Saturday, June 15, 2019

What's the goal of the prolife movement?

1. I'm on what's conventionally labeled the "incrementalist" side of the prolife movement (in contrast to abolitionists). However, I don't think casting the issue in terms of incrementalism v. immediatism is the best way to frame the issue. 

As I understand it, the usual claim is that incrementalists share the same goal as abolitionists. Both sides aim to eliminate abortion entirely. But they differ on strategy and tactics. 

2. I think incrementalists take this position in part because they are put on the defensive by abolitionists. Imagine if the incrementalist said, "As a matter of fact, eliminating abortion entirely is not my goal". 

i) Is that a damning thing to say? Well, that depends. The statement is ambiguous. It could be taken to mean I don't think we should eliminate abortion in toto. In general, that would be a morally deficient position–although even most hardline prolifers make some exceptions (e.g. ectopic pregnancies). 

ii) However, we need to distinguish between goals and ideals. A prolifer might say eliminating abortion in toto is the ideal, but not the goal, because that's an unattainable goal. Is that a scandalous thing to say?

Suppose a doctor has a patient in the early stages of MS. Is it the doctor's goal to cure the patient? No, because he doesn't have a cure for MS. Imagine if the patient became irate: "What kind of doctor are you that it's not your goal to cure me!" But that's no fault of the doctor. It's not his goal to cure the patient because he's in no position to cure the patient. It can be the goal of a medical researcher to find a cure for MS, but not the average physician. 

3. That said, there can be value in having ambitious goals. One rationale for having ambitious goals is that if you aim higher, then even if you fall short of your goal, you may come closer to the goal that if you lowered your expectations. 

Take an Olympic athlete who thinks he has a shot at winning a gold medal or breaking a record. He may push himself harder, and have a better chance of success, by aiming higher.

Or take an underdog sports team that's up against the best team in the league. The opposing team is undefeated. So the odds are stacked against the underdog team.

If the underdog team goes into the game with a defeatist attitude, that's a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. A defeatist attitude is self-defeating. It pretty much ensures failure.

If, however, the underdog team aims high, it might score a surprise upset. Perhaps the opposing team was overconfident. The opposing team didn't bring their best game to the competition because they thought they were unbeatable.

4. However, it really depends on the examples we use to illustrate the principle. It's easy to come up with counterexamples where an ambitious goal is foolhardy. Suppose your goal is to graduate from Harvard med school. Suppose you don't have the chops to compete with the cream of the crop. You are no match for your classmates. As a result, you wash out of Harvard med school with humongous student loan bills. 

Suppose, if you aimed lower, you could graduate from a perfectly reputable, but less prestigious med school. By aiming too high, you missed out on both. You flunked out of Harvard, and you blew the opportunity to become a physician by attending a less demanding med school.

In addition, some Harvard students commit suicide because they just can't cut it, and they are too ashamed to face their pushy, ambiguous, disappointed parents. 

To take another example, some competitive athletes suffer injuries at the gym. They push their body to the limit, hoping their body will adapt, but they push their body beyond the limit. They suffer injuries that require surgery. As a result, they may never get back to where they were before the injury.

And they weren't injured in the game. They didn't get to that point. This was conditioning to prepare themselves for the game, but as a result of the injury, they had to drop out.

So overly-ambitious goals are counterproductive. You don't end up with more. You end up with less–or nothing at all. Indeed, you may be worse off than when you started. 

5. One of my concerns with making the total elimination of abortion the goal is whether setting the goal there is the justification for opposing abortion at all. Does the warrant or rationale for saving babies depend on having as a goal the total elimination of abortion? Is it not worth the effort if that's an unattainable goal?

To take a comparison, historically, Christians have been in the vanguard of founding orphanages. Should the goal be to have enough orphanages to care for every abandoned child? Suppose we lack the resources for that laudable project. Imagine someone setting a quota or threshold: unless we can save all orphans, or 90%, we won't build any orphanages! Let them all die on the street!

Rather that stipulating an artificial goal, we should just do as much as we can. Saving babies isn't predicated on the prospects of winning, as if it's not worth the fight if you lose. You do the best you can. To revert to the illustration, if you can only save a fraction of abandoned children, that's heartbreaking, but it hardly means you throw in the towel and refuse to save the few you can.   

6. We should distinguish between targets and goals. Instead of having a utopian goal which may or may not be attainable, we should have targets. Not making the total elimination of abortion your goal doesn't mean you stop short even if you were making steady progress, and could achieve even more reductions in abortion. 

We don't know what the future holds. If you secure one target, you move onto the next target. One might say the elimination of abortion is the goal if it's possible to eliminate abortion. If it's not possible to eliminate abortion, then that's not the goal. There's no obligation to pursue or commit to impossible goals. A problem with a setting hard-n-fast goal is that we don't know in advance if that's attainable. 

7. Abolitionists accuse incrementalists of faithlessness, but there's no biblical promise that God will eliminate all or most evil during the church age. There's no biblical promise that God will eliminate murder during the church age. To some extent we find out what's possible by doing what we can.

Veggie tales

1. I'm not against vegetarianism or veganism per se, but I'm not against meat-eating either. However, humans are omnivorous. Ideally we should have a varied diet (e.g. lean meats, green leafy vegetables, Butterfinger cookie dough cheesecake bars fried in a vat of lard).

2. That said, some strict vegetarians and vegans act like they're morally superior to people who eat meat. They turn their personal choice into a moral crusade against people who aren't vegetarian or vegan. They become zealots for vegetarianism or veganism.

On that front, Tim Hsiao has defended eating meat. Speaking of Tim Hsiao, I just want to note it's hard not to appreciate his artful photos taken at fine dining institutions across the nation such as (to pick a random example or two) steakhouses and burger joints.

3. What's more, some strict vegetarians and vegans act like the medical science is on their side. That vegetarianism and/or veganism represent the side of the intellectual sophisticates. I've even heard some argue humans evolved to eat plants. That we're fundamentally herbivores. That sort of thing. It's usually at this point when I roll my eyes and order a hamburger: In-N-Out, give me your double-double please. On second thought, let's make it a 5x5. Thanks!

4. As far as the medical science goes, strict vegetarians and vegans can often suffer from nutritional deficiencies. For example, take vitamin B12 deficiency. That's one of the most common deficiencies in strict vegetarians and vegans.

a. Plants don't make B12. At best, some plants can absorb B12 like Venom absorbing Spider-Man, but that alone wouldn't be sufficient enough B12 for a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. Not unless we're talking about chowing down forests! (Save the animals or save the rainforests - a moral dilemma for vegheads?) The primary reason is because plants don't have the necessary enzymes for B12 synthesis.

b. B12 comes from animals and animal products. Meat, eggs, cheese, dairy, and the like.

c. If humans are fundamentally herbivores, then (to take one issue) why do humans lack the gastrointestinal fermentation processes which support the growth of B12 synthesizing microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, algae) when these are present in herbivores? Also, where's my extra stomach? (Ruminates the illusive ruminant.)

d. B12 is needed for the body to make DNA, red blood cells, nerves, among other things.

e. B12 deficiency can be pernicious. Strict vegetarians and vegans often don't realize they have B12 deficiency until it sneaks up on them after it already caused some damage (e.g. anemia, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, memory loss, losing the ability to keep veganism to yourself).

f. Hence strict vegetarians and vegans need to supplement their diet with B12 (among other things). Typically that comes in the form of higher doses of multi-vitamins with B12, foods fortified with B12, and/or weekly B12 injections. However, after age 50, give or take, it becomes more difficult for the body to absorb B12 through fortified foods.

5. Obtaining B12 (among other necessary nutrients) without eating meat or animal products is typically something a Westerner living in the comparatively affluent West can afford to do. You don't see too many people in developing nations who are vegans. And the ones who are vegans typically happen to be the ones who are likewise comparatively well-to-do in their own nations.

6. In fairness, some people overeat meat. (So says the guy who orders 5x5s at In-N-Out.) However, that's a separate issue.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Which side has the most to lose?

1. There's a perennial dispute between Christians and atheists, where each side thinks the other side has fundamentally mistaken priorities. Both sides think the other side suffers from an irredeemable lost opportunity. Atheists think Christians fritter away the only life they're going to get in their vain hope for a pipe dream that will never materialize. Given that there is no heaven, hell, resurrection, or world to come, the only rational course of action is to make the most of our one unrepeatable opportunity rather than wasting time lamenting our mortality. 

Conversely, Christians think atheists fritter away the opportunity to gain eternal bliss by clinging to this fleeting life. They think atheists suffer from a massive lack of perspective. Who's right?

2. On the one hand, it's hard to see what Christians have to lose even if they're mistaken. I say that for the sake of argument, not because I think there's a realistic possibility that they are mistaken. I'm just addressing the atheist viewpoint on their own terms. 

i) What exactly, are Christians missing out on? The cliche example is promiscuous sex. But bracketing morality, what's so great about promiscuous sex? Is promiscuous sex more fulfilling than monogamous sex? Was Hugh Hefner's life characterized by contentment and joy? Or was it more like drinking salt water, where you're more thirsty after you had a sip than before, and every time you have a sip, you're increasingly thirsty? The very fact that highly promiscuous men are so promiscuous is evidence that their sexual lifestyle is chronically unsatisfying.  

ii) Moreover, most guys never have the opportunities of a Hugh Hefner or Warren Beatty. Even if you'd like to sleep with every beautiful woman you see, that doesn't mean every beautiful woman would like to sleep with you. You must be able to bring something extra special to the table to have that kind of entree. The buy-in for a seat at that table is way above the pay grade of most lumpen. 

iii) In addition, isn't there something ridiculous about rampant promiscuity? If you could cover her face, could you tell the difference? Does the sex feel different from one babe to the next? Aren't they essentially interchangeable? 

iv) Furthermore, male sexual prowess declines with age. Erogenous zones become less sensitive. So that at a strictly sensual level, sex offers less and less. 

v) Finally, do atheists generally lead happier lives than Christians? Not that I can see. So it doesn't seem like a big sacrifice to be a Christian on that score.

vi) Admittedly, there are duties that atheists can shirk if. They can abandon an ailing family member if that crimps their style. But that means the appeal of atheism is nihilistic. 

3. On the other hand, having convinced themselves that this life is all you get, I think most atheists are impatient or irate at Christians who fixate on the meaning of life questions. What's the point of harping on how bad it is if that's the undeniable reality? There's nothing you can do about that.

But by cushioning themselves from the full implications of their position, by pushing that into the back of their minds, by refusing to allow the implications to become unbearable, they deny themselves the incentive to consider the possibility that atheism is false and Christianity is true. Because they don't push their own position to the limit, there's no overriding motivation to change course. They can muddle along because they never really take it to heart. They pull back to spare their feelings. The issue loses urgency because they sedated the pinched nerve of nihilism. 

Pacifism and abolitionism

It's been a while since I've commented on AHA, but as I noted in a recent Facebook discussion,  AHA has conflicting principles. The ultimate priority for abolitionists isn't to save babies but to preserve their imagined sense of moral purity. They regard incrementalism as ethically compromised. 

This means that when push come to shove, if the abolitionist strategy resulted in a thousandfold increase in abortions (or infanticides), abolitionists would continue to support it because their imagined sense of moral purity trumps saving babies. It's not about saving babies at all, but keeping their hands clean (as they define it). If incrementalism saved more babies than abolitionism, they'd opt for saving fewer babies or none at all, rather than saving more babies but getting dirt under their fingernails in the process. They will only save babies if they can keep their white gloves pristine. They sacrifice the lives of babies to preserve their puritanical scruples rather than sacrificing their puritanical scruples to save the lives of babies.

There's a direct parallel between pacifism and abolitionism. A pacifist deems it intrinsically wrong to take life to save life. He makes no distinction between the life of a murderer and the life of the murder victim. If he had a chance to shoot the sniper in the clock tower who's gunning down little kids in the park, he will let all the kids be shot to death because his priority isn't saving innocent lives but keeping his hands clean (as he defines it). He will dismiss arguments for the right of self-defense as "pragmatism," "consequentialism," "situation ethics," "moral relativism". He will categorically dismiss the lesser-evil principle or the end-justifies-the-means.

That's directly parallel to abolitionists, only their target isn't the right of self-defense, but incrementalism. Like the pacifist, they'd rather keep their hands clean (as they define it) than save innocent lives. 

Reforming Apologetics (Introduction)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall

i) One objection to a timeless Creator is that causes precede effects. But is that necessarily the case? For instance, when I stand in front of a mirror, I cause my reflection to move. But is there a temporal delay between my action and the corresponding image in the mirror? It appears to be simultaneous or instantaneous. 

Perhaps, from the standpoint of physics, there's an indetectable delay in the transmission of light from my body to the reflection. However, I'm not sure if that's the case. Given the speed of light compared to the distance between my body and the mirror, is there a measurable delay?

That raises the question of whether a light beam is a continuously dense stream. Is the transmission of light infinitely divisible into ever smaller intervals? By contrast, what if is light granular, so that below a certain scale or threshold, there are no intervals? This goes to the famous particle/wave duality in physics. Admittedly, in this example, cause and effect both take place in time, so it's not strictly analogous to a timeless Creator, but I'm just addressing the specific objection that causes necessarily precede their effects. 

ii) Parenthetically, this example illustrates the limitations of empiricism. Does the reflection cause me to move or do I cause the reflection to move? Does my shadow cause me to move or do I cause my shadow to move? We intuitively understand that there's a relation of asymmetrical dependence, but that's not given in the phenomenon of reflected motion. To judge by appearances, it might be symmetrical or it might be the case that my shadow causes me to move! 

Imagine a science fiction story in which the motion of the shadow or reflection is primary while your corresponding motion is secondary! You move because the image in the mirror made you move in his direction! The shadow makes you move in tandem with the shadow! 

iii) Although that's backwards in physical reality, there's a sense in which, in relation to predestination, I'm the man in the mirror. What I do is a direct reflection of God's plan. I'm the shadow cast by God's light. 

Codex and canon

i) On occasion I've discussed how ancient Greek MSS are a neglected evidence for the NT canon. Here's some documentation in that regard:

ii) Catholic apologists try to dilute this evidence by pointing out that a few MSS contain non-canonical books. But Dormandy explains how that's a misleading comparison. To begin with, it's a rare phenomenon. In addition, the noncanonical books are appended at the end, which differentiates them from the canonical books.

iii) Finally, the basic job of a scribe is to copy preexisting material. So these MSS provide evidence that books of the NT were already circulating in collections. It wasn't the scribe who combined these writings; rather, he copied multiple works onto the same MS because they were already grouped that way in the exemplar he transcribed. 

The great dictator

In The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin used two x's instead of a swastika to avoid getting demonetized on YouTube:

The Meg formula

I watched the movie The Meg on Netflix. I thought it was supposed to be campy, which might have made it fun, but it was mostly serious, which made it boring. Then it got worse. Midway through the film I started rooting for the megalodon shark to eat everyone. It was a bad movie, but not bad so it's good (e.g. Plan 9 from Outer Space). Just plain bad.

However, maybe my low opinion of the film is due to being American. By contrast, the movie was a success abroad. It seemed primarily catered to the mainland Chinese. It mainly takes place in a super hi-tech underwater research center off the coast of China. Shanghai as I recall. The main scientist in charge of the lab is Chinese. The main love interest is Chinese. She has a cute little daughter. China and the Chinese are positively depicted for the most part. It looks like The Meg made approximately $145 million domestically. Its production budget was $130 million so it would've been considered a commercial failure (making "only" $15 million) had it only been distributed domestically in the US. However, The Meg made approximately $385 million internationally. So its grand total was a little over $530 million. The largest percentage of any nation in the total looks to be mainland China ($153 million). Overall The Meg did quite well commercially, largely thanks to international audiences. (Source is Box Office Mojo.)

I guess it's no surprise, but many movies now seem to be made primarily with the international market in mind. Often the Asian and especially Chinese market. Another example is the Pacific Rim series of movies. I presume the main reason is because that's where all the money and potential money is. Of course, this makes sense from a business perspective. However, what happens if (say) an American film production's business collides in significant enough ways with American values? Or even undermines American values? Suppose it becomes quite lucrative for an American studio to film and distribute communist Chinese propaganda.

Of course, this has wider implications than the entertainment industry. For instance, consider how tech companies like Google and Apple try to do business in China. In the US, these big tech companies rail against all sorts of social injustices. However, in China, these same companies tolerate human rights violations and other ethical issues as the price of doing business in China. At what point does business stop becoming "just business"? Remember when Google's motto used to be "Don't be evil"?


1. Amanda Prestigiacomo writes:, the author revealed, will be a space where creators can monetize their work and users can engage in thoughtful debate without worrying about the ubiquitous Big Tech censorship plaguing conservative and right-of-center users on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Speaking to popular podcast host and comedian Joe Rogan last week, Peterson explained that Thinkspot’s terms of service will uphold free speech principles. “Once you’re on our platform, we won't take you down unless ordered to by a court of law,” he said.

The forthcoming platform, currently in beta testing, will be a subscription service where creators can monetize their work.

“We’re hoping we can really add dialogue to the podcast and YouTuber world,” explained Peterson. “We’re also gonna do the same things with books, so if you buy an e-book on the platform, you’ll be able to annotate publicly. ... We can do that with books that are in the public domain, too.”

“We’re hoping that we’ll be able to pull people who are interested in intelligent conversation, specifically, into this platform, maybe start pulling them away from YouTube and some of the less specialized channels — that, plus our anti-censorship stance,” he added.

2. I expect liberals and progressives to attack Thinkspot (if they haven't already) despite still being in beta. However, if so, then this might give Thinkspot more publicity. Just like how Jordan Peterson became a sensation.

3. I presume Thinkspot will seek to employ people who agree with their vision. Or at least who won't attempt to undermine their vision. That could create jobs for conservatives and the like-minded.

Thursday, June 13, 2019


i) Our system of gov't isn't a pure democracy but a Constitutional democracy (or republic, to be precise). We have a Bill of Rights. 

ii) Liberals routinely subvert the democratic process by resorting to judicial dictatorship. 

I was a teenage fundamentalist

There's a stereotypical kind of person who frequents the internet. They're like stock character in fiction (e.g. the wicked stepmother), only they really exist. I recently said to one of them: As I recall, you're one of those dime-a-dozen "I used to be a teenage fundamentalist" who then goes through the "angry young man" phase where he feels the need to tell everyone how he was snookered by those troglodytes, then breathlessly shares his unsolicited insights, which he acquired 15 minutes ago. Maybe in 20 years or so, if you outgrow your juvenile reactionary script, you'll have something useful to say, but forgive me if I don't see you the way you see yourself.

The quaternity argument

Call it the Quaternity Argument:

1. If something intentionally communicates using a human language, it is a self.
2. According to the Bible, God intentionally communicates using various human languages.
3. Therefore according to the Bible, God is a self. (1,2)
4. According to the Bible, God is the Trinity.
5. Therefore according to the Bible, the Trinity is a self. (3,4)
6. Each Person of the Trinity is a self.
7. None of these are numerically identical: Father, Son, Spirit, Trinity.
8. Each of these is divine: Father, Son, Spirit, Trinity.
9. Therefore, there are at least four divine selves. (5-8)

That's simple-minded. The Trinity isn't something over and above the three persons that communicates in distinction to the three persons. The Trinity just is the three persons. It isn't the Trinity communicating in contrast to the three persons–individually or in combination. The Trinity doesn't operate independent of the three persons. For a philosopher of religion whose specialty is the Trinity, Dale is hopelessly muddled-headed about the concept of the Trinity. He can't even grasp what the position represents. A hack philosopher. Call it the Dale is out of his depth argument. 

The demon-puppet objection

i) It's hard to make sense of Dale's analogy. Unless you're a physicalist, a body without a soul is a corpse. If a demon takes possession of a fresh corpse, then it's merely piloting a human body. The combination isn't a human being. But from the standpoint of a Cartesian dualist, a body without a soul isn't a human being anyway, whether or not the body happens to be co-opted by a demon. So the demon part of the analogy is superfluous. 

ii) At best the analogy would only apply to Apollinarian Christology. On that view, one could indeed say the Son is merely piloting a human body. The combination isn't a human nature. But so what? W. L. Craig excepted, most Christians reject Apollinarian Christology. 

iii) Of course, the Incarnation isn't supposed to be reducible to a human nature. That's a necessary but insufficient condition. The combination isn't supposed to be just a human nature, but a union of two natures. 

iv) So Dale then has to stipulate that the demon deactivates the soul. Okay, it's his thought-experiment, so he can tweak it however he pleases. If the soul is deactivated, then the demon is merely piloting a body. The combination isn't functionally human. But a body with a deactivated soul wouldn't be a human being anyway. Demonic possession doesn't add anything in that respect. 

v) More to the point, the Incarnation doesn't deactivate the soul. In the Incarnation, the soul is fully functional. A union of the Son with an intact soul and body. 

So his thought-experiment is hopelessly confused. Rather than illustrating the Incarnation, his thought-experiment illustrates Dale's intellectual impediments as a philosopher. He's just not up to the challenge. 

Missionary syndrome

Who is your favorite philosopher?

Cameron Bertuzzi at Capturing Christianity asks: who is your favorite philosopher?

Of course, one could name famous philosophers across the ages like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Peter Abelard, Leibniz, Descartes, Kant, Hume, Reid, Paley, Gosse, Nietzsche, Sartre, Wittgenstein.

Alternatively, one could name modern philosophers like Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, Bas van Fraassen, Richard Swinburne, Tim and Lydia McGrew, David Chalmers, John Searle, Thomas Nagel, Saul Kripke, Hilary Putnam, Graham Oppy, John Haldane, Peter Geach, Elizabeth Anscombe, Bertrand Russell, Alasdair Macintyre, Charles Taylor, David Oderberg, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, William Dembski, Doug Groothuis, Win Corduan, Greg Welty, James Anderson, Paul Manata, Tim Hsiao.

Perhaps some might even consider a place for "philosophers" like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, R.C. Sproul, Ravi Zacharias, James Sire, Dallas Willard, Peter Kreeft, Ayn Rand.

However, I'd like to take a different tack and name a philosopher that seems woefully underappreciated today. My favorite philosopher is the ancient Chinese sage Sum Tin Wong. Wong founded an influential school of Eastern philosophy that may not be well-esteemed among contemporary professional philosophers but that has a wide following in many regions of the world. For example, consider the tremendous influence of Wong's disciples who played Mencius to his Confucius: He He, Ai Bang Mai Ni, and No Khi Ding. Not to mention Wong's school has left us with a plethora of wit and wisdom such as "May you live in interesting times", "Snowflake in avalanche never feel responsible", "Lucky numbers 60, 2, 2140, 857, 10, 23", and "About time I get out of this cookie". In addition, many Westerners have been indirectly influenced by Wong. Consider the likes of Yogi Berra, Charles Barkley, your local bartender, and the masterminds behind the NYT best-sellers The Shack and The Secret.

My deep and abiding hope is more professional analytic philosophers will take Sum Tin Wong and his school of philosophy at least as seriously as they take continental philosophy.

China's "long march" to world hegemony

Hugh Hewitt interviews Victor Davis Hanson on China. The entire interview is interesting, but what follows below is an excerpt from sections I found to be informative. I don't necessarily agree with everything.

HEWITT: Well, you came to mind because of an extraordinary speech that was given on May 21 by President Xi Jinping of China. And he went to the geographic location of where the long march began 80-plus years ago, Jiangxi Province, and he told a cheering crowd, "now there is a new long march and we should make a new start." That's significant, I think, Dr. Hanson, and I wanted to go through with you today what the long march was, what happened in China during World War II, and where we are now as a result of both of those things. Let's start with the Long March...

HANSON: I think one thing to remember is that when he [Chinese President Xi] mentions the Long March where he was almost exterminated, Mao, and then subsequent we have a war that took 16 million, and then subsequently the Civil War, which took another 7 or 8 million, Xi is saying that we're victimized, we've all been counted out during the Long March, the war, the civil war second phase, and we're going to fight to the end.

And so I think that's the message. We should also remember it suggests to us that this myth that the Chinese Communist apparatus somehow liberalizing as it becomes wealthier and as trade becomes freer is not true. They still see themselves as hard Stalinists that have been picked on and victimized and will prevail against overwhelming odds.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Is 1 Cor 6:18 a Pauline statement or a Corinthian slogan?

The Provenance of Job

Scholars scratch their heads over the provenance of Job because the book has so few internal clues. It's hard to say when and where it was written. It's not even explicitly Jewish. And it's written in an obscure Hebrew dialect or cognate language. My Hebrew college prof., who later took a professorship at the university of Haifa, didn't even think it was written in Hebrew. 

My best guess is that it was written during the Solomonic era, with international trade as well as a brilliant royal court that attracted luminaries from neighboring countries. It may have been written by a God-fearer in a border state who came to know the God of Israel through contact with the Chosen People. 

However, that oversimplifies the issue. There's a further distinction to be had between the historical Job and the literary Job. Put another way, there's the provenance of the historical Job and then there's the provenance of the narrator.

Since, however, the book itself is so indefinite, let's consider a more speculative possibility. An unquestioned assumption is that OT books originate in the ancient Near East. And that's justified in nearly all cases. But Job is hard to pin down in time and place.

Strictly speaking, the only religious requirement is for the person of Job to worship the one true God. And that could be a rudimentary understanding of God, like Noah and the Patriarchs. He can't be a pagan polytheist and idolater. Likewise, the narrator must be at least as orthodox as the person of Job. And the narrator's theology might be more advanced or enlightened than the historical Job. All that depends on the scope of divine revelation–both in reference to the historical Job and the narrator. 

In principle, the historical Job might have resided in Australia, Tasmania, Borneo, Komodo Island, &c. He might have lived during the last Ice Age, perhaps in one of the warmer pockets of the globe. He might have been familiar with imposing, terrifying animals that are now extinct. On this hypothesis, the candidates needn't be confined to Middle Eastern fauna. Keep in mind that even on a more conventional provenance, there's a not inconsiderable element of literary license in the narration. 

The only issue would be how the narrator found about Job's life and ordeal. However, distances in time and space are no barrier to divine revelation. 

Now, that's not the first explanation I reach for. It would be exceptional for an OT book to have that provenance. Then again, the book of Job is something of an anomaly. 

The grammar of God

Is God a "he"? The phenomenon of divine masculinity runs much deeper in Scripture than pronouns. In Scripture, God assumes stereotypically manly roles. Defensive roles. Punitive roles. God as protector and provider (e.g. father, shepherd, deliverer, warrior king) as well as avenger (judge). These are social roles which in the ancient world are naturally and necessarily associated with overwhelming might. The physical power to subjugate adversaries. In addition, there's the procreative metaphor, which trades on the fact that the woman's role is more "receptive" in relation to the male contribution. 

Of course, mothers have a protective instinct regarding their kids. But women lack the natural equipment of a she-bear. The force to back it up came from male aggression, musculature, and weaponry. 

Moreover, these aren't primarily literary representations of God, although some of them are theological metaphors. Rather, these are ways in which God actually operates in human history.  

So divine masculinity in Scripture isn't primarily grammatical or rhetorical, but grounded in God's economic roles. The grammar and imagery are a reflection of that deeper reality. 

This does raise the issue of the extent to which God's economic roles mirror his essential nature. That's more a question for philosophical theology. 

But if we think the Bible accurately represents divine action in the world, then that's sufficient reason to retain predominantly masculine language, imagery, and metaphor in theological discourse and liturgy as normative usage. 

If you don't think that's the case, that's not a reason to substitute feminine or unisex alternatives. Rather, that's a reason to become an atheist. 

Revelatory regress

Once again, I'm going to comment on a post by Alex Malpass, an atheist with a doctorate in philosophy. 

Traditionally, it is held that there are two ways of gaining knowledge; either through the senses, or through the use of pure reason...Some presuppositional apologists try to have the best of both worlds, with a third type of epistemological category; revelation. 

False dichotomy. Revelation is a very traditional epistemological category. And not just biblical revelation. The heathen believe in various forms of revelation or divination: dreams from gods, apparitions of dead ancestors, &c. 

Critical care


Ben loved working as a newly minted critical care physician in the intensive care unit. This was his element. He was in total control.

He loved having among the most advanced medical technology available in the entire hospital at his fingertips. He loved the sights and sounds of his handheld ultrasound on color Doppler mode. He loved the steady flow of the mechanical ventilators. He loved the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine. And he loved how others had to ask him how to work these gizmos and gadgets.

The intellectual challenge of caring for the sickest of the sick, those with multiple organ failure, was utterly fascinating. Ben took pride in making the daily rounds checking the patient's vital signs, lines and tubes including Foley catheters, central lines, endotracheal tubes, surgical drains, fluids, labs and electrolytes, imaging, and medications such as antibiotics and pressors. He would be the one in charge of piecing together the entire puzzle and coming up with the assessment and plan for the patients while others waited on what he had to say. When he spoke to his staff, he would sometimes pause for effect, smiling wryly as the interns and residents rushed to jot down his every word, then dispense his nuggets of medical wisdom to them. Ben was whipsmart, and he knew it.

Most of all, Ben loved the thrill of bringing patients on the brink of death back to life again. It was an absolute adrenaline rush for him. God himself couldn't have done a better job.


As a child, Ben grew up dirt poor, but his home was a happy home. A praying home. A home where the Bible was read and talked about every day. A Christian home.

His parents weren't intellectuals, just simple folks trying to make ends meet each day. They always tried to give their kids the best they could, even if the best wasn't always up to snuff.

Ben's dad worked multiple minimum wage jobs, mostly maintenance and janitorial work, while his mom was a waitress.

Nevertheless, through scrimping and saving, they were able to send Ben off to the state college like he had always wanted. And through hard work, sheer smarts, and true grit Ben was able to get into medical school too.

That's when Ben lost his faith. Specifically it was in his gross anatomy class. After he had dissected his cadaver, Ben stepped back to take it all in. He expected an epiphany, but felt nothing. All that lay spread out on the table before him was mere flesh and bones. That's it. A meat machine.

Oxygenated blood circulated through the arteries, and returned deoxygenated via the veins, while supplying various organs along the way, but once the blood stopped flowing, the organs stopped operating. They would become necrotic and die. And that was it. No different than a car without oil unable to start up.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Q/A with Bishop Barron

This is Bishop Barron doing what he does best:

He's to be commended for fielding questions from non-Catholics. He did that on Reddit a while back. A large part of Barron's appeal lies in how he files off all the sharp edges of traditional Catholic theology. He often panders to modernity rather than challenging modernity. The Q/A showcased both his strengths and weaknesses. 

The perils of prayer

Some Christians stop praying because it's too disappointing. Some Christians lose their faith because their experience with prayer is too disappointing. Sometimes it's easier to pray for others than to pray for yourself. 

It wouldn't surprise me if God is more likely to answer the prayers of garden-variety Christians when they pray for their own needs than for Christians who have certain advantages. It would be interesting if a Christian sociologist did a survey with a representative sample.

For instance, Ezekiel, Hosea, Jeremiah, and St. Paul led grueling lives. No one prays for that kind of life. No one prays, "God, I'm too happy–make me suffer!" So it seems undeniable that God ignored their prayers when they prayed for their own needs. He may have answered some of their prayers for others. And he may have answered their prayers when their personal needs coincided with the life he called them to. But when it came to prayers for their emotional well-being, it seems clear that God generally rebuffed those prayers. They were required to tough it out.

Mind you, they had certain perks the average Israelite didn't enjoy. God spoke to them. God manifested himself to them in dramatic and unmistakable ways. So there was a tradeoff. They had more evidence for God, but God was less benevolent to them. They have more light to see by, but darker lives. 

By analogy, there are Christians with intellectual advantages. They are in a better position to defend the faith. They had a strong faith to begin with. 

It wouldn't surprise me if God is less likely to grant their petitions when they pray for their own needs than the average Christian who lacks their advantages. In that regard, their prayer life may be more frustrating and disappointing than for other Christians. To be sure, this is a difference of degree. I doubt any Christian always gets everything he prayed for. But there may be ways God offsets one Christian's advantages with another Christian's disadvantages, and vice versa. 

Open letter to SBC President, J. D. Greear

Dear Dr. Rev. Greear,
Congratulations on your likely reelection as SBC President later today. I appreciate so much of what you preach. I have four concerns that I wish to express to you.
First, please stop trying to argue about homosexual practice both that all other sins are "equally depraved" in God's eyes (a manifest falsehood) and (in a self-contradiction) that "quite a few other sins are more egregious in God’s eyes than homosexuality," all in an effort to make homosexual practice "not that bad." Presumably you wouldn't argue that way about man-mother consensual incest, a comparable case of severe sexual immorality. Indeed, such incest is, if anything, a somewhat less severe form of sexual immorality since only homosexual practice is a direct assault on what Jesus regarded as the foundation of sexual ethics: "Male and female he made them" (Gen 1:27) and "For this reason a man ... may become joined to his woman and the two shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24).
The fact that any sin can exclude someone from the Kingdom of God if personal merit is the means of salvation does not mean all sin is equal in all respects. A good health care plan should cover all injuries equally but that doesn't mean that all injuries are equal.
Not only is it bad exegesis and bad logic to make such arguments about homosexual practice, leading to the harmful consequence of accommodation and eventual acceptance of homosexual unions in the church, but it is also bad pastoral theology. In the story of the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped his feet with her hair, and kissed them with her lips, Jesus explained to the Pharisaic host that the one who was forgiven more, loves more. One doesn’t have to lower the severity of sin in order to reach out to an offender.
If you still persist in insisting that the Bible supports these contentions of yours, please read my article “Is Homosexual Practice No Worse Than Any Other Sin?” If you have any further questions after doing so, I would welcome a discussion.
A related concern: Please stop saying that "we have to love our gay neighbor more than we love our position on sexual morality” as if love and truth were a zero-sum game where love increases only as truth decreases. We can't truly love anyone by discarding the commands of God. I know that you know that, but statements such as the above undermine the importance of truth in loving others.
Another corollary: You like to say that “God doesn’t send people to hell for homosexuality,” i.e., for committing homosexual practice in a serial, unrepentant way. Paul says otherwise in 1 Cor 6:9-10 where he lists "men who lie with a male" with others who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). I agree with you that what ultimately sends us to hell is "refusing to allow Jesus to be the Lord and center of your life." Yet to say that serial-unrepentant homosexual practice can send one to hell is not materially different from saying that rebellion against Jesus manifested in serial-unrepentant homosexual practice can send one to hell.
Second, please stop saying that we should not “stigmatize sexual sin,” claiming that such action “shows extreme ignorance of the gospel." And please stop saying that we should not put “sexual ethics … at the center of Christianity." You would presumably never make the same remarks in connection with mistreatment of women or racism. To do so would undermine the church's resistance to matters of genuine concern in the church and society at large. The male-female foundation of marriage is anything but a peripheral matter in Scripture. It is established from creation on and made the basis by Jesus for extrapolating other principles in sexual ethics like the limitation of two persons to a sexual union (monogamy). We don't need less stigmatizing of sexual sin in society. We need more.
Third, please stop insisting that Evangelicals should be “among the chief advocates against … discrimination against the gay and lesbian community in our society." Expressed in this unqualified way, it sounds like you are urging Evangelicals to support "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" so-called "non-discrimination" laws. Such laws have been used in local and state venues, and (if Democrats have their way) will be used on a national level, to beat every Evangelical in America and destroy our civil and religious liberties.
You say: "One of the reasons that we stand against any discrimination or bullying and will count ourselves among the fiercest advocates for the preservation of their dignity and rights [is] because we recognize gay and lesbian people are just like us--made in the image of God ... and deserving of all the dignity and respect we desire." Yet the kind of "rights," "dignity and respect" demanded by "LGBTQ" advocates include "drag queen story hour" for children, mandatory "LGBTQ" indoctrination in schools and at work in order to achieve a "safe" environment, and the "right" to require people to contribute their professional talents directly in support of "gay weddings" and men dressing like women and entering women's restrooms, locker rooms, and sports. Any actions that promote homosexual expression or transgenderism are by definition effacing, rather than enhancing, the image of God stamped on male and female. Just think of the immorality that would be promoted if Christians were called on to be the fiercest advocates against discrimination of persons in an adult-consensual incestuous union and ask yourself whether that would be an appropriate ethical stance on the part of Christians.
Fourth, please stop saying that it is "great" if an Evangelical votes for the candidate of the Infanticide, GenderQueer, and Mandatory Speech Party. Such civic behavior is not excusable for a Christian so long as one is "clear about the wickedness of abortion" and "the preciousness of religious liberty and the right of conscience." It makes no sense to say that abortion is wicked and religious liberty is precious but it's fine and dandy to vote for candidates who make abortion and "LGBTQ" coercion their twin idols. If a person votes for such candidates, obviously that person considers abortion and LGBTQ-coercion at best only marginal concerns, if concerns at all.
I am glad that you have come out against homosexual practice, as would be expected of any SBC leader. I am glad too that you want to love persons who experience homosexual impulses and even engage in homosexual practice. We need more of that. Nothing I have said here should diminish that love. Jesus reached out in love to the biggest economic exploiters of his day (tax collectors) while intensifying God's demand for economic justice. Likewise, he pursued sexual sinners while intensifying God's demand for sexual purity and warning of eternal consequences for those who did not repent.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology 
Houston Baptist University

On donkeys and divination

I've often commented on the "talking donkey" episode in Numbers because it's a favorite target of atheists. I'd like to make another observation. As Kenneth Way documents in his groundbreaking monograph on the significance of donkey's in the ancient Near East (Donkeys in the Biblical World: Ceremony and Symbol), donkeys were, among other things, objects of divination. And Balaam is a diviner. At least his career trades on his reputation as a diviner. He might be a charlatan or the real deal. In that context, I doubt the role of the donkey is coincidental. God makes an object of divination rebuke the diviner. So there's divine irony in how God cuts Balaam down to size. That's a nuance modern readers will miss since we don't associate donkeys with divination.

Recycling the myths of abortion history



  1. Huawei is a gigantic Chinese tech company that produces and sells smartphones (among other things). Huawei have used their tech to spy on Western nations (e.g. US, UK), steal technology, steal trade secrets, and continue to sell their products to nations which have international sanctions against them (e.g. Iran).

  2. All this despite multiple warnings from multiple nations, the arrest of their CFO, and so on.

  3. Hence American companies including Google and Microsoft have banned Huawei products. So have several other companies from other Western nations. More will likely follow. No one wants the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate them via Huawei.

  4. Ironically, big tech companies like Google may be big brother, but I guess Chinese companies like Huawei are an even bigger big brother.

In short, we live in "interesting" times.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Does God still raise the dead?

What's happening in Hong Kong?

(Over 1 million protestors in Hong Kong marched against mainland China's proposal to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China. Date: June 9, 2019. Source: Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times.)

Christians in Hong Kong

1. What's happening in Hong Kong right now is tremendously disconcerting for anyone who cares about religious freedom. Indeed, it's disconcerting for anyone who cares about democracy in general. This includes Christians in Hong Kong, which is why I'm bothering to post about this.

2. It'd be good for people to consider praying for Christians in Hong Kong. Not only for Christians in Hong Kong, but for democracy in Hong Kong, because democracy allows Christians to freely share the gospel without fear of recrimination, without fear of being silenced, without fear of being whisked off in the middle of the night to re-education camps, without fear of being executed (such as in mobile death vans).

3. At present, there are still many evangelical Christian churches in Hong Kong. However, that could easily change for the worse. In fact, it's already starting to change for the worse. For example, I've heard credible reports of so-called Christians attending churches in Hong Kong who are in fact spies for the communist government and reporting on church activities.

The extradition bill

1. More to the point, the Chinese government has proposed a law which would allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. This would mean dissidents in Hong Kong could be extradited to mainland China. It's no surprise the term dissident is vague enough to include anyone the Chinese government deems troublesome. Political and religious dissidents (such as Christian pastors) in Hong Kong could be officially made to disappear into China. Never to be seen again. Most likely either executed or forced into re-education through labor camps, alongside countless thousands if not millions already in these present-day camps.

2. Of course, political and religious dissidents in Hong Kong have already been made to disappear in the recent past. For example, that's what happened in 2016 in the Causeway Bay Books disappearances. Not to mention a couple of these bookstore staff likewise have citizenship in Western nations including the United Kingdom, but that didn't stop the Chinese government from making them disappear. In any case, I bring this up because China has been making dissidents disappear for a while, but this extradition law would make it official.

Isn't Hong Kong already under China?

Understandably, some people might be confused by this. Isn't Hong Kong already under China? Isn't Hong Kong already governed by Chinese law?

The transgendered brain

I recently saw this on Facebook:

The brains of trans people more strongly resemble the brains of the opposite/desired sex than their own sex. Their gender dysphoria is grounded in biology. My own knowledge of gender psychobiology (evolutionary psychology was my interest at university) is against the recent societal shift to de-pathologise trans people (for example, removing gender dysphoria as a requirement to access treatment), although I understand the desire to push for acceptance. This article acknowledge that trans people are marginalised. They have the highest suicide rates of any subgroup and yet the Church seems so focused on justifying why we believe what we believe. I’m not sure that’s the important conversation here. Jesus has the answers for trans people. We need to show them that.

Some research regarding the brains of trans people behaving more like the brains of the desired sex:

1. How many of the children included in these studies have come from families with gender dysphoria? If enough, that could significantly skew the results to say the least. For example, if nothing else, that can be seen in the power of suggestion adults have on children.

2. The studies are based on MRIs. What can MRIs tell us about fundamental human psychology? For example, an assumption in these studies is certain brain activities could be gendered.

a. On the one hand, it's true there's sexual dimorphism in areas of the brain associated with language production and/or reception (e.g. Broca, Wernicke). On the other hand, we know this because we can correlate language-associated areas of the brain with language production and/or reception between males and females (e.g. compare average spoken words per minute in males vs. females).

b. However, when it comes to human psychology, especially if the assumption is human psychology isn't necessarily correlated with human biology, then what's the static or non-moving standard by which we can correlate the two?

3. Indeed, interpretations of these MRIs are based on stereotypes about what a male brain should do/not do and what a female brain should do/not do. However, if male and female psychology aren't necessarily associated with male and female biology in the ways and/or to the extent transgender proponents argue, then is there a certain way a male and/or female brain should and/or should not function?

4. If (as these studies argue) it's possible for a brain scan to diagnose people with gender dysphoria or transgendered individuals, then physicians can use brain scans to detect people with gender dysphoria or transgendered persons. In fact, in theory, it's possible physicians can detect transgendered persons before they themselves are aware. It'd sort of be like detecting cancer before cancer becomes clinically detectable (e.g. weight loss, palpable lump). In that case, physicians could be required to inform the transgendered persons and (debatably) intervene for their benefit.

However, this would come into tension if not conflict with the goal among some or many trans proponents to delegitimize gender dysphoria as a bona fide medical or psychiatric diagnosis.

5. All this seems to exclude a class of transgendered persons, i.e., transgendered persons who don't have the requisite differences in brain structure and/or function. I'm referring to non-dysphoric transgendered persons, non-binaries, fetishistic cross-dressers, and so on.

6. Interestingly, here is another study published in Nature which shows that the MRI scans of people with gender dysphoria and people with homosexuality were not significantly dissimilar. Minimally this would seem to suggest there's no detectable difference between (say) transgendered persons and homosexuals. In that case, how are they different? In that case, aren't these brain scans really detecting homosexuality? That's what the homosexual community argues.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The dark side of Avalon

"Daughter of famed sci-fi author reveals sexual horrors she suffered growing up in LGBT home"

"Review: The Last Closet"

"Book Review: The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon by Moira Greyland"

Establishment Catholicism

The problem with TAG

I was asked to comment on this post:

I believe Alex Malpass is an atheist with a doctorate in philosophy. He's critiquing a version of presuppositionalism represented by Bahnsen and Butler. Certainly Michael Butler is several notches above the Syeclones. However, I think that's a fairly retro version of presuppositionalism. There are more promising versions. So that's not the version I'd defend. 

Talk of ‘the Christian worldview’ and ‘the non-Christian worldview’ is to be taken with a pinch of salt (although this will prove controversial later). Obviously, there are lots of different denominations of Christianity, including reformed Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, etc. Equally, there are many distinct non-Christian positions, including every denomination of every other religious worldview, plus every variation of atheist worldview, etc. 

In context, "the Christian worldview" is shorthand for Calvinism. Van Til was a Calvinist and his successors are Calvinists. And his Calvinism is not incidental to his position. In virtue of predestination and meticulous providence, everything happens for a reason. That's an essential component of presuppostionalism, in contrast to freewill theism or non-Christian worldviews where many events are pointless. This doesn't mean presuppositionalism requires Calvinism, per se, but it does require predestination and meticulous providence. In addition to Calvinism, other examples include the Augustinian tradition, classical Thomism, and Jansenism. Anything along those lines could lay a foundation for presuppositionalism. 

Catholicism and atheism

In my experience, some Catholic apologists allege that the Protestant Reformation is responsible for the secularization of Europe. Now, historical causation is complex, so I seriously doubt there's any one thing driving the secularization of Europe, but to address the allegation on its own grouds, I think we could turn it around. Modern European history isn't my area of expertise (same applies to the average Catholic apologist), but it's my impression that anticlericalism fueled atheism. Not that atheism fueled anticlericalism, but the reverse. Many Europeans, especially among the intellectual elite, were so disgusted by the scandalous venality of the Catholic hierarchy and the heavy-handed policies of the papacy that it provoked anticlericalism, which was, in turn, a bridge to the secularization of Europe. 

Smash the patriarchy!