Saturday, December 07, 2019

I didn't get the answers

Image may contain: 1 person, text

Churches need to do more apologetics. That said, apostates can't blame it on the church. Take the initiative. There's no lack of apologetic material, much of which is a mouse click away, available for free. But people are so passive and lazy. Moreover, asking the wrong people. Why think the people who attend your church are qualified to answer tough questions when they have no training in the relevant fields.

It's like saying, "I was having car trouble, so I asked all my friends what the problem was and how to fix it, but none of them had good answers, so I lost my faith in automechanics". Did it ever occur to you to ask an automechanic?

Or like saying, "My dog was sick. I asked all my friends what was wrong with her but none of them had the answer so I lost my faith in veterinary medicine!" Uh...what about asking a veterinarian?

Predestined regret

Another way to approach it that if I have regrets, God predestined me to have regrets, so there's no tension between my regret and God's decretal will. 

By the same token, there's no inconsistency in God willing one thing at one time, then willing something else at a later time, because each serves its purpose at its respective time. Like a screenwriter willing that a character initially be a villain, then, during a later plot development, willing that the character has a life-transforming experience which makes him act heroic. 

What the original objection overlooks is the instrumental value of regret. Consider people whose epitaph is "I regret nothing". That's a cringingly superficial outlook on life. A related motto is "Never look back!" In fairness, some folks have such wretched lives that there may be some wisdom to the advice in their case.

Consider two brothers who take each other for granted. They don't dislike each other, but there's no rapport. They aren't close. And there's no urgency since they have decades ahead of them.

Then one day there's a phone call from the ER saying one of the brothers died in a traffic accident. In an instant it goes from seeing each other every day, or being able to see/talk to each other whenever they want, to never seeing each other for the rest of the surviving brother's life. In a fateful moment it goes from total access to total inaccess. 

The surviving brother is overwhelmed with regret, because it's too late to make up for all the lost opportunities. However, it's not useless. Having learned from bitter experience, he can apply that retrospective insight to other neglected (or future) relationships in his life. 

Friday, December 06, 2019

Boy with no brain

Inerrancy is the enemy!

As is well-known, there are believers who lose their faith in Christianity when they lose their faith in biblical inerrancy. As a result, there's an increasing number of apologists–with W. L. Craig as the ringleader–who regard inerrancy as expendable–a "house of cards". By the same token, they regard inerrancy as a stumbling block to conversion. On that view, inerrancy should be permanently bracketed. 

But there's a flip side to this. A paradox that hasn't received the same attention. There are believers who'd lose their faith in Christianity if inerrancy is true. Their faith requires a fallible Bible because there's too much in Scripture they find intolerable. They disagree with many biblical teachings, viz. exclusivism, eternal punishment, spanking, "slavery," "misogyny," "homophobia," "genocide," &c. Inerrancy poses a threat to their faith, not if it's false, but if it's true. There are things in the Bible they're just not prepared to accept, and biblical fallibility gives them the elbow room they require to avoid a hard choice. Not because the offending teachings might be wrong, but because their truth is incompatible with a progressive worldview. So the can't afford for Scripture to be too true. Ultimately, they need a different religion than biblical theism, and biblical fallibility gives them the loophole to have a designer religion. 

Of course, a religion that conveniently changes whenever you change your beliefs can't be objectively true. It becomes a mirror rather than a guidepost. It takes its lead from you, not vice versa.  

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Fires At Enfield

Poltergeist cases often involve fires that are paranormal in some way (fires that start, proceed, and/or stop paranormally). In her doctoral thesis (187), Anita Gregory mentions that at least one incident involving fire was reported at the Hodgsons' house as early as the night of August 31, going into September 1, 1977. So, fire incidents were occurring in the Enfield case much earlier than is suggested in Playfair's book (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 187) and elsewhere.

It's useful to have some knowledge of the layout of the Hodgsons' house, so go here to see a floor plan. I'll be citing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes, using "MG" to designate Grosse's tapes and "GP" to designate Playfair's. MG30B refers to Grosse's tape 30B, and GP15A refers to Playfair's tape 15A, for example.

As far as I recall, all of the fire incidents occurred in the kitchen, for whatever reason. (Click here for a photograph of the kitchen. The man in the photo is John Burcombe, and he's facing the living room. The back hallway is behind him.) It may be that the poltergeist needed something found only in the kitchen to produce these phenomena or preferred to do it in the kitchen for some other reason. There could be a psychological factor involved, such as a tendency to associate fire with kitchens (stoves, matchboxes kept in kitchens, etc.). Whatever the reason for only producing these events in the kitchen, Peggy Hodgson noted at one point that the poltergeist fires used to happen after they'd left the kitchen, but now happen while they're there (GP52B, 7:39).

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Razon de la esperanza

Weak Christian Responses To Weak Christmas Objections

A site affiliated with the BBC recently ran a story by Spencer Mizen on the historicity of a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood. It repeats a lot of claims that are frequently made. I'll point those who are interested to my collection of resources on Christmas issues. To Mizen's credit, he often cites Ben Witherington's defense of a traditional Christian perspective. But Witherington, at least in what Mizen quotes, just repeats common observations that don't go into enough depth. Christians, especially scholars like Witherington, never should have been so focused on such insignificant arguments to begin with, and it's even worse when they keep repeating those arguments each year. I'll cite one example to illustrate the problematic nature of how the issues are approached by both Mizen and Witherington:

Matthew and Luke both tell us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and that his mother, Mary, was a virgin when she gave birth. But these are the only episodes of the nativity story in which the two accounts converge….

For some academics, the discrepancies between Luke and Matthew’s accounts cast further doubt on the nativity’s historical credibility, but not everyone agrees. “If the evangelists were going to make up a story about the origins of Jesus, and keep their story straight, you would expect their stories not to differ in detail,” argues Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. “The fact that they do, suggests we are dealing with two independent witnesses talking about the same events, with the same core substance affirmed by both.”

There's some truth to Witherington's response, but the core substance that Matthew and Luke have in common is far larger than Mizen suggests. Christians seldom make that point, and it's even rarer for them to make the point as persuasively as they should. See my article here that discusses forty examples of agreements between Matthew and Luke. The number of agreements is significant, but so is the nature of the agreements, as I discussed in another article:

Matthew and Luke agree about Jesus' childhood in ways that meet the criterion of embarrassment. They agree in exercising restraint in contexts in which it would have benefited them to have not been so restrained. They agree on unusual details that couldn't have been anticipated by Old Testament Messianic expectations, the culture of their day, or some other such source. They agree on points that add coherence to what we read in Paul, Mark, and other early sources.

Anybody who's interested in getting more information about these issues can read the two articles I've linked above. Even conservative Christian scholars typically cite less than half the agreements between Matthew and Luke that they could mention, often citing numbers as small as eight or ten, if even that many. The nature of the agreements is typically underestimated as well. Mizen bears more responsibility than Witherington for the problems with the article I'm responding to. But we wouldn't be getting so many articles like that if Christians were putting more effort into arguing as they should on these issues.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Tips on parenting

Generally good advice, although, in the age of film and TV drama, we have to strike a balance. It can't all be literary fiction. Film is not an inferior art form to the novel. Also, he has a Catholic bias. 

Tony Esolen

Enchanting the world ...
Or rather, allowing the world, which is an enchanted place, to be present to your children in all its wonder ...
Or again, how to scrub away the grime of DISENCHANTMENT, which grime is the stock in trade of our schools ...
I've gotten some requests recently about what to do to work against the grime. Here are my recommendations:
1. Get your kids the hell out of the schools.
2. Find the list of the Thousand Good Books, by John Senior. A very fine list it is. I might have a couple of quibbles here and there, but in general it is terrific.
3. Get your kids outdoors. Do things. Make things. Play games. Visit people. Find food and cook it.
4. Teach your boys to chop wood, hunt, fish, find their way in the woods, etc.; if your girls are interested, take them too.
5. Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn the stars in the sky. Get a pair of binoculars and use them. Get a small telescope. Things like those ....
6. As for BOOKS: Anything by Charles Dickens -- or rather EVERYTHING. Dickens is the greatest creator of literary characters this side of Shakespeare. For that one capacity, he can even stand the comparison with the Bard. Nobody else can, with the possible exception of Dante -- for characterization, I mean. Dickens is a comic genius, and is underrated, because anybody can read him. Read the other great novelists of the 19th century: Jane Austen, Alexandre Dumas, George Eliot, Walter Scott, Anthony Trollope, Victor Hugo, Alessandro Manzoni, Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathanael Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol ...
7. Don't ignore art, music, and poetry. Get the 19th century, before the 20th century meltdown in poetry: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, etc. Poetry delivers a lot in a small space: it is TNT. Read Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Read Browning's dramatic monologues: "My Last Duchess," "The Bishop Orders His Tomb etc.", "The Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," "An Epistle of Karshish," "Andrea del Sarto," "Caliban Upon Setebos," "Fra Lippo Lippi," "How It Strikes a Contemporary," "Cleon," ....
8. Don't go down the Lord of the Flies route, for starters. Lord of the Flies is a great work of art and thought. But it is not for beginners. It is not for your disillusioned young people, nor is Walker Percy, nor is Fitzgerald, nor is Orwell ... Not for starters. They come later ...

Do miracles have a higher burden of proof?

This is something I frequently discuss because it's a mainstay of atheism. Atheists typically say there's an overwhelming presumption against miracles. In addition there are Christian Bayesian theorists who say miracles have a higher burden of proof, but it's not insurmountable. Let's take a couple of comparisons.

Suppose I'm abducted and sedated. Next thing I know I wake up in the middle of nowhere. A wilderness with a river nearby. Is it safe for me to wade in the river?

Some rivers are hazardous.  Some rivers are frequented by crocodiles, anacondas, electric eels, or bull sharks.

What's the antecedent probability that the river is safe or hazardous to wade in? Unless I know where I am, I have no frame of reference. There's no presumption one way or the other to overcome.

I can't begin to calculate the probabilities in a vacuum. I need to know where I am. 

Or take another example. Suppose a driver spots a license plate in the parking lot. What are the odds that that car would be at the same time and place he was? In principle, you could consider the number of in-state license plates, and make an educated guess about out-of-state drivers. 

But suppose the driver is a bookie on the run from the mafia, and the car with that particular license plate belongs to triggermen who are shadowing him. That drastically changes the odds.

Now in Bayesian probability theory, as I understand it, you divvy up the odds into prior and posterior probabilities. The prior improbability may be high, but that can be overcome with more specific evidence. 

But my problem is that if the probability theorist already has all the information when he begins his analysis, why bifurcate the evidence into prior and posterior compartments? Why artificially bracket off some of what he knows to assign a prior probability value, which creates a presumption that must then be overcome? What's the point? It's not like he discovered new evidence in the process of his analysis. 

I don't think it's meaningful to lay odds on miracles in the abstract. It depends on the kind for world we live in as well as specific evidence for specific reports. 

Near miss

A stock objection to Christianity is that if God existed, he'd intervene to prevent evil. But as I've remarked on more than one occasion, that's circular in the sense that there's no trace evidence for nonevents. If something never happened, it leaves no record. 

To take a concrete example, during summer break I used to go for walks at the football field of my old junior high. One time two adolescent boys, friends or brothers, were there when I arrived. They brought their Rottweiler with them. They were fooling around inside the field, I was walking around the track, while the dog was lying in the shadows beyond the track. At one point I came between the boys and the dog. It suddenly rose up and began to snarl. The boys were too foolish to anticipate the danger of taking a dog like that into the public arena. They were able to verbally retrain it, but it was clearly untrained, with a hair-trigger reaction. They had no real control over what it did. That dog was a mauling just waiting to happen.

For me, that was a near miss. If it attacked me, I would have been hospitalized...or worse. That's a concrete illustration of a tragedy that didn't happen. And it's forgettable in a way that the alternative is not. We don't generally remember a close call because it didn't come to a head. It's the tragedies that make an impression. 

Prayer mojo

I think it likely that some Christians have more prayer mojo than others. 1 Cor 12:9 refers to a gift of faith. In context, that can't mean garden-variety Christian faith, since every Christian has to have that kind of faith to be Christian in the first place. Moreover, the whole passage is about different Christians having different gifts. So it must refer to a special kind of faith. And prayer would be a natural outlet. So it's likely that some Christians have more prayer hits than others. Some Christians may well have a gift for petitionary/intercessory prayer. God makes greater demands on some Christians that others, so there can be compensations or corresponding abilities. 

BDD and amputees

A recent popular atheist trope is the taunt, "Why won't God heal amputees?" Two assumptions or motivations lie behind the taunt:

i) Candidates for miracles are ambiguous. The test is an unambiguous example which rules out naturalistic explanations. 

ii) If God healed amputees, a spectacular miracle like that would be widely reported. 

Since there's no evidence that amputees are healed, there's no evidence that a miracle-performing God exists. So goes the argument. 

I've discussed this before, but now I'd like to approach it from a different angle. There's a mental health disorder known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). The patient feels alienated from a body part. They imagine their body part to be defective, despite the fact that it's perfectly healthy and normal. 

Nowadays, some patients take the next step by undergoing surgical mutilation to fix the perceived problem. They have normal functional body parts amputated for cosmetic reasons. 

Suppose God routinely healed amputees with BDD. That would encourage some people to test God by becoming amputees. That would be their fallback. If I change my mind, God will restore the body part!

Would that be a better kind of world or worse kind of world? Should we expect God to encourage that behavior? 

Now a village atheist will complain that my explanation is special pleading. And I agree that if there was no good evidence for bona fide miracles, then attempts to explain away the nonoccurrence of miracles consistent with the existence of a miracle-performing God are special pleading. But to the contrary, it's atheists who obsess over one arbitrarily chosen example to be the test case who are guilty of special pleading. There's plenty of evidence for unambiguous miracles. 

Killing body and soul

Jesus also said the following:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Emphasis added) (Matthew 10:28)

Hell is where God will destroy the soul! Some say that “destroy” doesn’t mean destruction in a literal sense, that it instead means conscious “ruin” or “loss.” However, aside from the consistent use of the word for “destroy” referring to killing and slaying3 when describing what one person does to another in the synoptic gospels,4 we have an indication of what is meant within the immediate context. Jesus directly contrasts what man cannot do (“kill the soul”) with what God can do. If Jesus meant that God would “ruin” body and soul in hell or something like that, then why would he directly contrast it to ability of men to kill the body and their inability to do likewise to the soul? It would amount to him saying, “don’t fear those who cannot kill the soul; instead, fear the one who isn’t going to kill the soul either.”

If God doesn’t do to the soul what humans can do only to the body (i.e. kill it, make it as vivacious and conscious as a corpse), then why would Jesus have even brought it up?

One might argue that even if annihilation5 was meant, Jesus only said that God can do it, not that he will. But, that raises the question of why Jesus would have warned about what God could do if God would never do it, even to the wicked, no matter what. If this were so, “then the same purpose would be served by some absurd warning like ‘be afraid of the One who can turn you into a melon.'”6

The meaning is simple. Man cannot render a soul as dead and lifeless as a corpse (which they can do to the body). But what man cannot do, God can and will do, which is to kill the soul, thereby destroying it as a living, conscious entity.

There are some problems with this analysis:

i) What does Joseph Dear mean by "hell"? Does he simply mean the realm of the dead (hades)? What happens after you die?

ii) In that sense, hades is not where the body is destroyed. It's not as if decedents pass into hades, body and soul, then their body is destroyed in hades. Rather, when they die they leave their body behind, in this world. The body is destroyed by the natural process of dissolution. This is the place where the body undergoes destruction. So the parallel poses an obstacle for annihilationist dualists and physicalists alike. And that raises questions about what is meant by "destroy" in this context. 

iii) Many annihilationists are physicalists rather than dualists. So they don't think the soul is destroyed in hades inasmuch as man doesn't have a soul to destroy. 

iv) Physicalists believe that everyone passes into oblivion at the moment of death–the righteous and wicked alike. So everyone is destroyed in hades. That's not a fate reserved for the wicked. True, annihilationists believe the righteous will be resurrected, but that's in tension with this prooftext–in combination with physicalism.

v) I think the gist of the passage is that there's a fate worse than death. There's more to fear in the after life than in this life.

"He is not here"

"He is not here" (Paul Helm)

Monday, December 02, 2019

End-of-life testimonies

There's a genre of conversion testimonies. I believe this originated in the evangelical faith. After all, if you're a cradle Catholic, you were supposedly born again during infant baptism. 

There are variations on the formula. Most common is how individuals became Christian in their teens or twenties. Another variation is individuals raised in the faith. They never rejected the faith, but the testimony is about how they came to personally embrace the faith they were raised in. This may often include a crisis of faith in college. 

These testimonies can be inspirational, which is why it's a popular genre. I read an edifying example just recently:

I'm an ex-Sikh, I grew up going to a c of e school and we sang hymns every morning in assembly. I was only a child but many of those hymns had something about them that even as a Sikh child I felt moved and imagined the scene of a green hill and Christ being nailed to a cross on top of the hill. This was one of my very favourite hymns. Now when I was hit 23-yrs of age I converted to Christianity after an experience with the Lord. It's been 28 yrs and I'm so glad Jesus died for me. Glory to God for His saving grace.

But there are limitations to the genre. It freezes the individual in the past. But not everyone who begins the race crosses the finish line. Some drop out. And even for those who persevere, at that age their reasons are thinner. Over a lifetime, the reasons may change, evolve, be augmented, or replaced with deeper reasons. Approaching the end of life, they will have thicker reasons for their faith, due to all the life experience under their belt. 

Some Christians suffer a crisis of faith later in life. Although it may be intellectual, it's my impression that it's more likely to be an emotional crisis of faith brought on personal tragedy and disappointment, like a family tragedy. Some pilgrims survive the crisis, but it leaves them emotionally damaged. They get through it but they don't get over it. A classic example is Jeremiah. Surely he was emotionally damaged by all the pain.

Some trees flourish and grow into shapely specimens. Others are killed by lightning, forest fire, or parasites. Others survive, but battered and broken. Disfigured. In a way, that's more inspiring that picture perfect trees. 

More useful than conversion testimonies are end-of-life testimonies. That's a gift which pilgrims on the way out should share with pilgrims on the way in. 

Jesus' Childhood In Isaiah's Servant Songs

This past Easter season, I posted an article about Jesus' fulfillment of Isaiah's first three Servant Songs. And I've often written about his fulfillment of the fourth one. It's worth noting how much relevance the passages have to Christmas issues.

Isaiah 49 opens with a reference to how the Servant had been called and named by God from the womb (verse 1; see, also, verse 5). Isaiah 42:6 uses the imagery of being held by the hand, which pictures the Servant as a child, but somewhat older than an infant. He's initially lowly and even despised (49:7), including in his origins (53:2-3). As I discuss in my posts linked above, the Servant is referred to as God, and he's referred to (especially in the Isaiah 50 passage) as unusually righteous, probably sinless, throughout his life. That includes his childhood. The plant imagery in 53:2 probably alludes to the common prophetic theme of the Messiah as a root of Jesse, a branch, etc. (e.g., 11:1, 11:10). That has implications for the Servant's (Davidic) ancestry, birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), and other issues.

The Servant Songs also expand upon what Luke tells us in his gospel about Jesus' growth as a child. Luke tells us that Jesus "continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him….And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." (2:40, 2:52) When he was twelve years old, people were "amazed at his understanding and his answers" (2:47), including "teachers" (2:46). While Jesus did learn from people like his parents and those teachers, as 2:46 indicates, he had a level of knowledge and wisdom that went beyond that sort of education. How did he acquire those attributes as a child and become the sort of teacher he was as an adult? Isaiah gives us a window into how that occurred. "The Lord God has given me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens me morning by morning, he awakens my ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord God has opened my ear; and I was not disobedient nor did I turn back." (50:4-5) When the Father refers to holding his hand and watching over him (42:6), and we're told that the Servant grew up before him "like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground" (53:2), we're getting a glimpse of how Jesus was loved, sustained, and taught by the Father when none of the relatives, teachers, and other people around him knew much about him or why he had come into the world.

In a post on Isaiah 9 last year, I discussed some connections between that passage and the Servant Songs. So, the implications of those connections should be considered here as well.

We need to be careful to not underestimate the significance of these issues. For example, not all ancient Jews expected the Messiah to have a childhood like the one Jesus had. As Raymond Brown wrote, "I mentioned in the previous Appendix (footnote 6) the expectation of a hidden Messiah who would appear suddenly, without people knowing where he came from. (This expectation is described in John 7:27, in contrast to 7:42 which involves the expectation of the Messiah's birth at Bethlehem.)" (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], 514) Think of the theophanies and angelophanies we see in the Old Testament. The Messiah could have arrived on earth as an adult. And if the Messiah was to be born into the world like other humans, wouldn't it be appropriate for him to have grown up in a royal setting, like Moses, or a sanctuary setting, like Samuel? So, when the Servant Songs refer to the Servant as arriving on earth in the womb of a mother and growing up in a humble setting and even being despised, that's significant. The Messiah didn't have to arrive that way, and many people expected otherwise and considered Jesus' origins inappropriate. When Isaiah 49:1 refers to the Servant as named by God while in the womb, something that occurred with Jesus (Matthew 1:21), we should keep in mind that naming typically didn't occur that way. In the Old Testament, the parents or other people frequently chose the child's name, including in cases that involved a pregnancy that was supernatural in some manner (Genesis 5:28-9, 25:25-6, 30:6-24, Exodus 2:10, 2:22, Judges 13:24, Ruth 4:17, 1 Samuel 1:20).

We usually think of the Servant Songs in the context of Easter. But they illustrate the strong connection that exists between Easter and Christmas. I hope this post will motivate you to remember the Servant Songs at Christmastime and to incorporate them into your celebration of the season.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

A Santa for everybody

Mark Jones 

What does Santa give to children based on their denomination?

Woke Santa steals presents from some kids and gives them to others. 

Lutheran Santa gives children nothing because they possess all in justification.

Presbyterian Santa gives children gifts with a clear conscience because they are holy.

Baptist Santa wakes up children and evangelizes them.

Catholic Santa leaves a note that they better watch out if they aren't good and leaves a donation card for the church.

Scottish Covenanter Santa comes in and tears apart anything resembling Christmas. He leaves a Psalter.

Anglican Santa gives children an advent calendar they never asked for.

Dutch Reformed Santa just takes the cookies and is too cheap to leave presents.

Reformed Baptist Santa Leaves suits and ties so all the children can look like their dad at church.

Pentecostal Santa leaves a note where he hid the presents in gibberish that no one can understand.

Eastern Orthodox Santa refused to dress up as Santa because he didn't want to remove his vestment.

Southern Baptist Santa stole a drink of alcohol because everyone was sleeping. And he left a bunch of Albert Mohler books for the kids to read.

Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method