Saturday, November 09, 2019

J. W. Montgomery on Ehrman

Catholicism: 28 Weeks Later

Luis Dizon has penned a first-year retrospective on his reversion to Catholicism:

1. Before commenting on specific passages, I'll venture some preliminary remarks:

Human beings aren't logic boxes, so there can be personal pressures and incentives that figure in our political and religions affiliations. For instance, Luis said on Twitter (pined tweet): 

- During my Protestant days, I considered becoming a minister. I've since dropped this idea
- Not considering the priesthood. Permanent diaconate after marriage is still on the table, however

This drift of this seems to be that he wants to have a normal family life, something he'd be free to do as a Protestant minister but not as a Catholic priest. With that in mind, I wonder if the pool of marital prospects isn't a whole lot deeper for a Filipino-Canadian Catholic than a Filipino-Canadian Reformed Baptist. 

In thy light we see light

A lot of stuff I post on Triablogue is out of duty rather than personal satisfaction. The culture war stuff. Atheism. Catholicism, Islam. And so on. It's necessary to write about these things.

But sometimes I write about things I personally care about. Over the years I did a number of posts on the biblical symbolism of light and darkness. Recently, a friend edited all the posts into an ebook. For interested readers, here's the link:

Edit: The above file has been edited and updated at approximately 5pm EST (Nov 9, 2019) to fix some errors in the previous file.

Frankenstein and Blade Runner

I made an earlier post about Frankenstein here.

I'd like to make another observation: the film Blade Runner has significant parallels with the novel Frankenstein. For example:

  • Both are about the creature's (Frankenstein, replicants) rebellion against his creator (Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Tyrell). 
  • Both cast the creator in the role of a hostile creator. A creator who wants to kill what it created. The creator believes what it created is an abomination.
  • Both cast the creature in the role of a moral blank slate (John Locke, Steven Pinker).
  • Both show the creature only wanting to live and to love, but due to hostility from its creator, it is forced to fight and even kill humans in order to survive.
  • Both stories take their cue from Eden and the Fall in Genesis as well as Milton's Paradise Lost (among other things). Except both swap moral blame between creature and creator, where the creature has done no wrong, while the creator has wronged the creature. Hence the creature believes he rightly rages against his creator. Like Prometheus, the story is something of an antihero story. An atheistic antihero story.
  • It's telling Ridley Scott also directed Prometheus (part of the Alien franchise). It's telling because Prometheus has the same themes. Prometheus is an origin story for life (humanity) on Earth. An origin story based on panspermia. There's no God involved, but rather a godlike extraterrestrial species known as the Engineers. The Engineers created humans, yet the Engineeers are hostile toward humans, and created the Alien species in order to wipe out humans.

At least that's my take, but I'm no literary scholar or film critic.

A history of healing in the church

Here's a book that might be a useful apologetic resource on the argument for miracles: J.D. King, Regeneration: A Complete History of Healing in the Christian Church (Lee’s Summit, mo, Christos, 2017). Volume i, 489 pp., Volume ii, 508 pp., Volume iii, 414 pp.

I haven't read it yet because its very long and very expensive. I only read an academic review by Stephen Barkley: PNEUMA 39 (2017). But to judge by the review, King's historical study could probably be strip-mined for case-studies. The trick is to pan the material to sift the gold nuggets from the grains of sand. 

Reeducation camps

In the past, some right-wingers have predicted a dystopian future in which tens of millions of Americans are sent to reeducation camps. The reality is less dramatic: we've had reeducation camps for decades: public schools, state universities, private secular universities, and "progressive Christian" private colleges. 

Friday, November 08, 2019

My Bodyguard

The impeachment circus continues. Democrat elites can't fathom why Trump's support hasn't cratered. The sycophant media keeps churning out new Trump scandals, but it doesn't change the numbers.

A basic reason Democrat elites are blindsided by Trump's enduring support is because than can't identify with why his supporters feel endangered by the Democrat establishment. And they're blind to that because that's the side they're on, so they don't sees themselves the way the other side sees them. They've cast themselves as the heroes. They don't don't views themselves as a threat. They see themselves as saviors. 

It's like a nerdy weakling who gets beat up at every school day, so he hires a body guard. The bullies then bitch and complain that the bodyguard is mean. They show the nerdy weakling his wrap sheet. "Why don't you fire him? How can you associate with someone like that?"

But of course, that's why the nerdy weakling hired the bodyguard in the first place. It takes a bigger meaner S.O.B to protect him from the gang of smaller thugs. If he fires his bodyguard, the bullies will resume punching his lights out everyday. 

It never occurs to Democrat elites that their alternative is why so many Americans rightly feel endangered by the Democrat establishment. That's why they voted for a bodyguard. That's why he may well be reelected. 

John Crist

1. I'm very selective about what celebrity Christian scandals and apostasies I comment on. It's only noteworthy when people tumble from their pedestal because people put on the pedestal in the first place. 

2. I've only seen a few clips of his routines, but he's clearly a very gifted comedian. But there's never been any correlation between talent and virtue. 

3. Success corrupts some people by providing new temptations–as well as the opportunity to act on those temptations. They may have been decent people before they became famous, and their moral downfall is the result of success.

4. In other cases, they has a trail of misconduct before they become famous, yet that remained unreported so long as they were nobodies. But once them became public figures, that exposed them to public scrutiny, and their shady past caught up with them. Their ambition was their undoing. Had they lived and died in obscurity, they might never have been found out. 

5. I don't know if he's in legal jeopardy. Assuming he dodges imprisonment, his career is irreparably damaged. Of course, you always have fans who make excuses for their idol. 

6. It's lethal for an entertainer to become unpopular. Once his audience turns against him, he's cooked. I think that's what sunk Mel Gibson's career. Likewise, as Michael Jackson's image became ever weirder and more perverted, that burned into his popularity. 

If your constituency no longer likes you, if it can't separate the charming onstage image from the offstage scoundrel, then you're finished–unless that was your image all along. Kinda like Sinatra's tough-guy, mobster persona. 

7. A dilemma for Crist's comedy schtick is that much of it involves Babylon Bee-style spoofing foibles and follies in certain pockets of evangelicalism. Christians only find that funny if they think the comedian is one of us, on our side. That the satire good-natured ribbing rather than mean-spirited. 

If, however, they find out that the comedian is a creep, then the satirical judgmentalism leaves a sour aftertaste. It's like husband-and-wife comedy teams who make fun of each other onstage. That can be amusing so long as the audience believes the couple is truly in love offstage. But if it's known that their marriage is on the rocks, and the sniping asides aren't acting but a public spillover of their mutual detestation in real life, then that hits the wrong note. It's not funny anymore.

No hard feelings, right?

One of my objections to the doctrine of development is that it's so flippant. To take a few examples:

1. The medieval papacy authorized the use of torture on "heretics":

That's admitted in a roundabout way in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but Rome now repudiates the traditional policy:

2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

But what good does that do for all the victims of papal-sanctioned torture? How does that restore all the victims who died under papal-sanctioned torture–or survived, but where maimed, mutilated, and/or disabled, living in chronic pain or psychologically broken from the effects of torture? 

We changed our mind. Sorry about that. No hard feelings, right?

2. For centuries, grieving parents were told that unbaptized babies went to Limbo rather than heaven. While that's better than hell, it also means the parents will be permanently separated from their deceased children. Even if the parents are ultimately saved, they occupy a different place than their children. 

When you consider the number of miscarriages alone, that's a huge number of unbaptized babies who died in the womb. Not to mention unbaptized dying newborns and toddlers. 

That centuries-old pastoral counseling has now been mothballed:

But what good does that do for all the bereaved who were indoctrinated in the traditional teaching? It's too late for them. 

We changed our mind. Sorry about that. No hard feelings, right?

3. In traditional Catholic teaching, suicides were presumptively damned, denied a Catholic funeral service and consecrated burial in a Catholic churchyard. For instance:

Q. 1274. What sin is it to destroy one's own life, or commit suicide, as this act is called?

A. It is a mortal sin to destroy one's own life or commit suicide, as this act is called, and persons who willfully and knowingly commit such an act die in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of Christian burial.

Until just a generation ago and for many centuries before, controversy over homilies delivered at the Catholic funerals of suicides was unheard of for the simple reason that Church law forbade all funerals for suicides, so, no funeral homilies on suicide could have been preached. See 1917 CIC 1240 § 1, n. 3.

So grieving survivors had a doublewhammy: the suicide of their loved one and Mother Church shunning their loved one. 

Yet the centuries-old policy has now been softened:

2282 Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

But once again, what good does that do for all the grieving survivors who lived under the traditional policy? It's too late for them. 

We changed our mind. Sorry about that. No hard feelings, right?

My immediate point is not to evaluate the positions in question. I'm not commenting on whether I think the new positions mark an improvement over the traditional positions, or vice versa. The point, rather, is that here's a denomination which lays claim to unique divine guidance and protection from error. 

Catholic apologists will counter that these changes go to show that the traditional teaching and practice never were infallible or irreformable. Yet these concern fundamental moral and pastoral issues. Not torturing religious opponents is hardly a marginal issue in social ethics. 

Likewise, what's more important than not telling grief-stricken family and friends the wrong thing about the fate of suicides and dead babies? Religion is centrally concerned with what happens after we die.

If the Catholic church wasn't protected from error on such crucial issues, why believe it enjoys any special protection from error? Why trust it with your immortal soul?

I'm not suggesting that Christians are obligated to give confident answers if we don't know the answer. But that's not what Rome did. Rather, Rome came down firmly on both sides of the issue at different times. It changes its mind: "We were mistaken, but that's water under the bridge." That's so flippant and callous.   

Book me

Bernie's message

Say the industrious next-door neighbor's kid Billy was actually taxed $5 every time he mowed the lawn for people, walked their dogs, sold lemonade at his lemonade stand, etc.

That could help pay for our little kids' Jackson's, Aiden's, and Mason's toys.

Billy would still have enough money.

Our message: Billy cannot have it all when our kids Jackson, Aiden, and Mason have so little.

Was there a 2C recension of the NT?

Charles Hill (“‘In These Very Words’:  Methods and Standards of Literary Borrowing in the Second Century,” pp. 261-81) provides a valuable study showing that pagan and Christian authors followed a different set of conventions in citing texts than used by copyists of texts.  This is a point I’ve tried to make for a number of years, and I’m pleased now to see this well-supported presentation of it.  The major point is that (contra some claims), we can’t play off the loose citations of NT writings in early Christian authors against the evidence of our early manuscripts to make a case that the NT writings were in a chaotic state until some supposed “recension” in the late second century that produced all our extant manuscripts.  In fact, the earliest manuscripts remain our best evidence for the text of NT writings.

Chinese organ-harvesting

Communist Chinese organ-harvesting is a diabolical, but clarifying illustration of consistent atheism. Human beings are just meat machines with an expiration date, manufactured other meat machines. The stronger machines strip the weaker machines for spare parts. There is no good or evil, right or wrong, just the powerful and the powerless. Unsentimental atheism.

Ehrman v. Keener

Jaros is a frivolous, ineffectual moderator. No surprise.

I mostly listened to the Keener/Ehrman exchanges. Keener provided some useful pushback. Keener's views are well to the left of mine but well to the right of Bart's. 

The reason Ehrman generally dominates debates is because he's so pushy and aggressive, while everyone else is too polite to respond with the same forcefulness. Verbally, Ehrman is like a bully standing on the subway platform, who elbows his way onto the subway. 

Ehrman uses the idiotic comparison with oral poetry. Of course oral poetry is fluid because the point is to flaunt the bard's improvisational skills. That's not remotely analogous to the historical narrative genre. 

Thursday, November 07, 2019

New frontiers in global warming activism

Asthmatics must do their part to save the planet by dying en masse.

Canon and copies

If one agrees, at least in principle, with David Trobisch’s and Porter’s views of the Pauline letter collection (they agree in some ways and disagree in other ways), Paul himself was involved in the collecting and gathering of his letters as a letter collection and that he may possibly have written multiple copies of his letters. Porter posits that Paul may have made a copy for the individual or group he addresses his letters to, and then made a copy (or copies?) for himself. I think there is a high likelihood—as well as opportunity, especially given the amount of time he spent in prison—that Paul (and/or his amanuensis) did just that. I think that when Paul tells Timothy to send the parchments (2 Tim 4:13), he’s referring to his own letter collection (up to that point, of course). 

Masturbation and prostate cancer

Typically progressives don't have a problem with pornography or masturbation. In fact, typically they encourage watching porn and masturbating.

Hence when men struggling with these encourage one another to abstain from watching porn and masturbation (e.g. No Nut November, NoFap), progressives are triggered. Others may be triggered as well, but progressives especially.

One argument progressives bring up is that if men don't watch porn and masturbate, then they'll have an increased risk of prostate cancer:

  1. At the risk of stating the obvious, porn and masturbation are separable. One could masturbate without watching porn.

  2. However, even on progressive terms, it's not really about masturbation but ejaculation. A man can be happily married and engaging in regular sex with his wife. He should be routinely ejaculating in a marriage with regular sex.

  3. By contrast, one big reason men encourage one another to abstain from watching porn and masturbating is because these men realize it's causing them to lose control over their lives. They've become losers. Coomers. So these struggling guys want to turn away from watching porn and masturbating. They want to regain control over their lives. They want to seek a real woman with whom to have a relationship with and hopefully marry. Are progressives against men seeking long-term romantic relationships with women? Are progressives against couples getting married?

  4. As far as the medical science behind the idea that frequent masturbation lowers the risk for prostate cancer, see UpToDate:

    An association between ejaculatory frequency and a lower risk of prostate cancer has been suggested in two case-control studies:

    • In a study which compared men under the age of 70 who had prostate cancer with age-matched controls, men who had five or more ejaculations per week while in their 20s (but not their 30s or 40s) had a significantly lower risk of prostate cancer (odds ratio 0.66) than those who had fewer ejaculations [148].

    • A report from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study compared men who developed prostate cancer (n = 3839) with controls of a similar age group who had similar ejaculatory frequency but no prostate cancer [149]. On multivariable analysis, the incidence of prostate cancer was significantly reduced for men having more than 21 ejaculations per month compared with those with 4 to 7 ejaculations per month between ages 20 and 29 years (HR 0.81, 95% CI 0.72-0.92). The HR for those reporting more than 21 versus 4 to 7 ejaculations per month between ages 40 and 49 years was 0.78 (95% CI 0.69-0.89).

    The validity of this relationship has been called into question because of the lack of association of prostate cancer with ejaculation frequency in older men and the fact that other studies have failed to show a protective effect from being married or having more sexual partners [150]. Moreover, the problem of recall bias also casts doubt on the interpretation of studies that use this methodology.

Chicago's muddy waters

A friend asked me to comment on an older article by Mike Licona:

i) Geisler is a poor representative of the inerrancy position. That makes him an easy target for Licona. In fairness, Licona is returning fire. He didn't initiate hostilities. 

ii) Licona jumbles together a desperate list of evangelicals who draw fire from Geisler (Blomberg, Bock, Bird, Craig, Evans, Keener, Vanhoozer, Wallace, and Yarborough), but there are significant differences in their respective positions. Licona is seeking cover by blending into the crowd, but some of the scholars he mentions don't share his views.

iii) It's not enough to criticize the Chicago statement. It's up to him to provide an alternative formulation. 

"Marvel movies aren't cinema"

He's a great filmmaker, so his commentary is insightful. Mind you, I just don't care for the subject matter of most of his films. An exception is Silence. Two quick points:

1. First of all, there's the artist who's the primary audience for his own work. He writes fiction or makes movies which reflect what he cares about, what's important to him. In the case of a great artist, that indirectly appeals to many others, although in some cases the work is for connoisseurs. 

That's in contrast to stuff that's made to sell. Where the creators are thinking all along, how will this play? They begin with a target audience, and work back from there. 

2. Good art or great art is idealistic. It presumes that life is worthwhile. So quality matters. 

But consistent secularism cuts the nerve of artistic idealism. And if there is no immortality, and what we value is merely the instinctive byproduct of blind evolution, then everything is ephemeral. It's silly to be a serious artist. Nothing endures. 

So why not go for the buck? Quick money? Forgettable films? 

Good or great art is an act of faith, even if the artist isn't consciously Christian. But secularism erodes the faith necessary to create good or great art. It replaces faith with cynicism. 

At the moment I'm not taking a position on Marvel movies, but just making a general observation that's pertinent to all kinds of movies. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Tooley on evil

Philosopher Michael Tooley has published a new monograph: The Problem of Evil (Cambridge 2019). He's arguably the most sophisticated atheist on this particular issue, so it's useful to scrutinize his position. I'll focus on what I take to be his best arguments.  

2.6 Allowing Undeserved Suffering Cannot Be Justified by Appealing to the Great Good of the Existence of Laws of Nature

First, it is generally held that an omnipotent deity could miraculously intervene at any time and place to alter what happens in the natural world, and this is surely right, since if God is the creator of everything, all that is needed for God to be able to intervene in the natural world at any time is to create laws...of the ‘God willing’ variety. Moreover, they need to be of that variety if, as most theists believe, God sometimes intervenes miraculously in the natural world.

Let us turn, then, to a second argument, which is that many evils depend upon precisely what laws the world contains. An omnipotent being could, for example, easily create a world with the same laws of physics as our world, but with slightly different laws linking neurophysiological states to qualities of experiences, so that extremely intense pains either never occur, or else could be turned off by the sufferer when they served no purpose. Alternatively, God could create additional physical laws of a rather specialized sort that could, for example, either cause very harmful viruses to self-destruct, or prevent viruses such as the avian flu virus from evolving into an airborne form that would have the capacity to kill hundreds of million people.

Do all our MSS go back to a single error-ridden copy?

This is germane to Bart Ehrman's wildly unrealistic hypothetical (which he never documents, that I'm aware of) that all our extant Greek MSS might go back to a single error-ridden copy. 

Trobisch attempts to circumvent the major crux of the issue by positing that seeking the original text is not about the individual books or their MSS so much as about the canonical text. As he states, "The history of the NT is the history of an edition, a book that has been published and edited by a specific group of editors, at a specific place, and at a specific time." He places this edition in the late 2C. As a result, one is seeking not the original text, but rather the original canonical edition, from which the later MSS can be traced as derivative. As interesting as canonical development may be, this too is not a solution to the question of the original text, as it begs the question of the prehistory of any book before it was 'canonized' and instead concentrates on the ordering and features of MSS that indicate their later editing, Stanley Porter, How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation (Baker 2013), 28. 

The "Canonical" text

There's a reactionary movement afoot in some Reformed circles to reject the mainstream NT textual criticism and modern translations like the ESV in favor of the Textus Receptus (hereafter TR) and the KJV. Recently there was a Text and Canon Conference which promoted that position. I generally avoid live presentations. That's an inefficient way to process and reference information. I have read a few articles by Jeff Riddle, but I'm going to use two posts by Taylor DeSoto as representative samples of the rationale for this position:

1. At one level, the significance of this issue is easily overblown. The text of the NT has enormous multiple-attestation. Even if you opt for the Byzantine text, there's not much that can go wrong. 

2. At another level, it is a big issue. What's at stake is convincing Christians to believe their faith hinges on a particular text tradition like the Byzantine or the TR. That's the "canonical" text. This leaves them poised for a gratuitous crisis of faith if they develop doubts about the TR. In this case, their faith in the Bible becomes inseparable from faith in the TR and the KJV. That's apostasy waiting to happen. DeSoto is going down exactly the same road as Bart Ehrman. The same all-or-nothing mentality. The same false dichotomies. 

3. Because we have so many copies of the Greek NT, copies with many, mostly trivial variants, it's important although not strictly necessary to produce a critical edition of the NT. That's not unique to proponents of the eclectic text. Astute proponents of the Byzantine text also appreciate the need to produce a critical edition of the NT, using internal and external textual criteria. For instance:

4. I myself subscribe to mainstream textual criticism and the eclectic text approach. I don't have a firm opinion about CBGM. Certainly we should take advantage of computers to digitize our MSS, then compare them. Stanley Porter is a critic of CBGM. 

I'd add that it isn't necessary to choose between CBGM and traditional textual criticism. You can compare the results of both, and the reasoning behind their choices. Metzger's textual commentary explains how traditional text critics made their choices. And there will be a textual commentary for the CBGM edition when that project is completed. 

5. Opting for the Byzantine tradition would be more defensible than opting for the T.R. That's not my own position,  but there's a respectable argument for that alternative. 

6. From what I can tell, all the Reformed proponents of the TR and the KJV are dabblers and dilettantes. They have no formal expertise in textual criticism. In fairness, they might say the same thing about me. But that proves my point. I admit that I'm an amateur when it comes to OT/NT criticism. And I don't object to amateurs having opinions about range of specialized issues. I don't think we should abode unconditional confidence in the judgment of experts. 

But it's because I'm an amateur that I don't need to get my information from another amateur. If I want an amateur opinion about textual criticism, I can just consult my own opinion! 

By the same token, I don't get my information about biology and physics from amateurs. Rather, I study what the professionals have to say. I might still dissent on philosophical or theological grounds. Or I might dissent if I think their discipline has become politicized, which skews their assessment.   

This also goes beyond formal training. Some scholars like Bruce Metzger, Peter Williams, and Emanuel Tov have an exceptional skill set and natural aptitude that many scholars lack. 

Reformed proponents of the TR might also say that since mainstream NT criticism is so compromised, it's a good thing that they lack formal training in that discipline. But that begs the question. 

7. A basic problem with canonizing the KJV is that most Christians aren't English-speakers, most Christians were never English-speakers, and within the foreseeable future, most Christians won't be English-speakers. So it's absurdly ethnocentric. 

8. Another problem is that we have a better understanding of Greek and Hebrew than the KJV translators. We have a wider sampling of ancient Hebrew than they had. And we have a wider sampling of ancient Greek than they had. For instance, Greek papyri give us access to non-literary Greek. That gives us access to Greek slang or Greek words with slang meanings. In addition, computers enable us to make exhaustive comparisons in vocabulary and grammatical constructions.  

9. It's true that earlier MSS aren't necessarily better than later MSS. Obviously an 8C MS isn't automatically better than a 9C MS. But when we're talking about the NT papyri, I do think there's a presumption that earlier is better because they are so chronologically close to the Urtext.  

10. Reformed TR proponents operate with an arbitrary notion of divine providence regarding the preservation of the text. They act like special providence singles out the TR rather than the Byzantine text or the NT papyri or the DDS or Codex Vaticanus. But why would providence only extend to the preservation of the text in the TR? 

Likewise, the reason OT textual critics sometimes prefer the LXX to the MT is because the LXX translators had an earlier text than the Massoretes. So they had a text that might well preserve the original reading in some cases where the MT lost it.  

11. I'm no expert (something I share in common with Reformed TR proponents), but it seems to be that appeal to the Majority text is a statistical fallacy. If more MSS were produced by a particular locality, and more of those survive, that just means our extant MSS oversample a local textual tradition. Their numerical preponderance in itself creates no presumption that it's more representative. Rather, that may simply be a geographical and historical accident. So the larger sample is an arbitrary sample. The fact that we have a larger sample of that textual tradition is random in the sense that it's a coincidence of geography and the ravages of time. The Majority text may well be unrepresentative because a local textual tradition is overrepresented. 

12. It's often said that despite all the textual variants, the true reading is contained somewhere in our "5000" extant Greek MSS. But that bare statement can be misleading. This isn't like finding a needle in a haystack. It's not like our MSS are riddled with indetectable mistakes. 

i) Words are parts of sentences. If a scribe uses the wrong word, that usually makes the sentence nonsense. And it's easy to spot which word is messing up the sentence. Moreover, it's usually easy to figure out what the right word was, even if you only have that MS to go by.

We do this all the time. Email and text messages frequently contained recognizable typos, but we can usually figure out the intended word. 

ii) But suppose we can't figure out what the original word was. So we consult other MS. The right word isn't indetectable. If another MSS has the same sentence, but with a different word, and the sentence makes sense, then that's probably the authentic reading. 

ii) Suppose I have two independent editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both editions contain typos. But they contain different typos. Suppose one edition contains a sentence with a typo, and I can't figure out the original word. So I consult the other edition, where the parallel sentence makes sense. So that probably preserves the original word. 

13. Opponents of the eclectic text allege that editors are "creating" the text. But that's deceptive. It doesn't mean they are inventing sentences. It just means they use more than one witness to the text. Since we know for a fact that scribes introduces changes into the text (usually inadvertently), we can't rely on a single MS as it stands. It's necessary to make corrections. And we do that by reference to other MSS. 

14. In general, biblical teaching is redundant. It doesn't hinge on one particular passage. Major doctrines are multiply-attested. The life of Christ is multiple-attested (four Gospels). 

15. The way Reformed TR advocates cling to the Long Ending of Mark is hypocritical. If they truly believe that's the original ending, then they ought to belong to charismatic, snake-handling churches. 

16. What does God require of us? To be faithful to the best text we have at our disposal. Surely he doesn't require us to be faithful to an unattainable word-perfect text. Even in the 1C, Christians copied originals. The originals were inerrant but the copies were not. 

Phillip E. Johnson (1940-2019)

"Phillip E. Johnson, Who Put Darwin on Trial, Dies at 79"

"Died: Phillip E. Johnson, Lawyer who Put Darwin on Trial"


Bill Dembski reflects on his friendship with Johnson. Of course both were leading lights and brothers-in-arms in the ID movement.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Strategies for Defending the Existence of God

One less way to die

Polytheists believe in many gods. Christians believe in one God. Atheists just believe in one less god than Christians. 

By the same token, mortalists (e.g. Bill Bryson) believe there are 8,000 ways for you to die, but only one of them will succeed in killing you. Over the decades, medical science has reduced the causes of death. 

I think death is an illusion. I just believe in one less way to die than you do.

– Mary Baker Eddy

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

National Geographic:

With a recent boom in spiritual retreats sweeping the tourism industry, more people are journeying to the Amazon in search of natural healing. Some travel for ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew that’s said to have powerfully transformative effects on the mind and body. But in Bolivia, few realize that ayahuasca merely scratches the surface of an ancient mysticism that’s been flowing through the country for thousands of years.

Bolivia is home to brujas (witches), the Kallawaya (medicine men) from the altiplano, and curanderos (local healers or shamans). For some, magical intuition comes to them after near-fatal encounters with lightning strikes, snake bites, and harsh conditions in the rain forest. For others, spiritual prowess is gifted at birth when they are delivered from the womb in a standing-up position, or born with six fingers or toes. While their work differs in scope, their beliefs are centered around Pachamama, or Mother Earth, who is appeased through ceremonial payments.

La Paz's Mercado de las Brujas, or the Witches' Market, is a hot spot for spiritual workers, who read fortunes and facilitate cha'llas ("offerings") to Pachamama. Vendors sell items like colorful sugar tablets, cigarettes, dried starfish, lacquered frogs, coca leaves, and even llama fetuses that can be assembled into custom-made payments. In exchange, locals believe they will be blessed with better health, prosperous business, safe travel, and good luck.

In the Bolivian highlands, Kallawayas [medicine men] - known for their strong spiritual connection to the mountains and Earth - are generally called into a client's home to prepare a cha'lla. The offering is placed within a brasero, a simple metal structure heated by sacred wood. After an assortment of medicinal herbs, candies, and mystical trinkets are carefully layered together, a dried llama fetus is placed on top before the package is wrapped up in white paper - a kind of "soup" for Pachamama to feast on. As the cha'lla burns, the ceremony's participants smoke cigarettes and chew coca leaves so they can feast alongside the great Mother. Once the package has burned to ash, the client buries the remains near their home to complete the process.

One of the most popular cha'llas requested in Bolivia is for the safe construction of a building or home. Workers will ask a wealthy home-owner, for example, to hire a Kallawaya to sacrifice a live llama to Pachamama. The llama's throat is cut and its blood spilled over the construction site to keep the workers safe from accidents. If the owner can't afford a live llama, a preserved one will suffice.

These types of offerings - for good health and safety - are classified as white magic. Black magic, by contrast, can be used to curse others, like an ex-lover or enemy. Practitioners of black magic often use dark candles, ornamental skulls, and handfuls of soil dug up from cemeteries to make a more sinister type of payment.

In the lowland, rain forest-laden areas of Bolivia, however, local healers' practices vary. Here, shamans speak to the trees and believe in powerful spirits of the jungle, who can cause illness and death in nearby communities. Some use smooth black stones from nearby rivers to heal the sick. They place them face-down in a heated cup on an ailing section of the body to draw out bad energies. Others use the smoking embers of a sacred resin to cleanse the minds of their clients and drive evil spirits away.

Ayahuasca is another powerful healing tool used by shamans, who harvest the plants from the nearby rain forest and prepare the psychedelic brew. It is believed to connect the drinker to the spiritual world. Bolivia has a structured ayahuasca tourism industry that makes it simple for visitors to participate in these shaman-led ceremonies, which range from private, monthlong retreats to low-cost, one-night outings.


I'm a Witch who well practices Witchcraft. I'm also a physic. I do not necessarily have any deities. I left my catholic faith. I know many Catholic witches. I stay loyal and I love the virgin Mary. I can say she is my deity. I worship her and yeah. I do not believe in Jesus as the son of God. Had a vision of her and she told me to bring honey, milk, and a rose. I also have rose insence! Is there anyone like me? Help? Whats your input?

I come from a very strong Catholic family so we had a very strong devotion to the virgin Mary. We use to pray in front of her statue. Light up candles. Sing to her. Pray in her name. It made her look more like a God. I had many miracles in my life that I believe that came to the virgin Mary. I believe since lots of people honor her and venerate her she is more like an "energy" and her "energy" flow is alive (I dunno if you get it). I believe in her apparitions so basically the only thing I'm changing is her being a none God. Cause you know how protestants say she is a God and Catholics worship her etc. I'm making that statement true. The way I worship her is I bring offerings I pray to her. I do all my meditations around her statue. I feel her presence. I just love the idea that she has a motherly side to her.


Hi SavannahLove, I'm also a witch and psychic also Mother Mary healed my asthma in Lourdes when I was a child I have always felt close to her and she did help bring me to Jesus who I am very devoted to! I love them both very much. I have felt very close to the both of them and they've really helped me and I do feel and sense their presence, Rose is a very important rose for Mary and femininity, have you researched the mythical and healing properties of rose? I would recommend you do that. Perhaps also get yourself a bottle of rose essential oil and blend it with some carrier oil and wear it massage it into your neck and heart area and perhaps have some Rose's on your altar, I don't know much about milk however but milk is also important for Imbolc and St Brigit, also when a lady is pregnant she has milk in her breasts so perhaps this could be for working with your heart chakra. Honey I'm not sure about though so you must find some information on that. I hope this helps! God/GoddessBless


my dads side is catholic, i was raised Anglican always had an odd connection with the Virgin Mary [mom use to tell me stuff about her, specifically why Catholics pray to her, why we don't and why Catholic views about her were misguided] but i've always been drawn to her, she seems like a very positive archetype. a witch i follow Kelly-Ann Maddox works with her [or at least has her image as an archetype] and i know plenty who feel some type of connection. i don't work with her, but she seems very lovely, if you connect with her that's nice. regarding not connecting with Jesus or God, that's fine too, i look at it like people who mix pantheons, you might worship Zeus but feel no connection to any other Greek gods. nothing wrong with that, just who you're drawn to.

Our Lady of the Amazon

1. On the one hand, the Catholics railing against Pachamama will accept the Blessed Virgin Mary in her various racial/ethnic forms across various places at various times (e.g. Medjugorje, Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe).

On the other hand, these same Catholics won't accept Pachamama as Our Lady of the Amazon despite the fact that Pachamama is clearly the Blessed Virgin Mary under a different name! Pity the indigenous Amazonians who haven't had much of a break since the Spanish and Portugese made landfall in South America.

A philosophical toolkit

"Some Tools for Your Philosophical Toolkit"

Artemis, Diana (4Th Century Pagan Goddesses), Pachamama, and Mary

Everett Ferguson writes,

In the Latin west and in the Greek east the church won only by detouring the traditional piety [pagan] to other objects. The martyrs and the saints received the homage once given to the heroes and nature and household spirits. The similarity between the cult of heroes and spirits in ancient Greece and Rome and the cult of the saints in medieval Christendom (Roman and Greek) has often been observed.

…. When Christianity replaced paganism, the saints took over the functions of the specialized local deities. The situation may be described as “the old firm doing the same business at the same place under a new name and a new management”. This perhaps says too much. It was not the ancient religion itself that survived but the mentality that was part of it. (Ferguson, “Backgrounds of Early Christianity”, pg 182.)

Every emperor, every municipality, every household, in fact, had its own “gods”, its own statues. The people of the ancient Roman empire didn’t wish each other “good luck”. They wished each other, instead, the good will of the “gods”.

The conservative and traditionalist Roman Catholics who are all up in arms about the Pachamama statue ought to keep this mind, and they ought to stand back and watch as the current hierarchy of the Roman Church invokes a process of “development” that will bring the Pachamama into its pantheon of “saints” in just the same way that such “development” brought the Greek goddess Artemis (Roman Diana) into that same pantheon as “the Virgin Mary” in the fourth century.

New frontiers in textual criticism

There's a new strategy in NT textual criticism that's been gaining ground: the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM). I doubt it's possible to fully grasp CBGM unless you practice it. Having read some expositions/explanations, here are my amateur impressions:

i) On the one hand it takes greater advantage of computer technology. Digitizing all our Greek NT MSS. And thanks to Dan Wallace going around the world photographing Gk MSS, we have more than ever.

Computers make it possible to do exhaustive comparison and contrast. 

ii) CBGM makes the claim that it can recover the readings of lost MSS. Tantalizing if true. 

iii) And that computer analysis has a way of getting behind MSS to expose genealogical relationships. Useful if true.

iv) On the other hand, computers can't think. You only have to use autocorrect to see that computers have no understanding!

So computers can't replace human judgment, human intelligence. As such, I still put a lot of stock in the intuitive judgment of very talented textual critics like the late Bruce Metzger. 

It's like gifted, experienced physicians who can just tell what's wrong with a patient, without doing any tests. 

Or it's like the difference between computer chess and human  chess players. These employ fundamentally different strategies,. I once read the comparison that humans have an analogue approach. 

I had some lingering questions about CBGM, so I wrote a leading exponent, who was kind enough to respond. Here's the exchange: 

Abductions and apparitions

There's an interesting comparison between Marian apparitions and alien abductions:

i) Many people claim to have experienced alien abductions

ii) Many people claim to have experienced Marian apparitions.

iii) In many cases, I don't think they experienced anything at all. 

iv) In other cases, I think they probably did experience something which they misidentify. 

In some cases I think they probably experienced something supernatural, which they misidentify. 

v) We evaluate reported alien abductions and Marian apparitions in light of our plausibility structures. What we think the world is like. What we take to be possible, impossible, probable, or improbable. Take the stock objection that it seems impossible for aliens to traverse the vast distances between their home planet and our planet. 

There's also the question of why, if aliens are making first contact, it's so elusive and ambiguous. If they want human beings to be aware of their existence, they could do so unambiguously. If, on the other hand, they wish to conceal their existence, why are they making contact with so many human witnesses? It's too little to be convincing but too much to be undetected. 

vi) I don't think there's any antecedent objection to the existence of intelligent alien life on other planets. However, making contact with the human race would be theologically confusing, disruptive, and subversive. It would become a compelling rival religion. I don't think God would allow that if they're benevolent aliens.

The alternative is that they're malevolent aliens. If so, their intrusion into human history would amount to a false religion to delude hundreds of millions of humans, apart from a faithful remnant. The only reason God would allow that is if this is a prelude to the Antichrist. 

And, from a Protestant perspective, Marian apparitions have the same effect. So Mary wouldn't do that. Only a malevolent agent would do that. That, too, could be part of an apocalyptic countdown. 

Mind you, reported alien abductions and Marian apparitions are not as of yet on a large enough scale to sway the human race away from Christianity. So there's no reason at this point to invoke an apocalyptic explanation.  

Low self-esteem

I'm not a psychologist, so this post is based on my personal observations. Many men and women suffer from low self-esteem. In my experience, there are Christian circles where felt-needs are denigrated as "moralistic therapeutic deism". And no doubt there are televangelists (e.g. Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen) who retail in flattery, telling people what they want to hear. 

It is, however, a great mistake for churches, pastors, and lay Christins to belittle the problem of low self-esteem. Historically, Puritan pastors like Richard Baxter and Richard Sibbes who took the issue seriously, only it was called something else back then. 

Some people seem to have a naturally melancholic disposition. That can be aggravated by things like seasonal affective disorder. That shades into the whole area of depression, which overlaps with low self-esteem. 

It's my impression that people with low self-esteem generally had an unhappy childhood. They didn't get what they needed from their parents during their formative years. Likewise, they may have been shunned or bullied at school. Obesity can also contribute to low self-esteem. Or lack of athletic prowess in school. 

Low self-esteem can feed on itself. Those who suffer from low self-esteem tend to be socially withdrawn, which exacerbates low self-esteem, so it's a vicious cycle. It's hard for them to trust other people. They are shellshocked by years of rejection. 

Rejection and betrayal are a perennial risk in romance and friendship, but it's harder for those with low self-esteem to cope because they have no insulation. No psychological padding. Nothing in reserve. Rejection and betrayal will reinforce their preexisting self-doubt, self-loathing, nagging sense that they must have done something to deserve it. 

Since I'm not a psychologist, it's possible that I'm overgeneralizing or overlooking some factors. 

The alternative to low self-esteem isn't necessarily high self-esteem. It doesn't mean I should have a high opinion of myself. It just means not to be dogged by a sense of personal inadequacy and failure. 

Christianity doesn't promise complete emotional healing in this life. For people who were deeply wounded in childhood and adolescence, it may be a lifelong battle. But Christianity can make the pain manageable. Moreover, Christians who struggle with low self-esteem can be wounded healers whose vulnerability is a strength when reaching out to other depressed people. It gives them empathy and understanding. What makes a Christian saintly isn't their natural areas of strength but how they handle their weaknesses. 

Blaming oneself is the default setting for those who suffer from low self-esteem. So how can that be overcome? Since it's natural to fall back into self-doubt and self-blame, you need a regular reminder to offset that pernicious dynamic. I'd suggest that you search your memory for people who notice praiseworthy things in you that you don't notice in yourself. People can recognize good things in you that you don't see in yourself. Make a record of that. 

In addition, memorize a list of Bible verses like Rom 8:1 ("Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"), Heb 13:5 ("I will never leave you nor forsake you"), &c. Put those on your cellphone. 

Write yourself a letter (email) in which you include these things. Update it periodically. Automate the letter so that you receive it every two weeks (give or take). 

Have a collection of edifying hymns and songs to listen to regularly. Listen to that when you're driving or busing or walking. 

In addition, it's important for naturally upbeat Christians to encourage depressed Christians. They can absorb your positive energy. 

I'd add that there's an opposite danger. Some churchgoers try to live on the adrenal rush of an ersatz, bubblegummy praise-chorus piety that bears no resemblance to what many Christians must confront outside the sanctuary. The realism of the Psalms is a salutary corrective. 

In case you're wondering, I had a happy childhood, and I enjoyed school, so I don't suffer from low self-esteem. My struggles and regrets lie elsewhere.