Saturday, February 08, 2020

Mother Teresa and the same God

PVI is a brilliant philosophical theologian, but his comparison with Mother Teresa is inapt:

1. The question at issue is not whether Muslims can refer to the same God as Christians. Some Muslims have studied Christian theology, and when they attack Christian theism they are referring to the Christian God. 

The real question is whether Muslim theism is coreferential with Christian theism. To begin with, Muhammad apparently had no firsthand knowledge of the Bible. So even if he thought he was talking about the same God, that doesn't mean he knew what he was talking about. That doesn't mean he successfully refers to the same God. In addition, Islam has developed in conscious opposition to Christianity. 

To take a comparison, does Starbuck in the original BSG refer to the the same character as Starbuck in the reimagined BSG? The new Starbuck is clearly inspired by the old Starbuck. In some respects it's a similar role with a similar function. However, one is a male character while the other is a female character. That, in itself, is a major discontinuity. In addition, the psychology of the new Starbuck is so different from the original character that they aren't recognizable the same person. 

My point is not to give a definitive answer but to illustrate the difficulty with making claims about identity when there are such pronounced differences. Even on the most charitable interpretation, the relationship is far more ambiguous than PVI makes it out to be, with his facile comparison.  

2. Furthermore, there's a distinction between referring to the same God and worshipping the same God. A Muslim apologist can refer to the Christian God but that doesn't make him a worshipper of the Christian God. 

The Trinity in the OT

I'd like to make an elementary observation that's typically overlooked by unitarians. It isn't necessary for Trinitarians to demonstrate the Trinity in the OT. It's sufficient to demonstrate that OT monotheism isn't unitarian. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, it isn't necessary to find every Christian belief in the OT. In the nature of the case, the NT often goes beyond OT teaching. The NT provides additional revelation on many theological topics. 

Trump v. Romney

I've seen Romney attacked as a traitor for voting to convict Trump on one count. I think there are two sides to this argument, although I come down more heavily on one side than the other. To begin with the lighter side of the argument:

1. For several reasons, I don't think Romney's vote make him a traitor. For one thing, I don't take him that seriously. When he was running for the nomination, the first time around, and when he was running in the general election, the second time around, it was unfortunately necessary to take him seriously. But now it's only Utah voters who need to take him seriously. 

2. A US Senator doesn't work for the President. It's a separate, independent branch of gov't. He works for his constituents. He has no duty to be loyal to a President of the same party. Rather, he has a duty to act in the best interests of his constituents, and the country he represents in that capacity. 

3. I do think Trump was guilty of abuse of power, but in this situation I don't think it warrants removal from office (see below). 

4. Romney's vote was a throwaway vote, not a swing vote. It made no difference to the outcome. 

Now for the heavier side of the argument:

5. I actually think there is a loyalty issue, but it operates at a different level. Trump is protecting our civil liberties from Democrats who are striving to abrogate the Bill of Rights. Someone who's protecting your Constitutional rights is entitled to a measure of loyalty in return, although that's not a blank check. Insofar as Trump is defending my rights, I defend Trump. 

6. Romney has never been a man of principle. So I don't assume this was a vote of conscience. He's not a conviction politician.

It's possible that he's sincere in this case. He took a stand that's unpopular with his constituents back home.

But from what I can tell, Romney has a personal vendetta against Trump. So I doubt the purity of his motives. It doesn't look like a disinterested vote, but payback.

7. The Biden situation presents an intriguing dilemma. On the one hand, it's a classic abuse of authority for a president to use his official clout to try to take a political rival out of action.

On the other hand, the combined fact that Biden is corrupt as well as a contender for the presidency is a reason to investigate him. Imagine if he did become the next president. 

So the real issue is not in the first instance that he's a threat to Trump's political prospects, but that he's a potential threat to the civil liberties of Americans. Paradoxically, the very fact that he's a corrupt political rival makes him a legitimate target for investigation, even if the personal motivation is disreputable. Politicians like Biden are dangerous.

8. In a war for national survival, you don't fire your best general, even if he does some questionable things. Even if you might fire him in peacetime, the stakes are too high in wartime. Look at what we're up against. Look at the agenda of the Democrats. 

Trump's action against Biden must be counterbalanced by all his good actions as well as the uniformly disastrous actions and intentions of the Democrats. And even in his action against Biden, there are extenuating circumstances that mitigate the abuse of power (#7). His action was morally complicated. 

The question isn't whether Romney betrayed Trump but whether he betrayed Americans. Does his action betray the larger cause?

In sum, while I don't think Romney is a traitor, he is a clueless fool. 

Dracula without Christ

I suppose vampire flicks are interesting in large part because of their associations with Christianity (often Catholicism). Symbolisms involving blood and (holy) water. Children of the light vs. children of darkness. Dracula as a Cain or antichrist figure. And so on.

However the new BBC/Netflix Dracula series seems to be attempting to subvert this relation to Christianity. To secularize Dracula. To background the Christian themes and symbols in Dracula and to foreground secular elements. The series suggests that traditional Dracula tropes (e.g. fear of crosses or crucifixes, sunlight burning vampires to a crisp) are in Dracula's head. Dracula doesn't actually get burned by sunlight. Crosses don't in fact harm him. He simply fears sunlight and crosses. So it's more like a person with an irrational phobia. This in turn (the episode suggests) is because what Dracula really fears is death so he's turned his fear of death into superstitious rituals or the like in the hopes that these will keep death at bay. It's like someone afraid to walk under a ladder because he thinks it'll mean bad luck for him.

If this is the case, then it's further interesting to note the creators and showrunners are Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. Both men are known for their work on the BBC's Doctor Who as well as the BBC's Sherlock. Both are vocal secularists as well as LGBTQ supporters. Indeed, Gatiss is homosexual. As such, I wonder if perhaps Dracula is meant to mirror what most secular homosexual men fear - getting old, losing their youth, a slackening in their sexual vitality, death? Sure, many non-secularists and many non-homosexuals share these fears as well, but it seems to me it's particularly acute among homosexual men. For example, Prof. Christopher Hajek at the University of Texas-San Antonio has concluded based on his research that gay men are "scared of aging more than a lot of other people would be".

At the very least, even if it's not true of homosexual men, or no more so than the general population, it seems quite true of secular atheist or agnostic types. See this 97 year old professor for instance. He "grieves" as those "who have no hope" (1 Thes 4:13) over the death of his wife. He wrote a book arguing not to fear death when he was much younger, but at 97 years old he candidly admits he was wrong in his book. He confesses he's scared of death.

In any case, there's no ultimate hope outside Christ. That's why it's good for us to remember and be thankful that God saved us, for we too "were at that time separated from Christ...having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph 2:12). God gave us hope who had no hope. And God continues to give hope to the hopeless if only they will forsake the darkness and come into the light.

Friday, February 07, 2020

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Cross, the Switchblade, and the Gospels

Bart Ehrman alleges that the Gospels are hopelessly contradictory. Although his examples are unoriginal, he's an influential popularizer. 

In scholarly circles, a common explanation for synoptic variants is theological redaction. Matthew, Luke, and John make changes to Mark because they have their own theological agendas or rhetorical strategies. 

I think there are cases where synoptic variants are due to audience adaptation, but the appeal to redaction criticism is overused. 

A more recent version of redaction criticism is Licona's appeal to compositional devices. This has been painstakingly scrutinized by Lydia McGrew in The Mirror or the Mask, with reference to the Synoptics. She has a sequel volume (The Eye of the Beholder) forthcoming with reference to John's Gospel. 

For purposes of comparison, I'd like to step outside of Gospel criticism and take a different example. Run, Baby, Run and The Cross and the Switchblade are synoptic accounts about a missionary outreach effort to NYC street gangs. These represent independent but often overlapping records of the same events. I'm going to quote from both in reference to a particular episode. These are two firsthand accounts of the same episode by two different eyewitnesses, one told from the experience of Nicky Cruz and the other from the experience of David Wilkerson. It's useful to compare and contrast both sides. What they have in common and how they differ. One natural way they differ is that Nicky doesn't know what Wilkerson was thinking–he can only judge by appearances–while Wilkerson doesn't know what Nicky was thinking–he can only judge by appearances. 

Would it be plausible to apply redaction criticism or compositional devices to explain the differences between the two accounts? I'm going to quote some passages from both books (I've cut the dead wood).

Can God die?

My side of an exchange I had on Facebook with a unitarian pastor, regarding this video:

These are pointless conversations because they're so repetitious. Debating unitarians is like debating atheists. It's always the same arguments. They always expect you to start from scratch, as if we haven't been over this ground many times before.

You're recycling hackneyed objections to Trinitarian theology as if there are no preexisting answers to these stale objections.

That such a disingenuous comment since the question at issue is not the ability to quote scripture but what the passages mean. I've already interacted with some of your quotes. The video quotes 1 Cor 15:28, but in the context of Paul's eschatological Adam typology, it refers to the economic role of Jesus as the Last Adam. The video quotes Jn 14:28, but in a father/son relationship there can be both equality and inequality at different times. For instance, a crown prince has less authority than the king until the crown prince assumes the throne after his father dies or abdicates.

Disingenuous comment from you. First of all, there's the interpretive question. Not just quoting a statement, but what it means. Contextual considerations. Words with more than one sense. In addition, you arbitrarily confine the relevant evidence to finding one passage that says it all.

Jesus is a composite being: the divine Son in union with a rational human soul in union with a human body. So the "contradiction" is equivocal and simplistic. God qua God cannot die. God qua Incarnate can die in with respect to the body he assumed.

If Scripture teaches the two-natures of Christ, then that makes him a composite being. Yes, Scripture refers to the Father as the one God. It also refers to Jesus as the one Yahweh. Jn 17:3 isn't setting up a contrast between the Father and the Son but between the true God and false gods. The "one true God" is a synonym for Yahweh. But the NT frequently identifies Jesus as Yahweh. It's a demonstrable fact that the NT frequently equates Jesus with Yahweh. Do I need to give you a list of verses?

The argument that Jesus isn't God because God can't die is hamhanded. The unitarian apologist fails to appreciate that if your objective is to show that Trinitarianism is inconsistent, you have to assume the Trinitarian viewpoint for the sake of argument. You must show that it's inconsistent on Trinitarian grounds. But to say God died in the person of the Son Incarnate is perfectly consistent with Trinitarian theology.

Once again, you're not following the argument. If the claim is that Jesus can't be God because Jesus died but God can't die, that is claiming that the Trinitarian position is inconsistent with those two propositions. But when you attempt to accuse the opposing position of inconsistency, then the onus is on you to show that it's inconsistent on its own ground. That means you have to adopt the viewpoint of the opposing position for the sake of argument, then show (in this case) that the two propositions are contradictory. This is just a point of logic. And as I've explained, the two propositions are perfectly consonant with Incarnational theology. What Jews allegedly believed is a non sequitur, since the point at issue is whether the opposing position is logically consistent, not whether it's true. That's a separate argument. So the unitarian argument in the video is philosophically inept in that regard.

As for the pre-Christian Jewish background, scholars have documented that 2nd Temple Judaism had a two Yahwehs doctrine. Another line of evidence is illeism. Finally, the fundamental question isn't whether OT Jews believed in the Trinity, but whether the Trinity is consistent with OT monotheism.

i) Sorry, but you're the one who missed the point of the video. The video is using two different kinds of arguments. One kind of argument is to quote stock unitarian prooftexts. 

The other kind of argument involves the implicit claim that Trinitarian theology is contradictory because Jesus died, but God can't die.  So there are two different types of argument in play. You need to distinguish them. I've commented on both.

ii) You then repeat a misattribution which I corrected in a previous comment. I for one never said only the "human nature" of Jesus died. My own statement was narrower. The human nature includes body and soul. It wasn't the human nature in toto that died, but the body. The soul survived (as well as the divine nature). 

iii) Christian theologians don't argue that the divine nature in isolation is necessary for the atonement, but the divine nature in a particular combination with the human nature.  The divine nature is necessary but insufficient condition for the atonement. So your objection is confused and uninformed. 

Petty Pelosi?

I'm not sure if this is worth posting about, but for what it's worth:

State of the Union

Let's run through the State of the Union (SOTU) addresses in reverse chronological order. We'll be looking for two simple things: (1) if the president and the speaker of the House shook hands and (2) if there was a traditional introduction for the president by the speaker (i.e. "Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States").

I've hyperlinked each of the SOTUs so people can see for themselves what happened at each one. The SOTUs are also time-stamped to start at the point where people can see the handshaking as well as hear the introduction.

  • At the 2020 SOTU, Trump didn't shake hands with Pelosi. Next Pelosi gave an abbreviated introduction for Trump. And at the end of the speech, Pelosi tore up her copy of the SOTU.

  • At the 2019 SOTU, Trump and Pelosi did shake hands, but she didn't introduce him at all.

  • At the 2018 SOTU, Paul Ryan was the speaker of the House. He did shake hands with Trump. However, Ryan introduced Trump to Congress before they shook hands.

  • Trump didn't deliver a SOTU address in 2017. No president has done so at the beginning of their presidency. They wait until one year has passed to deliver their first SOTU. Instead, like his predecessors, Trump delivered an address to "a joint session of Congress" in 2017. Ryan was the speaker of the House. He shook hands with Trump, then he introduced Trump.

  • At the 2016 SOTU, Obama was president, while Ryan was the speaker of the House. Obama didn't shake hands with Ryan. Ryan gave the traditional introduction.

  • At the 2015 SOTU, John Boehner was the speaker of the House. Obama shook hands with him. Boehner gave the traditional introduction.

  • At the 2014 SOTU, Boehner and Obama shook hands. Boehner gave the traditional introduction.

    I'll stop here.

In summary

  • 2020. Trump & Pelosi. No handshaking. Yes introduction, but abbreviated. Pelosi tore up SOTU.
  • 2019. Trump & Pelosi. Yes handshaking. No introduction.
  • 2018. Trump & Ryan. Yes handshaking. Yes introduction, but introduction before handshaking.
  • 2017. Trump & Ryan. Yes handshaking. Yes introduction.
  • 2016. Obama & Ryan. No handshaking. Yes introduction.
  • 2015. Obama & Boehner. Yes handshaking. Yes introduction.
  • 2014. Obama & Boehner. Yes handshaking. Yes introduction.

Some questions

  • If Pelosi felt slighted by Trump not shaking her hand in 2020, then wasn't her abbreviated introduction sufficient recompense? Why also tear up the SOTU?
  • Why didn't Pelosi introduce Trump in 2019? Was it an oversight on Pelosi's part or an intentional slight? She had plenty of time during the applause to introduce Trump. If an introduction is important enough, then it should be important enough to interrupt the applause.
  • Given what happened in 2018, it's possible Trump could have intended to shake Pelosi's hand after her introduction in 2020, but Trump felt slighted by Pelosi's abbreviated introduction, in which case it would've been Pelosi who first slighted Trump.
  • Why didn't the media criticize Obama for not shaking hands with Ryan in 2016? Did Obama feel slighted by Ryan not shaking hands with him? If not, then presumably handshaking isn't as all-important as the media today is making it out to be.

A 97 year old philosopher faces his own death

Here's a video about a former professor of philosophy named Herbert Fingarette. As a professor, Fingarette wrote a book about death wherein he argued it's not rational to fear death. However, as a 97 year old facing death, he admits he was wrong in that book, that he's scared of death, and that doesn't wish to die, but he has no answer to this "insoluble" problem. Apparently Fingarette died later that year, not long after the video was made.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Jesus outside the NT

This post is a new way of making an old point. Unbelievers often ask if there's any evidence for Jesus outside the NT. There are standard monographs on that topic, like F. F. Bruce's classic Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament.

The assumption behind the question is that we should discount the witness of the NT because that's Christian, so that's a biased source. That, however, is confused. It's not surprising if eyewitnesses to the miracles of Jesus become Christian. So the question amounts to the demand for witnesses who saw Jesus perform miracles and rise from the dead, but refuse to believe in Jesus! 

However, I'd like to make a different point. The unstated assumption in demanding evidence for Jesus outside the NT is independent documentary evidence.

But that's not the only kind of evidence for Jesus outside the OT. Jesus isn't just a figure from the past. According to the NT, he is God Incarnate, with an immortal body. 

So there's evidence for Jesus outside the NT throughout church history. For instance, when Christians pray to Jesus, and their prayers are answered, that's evidence for Jesus outside the NT. That's evidence that Jesus is the living Lord. Jesus granted their prayer request. 

A more dramatic example concerns Christophanies. Revelatory dreams and visions of Jesus during the course of church history. I'm certainly not suggesting that we should credit every reported Christophany. But if enough individuals, in a sober state of mind, with no incentive to deceive, report the same sort of experience, that's prima facie evidence for the reality of what they report. We should sift their reports, the same way we evaluate testimonial evidence generally, but credible reports of Christophanies up to our own time constitute evidence for Jesus outside the NT. 

So the actual evidence for Jesus outside the NT is far broader than the handful of ancient documents which are constantly cited. This is a neglected line of evidence because Christian apologetics can get stuck in the rut of stereotypical arguments. Christian apologists influence each other, which leads to an insular, formulaic set of endlessly repeated arguments. They may be good arguments as they go, but it can have a blinkering effect on the apologetic imagination.  

Mephistopheles at Taylor Seminary

I define a good argument as a valid argument that could persuade a rational person. By that definition, there are good arguments for Christianity. And there are good arguments against Christianity.

Sounds like the opening gambit of a conversation with Mephistopheles. He doesn't begin by attacking Christianity. That would put Christians on the defensive. Instead, he begins by saying something nice about Christianity. A throwaway line that lulls them into lowering their guard. 

After the softening up exercise, he then relativizes his apparent concession by casually saying there are also good arguments against Christianity. That aside has the further benefit of peeking their curiosity. "Oh really? I wonder what those are?"

Having hooked them with the bait, Mephistopheles proceeds to elaborate on all the supposedly good arguments against Christianity. The initial allusion to good arguments for Christianity recedes ever further into the background, never developed and quickly forgotten. That was just to gain an opening.

And Mephistopheles needn't even demonstrate that the arguments against Christianity are stronger than the arguments for it. For his purposes, a stalemate is as good as a win. Just leave the erstwhile Christian so intellectually divided that he's now too flummoxed to come down on any side. For Mephistopheles to win, they don't have to go all the way over to atheism. Agnosticism will suffice. His objective isn't to make them atheists but to talk them out of Christianity. What matters is not what they become, but what they cease to be. For his purposes, any alternative to Christianity is a win for the dark side. 

Life imprisonment

Another reason why you can't trust progressives on crime:

Does annihilation fit the crime?

A sequel to my prior post:

One of the primary philosophic and intuitive or gut level objections to ECT is that it seems unjust to punish people forever for temporal sins. It can be viewed as cruel or tortuous and out of proportion. In the context of punishment the common expression for this is that the punishment should fit the crime.

Does annihilation fit the crime? What are ways in which a punishment is fitting or unfitting, proportionate or disproportionate, in relation to the offense?

Here the annihilationist takes issue with the temporal disparity. According to that objection, eternal punishment is quantitatively disproportionate. I already addressed that in the prior post. 

But what about about punishment that's qualitatively fitting or unfitting? Punishment in kind. Consider the concept of poetic justice or lex talons, where the punishment is ironically akin to the offense. The perpetrator suffers the same kind of thing he inflicted or intended to inflict on his victims. 

A classic example is financial restitution for a property crime. Here the punishment corresponds to the nature of the crime. 

To take a harsher example, if a hacker makes a living by ID theft, it is fitting that he should experience ID theft. Likewise, if a mugger beats up the victim, it's fitting that he should undergo public flogging. A violent punishment for a violent crime. If an arsonist burns down someone's house with everything in it, it is fitting if he should suffer the same fate.

Here the principle is proportionality in kind as well as degree. That can be taken to an inhumane or mechanical extreme. Lex talionis is controversial in some circles, but it's intuitively popular. A straightforward concept of just desert. It's mainly frowned upon by overbred critics who've been insulted from certain kinds of harm. At a safe distance, they can afford to be disapproving.  

Compare that to everlasting oblivion. How does that have anything in common with the offense? Isn't that utterly arbitrary in relation to the nature of the wrongdoing? How does everlasting oblivion correspond to different kinds of sin? 

Aristotle's Revenge

Relevant to debates over Catholic Thomism and Reformed Thomism.

Roman or Catholic?

An Unsettled Tension 
One of the roles of the pope has always been the maintenance of the balance between the Roman and the Catholic dimensions. Roman Catholicism is the ongoing tension between two fundamental aspects of the whole: the Roman side, with its emphasis on centralized authority, pyramidal structure, binding teaching and the rigidity of canon law; and the Catholic side, with its emphasis on the universal outlook, the absorption of ideas and cultures and the inclusive embrace of practices into the Catholic whole. The resulting system is Roman Catholicism, at the same time Roman and Catholic. The human genius of Roman Catholicism and one of the reasons for its survival across the centuries has been its ability to be both, though not without tensions and risks of disruption.
Popes embody the Roman Catholic synthesis by holding together the Roman apparatus and the Catholic vision. Of course, they each do it differently, especially after the Second Vatican Council. John Paul II, for example, was a very Roman pope but at the same time a very Catholic one. For example, he strongly defended traditional Roman Catholic teaching (e.g. by launching the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church), but was second to none in promoting the universality of this Church around the world (e.g. inter-religious dialogue, traveling globally). Unlike John Paul II, who was both Roman and Catholic, Benedict XVI made the pendulum swing over the Roman pole. With his staunch conservativism in areas such as liturgy, morality and the critical relationship with the secular world, Benedict appeared to be more Roman than Catholic. He seemed to be a rigid, centripetal, doctrinaire pope. A Roman pope. Many felt that his papacy, while strong in its Roman centredness and boundaries, was weak in its Catholic breadth and warmth.
This criticism helps explain why a pope like Francis was chosen to succeed him. With the election of Pope Francis, Rome seemed to be wanting the pendulum to move in the opposite direction in order to re-address the balance. Distancing himself from many Roman features of the office (e.g. his refusal of the pomp of the Vatican Curia, his blurred teaching that leans away from official teachings), Francis has embodied the role of a very Catholic pope. His stress on “Who are we to judge?”universal brotherhood with Muslims and other religions,ecological concerns, etc. made his papacy significantly shaped by the Catholic elements. The open-endedness of his teaching, coupled with the ambiguity of his language, has created some interest in the secular West, which resonates with much of what he says on social issues. This is to say that he is a very Catholic pope. Perhaps too Catholic andtoo little Roman for a growing number of Roman Catholics!

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Forgiving Hitler

Your 95-year-old grandmother lost her family in the concentration camps of Auschwitz. One day she tells you that after converting to Christianity in 1950, she became convinced that Jesus wanted her to forgive Hitler and so she did. What is your reaction?

i) I'd probably make no attempt to correct her. Even when people are wrong, there are times when it's best to let it slide. 

ii) As I and others have argued, there's no duty to forgive the impenitent.

iii) What's the point of forgiving the damned? It doesn't absolve them. The damned will never benefit from human forgiveness. It makes absolutely no difference to them.

iv) At best, it has a psychologically therapeutic effect on the person who forgives them. Sometimes that helps them to let go of the past and move forward.

v) That said, why should we forgive those whom God refuses to forgive? If God hasn't forgiven Hitler, why should I? 

vi) But even assuming that she has the prerogative to forgive Hitler for when he did to her, she has no prerogative to forgive him for what he did to others. She can't presume to act on their behalf without their consent. 

Bragging rights

Calvinists often say that if we retain the ability to respond to the offer of salvation then we've contributed to our salvation. That's like saying that the man stranded on a cliff who remains sufficiently conscious to grasp the hand of his rescuer contributed to his own rescue.

i) Except that the man stranded on a cliff did contribute to his own rescue by cooperating with his rescuer. And even that small gesture may have been necessary to save him. 

After all, there are people who successfully commit suicide, despite rescue efforts, because they refuse to cooperate with their rescuers. They resist and evade rescue attempts. So Rauser's illustration disproves his point.

ii) Perhaps what Rauser is laboring to say in his confused and fumbling way is that even though the man stranded on the cliff did in fact contribute to his own rescue, his contribution isn't praiseworthy. But if that's Rauser's claim, he failed to express his real point. 

iii) Dropping the picturesque metaphor, if sinners have the independent ability to accept or refuse the offer of salvation, then those who accept it do contribute to their own salvation. They make a necessary personal contribution without which the outcome wouldn't occur. Rauser may deny that that gives them bragging rights, but they do contribute to the outcome since their cooperation or refusal makes a difference to the outcome. 

If I forgive you a debt of a million dollars, do you take some credit for having accepted my offer of debt forgiveness? I mean, who reasons in this way? If Calvinists thought that way in their daily lives, I might get it, but nobody thinks that way. It's just rhetorical bluster.

Hmm. I can think of someone who thinks that way:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Rom 4:2).

i) So according to Rauser, Paul's statement is just rhetorical bluster. That wouldn't be surprising, given his open disdain for biblical authority.

ii) This isn't something Calvinists say because, in the first instance, it's an inference they draw from Reformed theology. Rather, they get this direct from St. Paul. They are simply repeating or paraphrasing his principle. It's straight from Scripture. 

iii) Moreover, it's easy for Christians to develop contempt for unbelievers because so many unbelievers think and act in such willfully foolish and contemptible ways. It's very tempting to look down on unbelievers. But the principle enunciated by St. Paul is a reminder that if we're wiser and more discerning than unbelievers, that's not because we're superior by nature or achievement, but because God unilaterally changed us (Eph 2:1-5; Titus 3:3-5).  

Self-refuting annihilationism

One of the primary philosophic and intuitive or gut level objections to ECT is that it seems unjust to punish people forever for temporal sins. It can be viewed as cruel or tortuous and out of proportion. In the context of punishment the common expression for this is that the punishment should fit the crime.

I quoted this once before in a different context, but now I'd like to comment on the objection directly. This is, of course, a stock objection to everlasting punishment. I've responded to that objection on many occasions, so I having nothing to new say on that front. 

What's striking about the objection in this context is that an annihilationist organization is lodging the objection. And in that context, the objection is ironic and incongruous. 

1. How is everlasting oblivion a proportionate punishment for temporal sins? Isn't never-ending oblivion out of proportion to whatever a sinner did in a few decades on earth? 

So the objection backfires. If you grant the principle, it cuts both ways. It cuts against any kind of infinite punishment for finite wrongdoing, whether infinite conscious misery or infinite oblivion. Given the principle, both kinds of punishment are vastly incommensurate with the offense. 

2 Moreover, annihilationism is inequitable in another regard, because the damned are punished equally regardless of their sins. All the damned suffer the same fate: eternal oblivion. So the punishment is indiscriminate.

If memory serves, some annihilationists try to rectify this inequity by posting that God doesn't annihilate all the damned instantly. Some undergo temporary punishment before they are zapped.

That, however, doesn't solve the problem. There are different factors that make punishment punitive. Memory can be a factor. Some people continue to be haunted by what happened to them even if its a thing of the past. Some people never recover from psychological injuries. 

Conversely, foreboding can be a factor. Dread of what awaits you. The fear that things will never get any better. You will never put the worst behind you. 

But even if some of the damned suffer temporary punishment prior to annihilation, oblivion erases memory and foreboding alike. They can't fear the future and they can't be haunted by the past. Once they cease to exist, they can't suffer at all. So, at the end of the day, annihilationism metes out a disproportionate punishment in two respects. 

Did Trump snub Nancy?

So Nancy Pelosi tears up Trump's speech on national TV. A display of petty impotent rage at the train wreck of impeachment process. But did Trump snub her by refusing to shake her hand? I don't know from his angle what he saw. But perhaps he declined to shake her hand because he remembered what happened to Pres. Palmer:


"American paganism"

How many articles have we seen like this? 

The fake pic of the "separated" crying child. The linking of nationalism with racism, as if the USA is Iceland.'

Also, the flattening of human obligations, as if we have equal obligations to everyone. But a basic principle of "nationalism" is that you draw from the collective system what you contribute to the collective system. Many so-called "refugees" are simply looters who take without giving. They take what other people have put into the system.

America can't provide for all the needy desperate people of the world. That would turn America into the same hellhole some of them are fleeing from. People-groups must assume responsibility for their own national destiny.

Does the author of the article (David Albertson) leave his door unlocked to let whoever wants to come into his home and raid the kitchen while he's away at work?

Does he leave his keys in the car with the door unlocked for anyone who might like to use it or take it? Does he believe in private property?

Two-faced annihilationism


Evangelical conditionalists hold to a view of hell that results from a firm commitment to the truthfulness and perennial relevance of the Bible, and not from a desire to have its message be more palatable to our own culture.  We are not seeking to construct a more tolerable version of hell, as though primarily motivated by an emotional aversion to the idea of eternal torment.

Et Non

One of the primary philosophic and intuitive or gut level objections to ECT is that it seems unjust to punish people forever for temporal sins. It can be viewed as cruel or tortuous and out of proportion. In the context of punishment the common expression for this is that the punishment should fit the crime. Philosophical and subjective intuitions about the justice of God are certainly not to override what the scriptures teach, but such reasoned counter-indications at least ought to warn us and make us reconsider our current understanding of scripture.

Bertrand Russell, articulating the sentiments of many who reject the gospel of Jesus Christ, said, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that he believed in hell.” (Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 17.) Charles Darwin said, “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so . . . men who do not believe . . . will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.” (The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882, ed. Nora Barlow (W. W. Norton & Company, 1993), 87.)

Few reasons for rejecting Christianity are given more often than the prospect that the lost face an eternity of torment as punishment for their sins. Many people cannot conceive of worshiping a God so malicious (in their mind) as to cause endless suffering forever. Others simply scoff at the message of Christ, finding the traditional view of hell to be an absurdly ludicrous, laughable notion.

Drama is conflict

From what I've read, it's an unquestioned axiom that conflict is the essence of drama. That's morally disturbing if true. Is life boring unless we always have obstacles to overcome? Likewise, is life boring unless we're always setting new goals? An endless (vicious?) cycle of conflict and conflict resolution?

Does this mean heaven will be boring? What worldview is implied by the axiom that conflict is the essence of drama? 

Is conflict essential to an interesting, fulfilling life–or just essential to an interesting story (novel, movie)? But is that a tenable dichotomy? 

Is this an artificial requirement for what constitutes good drama? Is that a natural prerequisite–or has it been conditioned into us? Like needing to get high. It's fun to watch a gripping movie, but you can't live on adrenalin. 

Is conflict a staple of drama because it's such an easy, lazy way to write a story? Inject that artificial stimulant. Does it take more imagination and skill to write an interesting, satisfying story that doesn't center on conflict and conflict resolution?

The stereotypical plot forms an arc. The storyteller introduces a point of conflict. The conflict intensifies in a rising motion, then peaks. That's both the dramatic high-point and turning-point, although it may not be the structural turning-point. Usually things come to a head towards the end of the story, to maintain suspense. Then there's the falling motion when the conflict is finally resolved. The climax is delayed for as long as possible to gin up excitement. Build pressure to a breaking point. Everything after conflict resolution is anticlimactic, so that's relegated to the tail-end of the story.  

That's a perfectly good plot convention, but must every story be shoehorned into that pattern to be a good story? Once again, what's the relationship between a good story and a good life? If we run out of challenges, must we constantly invent new challenges to be happy? What does that say about the world to come? Can we enjoy life unless there's conflict? In effect, is that just busywork? Filler? 

I'm not suggesting we should eliminate conflict from storytelling. Conflict is an inescapable feature of human experience–at least in a fallen world. When we write about real life, that will include many stories where conflict is a central theme. 

The question, though, is whether this convention is smothering the potential for good stories that don't center on conflict and conflict resolution. And it goes to the larger question of the relation between life and. Is conflict necessary for a happiness? Seems to me it's about balance. We need a certain amount of variety. We need a certain amount of stability and predictability. We need some repeated pleasures. Striking a balance between change and familiarity. 

Some stories have an open ending. They create plot conflict, but leave it unresolved. In real life, many situations lack closure. All the loose ends aren't tied up into a pretty bow. In a sense, hell is a paradigm example of an open ending, where conflict is forever unresolved. 

The Credibility Of The Enfield Witnesses

An important component of evaluating Enfield or any other paranormal case is to judge the character of the witnesses. On the reliability of witnesses in general, especially as it pertains to the paranormal, see Stephen Braude's article here. I've said a lot in other posts about the evidence we have for the trustworthiness of the witnesses in the Enfield case (the initial skepticism of some of the witnesses; the ongoing skepticism of witnesses who corroborated the case; witnesses admitting facts against their interest when they could easily have denied those facts without being refuted; evidence against the fabrication of the case for money; evidence against the fabrication of the case for attention; etc.). What I want to do in this post is provide some additional illustrations from the tapes of Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair. I'll use "MG" to refer to Grosse's tapes and "GP" to refer to Playfair's. MG3B is tape 3B in Grosse's collection, GP78A is 78A in Playfair's, etc.

Human testimony is generally reliable. Many of our previous posts, on Enfield and other topics, have addressed the reliability of human memory and the limitations of the explanatory value of hallucinations, for example, and Braude's article linked above addresses such issues. We don't begin with a default assumption that people are lying, nor should we even be agnostic. Liars typically are highly selective in what they lie about. They don't have an interest in lying about most topics. And there's a danger of lying so much that their dishonesty isn't as believable as they want it to be. So, even unusually dishonest people have a lot of motivation to often tell the truth. And there are checks and balances in life. A desire to be dishonest in a particular context can be outweighed by some negative consequences that might or probably would follow from that dishonesty. Where one person has a motive to be dishonest, other people involved have motives to be honest and to oppose the dishonesty of the first individual. Where multiple people are involved in a deception, coordination is required, not only initially, but also for however long they want to maintain the deception afterward. The obstacles that sort of coordination will face are often difficult or impossible to anticipate. Planning and carrying out a deception involve time, effort, and other resources, and the more extensive the deception is, the higher the price that has to be paid to carry it out. Even where two people are sufficiently motivated to be dishonest, they can be dishonest in opposing ways. The larger the number of people we're supposed to think are lying in the same way, even though one or more of them could benefit significantly from lying in a different manner, the more problematic a fraud hypothesis becomes. And so on.

In the remainder of this post, I want to move on from these general principles to the details involved in the Enfield case. I'll start with some of the general parameters of the case, then get into some of the lesser details provided by Grosse and Playfair's tapes.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Robert Koons on sola scriptura

Robert Koons is a highly regarded philosopher by Christian colleagues. And he's a Lutheran convert to Catholicism. I always try to test my own position against the best of the competition. Here's his case for Catholicism:

The dilemma is that his case involves a comparison between Lutheranism and Catholicism. But since I'm not Lutheran, that's not my frame of reference. That makes it harder to directly evaluate his argument, since I don't cast some issues the same way he does. So there are times when I will have to reframe the issue. 

Retroengineering the canon

...the Scriptures themselves do not contain a list of which books must be included (nor even very explicit instructions about how to determine the list – is Luke or Mark an apostle?).

i) Why would you need a list if you have the Scriptures in hand? You can make a list from the Scriptures themselves.

ii) Likewise, why would you need explicit instructions about how to determine the list if you have actual examples? Just by looking that the OT and NT, you can see the kinds of books that made the cut. And by implication, the kinds of books that didn't make the cut–since they were not the same kinds of books.

iii) The church inherited the OT from the Jews. In that respect, it didn't begin with explicit instructions, but the end-product. And if you have the end-product, there's a sense in which you can reengineer the canon. 

Same thing with the NT. By the time formal canonization debates were underway, the church already had the NT books. Indeed, those are the first extant Christian writings. They were written long before the canonization debates. They were in circulation long before the canonization debates. Widely distributed and used by Christians. 

In that regard, the church at the time of canonization debates was in the same position as the Protestants. At that stage, it already had the end-product. 

By then there were other books floating around. Some legitimate (subapostolic fathers) and some illegitimate (apocrypha). But they weren't the same kinds of books we find in the NT. They didn't have the same characteristics. The Bible itself is a model. 

iv) Assuming traditional authorship (which is eminently defensible), when we look at the NT books, they were all written in the 1C. All written within living memory of Jesus. Written by apostles, protégés of apostles, or members of Christ's nuclear family. Written by eyewitnesses of Jesus or those who interviewed eyewitnesses of Jesus. 

That doesn't give you a set of instructions, but a set of characteristics. What's the competition? 

Monday, February 03, 2020

The Ur-story

It's striking that the opening scene in the Bible has all the elements of a story. A short story. Plot, characters, setting, and dialogue. 

And not just any story, but the Ur-story. This is the story that lays the basis for all other stories. Every story is contained in this story. 

God and his Spirt are the Ur-characters. They, in turn, create other characters. Human characters, and animals. God is the Ur-speaker who creates other speakers. 

It has a plot. The creation of the world. The Ur-plot. All other plots take this for granted. All other plots build on this plot. 

It has dialogue. Ur-dialogue. Initially, God is the only speaker. He seems to be talking to himself. A divine soliloquy. 

But then, in v26, the monologue switches to dialogue. There are competing interpretations for what this means. I agree with David Clines that it probably refers back to the Spirit as God's conversation partner. 

Initially, it has no setting. It begins nowhere. In a void. God is the only existent. 

Then God proceeds to create the setting. A setting can be spatial or temporal. God creates a physical setting. Places, high and low, large and small. The cosmos. Outer space. The solar system. Sun, moon, and visible stars. The earth. Land and sea. Trees. Progression from nowhere to somewhere. 

But a setting can also be a time of day or time of year. An epoch. The Middle Ages, the Old West, the Roaring Twenties, the Psychedelic Sixties. 

God creates day and night, dawn and dusk. God creates the seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter. Like watching a stage set assembled piece-by-piece. 

It's interesting to compare the creation account to its counterpart in Jn 1. Many scholars have noted the studied parallels between Jn 1:1-5 and Gen 1. 

But the allusions to the creation account pick up again at the baptism of Jesus. Water and Spirit. The avian image of the Spirit hovering above the waters, between heaven and earth. And it picks up at other points. In Gen 1, the Spirit as the breath of life. In Jn 3, the Spirit as the breath of new life. 

The Gospels as docudramas

Docudrama is a genre of modern television and videos that provides a useful lens for viewing certain narrative parts of the Bible, preeminently the Gospels.The techniques used in docudrama include the following: straightforward factual information or reportage as stated by the narrator of the documentary; commentary from the narrator; interviews with eyewitnesses or written statements by them; quotations from the writings of the subject of the documentary; video clips of speeches delivered by the subject of the documentary or excerpts from written copies of speeches; video clips that show the subject of the documentary interacting with other people (including both crowd scenes and scenes in which the subject interacts with an individual); and video clips of the physical places and landscapes in which the subject of the documentary performs important or customary actions.

Obviously there are no video clips of events that transpired in Bible times, but the genre of the docudrama is a helpful analogy to what we find in the Historical Books of the Bible and in the Gospels. These writings contain purely verbal versions of the ingredients that find their way into the docudramas that we view on television or in informational videos.  L. Ryken, A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible (Crossway 2014), 63-64.

Did Matthew miscount?

There's often thought to be a simply computational error in Matthew's genealogy (Mt 1:17). It looks like Matthew miscounted the number of generations in v17. This is discussed in standard commentaries, which rehearse different explanations. 

I don't have a new, direct explanation to offer. I'd just say that I take a different approach to the issue. I take a step back.

1. We're so conversant with the Bible that it can gives us a false sense of familiarity. But we're not 1C Palestinian Jews, and Matthew wasn't written to us. There's an in-house quality to some of his reasoning which may simply be lost on a modern reader. We are far removed in time and space from the cultural code he shared with his target audience. Imagine my dipping into the rabbinic discussions in the Talmud. It's a strange world. 

We need to have realistic expectations. What's impressive is how much of the Bible we understand. But we need to have a sense of humility, and not act like it should all be transparent to a modern reader. There's no presumption that everything in Scripture ought to make sense to a modern reader, and if it doesn't make sense to us, it must be wrong. I expect to find puzzling passages in Scripture. 

2. The initial distribution of Matthew's Gospel must have been extremely limited. There were no Christian publishing houses back then. It's not like the first run was 1000 copies. It had to be hand-copied by private scribes. 

Presumably the first readers of Matthew's Gospel were members of his social circle. He knew them and they knew him. If his genealogy committed such a conspicuous blunder in elementary arithmetic, surely one or more of his readers could have taken him aside and said, "It just doesn't add up. That's an embarrassing mistake. You need to fix it!"

And with so few copies in circulation, it wouldn't be hard at that stage of the distribution process to edit. So why was the mistake allowed to remain and be recopied? If it's that's noticeable to a modern reader, surely it was just as noticeable to the first readers. 

Perhaps it wasn't corrected because the first readers didn't perceive it to be in error. It made sense to them because they understood the code.