Saturday, June 01, 2019

Heavenly hospital

30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:30-32).

One of the ironies of life in a fallen world is that many people who have the greatest need to fear damnation are religiously hostile, indifferent, or presumptuous–while many people who fear damnation have the least need to fear it because they are pious to the point of painful scrupulosity. 

There is a grain of truth to fear of damnation within the church. There's the danger of dead formalism. Nominal, token piety. Likewise, the danger of spiritual presumption. We must guard against those spiritual pifalls. Too many people think they are too good to go to hell. 

On the other hand, biblical threats of eschatological punishment are directed, not at Christians who struggle with sin and self-doubt, but at insolent, defiant sinners–both inside and outside the covenant community. 

Just as there are people who assume they are too good to go to hell, there are Christians who can't shake the feeling that they just aren't good enough to go to heaven. They are too impure.

Christians of that disposition need to make a habit of reminding themselves, from day to day, that Christianity is a religion for the sick, not the sound. A religion for diseased souls. Becoming a Christian doesn't make us healthy. In this life, we undergo spiritual treatment rather than a cure. We are only healed in the world to come. As Christians, we are chronically ill. That continues right up to the deathbed. 

It's like patients who suffer from an illness that's treatable but incurable. Treatment provides a degree of symptom relief, and it may prevent the disease from becoming terminal, but the underlying illness remains. A maintenance program. We are under the lifelong care of our Physician. In this life we never cease to need Jesus as our Physician. 

Melvyn Willin's Book On Enfield Is Out

Melvyn Willin's book on the Enfield Poltergeist is now available. I've posted a brief review on the Amazon page just linked. The book mentions me a few times, and there are some references to Triablogue.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

Back in 1960, Eugene Wigner published a famous essay by that title. Christian apologists of a certain bent (e.g. Alvin Plantinga) appeal to this phenomenon as an argument for God's existence. For mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, the mathematical structure of the physical universe is a concrete exemplification of an abstract domain that exists outside the universe. Although Penrose is agnostic, you can see the theistic potential in that admission. Here's a recent book that provides more supporting material for that line of argument.

And here's the interview with Witten.

It's ironic that this is coming from physicists who are atheistic or agnostic. In that regard it parallels the hard problem of consciousness by secular philosophers of mind whose default position is physicalism, but acknowledge that physicalism is inadequate to account for the nature of consciousness.

Is God a tempter?

This is a sequel to a more detailed post:

1. Jas 1:13 is an Arminian prooftext (I'm using "Arminian" as a synecdoche for freewill theism in general). One problem is that Scripture contains many examples of God "tempting" or "testing" individuals, so there's the question of how to harmonize Jas 1:13 with other passes of Scripture that say the opposite. In this respect, the Arminian appeal to Jas 1:13 is like the Catholic appeal to Jas 2:24 to negate sola fide, as if Jas 2:24 simply overrides the Pauline doctrine of justification, and there's no obligation to harmonize the two.

2. In commentaries, the discussion often centers on the best way to render the Greek or Hebrew word. Is it "test" or "tempt"? However, that's very superficial. The fundamental issue isn't semantic but psychological. It's not about the meaning of the word but the kind of situation God sometimes puts people in. Likewise, how God is said to mess with some people's minds. For instance:

2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen 22:2).

you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut 13:3).

21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua (Judges 2:21-23).

Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will lay before this people stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble; fathers and sons together, neighbor and friend shall perish’ (Jer 6:21).

30 But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day (Deut 2:30). 

9 And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel (Ezk 14:9).

3. Certainly these passages are prima facie consistent with Calvinism. Why think James has a different, or indeed, contrary understanding? I sometimes wonder how many Arminians have read the OT. 

4. Then there's the question of how freewill theism is consistent with passages like these. An Arminian might say that while there's a sense in which God tempts/tests people, he doesn't do so in the unacceptable Calvinistic sense. He never tempts/tests them in a "causal" or "deterministic" sense. When he tempts/tests them, he leaves their libertarian freedom intact. They retain their ability to resist temptation. There are, however, some basic problems with that explanation:

i) The texts I cited (and that's just a sample) don't have those qualifications. So that's not an exegetical explanation. Rather, that's superimposed on the text. 

ii) Not only do they lack those qualifications, but what some of them say is diametrically opposed to that. Take Deut 2:20. In that passage, God does something to the agent to ensure a particular outcome. Sihon is not at liberty to act contrary to how God acted on him. That would defeat the aim of God's action. Same with Pharaoh (Exod 4:21; 7:3).

iii) Likewise, take the hapless false prophet (Ezk 14:9). If God has deceived him, what power can overrule God? Or 1 Kgs 22:19-23. Ahab is doomed.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

We Are All Philosophers: A Christian Introduction to Seven Fundamental Questions

Should be a good book for seekers, pastors, and laymen alike:

In We Are All Philosophers, John M. Frame takes seven major questions of philosophy and compares the Bible's answers with common philosophical ones:
  • What is everything made of?
  • Do I have free will?
  • Can I know the world?
  • Does God exist?
  • How shall I live?
  • What are my rights?
  • How can I be saved?

Abortion's false dichotomy

It is only in the modern West, that, in order to circumvent the biblical reverence for life for the sake of our own convenience, we have created the wholly artificial distinction between the life of a born child and the life of an unborn child. J. Oswalt, Exodus (Tydale House 2008), 459. 

Don't bring a knife to a gun fight

When evidentialist bloggers and apologists attack presuppositionalism, I sometimes see well-meaning people tell them that they should just watch or interview Jeff Durbin or Sye Ten Bruggencate. Now, I've already had my say about the Syeclones. Regarding Durbin:

i) My knowledge of Durbin is admittedly quite cursory. It's my impression that his constituency overlaps with the ill-fated Mark Driscoll. In a way he's the successor to Driscoll, but without Driscoll's inner demons. Due to his martial arts background, Durbin can reach a demographic group that's less accessible to starchy preachers and apologists. 

ii) That said, Christian apologetics is not about handing out participation awards. There's no substitute for winning the argument. I appreciate Durbin's ministry, but from what I can tell, he'd be no match against atheists like Graham Oppy, Elliott Sober, or Erik Wielenberg (to name a few).

iii) His fans might complain that my standards are elitist. But there's a necessarily niche for elitism in apologetics. Although we know from 1 Cor 1-3 that high IQ doesn't get you to heaven, high IQ is a great advantage in apologetics, since there are super smart unbelievers. It's important to have Christians who can operate at the same level as the intellectual competition. We need folks on our side who can beat secular philosophers, Bible scholars, and scientists at their own game. That doesn't mean every Christian apologist, or even most, have to be at the top of the Bell curve, but we're in trouble if we don't some who can engage the best the opposition has to offer. That's why I plug Reformed apologists like James Anderson, Vern Poythress, and Greg Welty. That's why I go outside the Reformed stable to plug philosophers, scholars, and scientists who aren't Reformed, but can outargue their secular (or Muslim, or Mormon) opponents. If you get into the octagon with an opponent well above your weight class, you're likely to be pounded into the ground. 

Abortion & eugenics

"Abortion & Eugenics" by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Roundup on presuppositionalism

One thing I notice when it comes assessing the merits of presuppositionalism is that lots of folks aren't picking the best examples that presuppositionalism has to offer. 

1. Van Til

One thing critics frequently fail to make allowance for is that Van Til delegated the defense of Scripture to his colleagues in the NT dept. (Ned Stonehouse) and OT dept. (E. Y. Young). He was a philosophical thinker who played to his own strength and specialty. 

2. Vern Poythress

He's the prolific polymath at WTS. Most of his books are available for free:

Many of his books have a presuppositional underpinning, but that's more explicit and pervasive on particular topics, viz.

There are a couple of limitations to his apologetic:

i) His books are generally written for a popular audience (his monograph on logic is an exception), so he holds a lot in reserve.

ii) I'd say he has a certain antipathy to philosophical theology and modal metaphysics. From his perspective, it's too rationalistic, failing to honor divine transcendence and incomprehensibility. He's a critic of univocal God-talk. Those scruples inhibit his opportunities to justify or provide detailed models of how Christian theism grounds reality. 

3. James Anderson

It's sometimes difficult to separate the work of James Anderson from Greg Welty, because they collaborate (esp. on modal metaphysics). One of his early writings combined insights from Plantinga and Van Til on Christian epistemology:

Anderson has explicated and defended theistic conceptual realism in his own writings: 

In addition to technical writing, he writes at a popular level:

4. Greg Welty

Finally, there's his sometime collaborator Greg Welty. Welty is too eclectic to be a presuppositionalist. However, his work on theistic conceptual realism is a way to cash out the transcendental argument for God. In that regard, the work of Welty and Anderson represents a shift in emphasis from epistemology to modal metaphysics in presuppositional apologetics. I may have had something to do with that. When Welty was a post-grad student at Oxford, I encouraged him to pick a thesis/dissertation topic on modal metaphysics rather than epistemology because I thought (and still think) that's more fundamental and interesting than epistemology. Representative examples include:

“Theistic Conceptual Realism,” ch. 3 of Paul Gould (ed.), Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract Objects (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014).

Welty's position continues to evolve. He recently participated at this event:

Read paper: “A Response to William Lane Craig’s God Over All: Divine Aseity and the Challenge of Platonism,” at the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division 2019 Annual Meeting (January 9 th). This ‘Author Meets Critics’ session also included a response to Craig from Peter van Inwagen, and a reply to both papers by William Lane Craig.

And he has another contribution in the pipeline which I expect will continue to develop and refine theistic conceptual realism:

“The Conceptualist Argument,” in Colin Ruloff (ed.), Contemporary Arguments in Natural Theology (Bloomsbury Press, forthcoming).

In taking stock of the fortunes of presuppositionalism, the contributions of Anderson, Welty, and Poythress represent the go-to material. I'd add that Paul Manata is a behind-the-scenes consultant on these projects as well. 

Still Not Living in a Computer Simulation

God is my copilot

Children of the night

Anton was a pious young man studying to be an Anglican priest, but in seminary he began to develop alarming symptoms. After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with MS. Anton was devastated by the news. He felt somewhat bitter, as if God betrayed him. Here he was planning to devote his life to God. There was also some fear of premature death. More disconcerting was the apprehension that he'd never have a wife and kids. Indeed, he told his girlfriend to look for someone else. But what really left him distraught was the prospect of losing control of his body and his mind slipping away. It filled him with panic.

There were rumors of a vampiric serial killer terrorizing the city. Victims were exsanguinated. Authorities figured it was just a psychopath imitating a vampire, but Anton sought out the killer just in case he was a real vampire. Anton was desperately hoping that the vampire, if that's what he was, would cure him of MS by turning him. So he spent many nights pacing dark alleys and deserted sidewalks, hunting for the vampire. Then one night he discovered the vampire-or was it the vampire discovered him? He was terrified to encounter it face-to-face.

He didn't remember much about the actual transformation. It was like a delirious trance. When he regained full consciousness, like emerging from a coma, the MS was gone. Indeed, his original body was gone.

Contrary to urban legend, the vampiric body wasn't like a fresh corpse. It wasn't even a human body. It was ectoplasmic rather than protoplasmic-a simulacrum of a human body.

Although there was a fleeting sense of relief that his plan succeeded, the cost of his solution dawned on him by stages. A darkness entered his soul. A shadow self.

Becoming a vampire sealed his damnation, but as an immortal, damnation is a long ways off. That was a distant forboding. At first the cost was more immediate. He'd have to break off connections with his parents and siblings. He couldn't very well remain ageless while they aged. And he couldn't very well explain to them what he had become. He had become a monster.

His body was nearly impervious to harm, but that had a price. His body was impotent and insensate. He had no sense of touch. He couldn't father children. Insensible to cold, immune to pain, but by the same token, insensible to physical or sensual pleasure. His body was just a shell for his darkened soul. He wasn't quite alive or dead. As he discovered, the vampiric body didn't need to feed on blood to survive or remain youthful. The bloodlust was a divine curse.

Over the decades he moved from town to town. Rather than prey on the innocent, he became an avenger of blood, picking off violent criminals-who were in plentiful supply. Muggers, murderers, rapists. Homicide detectives chalked it up to a vigilante, but because he could materialize or dematerialize at will, it was impossible for them to catch him.

The only hazard to his body was sunlight, not because it had any natural effect on his body, but a spiritual effect. Another divine curse.

Yet he missed sunlight. He feared it and craved it. An enticing but fatal emblem of all he lost. He used to attend an evensong service to bask in the candlelight. It gave him a sense of connection with the life he put behind him.

In the daytime he hid in the crypt. He came out at twilight, morning and evening, to gaze at the dim sunlight filtered through the stained-glass windows, before it became too bright or faded. That's as close as he could get to daylight. It filled him with aching regret. He wept each time for the few fleeting moments he could glimpse the sunlight behind the stained-glass windows.

Even then he had to stay in the shadows to avoid direct contact with beams of light. One time he lingered too long, transfixed by the dawning light. It burned his eyes out. The pain was indescribable, but being a vampire, his eyes regenerated.

Homilies by progressive theologians amused him. They ridiculed the supernatural as backward superstition while, unbeknownst to them, they were preaching to a dangerous supernatural being. He toyed with them. He took mordant delight in turning their dreams into nightmares. Appearing in their dreams as the monster he was, hunting them down.

As his existence became increasingly unbearable, he began to wonder if God might forgive a vampire. Could a child of the night become a child of the light? The thought haunted him with hope and terror. If he renounced his condition, if he died a penitent vampire, what awaited him? Would he go to hell? Or would he slough off the monster, shed the shadow, and become human again?

Finally, he recited a confession from the prayer book, went outside at night and sat down in the church graveyard, facing east, waiting for the dawn. Would he at least be free-or doomed for eternity? An hour later the horizon began to lighten and brighten. It burned his eyes out. Was this a harbinger of hellfire or refining fire? It was too late to turn back.

When the groundkeeper came by that afternoon, he saw the scorched outline of a body on the grass. An outline in the shape of a cross.

Never see the light of day

Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? (Job 3:16).

his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light (Ps 49:19).

He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light (Job 33:28). 

This continues my ongoing fascination with the light motif in Scripture, and the significance of light for folks who lived prior to the advent of artificial lighting. This reinforces the link in Gen 1 between the creation of light and the creation of life. Sunlight, albeit literal, becomes a symbol of earthly, embodied existence and experience. To be fully alive is to participate in daylight. 

A couple of passages trade on the popular adage that death is a one-way trip, using night as a metaphor for death and sunlight as a metaphor for life. These occur in poetic passages. 

Another passage describes miscarriage in terms of dying before one ever sees the light of day. Very poignant. From a theological perspective, if God saves at least some babies who die from spontaneous or induced abortion, they won't see daylight, but heavenly light. And at the resurrection of the just, they will finally see the light of day. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

10 days till heaven

Jon Tilson passed away 10 days later. His daughter Sarah Phillips writes more about him in "How cancer healed my dad".

The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah

John Barry's The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah (Biblica/Paternoster 2010) is an important and, from what I can tell, neglected monograph on Isa 52-53, with special emphasis on messiah's resurrection. Although I don't agree with the entirely of his argument, he makes a strong case for the primary thesis. I'll quote some representative excerpts. These are backed up by detailed supporting arguments that I won't be quoting. (For that, you have to read the book!)

Isa 49:5 distinguishes between Israel and the servant: "And now Yahweh says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my refuge". Here Jacob and Israel (which may be synonyms) and the servant are separate figures…In Isa 49:5-6, Jacob and Israel are being gathered by the servant, raised up by him, and restored by him. The juxtaposition of Israel and Judah against the servant suggests that we should understand Isa 49:3's line, "You are Israel my servant," as an annunciation of a new servant, who will fulfill all or part of Israel's role.

It should be mentioned that the majority of times this inflected form of "guilt offering" is used in the Hebrew Bible it evokes the priestly sense of an offering (e.g. Ezk 40:39; 43:13; 44:29; 46:20) and even atonement (e.g., Lev 5-7; and Num 5:8). If Isa 53:10 is placed within a priestly context, as it seems it should be based on this analysis, we may be able to even assert, once again, that the servant's act has atoning affects [effects?]. In other words, as once thought, he may be a vicarious sufferer….In summary, the cultic idea of "sprinkling" in 52:15 and possibly Zion/Jerusalem being the group that makes sacrifice suggests that the events in 53:10 should be understood particularly in light of the cultic and priestly spheres. This presents the option that the servant could be both priest (Isa 52:15) and offering (53:10)…

Isa 53:10c also states that the servant will "prolong days"…It is difficult to determine which of these ideas is being referenced in Isa 53;10, but no matter which specific idea is being referenced it is clear from this examination that the servant will life a long life after he is made a guilt offering. 

Isa  53:11a also emphasizes the servant's postmortem life when it says, "out of trouble (anguish labor, or toil) of his life [the servant] will see [light]…It will be argued in chapter three that.. the most probable Urtext says that the servant "will see light." Every instance in which "light" follows "to see" in the Hebrew Bible…is a reference to something that occurs in life…Ps 49:20 (49:19 in English) uses the same metaphor to illustrate the opposite concept (death) when it speaks of people who "go to the company of their ancestors, who will never see the light". Likewise, Job says in Job 3:16, "why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light?" At the end of the book, Job rejoices by saying the opposite–God has kept "my soul from going down to the Pit, and my life shall look upon light [33:28]…Thus, the "light" variant is a very clear reference to the servant's resurrection. 

In Isa 53:1 and 12 some of the language evokes war imagery…Isa 53:1 sets up the way that "Yahweh's arm" appears or is revealed. The phrase "Yahweh's arm" is used in Exod 15:16 to describe Yahweh's victory over the Egyptians and his future victories over Edom, Moab and Canaan…Yahweh's arm is spoken about in descriptions of the Exodus event (e.g., Exod 6:6; Deut 26:8; 2 Kgs 17:36); and the same imagery is evoked to describe Yahweh's plan to be victorious in the battle against other gods for his people (Deut 4:34)….In light of passages like these, it is clear that "Yahweh's arm" would have evoked images of him battling for his people. Thus, the one through whom his arm is revealed would be viewed as Yahweh's divine warrior in battle. 

In Isa 53:12, the prophet states: "with [the] strong ones [the servant] shall divide bounty, because he exposed his life to death and was counted with the transgressors, and…carried the sin of many and will intercede for transgressors." Every time "divide" and "bounty" are coupled together, there is an actual or hypothetical bounty from a battle being divided (e.g., Gen 49:27; Exod 15:9; Josh 22:8; Judg 5:30; Zech 14:1; cf. Ps 68:13; Prov 16:19). The servant is likely being given the bounty of the people's reconciled relationship with Yahweh–the idea being that he shares in it. This war is not only Yahweh's but is also the servant's–they are battling together for God's people and God's land. 

It has been demonstrated in this book that the "he will see light" or "he will show him light" variant in the DSS and the LXX, respectively, in Isa 53:11 is the most probable Urtext. It has been suggested that this variant is a sign that the servant experiences postmortem life, though it is not the only sign.  

After a long battle as Yahweh's warrior, the servant vicariously suffers and dies (53:10a). He is then resurrected (53:10b). In his long postmortem life, he sees how his death as a guilt offering carried the sin of his offspring, restoring them to their land (possibly), and witnesses their relationship with Yahweh subsequently reconciled (53:10-12). The servant is a warrior for Yahweh, a bringer of righteousness to many (53:11b), and an intercessor. In this regard, after the servant has seen light (life again)… Ibid. 32, 65, 69-72,139-41, 144.

The deity of Christ in Galatians

[Gal 1:1] That Paul did not receive his commission from mere human beings (lit., from a human) but through Jesus Christ and God the Father (1:1) suggests that Paul understands Jesus as more than human (though Paul does not deny Jesus's humanity; 4:4). Both earlier and more recent commentators offer this observation.) That Paul assumes a shared understanding with his audience that Jesus is somehow divine appears in his letters' opening greetings…[v3] Prayers or wishes for a recipient's well-being were extremely common in ancient letters (e.g., 3 Jn 2). What is striking is the deity whom Paul and other early Christian writers invoke in these blessings: God, our Father, and the Lord, Jesus Christ (Gal 1:3). They regularly invoke Jesus as divine alongside the Father in a way that other works invoked deities such as Serapis. The praise certain fits Paul's Christology (e.g. 1 Cor 8:6, where "God" and "Lord" echo the Shema; Phil 2:6-11). C. Keener, Galatians (Baker 20:19), 50, 52-53. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Death Star

Brief exchange I had on Facebook:

What’s the point of “engaging” with Mormons and evangelize your beliefs when your god has already elected those who are going to heaven? No amount of influence from Christians will change who is elected and who is not, right?

In Calvinism, God hasn't elected anyone to salvation apart from regeneration and faith, but through regeneration and faith. Election isn't isolated from other things which God foreordained as a necessary component to achieve the outcome. Your objection is like saying that if, according to the script, Luke Skywalker will escape the Death Star before it explodes, then he needn't leave the Death Star to survive. Yet the script doesn't merely predetermine that he will escape the exploding Death Star, but specifies how he will escape. He won't avoid the fatal outcome if he remains onboard.

Trash collector

why is "don't have sex if you're not ready to have a baby" only said to women and never to men"

That's a comment I recently ran across. I expect it epitomizes why many women support abortion. They don't want to be single mothers, so they want to have abortion as an ejection seat. 

There's a certain irony in girls who are part of the hook-up culture, then complain about the quality of the boys they meet. Get a clue. You are the magnet. In a hookup culture, the quality of the boys reciprocates the quality of the girls and vice versa. Trashy boys attract trashy girls while trashy girls attract trashy boys. 

The guys in your social circle mirror your own values. Promiscuous women select for promiscuous men and vice versa. Self-fulfilling behavior.  If you go fishing in the hookup culture, that selects for your experience. 

The World Would Celebrate if a Fetus with a Heartbeat Was Found on Another Planet

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Claiming to be God

If Jesus is God Incarnate, the best way to establish his true identity isn't so much for him to claim that directly. Mind you, there's some value is saying that. It's important for folks to be aware that that claim is on the table. But by itself, the claim isn't compelling. Any madman or conman can claim to be God. The claimant may be a deceiver or self-deceived.

More important than saying that he is God Incarnate is showing that he is God Incarnate. Actions that reveal superhuman ability. Actions that illustrate unique divine prerogatives. Actions that invite direct comparison with God. 

In principle, an agent could still do all that but not be God Incarnate. If, however, he's not the Deity, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, then it's up to the true God, if he wishes to protect his reputation, to eliminate the rival. Especially if, absent divine intervention, the impostor becomes the founder of the world's larger, most influential religion. Especially if, absent divine intervention, the impostor is doing things indistinguishable from God.  

Under those circumstances, how is anyone able to distinguish the true faith from the counterfeit? God loses his claim to human allegiance if it's not possible to differentiate the true God from the impostor.