning at which Genesis and the whole biblical story began. To let his readers into the secret of who Jesus really is, John thinks it is necessary to begin at the earliest possible beginning, when God the Creator was on the brink of bringing the whole cosmos into being. For anyone who knew Genesis, the identity between the opening words of Genesis and those of John's Gospel ("In the beginning" ) would be obvious and would provide the key to the meaning of the way the prologue continues. Note that Jewish allusions to creation frequently use the words "in the beginning" or "the beginning" in allusion to Gen 1:1. [Masanobu Endo, Creation and Christology: A Study on the Johannine Prologue in the light of Early Jewish Creation Accounts (Mohr Sibeck, 2002), 206-7.]

The first part of the prologue (1:1-5) is set in what we might call primordial time, the time of Genesis 1, while the second part (1:6-18), which begins in the style of OT historical narrative (1:6) is set in historical time and, by featuring John the Baptist (1:6-8,15), connects with the opening section of the gospel story (1:19-34). The first part of the prologue takes the form of a retelling of Gen 1:1-5. See esp. Peder Borgen, "Observations on the Targumic Character of the Prologue of John," and "Logos was the True Light: Contributions to the Interpretation of the Prologue of John", in Logos was the True Light and Other Essays on the Gospel of John, 13-20, 95-110.

Most recent commentators on John have thought that the figure of divine Wisdom, which features in some Jewish literature in connection with creation, has influenced the prologue…but Jewish narratives of creation refer to the word of God considerably more often than they do to the wisdom of God [see the table in Endo, Creation and Christology, 163], while the two are sometimes distinguished and given different roles (God's wisdom devised the plan and his word executed it, 2 En 33:4; Wis 9:1-2]. What John says of the Word in 1:1-4 is  quite sufficiently explained on the basis of Jewish references to the role of God's word in creation, while other alleged similarities to Wisdom ideas in the rest of the prologue are possible but not compelling. We should certainly not make interpretation of the prologue depend upon detecting Wisdom somewhere behind it. “The Trinity and the Gospel of John,” in The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance, ed. by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman (London: Inter-Varsity Press [Apollos] 2016), 93-94.

A challenge to Jesus as God apologists!

Here's an example of Dale Tuggy's confused thinking. In one respect, Tuggy is laboring to lay a trap for Christians, but in another respect this is the level at which his mind operates.  

1. Jesus and God are two beings (i.e. they are numerically distinct).   Premise
2. God is divine (has the essential quality of divinity).  Premise
3. Jesus is divine (has the essential quality of divinity). Premise
4. If something has the essential quality divinity, it is a god.  Premise
5. Therefore, Jesus is a god. (3,4)
6. Therefore, God is a god. (2, 4)
7. Therefore, there are at least two gods. (1, 5, 6)

Several land mines in his syllogism:

Premise #1:

A. In one sense, Jesus and God are distinct because Jesus is human as well as divine.

B. But if, as a simplifying device, we bracket the humanity of Christ, I'd reword #1 as follows:

i) The Father and the Son are distinct


ii) The Son and the Trinity are distinct

iii) Also, I'm not sure that "beings" makes a necessary contribution. It's sufficient to say they are distinct. Don't say more than you have to.

Premise #4. I'd reword that as follows:

If something is divine (or has the essential quality of divinity), it is included in the Deity.

5. Therefore, the Son is included in the Deity

6. Therefore, the Father is included in the Deity

7. Therefore, the Deity includes at least two persons

That reformulation is consistent with the Trinity, and it eludes Dale's trap.

The point, of course, is to have a formulation that's flexible enough to accommodate the entire witness of Scripture regarding the nature of God. 

For instance, if we didn't have the revelation of the Trinity, it might be plausible to say that if X is divine, then X is "a god". But because we have the revelation of the Trinity, we know that formulation is defective. 

Are Gen 1-2 from disparate sources?

The witness of the manuscripts

There are different lines of evidence for the canon. External evidence includes Jewish testimony, the church fathers, the Muratorian canon. 

There's extensive internal evidence in terms of the intertextuality of the Bible. 

Also the fact that some books of the Bible naturally comprise literary units (e.g. Pentateuch, Psalter, Luke-Acts, Pauline Epistles, John/1-3 John).

However, I'd like to highlight a neglected line of evidence. That's the very fact that we have editions of Scripture, and we can trace that process back in time. The manuscripts are evidence.

For instance, Christian scribes don't just copy individual NT books, but groups of books, like the Gospels, or the Gospels and Acts, Pauline Epistles, or Pauline epistles plus Hebrews, or general epistles. Christian scribes transmit anthologies of NT documents. Take some of the Chester Beaty papyri. 

And that's interesting because, at the time, Christian scribes were operating independently of each other. There was no central agency coordinating their activities. So that's a historical, but decentralized witness to the NT canon. Not simply that Christian scribes copied NT books, but copied collections of NT books in larger and smaller units. 

Although the external evidence is a kind of tradition, it's not an official exercise of "the Church", but many individuals who independently bear witness to the canon. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Genesis and the ancient Near East

It's become very popular to say we should interpret the OT in light of its ancient Near Eastern background. That's true or false depending on how we develop the idea. Two of the more prominent exponents are John Walton and Peter Enns, but there are others. This is becoming influential in evangelicalism. 

But one problem with this line of thought is that scholars like Walton and Enns speak with great confidence about their interpretations, as if once you grant the ancient Near Eastern frame of reference, then there's scholarly consensus on how to interpret Genesis. But that's far from monolithic. There are scholars who agree with the frame of reference, but arrive at very different conclusions. 

It's my impression that Walton is to the right of Enns. In addition, it's my impression that Walton is a better scholar than Enns. However, David Tsumura is a more distinguished scholar than either one. And it's revealing to compare his conclusions to theirs. I'll be quoting some excerpts from David T. Tsumura, "Rediscovery of the Ancient Near East and Its Implications for Genesis 1–2," Kyle Greenwood, ed. Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages (Baker 2018), chapter 10.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The problem of bug suffering

I guess I'm confronted with a choice: either adopt atheism or Jainism!

Anderson reviews Lennox

What will the return of Christ look like?

Imagine you're filming the Bible. You get to the Parousia. You have the benefit of CGI. So how do you visually represent the return of Christ? (Yes, Puritans disapprove. This post is not for Puritans.)

I've discussed this before. I'd like to consider it from another angle. Let's say Jesus returns in the Shekinah. He's encased in the Shekinah. Think Ezk 1 & 10. 

One possibility is a vertical approach, where the Shekinah is high in the sky, near the zenith. If it hovers in place, it can be seen night and day. 

Another possibility is more of a horizontal approach, like the sun, moon, or morning star coming over the horizon. Suppose, from where an observer stands, the Shekinah is below the horizon, then appears over and above the horizon as the earth rotates, as if it's (initially) coming towards the observer from across the horizon rather than overhead and downwards. An ascending motion instead of a descending motion. 

We might also consider the role of clouds. ("Coming in/with the clouds".) The most spectacular sunsets and sunrises occur when the sky is cloudy in the east or west, and the sun appears behind or beneath the clouds. When clouds are underlit by the rising sun, before it surfaces above the horizon–or the setting sun, after it dips below the horizon. 

So we might visualize clouds on the eastern horizon underlit by the Shekinah, before coming up and over the horizon. Initially there is darkness. Then first light. Then the clouds flush brighter with variegated hues. And the clouds transmit the light. It floods the eastern sky, as a prelude to the Shekinah cresting the hillside, mountain range, or seascape.

Modal metaphysics

1. There are different kinds of theistic arguments. One line of argument is the argument from abstract objects. These are a priori, metaphysical arguments. There are different kinds of abstract objects, so you have the argument from logic, numbers, properties, propositions, and counterfactuals. 

2. Here's an argument for possible worlds: 

I believe that there are possible worlds other than the one we happen to inhabit. If an argument is wanted, it is this. It is uncontroversially true that things might be otherwise than they are. I believe, and so do you, that things could have been different in countless ways...I therefore believe in the existence of entities that might be called ‘ways things could have been’. I prefer to call them ‘possible worlds’, D. Lewis, Counterfactuals (Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd ed., 2001), 84.

I agree with Lewis up to a point. However, his argument is too facile. It need to be qualified. Humans imagine how things could be different because we imagine discrete changes. Compartmentalized changes. But we lack the intelligence and foresight to consider all the adjustments that must be made to accommodate changing a particular variable. So in many cases, what we imagine could be different couldn't realistically be different because, in a case/effect world, every change must be consistent with every impacted event. 

Which is not to deny that things could be different in countless ways, but we need to be cautious about that. 

And even an omnipotent agent's field of action is restricted to some degree insofar as he chooses to operate by means of finite media. That's a self-imposed limitation.

Moreover, while God can generally bypass intervening mechanisms to produce an outcome directly, there are second-order relations that can't be produced directly. 

For instance, take atheists who harp on the alleged problem of animal suffering. An omnipotent God could just create a world without any death. Any predators, parasites, or pathogens. 

First off, I don't know if that's even true. It may well be the case that organic life is naturally impossible without organic death of some sort. 

But even if true, a world without any predators, parasites, and pathogens is so unrecognizably dissimilar to our experience that atheists have no idea what such a world would look like. There's no comparative frame of reference. 

3. Apropos (2), let's consider a potential objection to the argument from counterfactuals:

Now, per impossibile counterfactuals are rather troubling…it is not clear that they have well-defined truth values….Nevertheless, some per impossibile counterfactuals make perfect sense. Let "Gnosticism" stand for the thesis that there necessarily exists a necessarily perfectly morally good God and a necessarily perfectly morally evil God. Let us agree that Gnosticism is necessarily false. Then, the following per impossibile counterfactuals are non-trivially true…WEre Gnosticism true, then Christianity would be necessarily false. A. Pruss, Actuality, Possibility and Worlds (Continuum 2011), 141-2. 

So what's the truthmaker for the evil god of Gnostic dualism? One explanation might be that it's a composite idea. We're mentally (and verbally) combining various ideas, each of which have truthmakers, even if the entire idea, as an artificial construct, lacks a truthmaker.

Pruss also talks about the truthmaker, if any, for unicorns. Two possible explanations:

i) Unlike the evil Gnostic god, unicorns are possible. It's just a horse with a horn. There can be possible worlds with unicorns. Heck, there could be an actual world in a multiverse with real unicorns.

ii) From our standpoint, unicorns are fictional entities. A figment of the human imagination. But in that regard they are composite ideas. So even if unicorns lack a truthmaker, the individual elements have truthmakers.

4. Another issue is the ancient debate over universals. What's the basis for attribute-agreement? What makes two particulars red? 

i) Is the traditional Platonic distinction between abstract universals and concrete particulars is the best paradigm? Consider a theistic paradigm: a particular physical object has a shade of red that matches a particular shade of red in God's mind, and God created that object to instantiate that specific shade of red.

ii) That doesn't create a discrepancy between one generic color red and physical objects which reflect varying shades of red. Which "approximate" one generic color. 

In Platonism, red balls approximate an abstract universal of redness. A generic pure color. 

However, that fails to explain attribute-agreement since it's just an approximation. "Red" balls comes in different shades of red. 

iii) But God isn't operating with the concept of a generic pure color. Rather, God visualizes balls with varying shades of red. Each physical ball corresponds to a specific divine idea of a particular ball. So there's an exact match between the shade of the ball and the shade of God's exemplary idea of that particular ball. 

iv) Both Alfred Hitchcock and I possess the property of knowing Psycho. However, my knowledge of Psycho merely exemplifies the property (because my recollection is a mental copy of the original), whereas Hitchcock's knowledge is the mental blueprint or exemplar. 

By the same token, Bernini and I see the same slab of marble. But in addition, Bernini superimposes an image onto the raw marble. A mental projection. He then carves the marble to correspond to what he sees in his mind's eye. Take Apollo and Daphne.

My concept of the statue is an exemplification of the statue whereas the sculpture is an exemplification of the sculptor's formative concept. His idea is the blueprint. My idea is a copy. 

v) So what if the basis for attribute agreement isn't a common property but a common (divine) idea? Two objects are the same in X respect because the both exemplify God's idea of what they were meant to be like. They are instances of the same idea. 

v) Apropos, if it's possible for a mental image/representation of red to be immaterial, then in principle God can visualize colors. So God has a concept of a red ball. Not just a colorless idea of color, but a mental image of a red object. God creates a physical world containing a red ball that corresponds to his mental image. The red ball is a physical, concrete exemplification of God's immaterial idea. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Sports and Sabbath

1. For the record, I'm not personally invested in this issue. I rarely watch sports. 

2. American culture idolizes sports. And that's hardly unique to American culture. The idolization of sports is a global phenomenon. 

That presents Christians with two basic options. On the one hand we can constantly bitch about the inevitable. Constantly bitch about what we can't change. We can boycott it. Be separatistic. 

On the other hand, we can view sports as an opening for the Gospel. We can infiltrate sports. Take advantage of what we can't change. 

Christian coaches can mentor the next generation of men. They can reach the unchurched. They can reach boys and men who don't normally have occasion to be exposed to the Christian faith. Not to mention boys and men who wouldn't normally take the Christian faith seriously because they haven't seen representatives of the Christian faith they can take seriously. But a coach is an emblem of manhood, and there are boys and men who will give the Gospel a respectful hearing because they respect their coach. 

3. In addition, the secular progressives loathe masculinity with a passion. But sports can be a haven for common grace masculinity at a time when manliness is under sustained attack. In that respect it's more important than it used to be.

4. It's ironic that his daughter plays on the boys' team. That's functionally equivalent to the transgender movement. 

5. Jones sometimes writes useful things, but he's a classic company man. He epitomizes the "confessional Calvinist" mindset.

Although I defend Calvinism on a regular basis, I've always maintained a certain distance from the Reformed community due to its cliquishness and clannishness. I'm not suggesting that's distinctive to the Reformed community. You find that mentality in just about any religious community–as well as other kinds of communities. 

Theological traditions are off-the-shelf packages. And you always have dutiful adherents whose mindset is to robotically check every box. 

The motivation isn't primarily theological but sociological. Because human beings are social creatures, there's a powerful incentive to assimilate to your peer group. To be a loyal team-player. Where creeds simply function as a litmus test for membership in the club.

That reduces theological fidelity to playacting. Guys like Mark Jones and Scott Clark are actors who recite a script. Memorize a script. It's not first and foremost about fidelity to God but playing a role to be a member in good standing with your peer group.

John Frame used to get into hot water because he was too smart for his own good. By that I mean, he wasn't an actor. He wasn't just reciting his lines. He's an independent thinker whose priority is to be true to God's truth. As a philosopher and apologist, he cares about the quality of the arguments. 

His mentor John Murray had the same outlook. That's authentic, God-honoring piety. Instead of paying lip-service to sola Scriptura, it is serious about having biblical justification for what we think and do. The piety of John Owen, Richard Baxter, and Archbishop Leighton (to name a few), who avoided partisan entanglements and blandishments.  

It's not enough to believe the right things. We need to believe them for the right reason. As I say, Mark Jones is a recognizable personality type. Keeps the uniform well-ironed and spotless. Polishes the brass buttons. Smartly salutes and clicks his heels.

The psychology is interchangeable across theological and ideological boundaries. The confessional Baptist, confessional Presbyterian, confessional Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, Rad-Trad Catholic, party-line Democrat, pious Muslim. Credal expositions like the WCF, WSC, LBCF, Canons of Dort, and Heidelberg Catechism are wonderful summaries of Christian faith. But they're no substitute for Scripture. To be a team-player won't help you on your deathbed, facing into eternity. We're ultimately answerable to God. 

Seek harder–or let go of God?

1. Normally I wouldn't bother commenting on something like this. Normally I wouldn't be aware of it. Deconversion testimonies are a dime a dozen. However, W. L. Craig commented on this, which brought it to my attention. 

There can be an ironic tension in Christian apologetics. You generally target the most impressive objections to Christianity. If you debunk the strongest objections, then the weaker objections are a moping-up operation.

But that's elitist in the sense that most apostates and atheists aren't high-level thinkers, and the reasons they leave the faith or never consider the faith in the first place aren't typically that intellectual–even if they pride themselves on their superior rationality. 

2. I doubt it's coincidental that he's a child of divorce. I assume divorce can be very damaging to boys who are separated from their fathers, which is a recipe for low self-confidence and low self-esteem. A recipe for emotionally immature adult men. I don't say that as a putdown. If a boy doesn't get the kind of male mentoring he needs in childhood, natural male affection and attention, role-modeling and "bonding", that's psychologically harmful and leaves him emotionally vulnerable. 

There are different responses to that. Some men overcompensate by cultivating ostentatious machismo, while other boys may be very introverted and unsure of themselves. (Of course, some boys are natural introverts. That's fine.)

3. Apropos (2), it's natural to use your formative years as a frame of reference. To some extent, all of us use our childhood as a yardstick, for better or worse (depending on the kind of childhood we had). However, that can be taken too far. It's literally childish to be a slave to your childhood. 

Personal experience shouldn't be your only yardstick for judging truth-claims. Most of what we know or believe is based on secondhand information. We don't generally evaluate scientific or historical claims based on personal experience, yet when it comes to religion, so many people treat their personal experience as the definitive standard of comparison. But it's irrational to act as though what happened to you, as one individual at a particular time and place in human history, is a representative sample. 

4. He was stuck in a rut. He kept waiting for God to give him a tangible experience. Kept "listening". What did he expect to hear? He wanted to be "in a relationship" with Jesus. 

But frankly, that's just folk theology. While God gives some people a tangible experience, there's no promise that God will do so. That's why it's important to have a Christian faith grounded in objective evidence. Because he didn't have that to fall back on, he lost his faith. 

5. In fairness, professing Christians can be disappointed by God's silence. By God's apparent absence. That's a common refrain in OT prophets and psalmists. It's psychologically understandable to feel that "I didn't push God away–he pushed me away!" I can relate to that personally. 

The fact remains, though, that you need to cultivate an evidence-based faith. And you need to have an unsentimental understanding of what atheism represents. It's wonderful to have a sense of God's providence in your life. Some believers have that. Some unbelievers have that–which is catalyst to conversion. But that's not something you can count on. 

6. Finally, he suffers from an inadequate grasp of experience. Suppose I'm in a museum room containing paintings by da Vinci. Suppose I exclaim, "But where's da Vinci?"

Well, in one sense, da Vinci isn't there. He's not personally present. He doesn't coexist with you. He's not in the same place. 

But in another sense, da Vinci is all around me. I'm surrounded by da Vinci. He's in his paintings. Look at his paintings. You will find him  in his paintings. The paintings are visible representations of his invisible mind. I can learn a lot about da Vinci just by viewing his artwork. 

Likewise, I experience C. S. Lewis by reading The Space Trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia, Collected Letters, A Grief Observed, &c. In fact, I can learn a lot more about Lewis by reading him than I can if I met him face-to-face. If Lewis and I had lunch, if we went for an afternoon walk, that would scratch the surface. 

For that matter, I can learn a lot more about Jesus by reading the NT than I could if Jesus appeared to me. A momentary Christophany would be very inspirational, but not very informative. 

The Quest

Recently I read The Quest: Exploring Creation's Hardest Problems (Compass Classroom 2018), by Dr. Todd Wood. He's an interesting thinker. Something of a maverick. One of the brightest minds in young-earth creationism. In a way he's too smart for his own good, which will get you into trouble. I don't mean that as a putdown. Independent thinkers don't make good team-players.

It can take heroic dedication and personal sacrifice to be a creation scientist. While there's a strong theological constituency for that position, it doesn't translate into comparable financial patronage. Unless you're one of the lucky ones who lands a job at a fundamentalist university or creationist organization, it's hard to eke out a living–as Wood and Kurt Wise both know from personal experience. 

Years ago I corresponded with Walt Brown, which made me aware of rival factions within young-earth creationism. That also makes it harder to have a career as a creation scientist. And not just young-earth creationism. Look what William Dembski was subjected to. 

Sunday, January 06, 2019

"The holiness of beauty"

Some converts are drawn to Catholicism for aesthetic reasons. And I can understand that if you were raised in an aesthetically drab Protestant tradition, how that might have a siren-like appeal. 

Artistically I'm high church but theologically I'm low church. And there's no tension between them. 

To begin with, people who are overawed by Catholic aesthetics are cherry-picking the best examples. But there's lots of ugly Catholic churches with mediocre music. 

In addition, there's a difference between impressive architecture and good taste. Impressive can simply be ostentatious. I suspect many people who are drawn to Catholicism for artistic reasons are undiscriminating in their taste. They just go for the wow effect. 

On the musical side of things, I grew up with classical music, so I never felt religiously deprived in that respect. I didn't need to get it in church. And the best recordings are generally superior to all but the cream of what most churches can provide. Moreover, the greatest Protestant music (Anglican, Lutheran) is at least the equal of the greatest Catholic music. Likewise, there's great Anglican devotional poetry. 

Just as Catholicism has some overwhelming religious architecture, so does Islam. When I was in Istanbul, I went to Santa Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Great religious architecture doesn't single out Catholicism. Even if architecture is your criterion, that doesn't select for Catholicism in particular. The finest mosques rival the finest Catholic architecture. Likewise, there are some stupendous Buddhist temples. 

Another problem is that Catholicism is like those magnificently carved marble sarcophagi. Impressive on the outside but what's on the inside? 

Consider the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. That's an example of what taste and wealth can produce. Yet last Christmas, disgraced Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated Mass there. 

So it's, at best, like a shell that's shapely and decorous on the outside, but morally and spiritually rotten or empty on the inside. Splendid architecture is just inanimate stuff. Stone. Glass. Candles. Shiny metal. Has nothing to do with God's presence. 

The worlds of spirits

In the year of his death, Richard Baxter, a preeminent Puritan, published The Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits. As he explains:

When God first awakened me, to think with preparing seriousness of my condition after death, I had not any observed doubts of the reality of spirits, or the immortality of the soul, or the truth of the gospel…But when God had given me peace of conscience, Satan assaulted me with those worse temptations…I still saw that to be an atheist was to be mad. But I found that my faith of supernatural revelation must be more than a believing man, and that if it had not a firm foundation and rooting, even sure evidence of verity, surely apprehended, it was not like to do those great works that faith had to do, and to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to make my death to be safe and comfortable. Therefore I found that all confirming helps were useful…And finding that almost all the atheists, Sadducces and infidels, did seem to profess, that were they but sure of the reality of the apparitions and operations of spirits, it would cure them, I thought this the most fruitable helped for them...  (Preface).

I confess, very many cheats of pretended possessions have been discovered, which hath made some weak, injudicious men think that all are such. Two sorts of persons have oft been found deceivers: (i) persons prepared and trained up purposely by Papist priests to honor their exorcisms; (ii) Lustful, rank girls and young widows, that plot for some amorous, precacious design, or have imaginations conquered by lust. 

Tis hard to know by their words or signs when it is a devil, and when a human soul that appeareth…we are not fully certain whether these aerial regions have not a third sort of wights, that are neither angels (good or fall) nor souls of men, but those called fairies and goblins… (chap. 1).

It's a mixed bag. I think a few of his examples are just ecclesiastical legends (e.g. incubi and succubi, blood-sucking imps, the devil's familiars). Some may reflect ignorance of botany which undergoes legendary embellishment (e.g. Glastonbury thorn).

Likewise, the primitive state of 17C medicine invites misdiagnosis in some cases. And some folk medical treatments aggravate the condition. For instance, some cases might have a natural explanation (e.g. gallstones, kidney stones). By the same token, some people might have undiagnosable conditions, by 17C standards, that result in mental illness. 

He cites reports of grain falling from the sky (chap 10). Perhaps that has a natural explanation. 

They don't understand the nature of lightning. He also mentions a case of ball-lightning (chap. 8). From what I've read, that remains a mysterious phenomenon.  

He mentions the case of a maid who was hexed by having a pin thrust in her thigh. It's well-documented, and more examples like that might demonstrate malicious spells, but he only gives one example. 

He mentions a few cases of xenoglossy. That would be evidence for spirit-possession, but his examples aren't well-documented. 

More impressive are cases of people spitting up pins, needles, knives, shards of glass. There may be natural explanations why some people are motivated to swallow sharp objections. In some cases it might be staged, although that's a very hazardous hoax. And there are ways to detect imposture.

What's harder to explain naturalistically is how they could swallow and cough up such objects without incurring fatal internal bleeding. And these aren't single incidents, but repeated. 

Likewise, objects levitating and flying in a room have no natural explanation. 

I find his collection of anecdotes is quite uneven. That reflects his limited access to relevant reports. I think modern scientific knowledge renders some of his examples dubious. Conversely, modern science and telecommunications cast a far wider net, so the available evidence for miracles and occult phenomena is much greater than Baxter had at his disposal. 

With those caveats in mind, I'll quote what struck me as the more uncanny examples: