Saturday, April 25, 2020

God provided at a desperate time of need

Is Mephistopheles your bookie?

When I in high school I planned to go to college. I found my dream school and couldn't wait to start. There was just one problem: college is expensive. I had no way of paying for it and there was no chance that I was about to take out $200K worth of loans. I was stuck, and so I prayed to God. Please help me! Wouldn't you know it, right around that time my dad got a new job that paid a little bit more than the last one. Even more than that the job was at a local university in the same system  so they were willing to pay tuition exchange, taking care of more than three quarters of my expenses just like that.
On the one hand there's a lot written about the problem of unanswered prayer. On the other hand there are lots of Christians with personal anecdotes about dramatic answers to prayer.

But there's a third, neglected category. God is not the only supernatural agent. Although God is incomparably the most powerful, he's not the only agent who can intervene and arrange for certain things to happen. Evil spirits have power. Some witchdoctors acquire supernatural power in league with evil spirits. 

This in turn becomes the stuff of fiction. In some cases this involves a conscious pact with the devil (The legend of Faust; Rosemary's Baby). In other cases the ambitious individual may not know until it's too late what he's gotten into (The Devil's Advocate). In some cases we need to evaluate a successful answer to prayer, not merely by whether it works, but who they prayed to and the goal. Casey is a Franciscan friar. A winsome, charismatic spokesman for Catholicism. But if Catholicism is a delusive sect that leads people astray, then perhaps that was a genuine answer to prayer, but God wasn't the agent who made the necessary arrangements. Presumably, Casey prayed to Mary, but what if Mary doesn't answer prayers. 

This doesn't require a conscious Faustian bargain. Mormons imagine that their prayers are Christian prayers. It's possible to be immersed in the occult without knowing it. The devil has many aliases and front organizations. Although his power is finite, he does have the power to pull strings and make certain things happen. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Navigating life with mirrors

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Cor 13:12).

This invites a comparison and contrast with Plato's famous allegory of the cave. In Plato, the observers are born in a cave, with their back to the opening. All they see are shifting shadows cast by a fire behind them, projected against the wall of the cave. They infer what the world is like from the shadowy images.

Plato's allegory is about epistemology, and the discrepancy between appearance and reality. In particular, the real timeless world of immutable ideas, abstract universals and archetypes compared to the fleeting, mutable, sensible world, which is a shifting, evanescent copy. Their perception of reality is distorted.

Paul uses a somewhat different metaphor to illustrate a different point. For Paul, this isn't about epistemology in general or sensory perception but about the mystery or inscrutability of providence and revelation. Through providence and revelation we have a representative sample of God's plan, as far as that goes, but not enough to be fully comprehensible from our sublunary perspective.

The point of contrast is not between seeing your face in a mirror and seeing your face directly. It isn't possible for humans to see their face directly. The point, rather, is the distinction between mediated and unmediated knowledge of other things. It's like trying to drive using wing mirrors and the rearview mirror to navigate. We perceive providence through partial reflections.

For Paul, the distinction goes back to Num 12:6-8. Most prophets experience God in dreams and visions but Moses encounters God face-to-face in the person of the theophanic Angel. Even that is mediated in the sense that God manifests himself to Moses by an angelophany.

In his poem "Lady of Shalott", Alfred Lord Tennyson has a character who was cursed to live in a tower where she can only safely see the outside world through a mirror. She finally succumbs to curious temptation and ventures outside to her death. Painters like John William Waterhouse, William Holman Hunt and Dante Rossetti illustrated the poem.

For Paul, the distinction isn't between time and timelessness, appearance and reality, or direct and indirect sensory perception, but between the present and future revelation, reflections that give way to a complete perspective.

For Paul, in addition, revelation is verbal as well as visual. Not just what we can piece together based on personal observation and experience, but divine clues–like a treasure hunt. Not enough to answer all our questions, but enough to guide us to the prize.

Trump and light therapy


Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous - whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful - light. And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it?

And then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re going to test that too? Sounds interesting.

And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs? So it would be interesting to check that, so that you're going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me. So we'll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills in one minute, that's pretty powerful.

It seems to me many people are unfairly criticizing Trump on this:

1. Granted, Trump can speak ignorantly, but that's nothing new. In fact, previous politicians including Obama have made many ignorant statements, but do liberals including the mainstream media ever parse and criticize their own side as much as they criticize Trump and conservatives? Many liberals are acting like Trump is telling people to throw themselves onto a burning pyre in order to kill the coronavirus.

2. It's not as if Trump is suggesting it's definitive treatment. He's not acting like Elon Musk did several days ago. Rather Trump is asking medical experts to investigate.

3. For that matter, light has long been used as treatment for some conditions. For example, UV light treatment (e.g. PUVA therapy) is not uncommonly used in certain cases of psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo, lichen planus, cutaneous lymphoma, etc. Ask any dermatologist.

4. Granted, these aren't infectious diseases. Again, Trump doesn't have a medical background (and in fact he's deferring to medical experts on this), so one wouldn't expect Trump to be able to make the distinction. Maybe the criticism should be that Trump shouldn't make apparently impromptu remarks like this. If so, his critics might as well try to rein in what Trump says on Twitter too. /s

5. At the same time, there's some precedence in the use of phototherapy in other coronaviruses. Take the use of phototherapy in the first SARS-1 coronavirus back in 2003 (e.g. here). (Our pandemic is SARS-2.) Also, phototherapy was used in MERS (e.g. here). And even a prestigious science journal like Nature has published on the use of phototherapy against other pathogens. Granted, these aren't all great studies or anything, but it's not like there's zero precedence for phototherapy. Perhaps this is the kind of thing Trump had in the back of his mind.

6. This isn't to suggest phototherapy is a good idea with regard to the coronavirus. Indeed, phototherapy has distinct disadvantages. Not least of which is increased risk of certain cancers (e.g. BCCs, SCCs, melanoma), especially in certain skin types (e.g. Fitzpatrick scale). And I certainly don't think phototherapy should be pursued if it means less focus or attention is placed on other therapies like drug based antivirals and vaccines.

7. I should be clear: I'm not defending Trump's proposal so much as I'm criticizing his critics.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

I double-dare ya!


Christians often defend the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22 by noting that God never intended for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Fair enough, but the text still presents a massive moral problem. Imagine, by analogy, that you order Smith to rape his own daughter or be executed.

You never intend for Smith to carry out the action. You only want to test him to see if he is willing. It turns out that he is, and you stop the act from occurring. No harm no foul? Not at all. 

We cannot begin to envision the unimaginable, destructive emotional impact on both Jones and his daughter as they carry the knowledge that he was preparing to rape her. Imagine the impact on Isaac of his father's willingness to sacrifice him.

1. To the extent that this poses a dilemma, the dilemma is whether to be an atheist or a Christian. Apostate Randal Rauser constantly straddles the fence, attacking the Bible like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, while pretending to be a Christian. His position isn't consistently Christian or secular, but just a willful mishmash. 

2. It's revealing that Rauser is unable to attack the binding of Isaac directly. While there's nothing necessarily wrong with drawing analogies, it betrays a weakness of his position that he can't show what's wrong with the binding of Isaac on its own grounds, so he must swap it out for a supposedly comparable situation. But why should we shift focus on his bait-n-switch? It's just a diversionary tactic. The onus lies on him to show that that his comparison is relevantly analogous. Why take the bait? 

3. He got the names confused, but presumably Smith/Jones are the same individual (father) in the illustration.

4. In Gen 22, Isaac has no advance knowledge that he's the designated sacrificial victims. He only finds out at the very last minute. So there's no brooding emotional buildup or escalating psychological tension on his part. 

5. As as often been noted, Abraham is an old man while Isaac is a teenager. So Isaac voluntarily submits to the sacrifice even though it's within his ability to overpower his elderly father and flee the scene. He's a willing victim. 

6. Unless Rauser is an open theist, the point of the ordeal is not for Yahweh to find out the limits of Abraham's faith. If anything, it's Abraham who learns something about Yahweh when Yahweh calls it off at the last minute. And it's ultimately for the benefit of the unseen reader. 

7. One problem with Rauser's comparison is his failure to appreciate stereotypical differences between male and female psychology. As a feminist, Rauser can't make allowance for the fact that in some crucial respects, male and female are wired differently. What is unbearably traumatic for a female may not be for a male. This issue crops up in debates over women in combat, where many women wash out because they can't cope with the inhuman stress. 

To take another example, consider a sleepover where the 5th-grade boys watch Aliens. The boys take it in stride:

Imagine showing Aliens to a group of 5th-grade girls. Boys and girls naturally have a different psychological makeup for scary things. There are exceptions on both sides, but that's the norm. Many boys go out of their way to seek out scary things to see and do. They double-dare each other. 

Iron curtain

Max and Axel were brothers, 7 and 9 years apart. On August 11, 1961, Max took a street car to East Berlin to visit his aunt and uncle for the weekend. On Sunday, the army partitioned the city, setting up barbed wired fences, concrete blocks, and tearing up through streets between East and West Berlin. 

Max and Axel were now cut off for the foreseeable future. They missed each other inconsolably, but Axel was too young to do anything about it.

Years later, after he became a teenager, Axel devised a plot to rescue his brother. He got forged papers to make him pass as an East German citizen. Crossing over, he went in search of his brother. 

This was a dangerous operation on two grounds: his actions might be monitored by the Stasi, running the risk that he'd be arrested and imprisoned.

In addition, there was the danger that his brother Max might by this time have been brainwashed to be a loyal Communist. It's possible that even if Axel discovered his brother and invited him to escape, Max would turn Axel into the authorities. In East Berlin you never knew who you could trust. Everyone spied on each other. Your "best" friend might rat you out to the authorities. There were snitches everywhere. If detected, there was the risk to Max that he'd be fingered as a collaborator. 

However, because everyone was on the take, due to corruption and desperation, it was possible to get inside help–for a price.

When Axel finally tracked him down, Max as conflicted. Incredulous, overjoyed, but with a sense of divided allegiance. It took a while for Max to warm up to Alex. At first it seemed too good to be real. There was the initial shock of not having seen each other for 7 years, and the physical changes. 

Having made elaborate advance preparations, Axel arranged for them to be smuggled through Checkpoint Charlie. It was tense, but the plan succeeded. 

Prior to their separation, Max and Axel had been fairly close, but due to the extended separation and Axel's hazardous rescue operation, they were now inseparable. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Q&A with Dr Peter Atkins & Dr Jonathan McLatchie

COVID-19 talking points

Mohler purges seminary

Princeton Constitutional law prof. on free exercise of religion

Between 15-39 min. mark, Princeton Constitutional lawyer discusses the free exercise of religion during the pandemic:

The Plasticity and Flexibility of ANE Myths


1. If you were a director, filming Gen 3, how would you visualize the Tempter? As Michael Heiser has noted, the name of the Tempter is a triple entendre: snake, diviner, shining one. 

2. One question is whether angels, or certain kinds of angels, are shapeshifters. The seraphim and cherubim seem to be shapeshifters. Indeed, the technical designation is Tetramorph. 

3. Another issue is whether there's any relationship between the Tempter and the river or tributaries of Eden. In Dan 7, the prophet has a dream or night vision of hybrid sea monsters rising from the ocean. And in Rev 13, John has a vision of a hybrid sea monster rising from the ocean.

Related examples include Leviathan (Isa 27:1 Ps 74:13-14).

4. In Rev 12, the Devil originally appeared to be a serpentine constellation. The background of the night sky is like an ocean. 

5. Perhaps, in Gen 3, the Tempter originally emerges from  the river like an anaconda or sea-monster, then assumes a more humanoid shape when engaging Eve in conversation. 

The curse might indicate a shift from an aquatic to a terrestrial zone, which would be quite a comedown. 

The predominate imagery is serpentine. The iconography of the medieval dragon seems to be anachronistic. However, ancient Jews were certainly familiar with the Nile crocodile, and the fire-breathing reptile in Job 41 resembles a Nile crocodile with some legendary enhancements or accessories. 

This list doesn't include extinct prehistorical snakes like Titanoboa and Gigantophis. 

Did Jesus And The Early Christians Misdate The Second Coming?

I recently had a discussion on Facebook with a former professing Christian who argued that Jesus and the early Christians falsely predicted that Jesus' second coming would occur before the end of Jesus' generation. The discussion focused on whether the early opponents of Christianity reacted to the alleged false prophecy as we'd expect them to have reacted if there was such a false prediction. You can read the exchange here. You'll have to click on Comments in the lower right to see the comments section, then keep clicking on the relevant areas to see the entirety of the comments that follow.

Jewish visions of Jesus

The video also has an interesting anecdote by another commenter:

Open Eyes

A few of you asked me what exactly I saw that made me believe in the Messiah Jesus. I was a Marine, and deployed to Iraq 4 times, and was struggling with PTSD really bad, I was loosing more of my friends to suicide than to combat, something you don't hear on the news. One night I was having a particularly difficult night, I finally fell asleep and had a vision, not a dream. I was in space, standing on a sheet of crystal, or glass....I was looking at all of the galexies and the earth, sun, moon, stars, standing right there next to me was Jesus Christ....My soul knew who He was, He didn't say anything verbally it was all telepathic, and He never looked at me, just looked straight ahead, He said telepathically " I created everything that I am showing you, and I had you In my plan from eternity past"....that changed my life.......He had dark short curly hair, wore a very bright white robe that went down to His feet, and he had a Gold sash.....I will NEVER forget that

Edit: Open Eyes' testimony on video. More "I met Messiah" testimonies from Jews.

3 criteria to distinguish an objective apparition from a hallucination

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Is the church on the wrong side of the Establishment?

Curfews and open borders

10 or so dumb reasons to reject the Trinity

Good thing it amounts to a nice round number. If they only had 9 reasons, I might still be hanging in the balance, but that tenth reason is the clincher tipping the scales for unitarianism!

In fact, their ten reasons seem to be more than ten in some respects, but repetitious in other respects, so my numbering will go over ten. 

1. God cannot die

An obtuse objection to the Incarnation. If Jesus just is God, then Jesus can't die. But of course, that's not the Trinitarian position. Rather, Jesus is a composite individual: the divine Son in union with a human soul and human body. So Jesus vis-a-vis his body can die. 

That's analogous to dualism; we say Methuselah died when he underwent biological death, even though he has an immortal soul.

The physical death of Jesus is a necessary but insufficient condition for atonement. 

2. Does God need to be resurrected?

This piggybacks on the same blunder as #1. If Jesus just is God, then he doesn't need to resurrected, but God Incarnate is subject to resurrection. 

3. Unless you're a hypostatic union–a composite of two natures–Trinitarian the resurrection offers no hope for you

That's hard to respond to because it's not an argument. It's unclear what the claim amounts to. It's not incumbent on Trinitarians to reconstruct the intended argument.

Is the claim that unless the redeemed are just like the redeemer, there's no hope for the redeemed? Is that the general principle? If so, how does that follow?

In the case of Jesus, what is resurrected isn't the hypostatic union but the body. The death of Christ didn't dissolve the hypostatic union. The soul remained in union with the Son.

What was lost was biological life. Why must the nature of Christ parallel human nature in every respect for the physical resurrection of Christ to parallel the physical resurrection of humans? 

Strictly speaking, a resurrection doesn't require an atonement but an exercise of divine omnipotence. At the general resurrection, the damned will be raised, but not because they were redeemed. 

4. Jesus can't be a mediator between God and man if he is God

The video keeps repeating the same blunder. If Jesus just is God, then he can't play mediator between God and man. But once again, that's a straw man. Why are the unitarians on this video unable to accurately represent the position they presume to debunk? 

5. A God-man can't be tempted and so can't overcome sin–because he was made in every way like this brothers

i) That does raise some theologically significant issues. I've discussed this objection on several occasions. For instance:

ii) To begin with, Heb 4:15 is hyperbolic. Taken without qualification, this means Jesus is tempted to have sex with teenage boys or handsome twenty-something males. Yet that's only be possible if Jesus is homosexual. And if he's homosexual, then he's impervious to heterosexual temptation. At best, a unitarian has to contend that Jesus is bisexual. 

iii) The unitarian alternative fails to explain what makes Jesus sinless. What makes him the exception to the universal rule that humans are sinful? Did God protect him from succumbing to sin? What gave Jesus a special advantage to resist sin? 

6. A God-man can't ask God to bypass the cup because he'd already knows the answer 

i) In a two-minds Christology, the human mind of Jesus is not omniscient.

ii) In addition, it's psychologically possible (indeed, commonplace) to know your duty but be emotionally conflicted about your duty and wish to avoid an especially onerous obligation. And keep in mind that this was a voluntary mission. A self-imposed duty. The Son had no absolute obligation to save sinners. 

7. A God-man can't authentically overcome to succeed where Adam failed. Only a human Jesus can set the example 

i) This assumes the primary role of Jesus is to set an example. Yet even on unitarian grounds, Jesus often does things most of us can't, like performing spectacular miracles.

ii) Salvation isn't a contest between evenly-matched contenders. It's not about fair-play. If a weak swimmer is drowning until a lifeguard saves him, that's because the lifeguard is a stronger swimmer. You might complain that the lifeguard has an unfair advantage, but that's why he can rescue weaker swimmers from drowning. It's not about emulating the lifeguard. His role is not to set an example. He role is to have superior swimming skills.

8. Different versions of the Trinity

True, and there are different models of unitarianism. A unitarian can be an Arian, Socinian, deist, Molinist, open theist, fatalist, predestinarian, Muslim, Rabbinic Jew, or goddess worshiper. 

9. Sola scriptura 

Sola scriptura incompatible with subordinating our theology to extrabiblical language and conclusions of later church councils? Trintarians are expected to agree with key metaphysical terms defined in the church councils of the fourth century, viz. the Tripersonality of God, how a divine essence can be shared between persons. 

i) It's true that sola scriptura is incompatible with rubber-stamping the formulations of ecumenical church councils. However, sola scriptura doesn't rule out the use of extrabiblical language. What matters is not the words we use but the concepts. Do extrabiblical words convey biblical concepts? 

ii) It's true that Protestants should scrutinize conciliar formulations and reject them if they run counter to the witness of Scripture. But many Bible scholars have made a detailed exegetical case for the deity of Christ and Incarnation of the Son (not to mention the Trinity in general). So this objection is at best directed at high-church Protestants. 

iii) Moreover, there are Trinitarians like Herman Alexander Röell, B. B. Warfield, Paul Helm, John Frame, John Feinberg who do takes issue with the Nicene paradigm. 

10. At odds with OT monotheism

i) Compared to creatures and false gods, there are three agents who stand out in the OT: Yahweh, the Spirit of Yahweh, and the Angel of Yahweh. These are presented as occupying the divine side of reality. 

ii) The representation of God as an old man on a throne is anthropomorphic. God has no actual appearance. 

iii) In the OT, Yahweh doesn't represent the person of the Father in the NT. OT usage isn't that discriminating. To the contrary, the NT repeatedly represents Jesus as Yahweh Incarnate. 

11. Trinitarians could start by explaining how two of us can share the same essence of humanity and be two beings but when three persons share the same essence of divinity, they're one being.

i) "Being" is a very generic concept. A Trinitarian could consistently say that God is one being and three beings. The word "being" doesn't do much conceptual work. It isn't a discriminating descriptor. It's more of a verbal placeholder. 

ii) Human beings exemplify a human nature, as properties instances. Each human being is an individual sample of human nature. A concrete, finite instance or copy. 

iii) By contrast, the divine nature is not some abstract generic essence that exists over and above or independent of the Trinitarian persons. The divine nature isn't separable from the Trinitarian persons. God is the exemplar. Each person exhaustively contains the entire essence, not a sample. The Trinitarian persons aren't copies of a divine nature 

12. Speculations about Jesus having two natures imagines that somehow in the one Jesus there is an eternal divine nature and also a complete human nature consisting of a body inside the one person possessing both natures is supposed to be the divine person, the second person of the Trinity.

i) This is hard to comment on because the sentence doesn't scan. As it stands, the sentence is somewhat unintelligible. 

ii) The complete human nature consists of a human soul (or mind) as well as a human body.

iii) "Person" is a term of art, and the meaning varies depending on whether we're working with Patristic usage, Cartesian usage, modern philosophy of mind (e.g. first-person viewpoint). 

iv) Some Trinitarians have reservations about an anhypostatic union. Details aside, the basic idea is that the body and soul of Jesus don't exist apart from the hypostatic union but by virtue of the hypostatic union. They have no independent existence. The combination only exists for purposes of the Incarnation.  

13. Such a divine person would be playacting anytime he didn't know something or couldn't do something or had to overcome temptation. 

Unless you're an open theist or Mormon, some of God's interactions with Adam, Abraham, and Moses are playacting, as if God is uninformed and indecisive. 

14. "God the Son" doesn't appear anywhere in the NT.

In the NT, Jesus is called" "God" and "the Son of God". So "God the Son" is a derivative biblical title that combines two things said about Jesus in the NT. 

15. Unitarians suffer from a prejudice about complexity. Yet there are things in the created order which run deeper than the human mind can fully fathom. It that's the case, then we'd expect God to be more complex than his finite creation. There's no presumption that God will be transparent to human reason. To the contrary, that's an antecedently false presumption. Unitarians worship a man-sized God. But if God exists, there will be truths about God we can't fully absorb due to our innate intellectual limitations. 

Recipe for civil war

In the USA, the pandemic is a politically polarizing event. A major reason for this is that most majors, governors, and public health officials have pursued a containment strategy. On that view the primary threat is the "exponential" infection rate of the virus. So the solution is social distancing, in the form of lockdowns, curfews, face masks, &c. 

If you agree with that, then you view people who don't practical social distancing as a threat to public health and safety. These people are dangerous. 

This gives politicians and public officials an opportunity to play the role of saviors. They wish to be seen as spearheading the deliverance of the population from the pandemic. It's very flattering to cast yourself in the role of a savior for your people.

In addition, lots of citizens want to feel that they are part of a noble cause. So supporting the social distancing protocols makes them feel virtuous. This is their civic duty. They are loyal agents of the common good. They have no patience with dissenters. 

Now it's possible that, at least considered in isolation, the containment police is the best response to the pandemic. And many Americans were initially compliant with that. But it's begun to break down for two reasons:

i) It has catastrophic economic side-effects.

ii) Especially Democrat officials have been fanatical and fascist about the scope of social distancing, viz. using aerial drones to spy on citizens who go for walks or play catch in the backyard. 

But another problem is the suffocating one-sidedness of the message. There's another strategy that operates from the opposite assumption: herd immunity. On that view we shouldn't inhibit the infection rate. Rather, we should let the virus naturally spread and run its course since that's the way for the population to acquire herd immunity. A containment policy is counterproductive. It means the virus will probably come roaring back for a second round because not enough of the population was allowed to develop antibodies. 

The objective of the containment policy is to minimize the infection rate while the objective of the herd immunity policy is to maximize the infection rate. 

Now, I don't have a professional opinion on whether the herd immunity strategy is a better policy, although it doesn't have the devastating economical consequences. To some extent the herd immunity strategy is currently being put to the test in some Scandinavian countries. We'll see the comparative results in a while. Of course, other variables like population density are germane.

But my immediate point is that if you operate with a herd immunity model, then you don't view those who refrain from social distancing as a threat to the common good or traitors to the community. 

So much of the current political polarization is due to one-sided indoctrination in a particular model of how to combat the pandemic. Many Americans are dogmatically convinced that containment is our only hope. If you buck the system, you're the enemy. 

Now it may well be the case that disillusionment with public health officials will settle in after the crisis passes, due to the progressive downgrading of the worst-case scenarios. The "experts" will lose credibility. That's both good and bad since the experts are not monolithic, and some have given better advice than others. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

The immorality of indefinite lockdowns

Under the guise of executive powers reserved for short-term disasters such as hurricanes, leaders across the West have done the previously unthinkable: they have forbidden entire segments of the population from working. Using a nonsensical distinction between essential and non-essential (as if providing for one’s family is ever non-essential) our entire workforce has been divided into three groups: 1.) The upper class with jobs that can be performed in their pajamas at home, 2.) Laborers lucky enough to still be able to go to work, and 3.) Those intentionally rendered unemployed.

Those who belong to that final group include...Waitresses, barbers, sales employees, janitors, those who provide child care and others who often live paycheck to paycheck. Also included are those who are small business owners...

The element of surprise

1. When we read the Gospels, some of the fulfillments might seem like a stretch. Indeed, unbelievers routinely claim that the Gospel authors gerrymandered the fulfillments. I'll return to that allegation in a moment.

However, it's also becoming fashionable in some academic circles to classify the Gospels as fictional by design. The authors never intended to narrate sober history. 

But that generates a dilemma since these two objections pull in opposite directions. If the authors of the Gospels were simply fabricating tales about Jesus, then they could easily invent stories that directly correspond to OT prophecies. The fact that the correspondence isn't always immediate but requires some thinking to see how they got there means the authors of the Gospels were constrained by facts about the life of Christ. 

2. I'd add that a basic problem with classifying the Gospels as fictional is that if that's that's the case, they were written for entertainment value, yet they aren't very entertaining. Some of the miracles and exorcisms might be entertaining to an ancient reader, but the Gospels contain a lot of moral ugliness. Lots of stuff that's not entertaining. Is the Sermon on the Mount entertaining? Is the Upper Room Discourse entertaining (Jn 14-17)? Are the Passion narratives entertaining? Just compare them to the Odyssey, Argonautica, and Ovid's Metamorphosis to see a truly fictional ancient genre.

3. Considering the other side of the issue, announcing the future is balanced on a knife-edge. It's necessary to preserve an element of surprise. If the oracle is too detailed, it can be thwarted. If a war plan falls into the hands of the enemy, the operation will fail because the element of surprise has been lost. Indeed, the enemy will turn the other's side war plan into an ambush. 

4. As a result, Bible prophecies aren't a roadmap to the future. They give the destination, but not the route, with road signs and intersections. If Bible prophecies were too detailed, you could falsify the oracle by changing a link in the chain leading up to the predicted fulfillment. Change a key variable to change the forecast outcome. 

In order for Bible prophecy to be feasible, it must be sufficiently specific and/or naturally antecedently improbably to be recognizable in retrospect, but be strategically obscure ahead of time. As a matter of necessity, the correspondence between prediction and fulfillment can't be too transparent. 

5. Finally, the argument from prophecy depends on the cumulative impact of multiple independent oracles converging on the figure of Jesus. So even if individual examples are somewhat elliptical, when it's one after another, that's overwhelming. 

Noblesse oblige

1. Pampered Hollywood celebrities like Patton Oswalt have no idea how comments like this come across to average people. Celebrities are too disconnected from reality. They've evidently forgotten (if they ever knew) what it's like to be an average person. Oswalt sounds more like Marie Antoinette telling peasants: "Let them eat cake!"

2. An obvious issue is many people can't afford Netflix, video games, and getting food delivered to them if they don't have a job.

3. As far as "risking viral death". In fact, some or many people would be willing to risk their own health in order to provide for their families. I'm not suggesting people in general should risk their health or their lives, but it's certainly not something Oswalt should so readily disdain and dismiss.

4. That said, I think it might be prudent if protesters took a lesson from Hollywood by ensuring their protests have good optics. Not to give media any fodder to depict protesters as an angry or unruly mob or somesuch. For example, keep a safe distance from other protesters while protesting, wear a surgical mask, etc.

5. Another recent example is Nancy Pelosi's "let them eat ice cream" moment:

Jesus in Ancient Historians


Alex Harris is a Harvard law grad (JD). He's also a former law clerk for both Neil Gorsuch and Anthony Kennedy. He defends homeschooling against a Harvard law professor who believes homeschooling should be presumptively banned. And interestingly he's one of apostate Joshua Harris' younger brothers.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Prayer & healing

J. P. Moreland writes:

The Sunday evening service on February 20, 2005, had just ended and I wanted to get home . . . The previous Thursday a virus landed in my chest and throat, and in a period of less than three hours I went from being normal to having the worst case of laryngitis in the 35 years since college. On Friday I went to our walk-in clinic and received the bad news. The doctor warned that this virus was going around, she had seen several cases of it in the last few weeks, and there was nothing that could be done about it. I just had to wait it out. The laryngitis would last 7–10 days. This couldn’t be, I whispered to her. My main day of teaching at the university was Monday, and I was looking at a full day of lecturing. I couldn’t afford to cancel classes because I had already missed my limit of canceled classes for that semester. To make matters worse, I was scheduled to deliver a three-hour lecture at a nearby church that Tuesday evening, and I didn’t want to let the church down. It made no difference. The doctor said I wasn’t going to be able to speak either day, so I had to make other plans. My throat felt as if it had broken glass in it, and I was reduced to whispering. On Sunday evening I whispered a few greetings to various church friends; I tried to speak normally, but it hurt too much. After the service I had to get home, try to contact our department secretary . . . and cancel my classes for Monday. I could cancel with the church the next day. As I was walking out of the sanctuary, two lay elders intercepted me. ‘Hey, J.P.,’ one yelled, ‘you can’t leave yet. Hope (my wife) just told us you have laryngitis, and we can’t let you get outta here without loving on you a bit and praying for your throat!’ So one elder laid hands on my shoulders and the other placed his hand on my lower throat area and started praying. To be honest, I wasn’t listening to a word they said. I had already left the church emotionally and wanted to get home to make my phone call. But something happened. As the two men prayed gently for me, I began to feel heat pour into my throat and chest from one elder’s hand. After two or three minutes of prayer, I was completely and irreversibly healed! I started talking to the brothers normally with no pain, no effort, no trace that anything had been wrong. I never had to make that call to my secretary.


We have both seen and heard eyewitness testimony to miraculous healings . . . During the last two years, in our church alone, there have been at least six cases of cancer miraculously healed, some of them terminal and beyond medical intervention; one person who instantly had her complete eyesight restored from significant, partial blindness after receiving prayer; a Vietnam veteran blinded in one eye for twenty-five years by a grenade explosion who received full sight after being prayed for by a team of several people; and a young deaf boy who miraculously received full hearing after a friend of ours laid hands on him and prayed. These stories are real – in most cases we know the people involved in praying – and they could be multiplied many times over by other examples of miraculous healing.

More interesting anecdotes about prayer and healing here.

The Nile in Bible prophecy

Jonathan McLatchie
How should we as Christian evidentialists frame the argument from predictive prophecy? One potential vulnerability of the argument from predictive prophecy is that we take one passage rigidly literally and interpret other prophetic texts as symbolic. For example, we take Ezekiel 26 literally when it talks about the rubble of Tyre being dumped into the sea (fulfilled in 332 BC by Alexander the Great). But then when Isaiah 19 speaks about the waters of the Nile being dried up, that is interpreted symbolically (e.g. Egyptian economy takes such a hit that it's as though the Nile itself had dried up). One objection then could be that we are cherry picking what to take literally (when it fits) and what not to (when a literal interpretation doesn't fit). If the Ezekiel 26 prophecy against Tyre hadn't been literally fulfilled, we might then say that the dumping into the sea is symbolic imagery. How can a Christian assert the argument from predictive prophecy while accounting for this vulnerability?

Here's the relevant section of Isa 19:

5 And the waters of the sea will be dried up,
    and the river will be dry and parched,
6 and its canals will become foul,
    and the branches of Egypt's Nile will diminish and dry up,
    reeds and rushes will rot away.
7 There will be bare places by the Nile,
    on the brink of the Nile,
and all that is sown by the Nile will be parched,
    will be driven away, and will be no more.
8 The fishermen will mourn and lament,
    all who cast a hook in the Nile;
and they will languish
    who spread nets on the water.
9 The workers in combed flax will be in despair,
    and the weavers of white cotton.

While the figurative/economic interpretation of Isa 19 may be correct, there are those who think this was literally fulfilled when the Aswan high dam was built, which had disastrous ecological side-effects. In fact, the Aswan dam was the first thing that occurred to me when I read Jonathan's post. Jonathan probably doesn't make that association because he's half my age; the dam was built in my lifetime, whereas construction was before Jonathan's time, so it's part of my sense of recent history, just through osmosis, by living through that period and seeing news coverage. 

I'm not saying that's necessarily a fulfillment of Isa 19, but it's something to consider:

The Aswan High Dam has produced several negative side effects. Most costly is the gradual decrease in the fertility of agricultural lands in the Nile delta, which used to benefit from the millions of tons of silt deposited annually by the Nile floods. Another detriment to humans has been the spread of the disease schistosomiasis by snails that live in the irrigation system created by the dam. The reduction of waterborne nutrients flowing into the Mediterranean is suspected to be the cause of a decline in anchovy populations in the eastern Mediterranean. The end of flooding has sharply reduced the number of fish in the Nile, many of which were migratory.

Is the incredulity of the disciples plausible?

From a Facebook exchange:

This usually involves the assumption that we can assume the gospels followed the conventions of critical ancient historical writing (including critical historical biographies) even though they display almost none of the features we find in critical ancient history writing at anything like a comparable frequency.

On traditional authorship, the Gospels are more like oral histories. Matthew and John are eyewitness accounts, while Mark was resident of Jerusalem, so they naturally don't reflect the kind of research you have in say, Thucydides. The closest comparison would be Luke. 

It also usually involves ignoring important features of the gospels that don't corroborate this paradigm; for example, the fact that their authors are more interested in bringing Jesus into line with the narratives of the OT, which, apart from one another other, is pretty much the only source we know with certainty that the gospels used.

Naturally they're different in that regard since Jesus is the fulfillment of OT messianic expectation, unlike an account of the Peloponnesian War. 

Their use of the OT amounts to nothing but crystal ball-esque scriptural divination.

A vague tendentious assertion. 

Trust The Experts

Martin leaned back in his chair, stethoscope around his neck, playing with the lapel of his white lab coat.  “Well, I mean we can’t say anything is impossible.  If we had an extremely unlikely swarm of worst-case scenarios, then it’s possible that everyone could catch this.  But only in a mathematical sense of ‘possible.’  Statistically, it’s more likely that all the water in the Pacific Ocean would quantum leap up to the moon.”  He laughed.

“Thank you for your time,” Larry said.  “You’re quite an expert.”

“Well, that’s what eight years of schooling and another six in residency will get you.  Expertise.”

Larry laughed.  “Man, that’s a lot of school.  I only got my bachelor’s in English.  But don’t worry, I’ve been a journalist reading Twitter for years.  I am just as much an expert and will definitely convey what you told me accurately and precisely.”

Martin nodded, shook Larry’s hand, and returned to his rounds.  After he was finished with his 24-hour shift, he crashed on his sofa and slept so he didn’t get a chance to read his newspaper that day and never saw the article Larry had written.

Scientists Also Concerned Pacific Ocean Might Teleport to Moon