Saturday, May 30, 2020

Can We Talk about Death?

McLatchie vs. Blais on miracles & probability

Just some observations after listening to the debate:

1. This wasn't primarily a debate over Hume and miracles. It started off that way, with brief argumentation involving Bayesian probabilities, but it quickly went off the rails. Rather the debate was a far-ranging debate that covered a lot of other topics. For example, some time was spent on debating Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, biblical inconsistencies, undesigned coincidences, and the dates of the Gospel. I think Jonathan won these debates; Blais didn't seem terribly familiar with the biblical material except in broad strokes. Also, the last moments of the debate were mainly spent debating design. Jonathan easily won this part of the debate, hands-down. Blais was obviously out of his element.

2. That said, I think Blais spoke the most throughout the debate, both in terms of amount of words and amount of time. In fact, Blais seemed to realize this when at one point he admitted he didn't want to "dominate" the debate. Yet Blais still kept interrupting Jonathan throughout the debate.

In fairness, Jonathan could have been more assertive. And the moderator (not Justin Brierley) could have done a better job at steering and focusing the debate. The moderator was far too hands-off.

3. At times, Blais came across like he was attempting the Gish gallop. The stated debate topic was on Hume and miracles, but Blais brought up the existence of God, the various flavors of theism (e.g. Blais thinks the Norse god Loki counts), the historical reliability of the Bible, biblical inconsistencies, the reliability of testimonial evidence, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, the canonical status of biblical books (e.g. Timothy), scribal interpolations (e.g. the woman caught in adultery), Jesus mythicism, parallels between early Christianity and other religions (e.g. Mormonism), parallels or analogies between miracles and UFO sightings, the progress of science dispelling superstition, and so on as if he expected Jonathan to address each and every one of these. Yet each of these could make for separate debates in their own right.

4. Nevertheless, there wasn't anything particularly novel or unfamiliar with what Blais brought up, at least not to anyone who has followed Christian and atheist debates. Blais cites and is obviously heavily relying on secular atheists like Carl Sagan, Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Sean Carroll, among others. There have been reasonable responses to most if not all of these by Triablogue members and many other Christian apologists.

5. Blais expected testimonial evidence about miracles to rise to the standard of a randomized controlled trial in modern medical research. However, why should an RCT even be an appropriate test of miracle claims in the first place? Also, it's not as if it'd be empirically possible to do an RCT on someone rising from the dead. And as far as that goes, there's nothing necessarily wrong with accepting the reliability and credibility of a single case study that's been well documented. Indeed, it only takes one bona fide miracle to demonstrate the possibility of miracles.

6. Blais tried to draw parallels between UFO sightings and Christian miracle claims. However, he needs to present an argument for why UFO sightings parallel or are analogous to Christian claims about miracles in the first place. Otherwise it's like seeing parallels between (say) Jesus' death and resurrection and the Osiris myth, but on closer inspection they're not alike.

What is the medical impact of the lockdown?

Here's a good interview with an emergency physician as well as lawyer named Simone Gold (MD Chicago Medical School, JD Stanford University):

Dividing Genesis

Friday, May 29, 2020

Universal Masking in Hospitals in the Covid-19 Era

Caught on camera

Regarding the George Floyd controversy, I'm baffled by the mind-numbing stupidity of the police in this situation. Between dashcams, body cams, and the ubiquity of private citizens toting portable electronic cameras, the public activities of the police are under almost constant surveillance, so how can they lack the presence of mind to anticipate the fallout if something like this is caught on camera? It's not just a case of failing to take Floyd's interests into consideration, for his own sake. The real puzzle is why the officer failed to take Floyd's interests into consideration for the officer's sake. The officer was acting in a way detrimental to the officer's self-interest if this became another viral video of cops behaving badly. Morality aside, why do we have cops who can't see how they are acting contrary to their own best interests? How can they be so short-sighted?

To some degree this is encouraged by grand juries that give police a slap on the wrist. But it seems to run deeper than that.

One of the oddities of human nature is the capacity for highly compartmentalized identities. Humans are into role-playing. When we wear a uniform, it's easy to become detached from our natural identity and adopt the persona of the uniform. I'm no longer me but the man in the uniform. I'm not responsible for my actions: the man in the uniform is. Likewise tribesmen who wear face paint to camouflage their natural identity and project a different persona. They are blameless. It's the man in the face paint who did it. Or the man in the badge. They don't seem to see themselves doing it. Then they're blinded-sided by the reaction of outsiders.

Clarence Thomas

This PBS documentary is only available to watch for free for a couple more days:

"Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words"

George Floyd

I don't know how accurate this is, but for what it's worth:

"George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston"

Thursday, May 28, 2020

That's just your interpretation!

A highly agitated performance by apostate Randal Rauser

1. Throughout the video, Rauser plays his dogeared hand about how conservative Christians collapse their interpretation of scripture into scripture itself. Yet his application of that distinction is totally one-sided inasmuch as he exempts his progressive interpretation from the distinction he urges on conservative Christians. The conservative understanding is just their interpretation whereas his progressive interpretation is true. 

2. He says the OT prophets had a false understanding of God because they didn't believe in the Incarnation or the possibility of an Incarnation. But that fails to distinguish between lacking belief in something, due to ignorance, and denying something. For instance, they didn't know that Jesus would be the messiah. That doesn't mean they disaffirmed the messiahship of Jesus. They just had no idea who Jesus was. They didn't know who the messiah was going to be at that level of biographical detail. But that hardly implies that they'd be opposed to Jesus as the fulfillment of messianic prophecy.

Notice how radical Rauser's position is. The messiahship of Jesus requires OT validation. Yet Rauser says OT prophets had a false concept of the messiah. Evidently he interprets the OT in unitarian terms. 

The question at issue isn't whether OT prophets were consciously Trinitarian but whether OT theism is consistent with or open to the revelation of the Trinity and Incarnation. 

In addition, while the OT witness of the Trinity is oblique, the OT contains many passages that dovetail with the more explicit witness to the Trinity. This isn't a reversal of OT theism.

A fundamental purpose of the OT is to correct false views of God. Pagan views. Not to substitute a different false view of God.

3. He also attacks the imprecatory psalms as expressing false views of God. That's another hobby horse of his. 

He says we should use Jesus as our standard of comparison to correct the OT. But that's duplicitous because, as he's expressed elsewhere, he regards Jesus as a fallible, timebound, culturally-conditioned teacher, based on Rauser's Kenotic Christology. Rauser's yardstick isn't Jesus but Rauser's moral intuitions. 

Doubt is not denial

To begin with, Rauser's a bully. He attacks soft targets. He routinely picks on Christian laymen who lack his sophistication.

In addition, he's duplicitous. Rauser's problem isn't doubt. Rauser is very dogmatic. He's convinced the Bible teaches moral and factual falsehood–including Jesus. Doubt isn't the same thing as denial. Rauser is pulling a bait-switch scam. Randal Rauser openly denies biblical teaching. And he's made it his mission in life to destroy faith in Scripture so that he can replace it with his progressive substitute for Christianity.

I have little sympathy for Christian college profs. or seminary profs. who suffer from an intellectual crisis of faith. At that stage in their education and intellectual development, they should have worked through the stock intellectual objections to Christianity. I'm more sympathetic to emotional doubt if their crisis is due to personal tragedy. Even then, they need some theodicies to fall back on.

Life From A Buried Seed

A couple of examples came to mind recently of people who bore unexpected fruit after their death:

"At a conference in Mildway in June 1876, Andrew Bonar met Constance Bullen, with whom [Robert] M'Cheyne had been well acquainted when eighteen years of age. His conversion then made little impression on her and neither did the poem which he dedicated to her at that time. Her attention was focused rather on worldly pleasures, and the sad Robert gave expression to his emotions in a poem: 'She chose the world.' She had preserved a lock of hair together with a verse of poetry that he had written for her. Her heart was touched, however, at the news of his death, and shortly afterwards she decided to follow the narrow way. Her former friend could not witness this experience; she was 'as one born out of due time,' Robert being merely instrumental in leading her to the Lord." (L.J. Van Valen, Constrained By His Love [Scotland: Christian Focus, 2002], 440)

"George Mueller, the British pastor who loved orphans and lived by faith in a most remarkable way, prayed daily for some people for fifty-two years. He never saw their conversion, but his biographer tells us that a couple of them were converted at his funeral…there are examples where prayer worked but the people praying didn't know it." (John Piper)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"Loke: Investigating the Resurrection"

Andrew Loke has several lengthy responses to critics of his new book Investigating the Resurrection in this thread. That said, there's a mixture of things with which I'd agree and things with which I'd disagree.

Loke's book is currently free on Amazon Kindle as well as on his (pdf).

The final enemy

"The Final Enemy" (Carl Trueman)

"U.S. Says Hong Kong’s Autonomy Is Gone"

The Trump administration said it could no longer certify Hong Kong’s political autonomy from China, a move that could trigger sanctions and have far-reaching consequences on the former British colony’s special trading status with the U.S.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the decision Wednesday, a week after the government in Beijing declared its intention to pass a national security law curtailing the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens.

“Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997,” Pompeo said in a statement. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.”


Hebrews 12:1 And Prayers To The Dead

Hebrews 12:1 is often cited in support of the practice of praying to the dead. I've written a lot about prayer to the dead over the years, but I haven't said much about Hebrews 12:1, as far as I recall.

We're often told to focus on what the passage says about a group of people surrounding those who are running in a race. That brings to mind something like an athletic event in a stadium. The audience in the Hebrews 12 context is the deceased believers of chapter 11, with the implication that they're observing those still alive on earth as the latter run their course through life.

We need to be careful, though, about proceeding with that stadium context in mind. It may not be what the author intended. It could be that the reference to being surrounded by the individuals in chapter 11 and the reference to running in a race (a common way of referring to living as a Christian and living in general) aren't meant to be thought of as different components of the same image. The reference to running may be a new image instead. Not only is it possible in the abstract to distinguish between being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and running a race, but there's also the fact that the focus has been on the past behavior of those witnesses, not their currently observing those alive on earth. Putting the cloud of witnesses and the race together in a stadium context requires us to think of the witnesses in a different manner than how they've just been described.

Let's assume, though, that the author is thinking of the individuals of chapter 11 watching us run in a stadium. That still wouldn't have much to do with praying to the dead, for more than one reason.

For one thing, the individuals of chapter 11 can be thought of as observing us in the sense that they anticipated us. Hebrews 11 is largely about trusting God for the future. Chapter 11 ends, in verse 40, with a reference to how modern believers are needed to fulfill the promises those deceased individuals were focused on. In that sense, they observed us from the past, in anticipation (11:13), rather than currently observing us in the afterlife. Their fellow citizens in the city they anticipated (11:16) are part of the fulfillment they expected, and in that sense they observed us from the past. That sort of interpretation goes well with the focus on the past in chapter 11 and what the last verse of the chapter (just before 12:1) tells us.

For the sake of argument, though, let's grant that the deceased individuals are observing us from the afterlife. There still wouldn't be anything significant that can be derived from the passage about praying to the dead. We often refer to one individual or group observing another individual or group in life. Children watch, and therefore learn from and imitate, their parents. Scripture often tells us to observe the lives of individuals like Paul (Philippians 3:17), that unbelievers are observing the lives of believers (1 Peter 4:4), etc. It doesn't follow that every member of every group doing the observing has exhaustive knowledge of the life of the individual or group being observed. Children don't have exhaustive knowledge of the lives of their parents. Those who were observing Paul didn't see every aspect of his life. And so on. All that Hebrews 12:1 would require under the interpretation being considered here is that some of the deceased have some knowledge of the lives of believers on earth, that all of the deceased know some of what's happening, or some other scenario along those lines. That kind of interpretation of Hebrews 12 wouldn't lead us to the conclusion that we should expect every deceased believer, every Roman Catholic Saint, or some other such group to be observing the entirety of our lives or hear any prayer a believer on earth directs to one of the deceased individuals in question.

It's commonly acknowledged that Samuel had some knowledge of events on earth in 1 Samuel 28, that Moses and Elijah had some knowledge of events on earth in the context of the Mount of Transfiguration, that the martyrs in heaven in Revelation 6:9-11 have some knowledge of events on earth, etc. I've argued for the existence of ghosts elsewhere, and they provide us with further examples of the deceased having some knowledge of events on earth.

Let's take things further, though, for the sake of argument, and assume that every deceased believer has exhaustive knowledge of the life of every believer on earth and has the ability to hear and answer every prayer that could be offered in the relevant contexts. It still wouldn't make sense to pray to them, given factors like the prohibitions of attempting to contact the dead and the lack of the practice of praying to them in the Biblical and early patristic eras.

There's nothing in Hebrews 12:1 that significantly advances the argument for praying to the dead. Even if you grant much of what proponents of the practice allege about Hebrews 12, it doesn't follow that praying to the dead is justified.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Think Christianity is dying?

Faith and Science: Observation, and Interpretation | Tim McGrew

Hume's Critique of Reported Miracles | Tim McGrew

Collective guilt

One objection to original sin is that it seems unfair to be blamed for something we didn't do. Sometimes that spills over into a parallel objection to vicarious atonement and penal substitution. I've discussed these objections from various angles over the years. But here's another consideration. 

Many cultures take collective guilt for granted. One people-group will continue to b lame another people-group for what that group or a particular representative of that group did in the past. For instance, when Ali lost the battle for succession after Muhammad died, that fomented a blood feud which continues right up to our own time. 

Likewise, the Greek Orthodox have never forgiven Roman Catholics for the Fourth Crusade. By the same token, it wouldn't surprise me if many Chinese and Koreans still hold a historical grudge against wars of aggression that Japan used to wage against her neighbors. I'm sure we could give example after example. 

Now my point is not that I think this in itself justifies the principle of collective guilt. I'd also add that collective guilt is not a general principle in scripture. The examples of Adam and Jesus are exceptional. 

My point, rather, is that whether or not collective guilt seems to be unfair is culturally-variable. In many cultures there's a powerful sense of solidarity between members of the same people-group which extends from the present into past generations, living and dead.  

And that raises the question of which is right. Is the sense of unfairness that some people feel a legitimate moral intuition or is it just the product of social conditioning in their particular culture? When two different cultures have competing sensibilities on this issue, what's the tiebreaker? 

This is why I'm inclined to be both a moral skeptic and a moral realism. That's a consistent position because moral skepticism concerns moral epistemology while moral realism concerns moral ontology. There are moral facts, but how well do we access them?

The question is the extent to which I should trust my moral intuitions. If I was born in a different culture, I might well have some radically different moral intuitions. This is one reason we need divine revelation: to reaffirm true moral intuitions and disaffirm false moral intuitions. 

What methods are used to date ancient manuscripts?

“He will see light” in Isaiah 53:11

Why Richard Dawkins Thinks AI May Replace Us

The lockdown is no longer morally justifiable

One country, two systems

Despite coronavirus restrictions, thousands in Hong Kong protesting because Hong Kong could effectively lose its democracy and be fully absorbed into communist China when the national security law passes.

The anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre is coming up too. Hong Kong has always gathered each year to commemorate the fallen in the Tiananmen Square massacre, but if Hong Kong loses its democracy, then China likely won't allow Hong Kong to do so anymore. It's forbidden to commemorate the fallen in the Tiananmen Square massacre in China.