Saturday, November 02, 2019

Public service announcement

Now that we're back on Standard Time, citizens need to be in a state of high alert. Standard Time is the season for vampires. Rumor has it that affluent vamps bribed lawmakers to create Standard Time in the first place. If bears forage in spring and summer, then hibernate in winter, vamps hibernate in spring and summer, then forage in winter. When days are short and nights are long, that's hunting season for vamps. And Standard Time gives them an extra hour before they must take refuge in their sunless coffins. So be extra vigilant as we enter the most perilous time of year. If any of your "friends" complain about Daylight Savings Time, that's an ominous clue. Another telltale sign is if they're allergic to Italian cuisine with garlic. The clincher is when they don't appear in photographs. 


1. Catholic polemical theology stresses the grave sin of schism. But that's circular because schism in Catholic usage is basically a made-up category. And don't quote me NT passages that use the word "schism" in Greek, because that's a semantic fallacy. In ecclesiastical usage, "schism" is a technical term. NT Greek usage doesn't have that specialized meaning.

The NT does have two related categories: heresy and apostasy. The clearest NT example of schism are the heretics who broke away from St. John's congregations (1 John). But, of course, evangelicals don't think the Catholic church is comparable to John's congregations. If anything, it's the other way around. The Catholic church broke away from NT exemplars. 

2. Here's another problem with the traditional Catholic allegation that Protestant denominations are schismatic. Schismatic in relation to what? To the church of Rome? A basic problem with that comparison is that the church of Rome keeps reinventing itself. Even though Protestants broke away from the 16C church of Rome, that no longer exists. It isn't possible to reunite with the 16C church of Rome, even if that was desirable. The 16C church of Rome is radically different from the 21C church of Rome. The 1C church of Rome is very different from the 6C church of Rome. How can you be schismatic in relation to a "parent" denomination that's constantly changing? The church of Rome keeps mutating into something else. 

Of course, Catholic apologists insist that there's fundamental continuity, but that's only convincing to Catholic apologists and like-minded Catholics. 


Image result for autumn maple trees images"

Catholics stress "continuity" as a mark of the true church. It's my impression that many Catholics have no inkling what an alternative to the Catholic model of ecclesial continuity might even look like. They've been conditioned to view the issue with Catholic tinted glasses. 

Newman famously used the metaphor of an acorn growing into an oak tree to illustrate the doctrine of development. So let's play along with an organic, botanical metaphor to illustrate a certain type of continuity. I'll use a maple tree instead, 

Trees have lifecycles. A parent tree disseminates the next generation. Then the parent tree dies. The next generation repeats the cycle. So there's a lineage of trees, where each derives from a parent tree up the line. And they're all the same kind of tree, with the same kind of fruit. 

Suppose we view Rome as a diseased and dying maple tree dispersing seeds which took root to grow into new and vibrant maple trees. A fraction of the samaras germinate to become adults. The original maple tree expires, but not before it spawns descendants. So there's generational continuity between the original maple tree and its descendants. There's never a time without a maple tree. The essence of the maple tree is contained in its samaras. The essence of the maple tree is transmitted from one tree to the next, in unbroken succession, from Pentecost to the Parousia. 

Interrelationship between Gen 1-3

Peter Williams on the death of Judas

Read the whole thread:

Your life is not your own

You are not your own; you were bought at a price (1 Cor 6:19-20). 

1. Scripture says nothing directly about the permissibility or impermissibility of suicide, so evangelicals fall back on inferences from general biblical principles and cautionary tales in Scripture. 

1 Cor 6:19-20 is cited as an indirect prooftext to show that suicide is intrinsically wrong. I'll get to that in a moment.

My own position is that suicide is a special case of taking human life in general, like other special cases of taking human life. Taking human life is generally wrong, but there are exceptions, like executing a murderer or killing a sniper to save the school children. 

By the same token, I think suicide is prima-facie wrong, but there are situations where that's overridden. Take the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to shield his comrades from being killed or maimed. That's altruistic suicide.

If you think suicide is intrinsically wrong, you might be conflicted about that example. Presumably, you think what the soldier did was noble. You don't wish to condemn him. So you might try to classify his action as something else. But I think that's special pleading. The only reason to classify it as something else is if you think suicide is necessarily wrong.

If, on the other hand, you think suicide is contingently wrong, then circumstances determine the morality or immorality of that action. BTW, I'm not saying circumstances determine the morality or immorality of every action. Some actions are intrinsically wrong. They can't be justified by good results or the avoidance of bad results.

2. Back to the prooftext. It lays out a general principle that's germane to suicide (among other things). But does it make suicide inherently wrong?

St. Paul himself had a high-risk lifestyle. When he was initially put on trial he had a chance to get off on a technicality. But instead he appealed to Caesar because he wanted to witness to the Roman higher echelon. He deliberately endangered his life when he had an out. And, indeed, he died a martyr. 

The problem with the appeal to 1 Cor 6:19-20 to prove that suicide is always wrong is that it fails to distinguish between putting yourself in harm's way and putting others in harm's way. There are situations where it's permissible or obligatory to endanger yourself to save another or others but impermissible to endanger others. That despite situations where both of belong to God, you were bought with a price. 

Suppose a man and a woman are waiting for an elevator when they're approached by gang members. In one scenario, the man rushes into the elevator, but pushes the woman away, to make his escape while they direct their attention at the hapless woman. In another scenario, he pushes the woman into the elevator and confronts the gang, even though he's outnumbered and bound to lose–to buy her time to escape.

Even if, in both cases, their life is not their own, there's still a moral difference between risky heroism and risking the life of another. So the general principle is too indiscriminate to rule out suicide regardless of the circumstances. 

Paula White


After becoming an official White House staffer, Paula White started to experience dramatic, inexplicable medical problems. Her teeth began to fall out. Her fingers and toes became gangrenous. Her painted fingernails and toenails became leprous. Her hair morphed into writhing snakes. 

An anonymous informant at the NSA told TMZ that Melania became jealous at the amount of time Donald spent with Paula. So Melania contacted a gypsy in Slovenia to cast a spell on Paula. That's when the symptoms appeared. 

Cardinal Müller on Catholicism and Protestantism

This will be a long post. The length is mainly due to the fact that it's running commentary on some things that Cardinal Müller said is three recent articles. If you wish to expedite the reading process, you can just skip the quotes.

Cardinal Müller represents the conservative, intellectual wing of the hierarchy. So it's useful to see how he defends Catholicism and critiques Protestantism. I always like to study the best of the competition:

What's your perfect day?

I think for me it'd go something like this:

Waking up after a good night's sleep. I'd like to sleep in because I'm a night owl by nature and function horribly in the morning.

I'd like to spend a couple of hours praying and reading the Bible - and reading the Bible and praying. I suppose both together, interwoven with one another, is how I usually do it. That's what deeply refreshes me. That's what centers me. Communion with God.

A hearty breakfast with my family. Good conversation. Expressions of gratitude to God for God. For us, for one another. For what he has provided for us.

Spending some time reading and writing.

A walk along the beach with my family. Enjoying God and his creation. Enjoying one another.

Grabbing a meal around lunch time or at least a coffee at a cafe with a friend and just chatting.

Afterwards, it'd be nice to watch a good movie or listen to a beautiful piece of music. Or maybe play puzzles or games. Board games, video games, or just fun word games or math puzzles or something like that.

I'd enjoy stargazing at night.

I'd enjoy staying up late at night and reading or talking with family or a few close friends.

In short, I guess it's just the simple things in life that would make a day perfect for me.

I suspect that's what many other people would want out of life too.

However, so many people don't take the time to think about what's most important in life. What's most valuable. What's most meaningful. Instead they spend inordinate amounts of time chasing money, degrees, titles, status, power, being "influencers", and so on.

Beto didn't see that coming

So Beto O'Rourke has dropped out.

His campaign was already running on fumes, but I take it what utterly tanked his campaign was when he started talking about confiscating people's guns by using police to go door to door on no-knock raids. It conjured images of Gestapo going door to door to take away guns from Americans. Many police would have flat-out refused to do this. And that's something which many Democrats would have resisted too (e.g. libertarian-leaning Democrats). It's about as un-American as anyone can get, i.e., to forcibly keep Americans from exercising their constitutional right and violate the second amendment.

Not to mention his idea about taxing churches probably wasn't very popular even among Democrats in his own state of Texas.

By the way, I guess this means Beto won't have much of a political future. At least not in Texas. Not after going after guns and churches so hard. At best, maybe Austin will take him.

I presume Beto's supporters will move to either Warren or Sanders. Sure, Beto had the drunken frat boy demographic cornered, but I'm not sure if that will make much of a difference to either Warren or Sanders. It's not like Beto had a lot of support overall. I think he was polling maybe 4% at the national level.

Anyway this narrows the Democratic field. I might conclude this is a bad thing from a Republican perspective, but again Beto wasn't making many waves, so maybe all it amounts to is a collective shrug.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Pets in heaven

Some Christians believe their pets go to heaven. That, however, poses a metaphysical conundrum. Just envision heavenly dogs chasing heavenly cats up heavenly trees. While that's a dog's idea of paradise, it's a cat's idea of hell. 

Jürgen Moltmann, in his landmark Die Katze Eschatologie, proposes that heaven is subdivided into no-go zones for dogs and no-go zones for cats. That, however, generates a Sophie's choice for Christians who had both dogs and cats. 

Since I'm much more of a dog person than a cat person, not to mention the fact that cats have a well-earned reputation as the Devil's familiars, I have no incentive to resolve the conundrum. Indeed, for me, it's a case of just deserts. Watching heavenly dogs chase heavenly cats up heavenly trees is one of the unappreciated joys awaiting the saints. 

Civil war in the LGBT "community"

Standing in judgment of the Magisterium

The Magisterium must seek to present a convincing case, showing how its presentation of the faith is in itself coherent and in continuity with the rest of Tradition. The authority of the papal Magisterium rests on its continuity with the teachings of previous popes. In fact, if a pope had the power to abolish the binding teachings of his predecessors, or if he had the authority even to reinterpret Holy Scripture against its evident meaning, then all his doctrinal decisions could in turn be abolished by his successor, whose successor in turn could undo or redo everything as he pleased. In this case we would not be witnessing a development of doctrine, but the dire spectacle of the Bark of Peter stranded on a sandbank.

I quoted this once before, without comment, but now I'd like to tease out the implications of the statement. Cardinal Müller is one of the premier Catholic theologians of his generation. Benedict XVI appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but Francis sacked him. So he represent the conservative wing of the church. 

1. The first implication of his statement is that the veracity and legitimacy of Catholicism depends on historical continuity at the level of Sacred Tradition. Likewise, popes don't have the authority to abrogate the binding teachings of their predecessors. 

2. The second implication is lost on many converts and Catholic apologists. Continuity at the level of Sacred Tradition must be demonstrable. The Magisterium must be able to show continuity, not stipulate continuity. The argument can't be that it's consistent because the Magisterium says so. No, that has it backwards. For the authority of the Magisterium hinges on continuity at the level of Sacred Tradition. So whether or not there is historical continuity at the level of Sacred Tradition is an independent judgment that must be made apart from the Magisterium. Hence, private judgment is indispensable, and prior to the Magisterium. 

"I never claimed to be doing history"

I've seen village atheists misrepresent the position of Peter Williams in his recent debate with Bart Ehrman. They quote his statement out of context: "I never claimed to be doing history". But that grossly oversimplifies his stated position. You can misrepresent someone by quoting them verbatim if you quote them out of context. By quoting one snippet but disregarding the ways they qualify that statement. If you watch the entire exchange, his real position is far more nuanced than that bare snippet. Just watch the extended back-and-forth between 53-57 min. mark:

In addition, "history" is ambiguous. It can mean different things:

i) What actually happened in the past

ii) What demonstrably happened. What historians think happened. What historians think probably happened or probably didn't happen, what definitely happened and what definitely never happened. 

iii) So "history" in the sense of (ii) comes down to the personal judgement of individual historians. 

iv) Ehrman appeals to historical criteria, but criteria are value-laden and mirror the worldview of a given historian. For Ehrman, "history" is what's left over after you filter the historical evidence through the pasta strainer of methodological naturalism. But there's no presumption that we should operate with methodological naturalism unless metaphysical naturalism is true. So that's a dishonest shortcut. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, methodological naturalism has all the advantages of theft over honest toil. 

A Catholic conudrum

The Magisterium must seek to present a convincing case, showing how its presentation of the faith is in itself coherent and in continuity with the rest of Tradition. The authority of the papal Magisterium rests on its continuity with the teachings of previous popes. In fact, if a pope had the power to abolish the binding teachings of his predecessors, or if he had the authority even to reinterpret Holy Scripture against its evident meaning, then all his doctrinal decisions could in turn be abolished by his successor, whose successor in turn could undo or redo everything as he pleased. In this case we would not be witnessing a development of doctrine, but the dire spectacle of the Bark of Peter stranded on a sandbank.

Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller is former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The historical Mary

On Facebook a couple of Catholic women took umbrage at my "Ave Pachamama" post. Here's an edited version of the exchange:

No evangelical denies that Mary was blessed to be the mother of the messiah. That's a red herring.

I am sure Jesus approves of you mocking his mother. All of you biblical scholars should also be aware of the status given to mothers in OT/Jewish tradition.

If Catholic Mariology was limited to the status of mothers in OT tradition, there wouldn't be an issue. I'm satirizing the typology of Catholic apologists like Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre. 

I have seen her myself, so I take your mockery extremely personally. Open your heart and not afraid.

i) Okay, we need to lay down some ground rules. There are Catholics, especially lay Catholics, who live in their religious bubble and become reflexively offended when Protestants criticize their faith. Guess what–it's a two-way street. Catholic theologians and Catholic apologists routinely criticize the Protestant faith. Just recently I was reading Cardinal Müller (former Prefect for the CDF) attack the Protestant faith. I didn't get bent out of shape over that. If Catholicism is true, then it should be able to bear up under rational scrutiny rather than retreating into hurt feelings.

ii) You indicate that you witnessed a Marian apparition. Whatever. I didn't see what you said you saw, so your experience has no evidential value for me. 

iii) I honor the historical Mary–the NT Mary. I don't honor Catholic Mariology. That's just a sectarian theological construct. 

iv) Imagine a Mormon saying to me, "I'm sure Jesus approves of you mocking him. I take it extremely personally when you mock my Jesus!"

Well, I'm not mocking the historical Jesus. I'm not mocking the NT Jesus. I'm mocking the Mormon Jesus, who's a completely different kind of being, with a completely different backstory, than the historical/NT Jesus.

v) I would no more open my heart and pray to Mary than I'd open my heart and pray to Krishna. 

And Paul seeing Christ on the road to Damascus has no evidential value for you either?

That's a good question:
i) Muhammed said the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Swedenborg said he had tons of visions. Joseph Smith said the angle Moroni appeared to him. Oral Roberts said he had a vision of a 900-foot Jesus. Do all those purported visions have evidential value or credibility as the Damascus Road experience? 

ii) There are different ways to assess such claims. If it comes from someone I know and trust, someone who in my experience is a level-headed person, then I may well find it credible. 

iii) Likewise, some psychological reports have veridical elements. Some promotions, near-death experiences, and out-of-body experiences have corroboration. 

iv) If there's a pattern of reported experiences by independent informants, that's cumulative evidence that they experienced something.

v) Another consideration is if the informant has something to gain by telling tall tales or–conversely–something to lose. Paul had a lot to gain by not becoming a Christian and a lot to lose by becoming a Christian. Another example would be Muslims who convert to Christianity based on dreams or visions of Jesus. 

vi) In addition, if there's compelling evidence that the Bible is true, then that's evidence for what it reports. So the source of a reported event can confer credibility on the reported event.

vii) There's also the question of theological consistency. Christianity and Mohammedanism can't both be true. Christianity and Swedenborgianism can't both be true. Christianity and Mormonism can't both be true. So that affects how we assess the purported visions and apparitions of rival religious claimants. We have a standard of comparison. And the same considerations apply to purported Marian apparitions.

Why would Marian apparitions be doubted or totally denied by fellow Christians? Maybe a bias against a woman from heaven?"

i) Actually, I've written a fair amount about postmortem apparitions, including grief apparitions and crisis apparitions. I've cited two crisis apparitions in which a deceased Christian mother appeared to a grown child. So I have no bias against women from heaven. My position on that is a matter of public record, so your misandrist narrative has no factual basis. 

ii) However, Marian apparitions would be theologically confusing, disruptive, and subversive. Catholics view it differently, but a theological bias comes into play when traditional Catholics assess reputed visions and apparitions claimed by Muhammed, Swedenborg, Joseph Smith, Oral Roberts et al.

You Christians changed the Bible!

Terminator's dark fate

I haven't seen the newly released Terminator: Dark Fate. I've just been reading some reviews.

  1. It seems like the reviews of this movie are mixed. On the one hand, it sounds like this is the best sequel to the first two Terminator movies.

    On the other hand, it sounds like it still falls short of T1 and T2. Apparently there's nothing seriously wrong with the characters and the presentation, per se. Also, the CGI is said to be first-rate (e.g. flawlessly de-aging Ahnuld and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in an introductory scene). But evidently the story suffers. Indeed, the story seems to be the main problem.

  2. If so, I suspect that means there's little left to say that hasn't already been said. T1 and T2 pretty much said it all. What more can a franchise say about the dangers of A.I., killer robots, time travel, and strong female protagonists? At least a secular worldview can't say much more. If so, this illustrates the limitations of a secular worldview.

  3. Take a worldview based on naturalism and neo-Darwinism. What's the significant difference between an A.I. cyborg and a human being? Aren't we both essentially meat machines?

    What room is there for supposedly human distinctives like free will and consciousness? Given naturalism and neo-Darwinism, free will is an illusion. Both A.I. cyborgs and human beings are hardwired to do what we do, either by preprogrammed neural circuitry from a computer programmer working in tandem with a robotics engineer or by natural selection and random mutations acting on our species across the eons to give us the genome we have today +/- the social conditioning we've been raised with. Either way, how does free will really exist?

    Furthermore, consciousness is most likely an emergent property of the physical brain. Consciousness is reducible to the physical brain. Likewise, other creatures could have consciousness. Other creatures could evolve to be conscious like we are. Perhaps someday, after Homo sapiens have long died out, the Earth will be ruled by sentient dolphins. That's not necessarily a joke, not if naturalism and neo-Darwinism are true!

  4. By contrast, if the Terminator series could have Christian theistic foundations, then there would be far more to work with.

    Given a Christian worldview, even if a robot seemed to be as conscious as a human being presumably due to similar or superior intelligence (i.e. intelligence is more like a "symptom" pointing to an underlying consciousness), that doesn't necessarily mean they are conscious. A.I. could be as intelligent as our supercomputers (e.g. Summit, Sierra), or indeed far more so, and even more intelligent at calculating this or that than Einstein, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are conscious in the same way humans are conscious. I presume humans are conscious because we have a God-breathed spirit. At the very least, a Terminator movie could play with these ideas.

    Likewise, on a Christian worldview, one could write a story based on the debates between free will theists like Arminians vs. Calvinists. There are many directions this could go.

  5. Another idea is personal sacrifice. It's moving to see Ahnuld sacrifice himself to save a human being, but if we think more deeply about it, why should we care about a self-sacrificial cyborg? Indeed, on naturalism and neo-Darwinism, why should we care about a self-sacrificial human being? Sure, they took one for the team, but at the end of the day, so what? It's not the individual who counts, but the collective species.

    On Christianity, self-sacrifice would have far more depth of meaning. For one thing, it could point to the fact that there are some things worth dying for. Moreover, this in turn could imply this life isn't all there is. There's something more.

    This stands in stark contrast to secular self-sacrifice where sacrifice is either something we were preprogrammed to do for the greater good of the population as a whole or something we would be foolish to do if we could avoid it since the individual self is everything. It's all about passing on one's genetic material. It's all about living longer and better than the next guy.

The Mirror or the Mask? interview

George Brahm interviews Lydia McGrew on her forthcoming book The Mirror or the Mask?: Liberating the Gospels from Literary Devices.

Protestant apologetics

There are roughly two kinds of Protestant apologists: On the one hand are the apologists who defend Protestant theology, who use Protestant theology as their frame of reference and standard of comparison when assessing rival positions. 

On the other hand, are the apologists who happen to be Protestant, but most of the time you'd be unable to detect their specific theological orientation. They defend the historical Jesus, they defend the Resurrection, they critique atheism. We know what they're against, but we don't know what they're for–beyond a tiny sample of issues. 

In that regard their Protestantism doesn't seem to be central to their religious identity or individual identity. There's a theological indifferentism or latitudinarianism where they don't think it matters too much what you believe apart from a handful of key issues. 

From my perspective, the job of a Christian apologist is to defend…Christianity. And since that involves a specific, individual interpretation of Christianity (e.g. Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, Pentecostalism, generic evangelicalism), you defend what you believe is true. 

What's the point of critiquing atheism if you don't provide a full-orbed alternative to point them to? As a Calvinist, I defend Calvinism, although I confess that I've gotten bored with defending Calvinism. That doesn't mean I'm bored with Calvinism. Just bored with defending it so often, because the exercise becomes so repetitious.

But even when I'm not defending Calvinism, that's the worldview which stands behind everything I write about. That's what guides and structures the analysis. And it frequently surfaces even if I'm writing about something else. Put another way, the theology I live by consistently informs my apologetics, even when that's in the background. 

What's the explanation for apologists who happen to be Protestant? In some cases it's due to specialization. But beyond that, many of them don't seem to take much interest in theology. They focus on a few issues because that's what interests them. Christian theology in general isn't central to their outlook. It's like they view Christianity as a supplement. Christianity isn't necessary to justify or underwrite most important truths and values, just a few explicitly Christian things. I'd add that that makes apostasy much more viable. 

Celebrating Reformation Day

The Reformation was a liberation movement like the Exodus. It didn't fracture the body of Christ since the Roman Church on the eve of the Reformation wasn't the body of Christ but a straying denomination containing some true believers who had nowhere better to go until the Reformation gave them an escape route. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Is religion the cause of most wars?

Prophetic climate crisis

On the one hand, the Apocalypse envisions cataclysmic natural disasters. On the other hand, environmentalists warn that we're on the brink of cataclysmic natural disasters. 

In principle, the worst-case scenario of the green lobby is generally consistent with a premil reading of Revelation. Ironically, a premil could agree with environmentalists that we're facing an unprecedented "climate crisis," but one that's inevitable. Premils could incorporate that into their eschatology, but by the same token, say countermeasures are futile at this point. We've passed the point of no return. We are  watching end-time prophecy pick up speed as it gathers to the culmination. 

I suppose they could also say that the totalitarian impulse of environmentalists to seize control of the world economy sets the stage for the Antichrist. 

Now I'm an amil, but I take sardonic delectation in watching rabidly secular environmentalists unwittingly recite a script from Revelation. Mass extinction scenarios consistent with premil eschatology. And I'm open to the possibility that the premil reading might be vindicated by future developments. As a rule, prophecy is best understood in retrospect. So only time will tell. 

Mind you, the earth has undergone many warming and cooling cycles. And I think the plot of Revelation is generally recursive rather than progressive, although the final chapters break the cycle. But in some cases it's best to keep our interpretation options open, even if we have a default position. 

What makes a problem a problem?

A stock objection to the Protestant faith is that sola scriptura is a problem for Protestants because it generates "pervasive interpretive pluralism". There are endless variations on that objection. 

Let's take a comparison: there are idealist strands in Buddhism and Hinduism. On that view, the problem of evil is illusory is the sense that moral and natural evil (or what we ordinarily take to be natural evil) only exist in the mind. Which means, moreover, that they only exist in individual minds. Hence, it's possible to make evil disappear through the right kind of psychological conditioning. 

It's like dreamers who suffer from chronic nightmares. Nightmares only exist in the mind. Moreover, they only exist in the mind of each dreamer. I don't experience your nightmare. Your nightmare can't hurt me. 

So, from their frame of reference, evil isn't a problem for Indian idealism. It's only a problem for physicalists and dualists who lack enlightenment. 

Of course, that only works if metaphysical idealism is true. But if, to the contrary, evil exists outside the mind as well as inside the mind, if evil is external to individuals, then evil isn't a problem for dualists and physicalists; rather, it's a problem for everybody. The problem isn't embedded in a particular philosophy but in reality. 

By the same token, Catholic apologists and theologians think "pervasive interpretive pluralism" is a problem for the Protestant faith. But like Indian idealism, it's only a problem for our position if there's an alternative. If God instituted a living teaching office, and that's located in the Catholic church, then "pervasive interpretive pluralism" is a problem for the Protestant faith.

But what if that frame of reference doesn't exist? What if God never instituted a living teaching office? Then the point of contrast is chimerical. Catholicism becomes just one more competing interpretion in the mix of "pervasive interpretive pluralism". 

In that event, even if you think "pervasive interpretive pluralism" is still a problem, it's not a problem for Protestants but a problem for everybody. It's not a problem internal to Protestant theology but a problem embedded in reality. So it does nothing to discredit Protestant theology because everyone is in the same boat. 

In that regard, Catholic apologists and theologians have it backwards. They shouldn't be starting with the alleged problem of "pervasive interpretive pluralism", because that's only a problem for Protestants provided that there's a living teaching office located in the Catholic church. If, however, that point of contrast is chimeerical, then "pervasive interpretive pluralism" is either a problem for everybody or a problem for nobody in particular. 

Just like it's backwards to say evil is a problem for dualists but not for Indian idealists. It may not be a problem if metaphysical idealism is true, but there's where the argument must be engaged. Is that assumption correct?  

Do all our extant NT MSS go back to a single mid-2C exemplar?

I recently ran across this claim on Facebook:

It's pretty much accepted among mainstream scholarship that everything we have is derived from a single edition compiled around 150AD. Possibly by a single editor. I doubt that Ehrman contradicts that. Btw this scholarship is by David Trobisch. 

I own two of his monographs on the topic. But I decided to run the claim by Larry Hurtado. Here's how our exchange went:

I recall you saying that David Trobisch's theory about the formation of the NT canon hadn't caught on in mainstream scholarship because ancient NT MSS don't exhibit the uniformity in the order of books that he attributes to them. Is that correct?

Not entirely.  There are several reasons.  NT writings initially circulated physically as individual works. Even after the four gospels were considered by many a closed circle, they still were copied as individual codices.  No one thought of a NT in the second century except perhaps Marcion.

But, yes, we see different orders to NT writings once they began to be put together.  E.g., P45 has the gospels Matt, John, Luke, Mark.

What's the basis for déjà vu?

Like many people I occasionally experience déjà vu. It's very disconcerting, like you momentarily become lucid enough to realize that you're living in a temporal loop. 

There are "scientific" proposals, which attribute it to a kind of brain misfiring. Perhaps that's correct, but to my knowledge it's just speculation, and speculation based on physicalism. There's no hard science to back up that explanation. 

I have my own conjecture, which may or may not be correct. Perhaps déjà vu is like a momentary out-of-body experience where the mind and the brain become unaligned for a few instants. 

There's also the way we normally process time, but there are situations where that can change radically. Take mountain-climbers who fall but survive. During the interval between falling and landing, the mind processes time at a different rate and they see a rerun of their lives. 

That's one of the mysteries of knowing what time is really like. We're normally so immersed in the temporal process and conditioned by the temporal process that we lack the detachment to analyze it objectively. But there are situations where the way the mind, filtered through the brain, normally processes time, breaks down. In that altered state of consciousness, the perception of time's linearity or uniformity is disrupted. That's disorienting. It's possible that if we continued in that state we'd adjust, sort in out, and experience the psychological passage of time from a different perspective. 

Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

"I just want to hear you beg for it"

Prayer: Because Jesus Already Knows What You Want, He Just Wants to Hear You Beg

So why does God only provide some things in answer to prayer? 

1. Consider petitionary prayer. Francis Chan is a good example. He had a horrific childhood. But as a newbie Christian convert he experienced dramatic answers to prayer. That was a revelation to him. A powerful witness to God. A tremendous encouragement. To realize that he could ask the Creator of the universe for something, and the Creator listened to him. When he prayed, things happened. But in a universe where all our needs are automatically provided for, it wouldn't have the same effect. 

I just use that as an illustration. I'm not saying that's representative of Christian experience in general. Francis Chan probably gets more prayer hits than many Christians, given his background and calling. But even one unmistakable answer to prayer can be very encouraging. And what makes it so powerful is that it happened in answer to a prayer. It's not a mechanical routine event. 

2. Consider intercessory prayer. That forces Christians out of their natural human self-absorption. Intercessory prayer forces us to think about other people, care about other people, get to know what's going on in their lives, get involved in their lives. 

3. Setting time aside for acts of devotion are part of the Christian pilgrimage. The habit of prayer, along with other spiritual disciplines, keep us on the heavenbound groove when we're not in a worshipful mood, when we're not in a mood to be Christian, when we're peeling our face off the pavement because life smashed us into the ground. Acts of devotion keep us on the pilgrim path when the feelings are gone, or when we may have strong feelings, but feelings of spiritual desertion and disaffection, abandonment and alienation. 

4. Moreover, the Christian pilgrimage is more like a wagon train or caravan where fellow travelers help each other out. When we stumble. When we're injured. Intercessory prayer plays that role. While some Christians are forced to make the journey alone, we need people in our lives who've got our back. 

Demon casting

"'I could see the demons': An exorcism in Arkansas"

How is the gospel witness in Rome?

Leonardo De Chirico answers.


BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Jean-Paul LaPierre always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

The Boston boxer helped rescue a one-year-old baby who was trapped in a crashed car a few years ago. This summer, after authorities in Newton warned the public about an escaped python, he was the one who tracked it down.

And this past weekend, while LaPierre was in Chicago to run a marathon, he disarmed a robber on a city train.


So LaPierre disarmed an armed robber on a city train, then ran a marathon, then spoke to the news crew!

LaPierre held the robber at bay after disarming the robber. The robber had been going around mugging people on the Chicago train. As an eyewitness in the video said, everyone else on the train was "frozen", but LaPierre acted.

And LaPierre acted despite a woman telling him: "Please don't make this any worse!"

Many people would react like this woman. They think it's better to give the perpetrator what they want and hope they're not harmed but left alone. They would never confront wrongdoers. I guess this is the strategy of appeasement in international politics.

Reminds me of this quotation:

Most people are like sheep. Nice, harmless creatures who want nothing more than to be left alone so they can graze.

But then of course there are wolves. Who want nothing more than to eat the sheep.

But there’s a third kind of person. The sheepdog. Sheepdogs have fangs like wolves. But their instinct isn’t predation. It’s protection. All they want, what they live for, is to protect the flock.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Predestination and prayer

A stock objection to Calvinism is that it renders petitionary prayer pointless. My stock response is that in Calvinism, prayer and answered prayer are means by which the future is realized. To put it counterfactually, some events will happen in answer to prayer that wouldn't happen absent prayer. That's entirely consistent with predestination. However, I'd like to go beyond that to address the objection from a different angle. 

i) The Bible contains a number of blanket prayer promises. There is, however, a class of unanswerable prayers, and that's contradictory prayers. That's true for Calvinism and freewill theism alike. So there's an implicit exception to the prayer promises in reference to contradictory prayers. That doesn't call into question God's sincerity since God can't perform contradictions, so it should be understood that contradictory prayers aren't included in the promises. 

ii) Mind you, the Calvinist God might prearrange history to reduce the number of contradictory prayer promises. However, that has to be counterbalanced by other considerations. A world history with more unanswerable prayers might be better overall than a world history with fewer unanswerable prayers. Prioritizing circumstances to minimize contradictory prayers would marginalize other goods. 

iii) That said, freewill theism adds another class of unanswerable prayers. According to freewill theism, God has made prayer promises that he cannot keep because God's ability to make good on his prayer promises is often conditional on the independent cooperation of human agents. This means that in many cases, God can't grant your petition even if it's a perfectly legitimate request. In Calvinism, God is able but unwilling to answer some prayers while in freewill theism, God is willing but unable to answer some prayers. 

In that regard, freewill theism calls into question the sincerity of God's prayer promises. Unlike contradictory prayers, which are necessarily unanswerable, these prayers are contingently unanswerable. As a rule, God won't answer them because he must "violate" the freewill of human agents to grant the request. 

If freewill theism is true, there must be a vast number of prayers that God cannot answer if granting the request hinges on the independent cooperation of all parties to the petitioned outcome. Consider prayers for salvation, prayers for persecuted Christians, prayers to halt the wicked from harming the innocent. Since all concerned parties have libertarian freedom, God can't grant the request if they refuse to cooperate unless he overrides their freewill. 

So that creates an enormous loophole in prayer promises. It's unclear how the prayer promises were made in good faith when so many situations we pray about aren't actually covered by the promises. The God of freewill theism was never in a position to deliver on prayers that fall under that incalculably huge, but unstated class of prayer requests. 

It's like offering everyone who shows up at a certain time and place a free laptop, when only 30% of those who show up get the laptop. If the God of freewill theism knows that a vast number of prayer requests are automatically disqualified, should he not word the promise to make it more realistic?  

N.B. Don't compare that to the relationship between special redemption ("limited atonement") and the well-meant offer of the Gospel. To continue the illustration, 100% of those who show up for the laptop receive a laptop. Everybody responding to the offer gets what was offered. 

Who's the dragon?

A quick sequel to this:

Catholic apologists argue that since the child in Rev 12 is an individual (Jesus), and the dragon is an individual (Satan), then in consistency, the woman is an individual (Mary). But let's take a comparison:

2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended (Rev 20:2-3).

It's the same dragon we find in Rev 12. So who is the dragon in Rev 20? Suppose you say it's Satan/the Devil. After all, the text explicitly identifies the dragon/serpent as Satan/the Devil. And Satan is an individual. So that supports the Catholic argument, right?

Not really. Certainly the Satanic identification is true as far as that goes. But is that the only referent?

Consider this: would it make sense for God to bind Satan to prevent him from deceiving the nations while God allows billions of demons to continue deceiving the nations? (I don't know how many demons there are, but there doesn't seem to be a shortage.) 

Why would God bind just one fallen angel (Satan) but let all the other fallen angels have free rein to deceive the nations? So I understand "the dragon/serpent" in this vision to be a synecdoche for all the fallen angels, using the leader of the pack to illustrate the principle. The binding includes Satan, but he's being used as a representative figure for demonic and diabolical deceivers in general. 

If that's correct, then the same holds true for the dragon in  Rev 12. The referent isn't restricted to one individual in particular, but functions as a synecdoche for angelic adversaries of God, Jesus, and the people of God (faithful Jews and Christians). 

"I know nothing"

Below is an excerpt from an interview with a Harvard hospital (BIDMC) based physician named Adam Rodman. What Rodman says is useful to keep in mind when considering debates over science. Rodman also has an enjoyable podcast called Bedside Rounds on medical history. His latest episode is titled "I know nothing" in which he details in a grand rounds lecture what he says in this interview.

Studying history has changed my entire approach to practicing medicine. So first, at a concrete level, it helps me question dogma. So, like I was mentioning before, the study of medical history will quickly reveal that so much of what we're taught in medical school stands on shaky foundations.

One of the classic examples is the definition of a “fever”. We’re all taught that a fever is 100.4 or 38 degrees Celsius. It’s scientific simplicity. You’ll even see some of our colleagues confidently announce, “it’s either a fever or it’s not!” and make fun of patients who say, “I run low, so 99.7 is a fever for me.” But even a cursory examination of history will show that this was based on mid-19th century data from Wunderlich, using an esoteric thermometer, axillary temperatures, unclear data analysis, and a, let’s just imprecise method of measuring data. Moreover, numerous studies have shown that body temperatures are not only lower, but vary throughout the day — and in fact, the most important thing appears to be variation from the patient’s own baseline. It turns out, in this case, that taking an historical approach is, in fact, taking the scientific approach, critically appraising data that has real clinical impact. And while we’re at that, taking an historical approach also shows that our patients’ own experiences are probably accurate — they probably do “run low” because 98.6 F is high!

And once you start to realize this with one subject, you realize that a whole spate of medical knowledge is equally shaky or contingent. You’ll discover arbitrary drug dosing and durations, very real epistemological concerns about our ability to know what causes disease, and even reason to doubt some randomized controlled trials — I don’t want to turn this interview into a lecture about skepticism, but I’ll add that the more you read about the fragility index, the more you’ll see that the basis of our knowledge is often far shakier than we’d like to admit.

I don’t want to say that a study of history has made me cynical — it hasn’t; if anything, I’m far more aware of how much good we can do now compared to past eras. But it’s made me very humble about the limits of our knowledge. And it’s made me focus on many of the older qualities of being a physician — compassion, good communication skills, and being at the bedside.

What does it mean to say that John "tweaks" history?

Preorder The Mirror or the Mask

Is Mary the woman in Revelation?

Many commentators identify the woman in Rev 12 as a feminine personification of Israel, and they cite OT passages to bolster that identification. Catholic apologists counter that if two of the three figures in Rev 12 are individuals, then it creates the presumption that the women is an individual, too:

1. The Serpent = The Devil                            Individual (Satan) 

2. The Child = The Messiah                           Individual (Christ) 

3. The Woman = Mother of the Messiah        Individual (Mary)

But there are some problems with that argument:

i) Jews thought not merely in terms of parentage but ancestry. Family trees. Indeed, the NT contains two genealogies of Jesus (Matthew, Luke). So while the mother of Jesus is an individual (Mary), the symbolic maternal figure in Rev 12 can easily be a corporate emblem. 

ii) While the Devil is an individual, it doesn't follow that the Satanic figure in Rev 12 only represents the Devil. After all, Revelation also depicts demons. So the Satanic figure in Rev 12 can function as a synecdoche, not only standing for the Devil but his entourage of fallen angels. It's not just Satan who is defeated in Revelation, but the dark side generally. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Ave Pachamama

L'Osservatore Romano

Last Friday, at The Pontifical Gregorian University, Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre gave a joint lecture on Pachamama to lay to rest the recent controversy and clarify Her true identity. In Andean Sacred Tradition, Pachamama is:

• Cosmic Mother

• Mother Earth

• Mother of the sun god

• Fertility Goddess

• Associated with harvest festivals

• Associated with mountains

• In Pythagorean numerology her numerical value is 3 

Pitre and Hahn then drew attention to many astounding typological adumbrations:

1. The New Eve

The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living (Gen 3:20)

As fertility goddess and Mother Earth, Pachamama is a type of Eve.

2. The New Jerusalem

In her association with mountains, Pachamama is a type of Mount Zion, the Temple Mount, and the New Jerusalem. 

3. Mother of God

I am the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 9:5). 

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth…She gave birth to a son (Rev 12:1-2,5)

• Jesus is the light of the world (i.e. sunlight as a spiritual metaphor).

• Pachamama is mother of the sun god.  

• Pachamama is the Cosmic Mother clothed in the sun, with a starry crown and lunar slippers

4. Hostess of the Messianic banquet

The wedding at Cana (John 2) prefigures the Messianic banquet in the new age. Pachamama is hostess of the Messianic banquet by virtue of her association with harvest festivals as well as her role as the sun god's mother (see under #3).

5. Eschatological icon of the Trinity

In Pythagorean numerology, her name has the numerical value of 3.

6. Mother of the Church

26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home (Jn 19:26-27).

"Your mother"=Pachamama 

7. Queen of Heaven

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head (Rev 12:1).

As the Cosmic Mother, Pachamama is the Queen of Heaven

8. The Assumption of Pachamama

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.(Rev 12:1)

St. John saw Pachamama in heaven. Mother Earth ascended. 

9. The Immaculate Preconception

As Cosmic Mother and Mother Earth, Pachamama was never conceived in sin inasmuch as she was never conceived at all. Rather, she is the source of all conception. 

10. Hyperdulia

16 He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east (Ezk 8:16)

Just as worshippers in the temple bowed down to the sun, Catholics should bow down to Pachamama, mother of the sun god. 

11. Vicar of the Queen

The reason there are so many queens in the Vatican is because the Vatican represents the Vicar of Pachamama, Queen of Heaven. 

Quoting from St. Alphonsus Liguori's The Glories of Pachamamma, Scott Hahn said "You can't have God as your Father unless you have Pachamama as your Mother. You can't have Jesus as your King unless you have Pachamama as your Queen."