Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Good Discussion Of How Christians Should View Near-Death Experiences

Jordan Cooper just did a two-part series of videos on near-death experiences (NDEs), here and here. The first is about the evidence for the paranormality of NDEs. The second is about how Christians should view them, and it's the more important of the two. His view is somewhat different than mine, but he provides one of the best overviews of NDEs I've seen from an Evangelical. For my own articles on the subject, you can go here.

I left two comments in the thread following the second video. The first comment explained my view of NDEs and why I prefer it to Jordan's. The second comment expanded on a point Jordan made in his second video. The first comment disappeared shortly after I put up the second one. I suspect that's a problem with YouTube reacting to my posting twice in a short period of time. I don't know if that first comment went into moderation, was deleted, or whatever else. The second comment is still there, though.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Jerome On Isaiah 22 And Eliakim

Roman Catholics often claim that Matthew 16 should be interpreted in light of Isaiah 22, which supposedly should lead us to the papacy. I've discussed some of the problems with that sort of argument in the past, such as in the comments section of the thread here. It's often noted that there is no support for such a reading of Isaiah 22 in the earliest centuries of church history and that Revelation 3:7, a passage discussing Jesus, is more reminiscent of Isaiah 22 than Matthew 16 is. In his commentary on Isaiah, Jerome not only sees Jesus as the equivalent of Eliakim, but even cites Revelation 3:7 in the process of discussing the passage in Isaiah. He sees Peter in the passage, but as one of the cups of Isaiah 22:24, along with the other apostles:

Eliakim means "God rising again," or "resurrection of God." Therefore, that God rising again, who is the son of Hilkiah, that is, "of the Lord's portion," will take your [the Jewish law's] place, and will be clothed with your robe, and will be strengthened by your sash, so that what you had in the letter, he possesses in the Spirit; and he will be father of those who inhabit Jerusalem, that is, the "vision of peace," which means the church, and the house of Judah, where there is the true "confession" of faith. This is why he says to the apostles, "Little children, I am with you a little longer" [John 13:33]; and to another, "Son, your sins are forgiven" [Matt 9:2]; and to another, "Daughter, your faith has saved you" [Luke 7:50]. Also, I will give to him, he says, the key of the house of David, "who opens, and no one shuts, who shuts, and no one opens" [Rev 3:7]. And this very key will be upon his shoulder, that is, during the passion. This accords with what is written in another passage: "Whose sovereignty is on his shoulder" [Isa 9:6]. For that which he will have opened up by his passion cannot be closed, and what he will have enclosed in Jewish ceremonies, no other will open….

This is also why in the Gospel it is written, "All the people were hanging from him [like hanging from the peg in Isaiah 22:24]" [Luke 19:48]. Indeed, this happened not merely at that time, but it is fulfilled up to the present day, that they hang various kinds of vessels from him, as if from the word of God, wisdom, justice, and all things by which Christ is designated….I think that the cups [in Isaiah 22:24] are the apostles, filled with the life-giving waters, of which it is said, "Bless the Lord from the fountains of Israel" [Ps 68:26]. (Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Isaiah [Mahwah, New Jersey: The Newman Press, 2015], p. 376, section 7:41 in the commentary)

He goes on to say that verse 25, as it applies to Christ and the church, will be fulfilled in an eschatological falling away.

You don't have to agree with all of Jerome's comments in order to recognize that he makes no reference to papal implications in the passage and that his understanding illustrates how easily the passage can be interpreted differently than Roman Catholics interpret it once we head down the path of this sort of interpretation.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Healing Of Amputees, Nature Miracles, And Such Today

Sean McDowell recently interviewed Craig Keener about miracles, especially modern ones. Keener published a two-volume work on the subject a decade ago, which I've discussed at length, and he has a shorter and updated book on the topic coming out later this month. Here's a portion of the interview that discusses the healing of amputees and other modern miracles that people often consider to be of a higher nature (walking on water, etc.). For more about the healing of amputees, see here. Keener also discusses examples of miracles of the Biblical era that we don't see today. It's also worth noting that there are other ways in which the Biblical era is distinguishable from and superior to the postbiblical era in the context of miracles, and I get into some of those issues in my material on Keener's book. See this post in particular. Much of what happens with postbiblical miracles is connected to and dependent on the Biblical era, such as prophecy fulfillment and other miracles that affirm the Bible and the authority figures and events of the Biblical era in some way.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

How To Argue For Miracles And Demonic Activity In Particular

Here's something I recently wrote in private correspondence about miracles. I was addressing a large number and variety of issues and providing links to articles that say more, so I didn't go into a lot of depth in the correspondence itself. I wasn't attempting to cover every category of miracle or every related issue.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Did Hippolytus pray to Daniel's companions?

Roman Catholics and other advocates of praying to the dead often appeal to a passage in Hippolytus as evidence of the supposed earliness of the practice. For example, Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott wrote:

"The invocation of the saints is first attested by St. Hippolytus of Rome, who turns to the three companions of Daniel with the prayer: 'Think of me, I beseech you, so that I may achieve with you the same fate of martyrdom.' (In Dan. II, 30)." (Fundamentals Of Catholic Dogma [Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974], 319)

There are a lot of problems with that use of Hippolytus, and I've discussed some of those problems before. What I want to do in this post is address a line of evidence I don't recall having seen anybody else mention.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

The Leaders Of The Reformation And Evangelicalism

One of the means of accomplishing significant things is to surround yourself with good examples to learn from and emulate. John Piper has produced some good audio biographies of some of the leaders of the Reformation and later Evangelicalism.

"through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks" (Hebrews 11:4)

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Feed The Sheep By Any Hand

Here's a good article by Greg Morse about overcoming envy and other sins in Christian work.

Holding Critics Of Sola Scriptura Accountable

Critics of sola scriptura often apply objections to the concept that, if valid, would also work against their alternative to sola scriptura (objecting to relying on your own interpretation of scripture while they rely on their own interpretation of their rule of faith; objecting to arriving at a canon of scripture by means outside of scripture while they arrive at the canon of their rule of faith by means outside that rule of faith; objecting to interpreting scripture by means outside of scripture while they interpret their rule of faith by means outside that rule of faith; etc.). An easy, concise way of getting at those inconsistencies and getting critics of sola scriptura to think more deeply and more consistently is to tell them, "Scripture is to me what your rule of faith is to you." If they claim to not understand how scripture functions for an Evangelical in a particular context, or they say that they think a particular Evangelical practice violates sola scriptura, for example, tell them to apply the same reasoning to their own rule of faith and, after they do so, tell you whether they still think their objection is a good one. Part of the problem in so many discussions of sola scriptura is that critics of the concept haven't thought much about it or their own rule of faith. Getting them to think more deeply and consistently and to be more self-critical is important. It's often helpful to use a line like "Scripture is to me what your rule of faith is to you."

Sunday, October 03, 2021

The Evidence For The Reformation And Evangelicalism

Reformation Day is coming up at the end of the month. Several years ago, I posted a collection of resources on the historical roots of the Reformation and Evangelicalism. I occasionally update it. Here's a collection of posts about the papacy, and you can go to the comments section to see what's been added over the years, including some that I added within the last several months. And here's one I recently added on ecclesiology. Here's one on Josephus and Roman Catholicism. And this one discusses Catholicism and liberalism.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Further Testing On The Enfield Knocking Phenomena

In 2010, Barrie Colvin published an article documenting that some knocking phenomena in several paranormal cases had a different acoustic quality than normal knocking. More recently, John Fraser did some research on the subject and wrote about it in a book he published last year, Poltergeist! (Washington, United States: Sixth Books, 2020). Chapter 6 of that book discusses some work he did with James Tacchi to replicate Colvin's findings. Colvin, Fraser, Tacchi, and others who have written on this subject over the past several years have made suggestions for further research and added further qualifiers to Colvin's initial findings. For example, Tacchi was able to duplicate the acoustic properties of paranormal knocking by normal means when the audio recorder was around 15 feet away. But the distinction between normal and paranormal knocking seems to hold up when the recording device is closer to the source of the knocking. You can read Fraser's book and the other relevant sources if you want more details.

I don't know much about acoustic issues. I've been able to follow some portions of these discussions, but haven't been able to follow others. However, I've done a lot of research on a poltergeist case, Enfield, for which we have a large amount of relevant information and audio recordings. I want to discuss some examples of relevant incidents and information from that case that Colvin, Fraser, Tacchi, or anybody else who's interested could look into. For example, as Fraser mentions in his book, it's important that we know how close the audio recording device was to the source of the knocking, and it would be good to have a knock done by normal means in the nearby context for the sake of comparison. I know of some incidents on the Enfield tapes that meet one or more of the relevant criteria, and there's a lot of potential to find more such incidents on the tapes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Steve Hays ebooks 1

Over a year ago, I mentioned there'd be forthcoming Steve Hays ebooks. I'm terribly sorry it took such a long time! But here's the first batch:

Steve Hays chose most of the ebook covers as well as wrote all the prefaces shortly before his death. The prefaces are new and won't be found elsewhere.

There are a total of six ebooks in the current batch. Just quickly eyeballing it, it looks like Steve had somewhere around 50 ebooks. So there should be ~44 more ebooks to come, give or take. I don't know when the next batch will come, but it might be a while.

I must note, though, that I didn't do any of the work. Rather it was done by Led by the Shepherd - all the credit goes to him! Led by the Shepherd approached me to see if he could lend a hand and I'm so thankful he did because I've been quite busy in my personal life and I didn't have the time or energy to do the ebooks. May the Lord reward Led by the Shepherd for his faithful work to honor Steve's own work!

Finally the great John Hendryx has likewise generously hosted these ebooks along with a lot of other material by Steve Hays over on his world famous Monergism.com. Many thanks to John as well!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Why weren't the early Christians thinking of an assumption of Mary?

I've written some posts over the years about various historical problems with the claim that Mary was bodily assumed to heaven. See here, here, and here. While reading Stephen Carlson's book on Papias, I was reminded of a passage in Irenaeus that ought to be highlighted in this context. While discussing individuals who have been "translated" or "assumed" to heaven, Irenaeus cites the examples of Enoch, Elijah, and Paul. As I document in the articles linked above, we see the same pattern with other patristic sources for hundreds of years. They keep citing Enoch, Elijah, and Paul as individuals who were assumed to heaven, but never use Mary as an example. Irenaeus isn't just citing Enoch, Elijah, and Paul because they didn't die, as the surrounding context demonstrates. For example, he refers to "the translation of the just" and "the assumption of those who are spiritual" in general, regardless of whether those individuals had died. So, the disagreement among Catholics about whether Mary died prior to her assumption doesn't seem relevant here. And it's noteworthy that Irenaeus refers to how "the elders who were disciples of the apostles" passed down information on the subject Irenaeus is discussing (Against Heresies, 5:5:1). So, those disciples of the apostles Irenaeus refers to can be added to the list of sources who made relevant comments.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

My Labor Is With My God

"I see exceeding small fruit of my ministry, and would be glad to know of one soul to be my crown and rejoicing in the day of Christ. Though I spend my strength in vain, yet my labour is with my God (Isa. xlix.4). I wish and pray that the Lord would harden my face against all, and make me to learn to go with my face against a storm….If God have given you the Earnest of the Spirit, as part of payment of God's principal sum, ye have to rejoice; for our Lord will not lose His earnest, neither will He go back or repent Him of the bargain….Peace of conscience, liberty of prayer, the doors of God's treasure cast up to the soul, and a clear sight of Himself looking out, and saying, with a smiling countenance, 'Welcome to Me, afflicted soul;' this is the earnest that He giveth sometimes, and which maketh glad the heart, and is an evidence that the bargain will hold." (Samuel Rutherford, Letters Of Samuel Rutherford [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012], 43-44, 46)

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

There Are Treasures In The Scripture Passages You've Neglected

Last week, I quoted a passage in John Chrysostom in which he comments on the significance of Paul's remarks in 1 Corinthians 16:9. People often neglect passages like 1 Corinthians 16, where there are references to the Biblical authors' travel plans, lists of names, farewells, etc. But there's a lot of valuable material in such passages, which we'll miss if we're not attentive enough.

In addition to the example of 1 Corinthians 16:9, think of what I wrote last Easter season about the implications of 1 Corinthians 16:20 for the objectivity and physicality of Jesus' resurrection appearances. Or the references to Mark and Luke close by each other near the close of some of Paul's letters (Colossians 4:10-14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24), with implications for the authorship of two of the gospels, their relationship with each other, and Paul's knowledge of the issues addressed in those gospels. Or think of how many undesigned coincidences involve material in such portions of scripture. These are just some examples among many others that could be cited.

"As in gold mines one skillful in what relates to them would not endure to overlook even the smallest vein as producing much wealth, so in the holy Scriptures it is impossible without loss to pass by one jot or one tittle, we must search into all. For they all are uttered by the Holy Spirit, and nothing useless is written in them." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 36:1)

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Some Undesigned Coincidences Related To Peter's Names

Jesus gave Simon the name Peter (Mark 3:16, Luke 6:14, John 1:42), yet Jesus often refers to him as Simon (Matthew 16:17, 17:25, Mark 14:37, Luke 22:31, John 1:42, 21:15-17). In fact, Jesus refers to him as Simon more often than he refers to him as Peter in the records we have in the gospels. Why would Jesus give Simon a new name, yet keep reverting to the original name?

Only two of the gospels report that Jesus had a brother named Simon (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3), but his having a brother with that name makes his interest in the name Simon, even when he had given the individual a new name, more coherent. And his use of the name Simon occurs in Luke and John as well, not just in the two gospels that name Jesus' brothers. Even in Matthew and Mark, the reference to a brother named Simon is brief and occurs in passing, and that brother didn't have the sort of later prominence that James and Jude had. So, Jesus' ongoing use of the name Simon in those two gospels has some significance accordingly. Jesus' tendency to keep using the name Simon, even after giving him a new name, seems best explained as something the historical Jesus did. Not only is it reported by all of the gospels, but his having a brother named Simon makes the ongoing use of that name more coherent.

It's also noteworthy that James referred to Peter as Simeon (Acts 15:14). Scholars often date Paul's letter to the Galatians close to the time of the events of Acts 15. Contrast how Paul never refers to the disciple as Simon in Galatians, but instead keeps referring to him as Cephas or Peter, with James' choice to refer to him as Simeon in Acts 15. So, we need to explain both Jesus' preference for Simon, even though Jesus is the one who gave that disciple his new name, and James' preference for Simeon, even though James was speaking at a time in church history when Peter was the more common way of referring to the disciple, as we see in Galatians. If both Jesus and James were drawing a connection to the name of one of their brothers, that's an efficient explanation for the use of that name by both Jesus and James when they address Peter.

One potential reason why the name Simon would stand out to Jesus and James is that Simon was their youngest brother. He's mentioned last in Mark 6:3, which may be because he was the youngest, though his being mentioned third instead of last in Matthew 13:55 complicates the situation. Youngest children often get treated differently because of their status as the youngest. Jesus may have had more affection for his brother Simon accordingly. And that may have been a factor not only in Jesus' referring to Peter as Simon so much, but also in his choosing Simon to begin with, giving him such a prominent position among the disciples, and giving him a second name.

It's also striking that the angel who appears to Cornelius in Acts 10 not only refers to Peter as Simon (verse 5), but does so in a context in which there was another Simon from whom Peter had to be distinguished (Simon the tanner). The angel refers to Peter as Simon, only to go on to add a qualifier to distinguish him, which could have been avoided by just referring to him as Peter. The angel didn't have a brother named Simon, as Jesus and James did. But who would have sent the angel? God, perhaps Jesus in particular. And an angel might have deference for Jesus' preferred way of referring to Peter even if Jesus hadn't been directly involved in the sending of that angel.

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of Jesus' frequent references to himself as the Son of Man, a title rarely applied to him by the New Testament authors. Those authors, with the exception of James, also seem to have not had as much interest as Jesus had in referring to Peter as Simon. The difference isn't as pronounced as in the Son of Man context, but there is a significant difference in both contexts.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Greater Suffering Producing Greater Zeal

"Let us then, when we desire to effect any thing great and noble, not regard this, the greatness of the labor which it brings, but let us rather look to the gain. Mark, for instance, Paul, not therefore lingering, not therefore shrinking back, because 'there were many adversaries;' but because 'there was a great door,' [1 Corinthians 16:9] pressing on and persevering. Yea, and as I was saying, this was a sign that the devil was being stripped, for it is not, depend on it, by little and mean achievements that men provoke that evil monster to wrath. And so when thou seest a righteous man performing great and excellent deeds, yet suffering innumerable ills, marvel not; on the contrary, one might well marvel, if the devil receiving so many blows were to keep quiet and bear the wounds meekly….So then, though we be in peril, beloved, though we suffer ever so greatly, let us with the greater zeal apply ourselves to our labors for virtue's sake." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On First Corinthians, 43:6)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Resources On Prayers To The Dead

We have collections of resources on the topic here and here, including many discussions of the patristic and other extrabiblical evidence. Jordan Cooper has been producing some videos on the subject that make many good points. See here, for example, and you can find more by running a search on YouTube. The Old Testament prohibitions of attempting to contact the dead tend to be neglected in these discussions. The passages either aren't brought up or get dismissed for inadequate reasons. Gary Smith has some helpful comments in the first volume of his Isaiah commentary, in his discussions of Isaiah 8:19 and 19:3 (Isaiah 1-39 [Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2007], 230-31, 357). The passages seem to be condemning all attempts to contact the dead, not merely certain forms of it, like going to a medium.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Timing Of The Conversion Of Jesus' Brothers And Their Witness To The Resurrection

I've discussed the subject before, such as the significance of John 19:26-27, which implies that Jesus' brothers either weren't Christians yet or had only recently become Christians. Another issue that should be raised is what best explains the broader pattern of references to the brothers.

They're referred to in several places in the gospels, Acts, and Paul's letters, and we have two letters attributed to the brothers (James and Jude). They're mentioned in multiple places in the gospels as unbelievers. And there's an implication that they're believers in Acts 1:14. They're mentioned many times after Acts 1 (in the remainder of Acts, in Galatians, etc.). But they aren't mentioned in contexts in which close relatives often would be mentioned leading up to and just after the resurrection (e.g., Jesus' trial, the cross, the burial). Jesus' mother is referred to as present at the cross in John 19, but his brothers aren't mentioned there or in any other relevant context. Because of her gender and older age, we'd expect Mary to be less present in these contexts than Jesus' brothers would be, but she's more present instead. And it's striking how wide a diversity of individuals are mentioned in these contexts: Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the women at the tomb, the men on the road to Emmaus, all of the Twelve, etc. So, the absence of any reference to the brothers of Jesus, especially in light of their later prominence in church history, is significant.

It's possible to reconcile all of this evidence with an earlier conversion of Jesus' brothers. But the issue isn't what's possible. The issue is which explanation is best. A later conversion of Jesus' brothers, one later than the events immediately following his death, makes better sense of the evidence. But the lateness also has to account for evidence like Acts 1:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:7. The best explanation seems to be that one or more resurrection appearances, like the one in 1 Corinthians 15:7, brought about their conversion. They might have converted on the basis of what others told them about the resurrection or on some other such basis, but that explanation has less explanatory power than something like 1 Corinthians 15:7.

Given the plural "brothers" in Acts 1:14 and 1 Corinthians 9:5, the high status of the individuals mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:5, and the inclusion of a letter of Jude in the canon, a resurrection appearance to at least one brother of Jesus other than James, at least Jude, seems likely. Maybe Jesus appeared to more of his brothers than James and Jude, but it seems probable that he at least appeared to those two.

I suspect all of the appearances to Jesus' brothers happened later rather than earlier. The appearance to James is mentioned fourth among the five chronologically ordered pre-Pauline appearances in 1 Corinthians 15. Furthermore, it would make sense for the gospels to give more attention to the earlier appearances than the later ones, since the earlier ones most closely follow the preceding events and would tend to involve the most intense reactions to the resurrection, since the witnesses' knowledge of the event was so new. The absence of references to the brothers of Jesus in the gospels' resurrection accounts makes more sense if the appearances to Jesus' brothers happened later rather than earlier. I suspect they occurred during the latter half of the forty days referred to in Acts 1:3.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Eben Alexander And Gary Habermas Discussing Near-Death Experiences

They just appeared on Cameron Bertuzzi's Capturing Christianity channel on YouTube. For those who don't know, Eben Alexander had one of the most famous near-death experiences (NDEs) in recent years, and Gary Habermas is a scholar who specializes in the study of Jesus' resurrection and has done a lot of research on NDEs. Here's a comment I wrote in the YouTube thread.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Men Checking out of College

The Wall Street Journal today has an article called "A Generation of American Men Give Up on College".  In it, we find such statistics as: women make up 59.5% of college students today.  In fact, for the 2021-2022 school year, 3,805,978 women applied to colleges compared to just 2,815,810 men.  That's just under 1,000,000 more women than men, despite the fact that men actually make up 51% of the college-aged population in the US.

White it is true that women have a higher enrollment rate than men for nearly every racial and economic group, the most impact is found in the lack of white men enrolling.  As the article states, "Enrollment rates for poor and working-class white men are lower than those of young Black, Latino, and Asian men from the same economic backgrounds." Given the demographics of the United States, the fact that white men aren't even bothering to enroll in college while white women are is enough to result in the numbers we see.

The article goes on about how perhaps there needs to be support groups for men too, despite the fact that the objection has been, "Why would you give more resources to the most privileged group on campus?"  I find it ironic that the article actually quotes this without realizing the quote itself gives the reason why white men aren't going to college.

After spending K-12 being told that you are responsible for all that is evil in the world for free, why would you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to be told the same thing for four more years?  Higher education made an environment intentionally focused on preaching hatred of white men, and now they discover that white men don't want to be there.  Insert surprised Pikachu face here. Furthermore, why would anyone willingly subject themselves to such psychological abuse when the classes taught in universities have, by and large, made a university degree completely worthless anyway?

You want a specific demographic to show up in a place? Start by not hating them. A lesson that can be applied in all areas of your life too, if you really want to.

The History Of The Veneration Of Icons

Gavin Ortlund recently posted a video that provides an overview of how the veneration of icons was viewed during the first several centuries of church history.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Overestimating The Prior Improbability Of Miracles

Stephen Braude wrote:

First, it is moot whether psi phenomena violate any important scientific theory. Only from an already suspect reductionistic perspective would they seem to pose a threat to received science. It is more plausible that psi phenomena, like organic phenomena and the phenomena of consciousness generally, simply fall outside the domain of physics. Second, even if psi phenomena did violate some major scientific law(s), there is nothing sacred about received science. Like the received science of days past, much of it may require modification or rejection, even if only to countenance everyday mental processes such as volition and memory. Third, subjective probability assignments concerning scientifically anomalous phenomena carry little weight, as the history of science amply demonstrates.

Moreover, we know very little about ostensibly paranormal phenomena (especially, I suppose, if they are genuinely paranormal) but a great deal about misperception, naiveté, fraud, etc. But in that case, our assessments of the probability of the latter should be given greater weight than our assessments of the probability of the former. After all, we often have a solid basis for judging the likelihood of misperception, etc., occurring in spontaneous cases. But we have virtually no basis for deciding the likelihood of an event occurring - in the absence of fraud, misperception, etc. - that at least appears to violate some fundamental scientific law or metaphysical assumption. We do know, of course, that phenomena discovered in the past have deeply changed the course of science, and we know that phenomena considered impossible or highly improbable on received scientific principles have been found to be possible or not so improbable after all. So we know that genuine scientifically anomalous phenomena may occur, some of which eventually get incorporated into the science of the day. But earlier on, when the phenomena are still extraordinary and poorly understood, we lack the kind of information customarily needed to assess the probability of their having occurred. To judge whether a given event is likely in a particular circumstance, we must first know something of the event's nature and limits. That is how we determine the likelihood of misperception, fraud, etc. We know what sorts of situations might motivate fraud or encourage misperception, and we can make reasonable and well-informed judgments about their likelihood in the circumstances in question. In fact, we have a substantial and clear background of data to which we can appeal when making these judgments. But it is just this sort of background information that we lack in the case of ostensibly paranormal events. So it seems reasonable to decide the likelihood of an ostensibly paranormal event having occurred on the basis of the evidence against the occurrence of misperception, fraud, etc. (The Limits Of Influence [Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1997], 46-47)


He goes on to quote some comments from C.J. Ducasse:

…assertions of antecedent improbability always rest on the tacit but often in fact false assumption that the operative factors are the same in a presented case as they were in superficially similar past cases. For example, the antecedent improbability of the things an expert conjurer does onstage is extremely high if one takes as antecedent evidence what merely an ordinary person, under ordinary instead of staged conditions can do. The same is true of what geniuses, or so-called arithmetical prodigies, can do as compared with what ordinary men can do. And that a man is a genius or a calculating prodigy is shown by what he does do, not the reality of what he does by his being a genius or prodigy. This holds equally as regards a medium and his levitations or other paranormal phenomena. (47)


Braude then comments:

It would be almost transcendentally foolish to maintain that the unprecedented mnemonic abilities reported by Luria (1968/1987) are unlikely to be genuine, due to their antecedent improbability (based on the population of normal human beings). With reasoning such as this, we could forever avoid acknowledging the existence of exceptional human abilities. But then it is presumably equally indefensible to distrust nearly a quarter-century's worth of reports of decently-illuminated table levitations by D.D. Home, on the grounds that the antecedent improbability of that ability is overwhelmingly high. (47)

Thursday, September 02, 2021

The Worrying State of Medicine

I spent about four hours today at a local Urgent Care facility. Without going into too much detail, the reason I had to do this was because the doctor's appointment I had scheduled for yesterday got canceled because my doctor got sent to cover ER shifts because of labor shortages in the medical industry. The immediate problem I was seeing her for is that my oxygen saturation levels, especially early in the morning, were getting worryingly low, and after starting a new medication I had gained six pounds in a single week, which could be seen as visible swelling in my legs. Since I was measuring my O2 levels with my own pulse/ox, I used the patient portal to say, “This is what I'm measuring. What should I do for the next two weeks before our rescheduled appointment?” Thus, today, I received a call where my doctor informed me I should go to the Urgent Care facility to get examined to make sure there wasn't anything major going on.

Now the fact that my primary doctor wasn't available for a scheduled appointment due to workplace shortages of medical professionals isn't the main focus here. It is certainly worrisome, but I think what might even be more so is the exchange I had with the doctor at the Urgent Care clinic. Since I wasn't getting enough oxygen and had obvious fluid retention from swelling, he ran a litany of tests on me including EKG and a chest X-Ray, even the universal COVID test, all of which came back as “good news” (thank God). But after he got the results back and he was explaining them to me, the doctor mentioned at one point that they'd had a little difficulty with one of the tests because my chest is so large. He then immediately said, “Not that I'm saying there's anything bad about being so large.”

And this is the point I want to bring up. I actually immediately said, “No, I know it's bad. In fact, the increased weight is precisely one of the very things I pointed out to you that had me so concerned.” I immediately saw his demeanor change, as if he was relieved to be able to speak honestly instead of being terrified of offending me, and he said, “Yes, if we could get rid of that weight, it would almost certainly help across the board with everything else here.”

So why did I find this exchange so problematic that I decided to write a blog post about it, especially given that it means I had to divulge (albeit obscurely) some health details I'd rather not talk about? Because I just experienced a doctor telling me something we both knew was a lie because he was afraid that I might be offended had he told me the truth.

There's real danger in this, though. I could have easily come away from that conversation telling everyone, “I went to Urgent Care and the doctor said my weight is fine” when the reality is the exact opposite. If he was so unwilling to state the objective fact that being overweight is detrimental to one's health, then what else are doctors afraid to tell patients? It's extremely worrisome if doctors will lie for the sake of one's ego instead of telling the truth for the sake of one's life.

In the meantime, I still have a case of “We Don't Know”, but at least I know my heart and lungs are sound right now, and I don't have Wuhan Bat Lung either. Prayers would be appreciated that someone in the medical field discovers what the proximate cause is. Or, God could just zap me. I'm fine with that too.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Some Neglected Evidence For The Enfield Voice

This month and next, I want to discuss a couple of unresolved issues in the Enfield case. My post this month, this one, will address a subject I'm more pessimistic about, and next month's post will be about a topic that's more promising. Something the two posts will have in common is that I'm largely ignorant about some aspects of the issues I'll be discussing. Part of what I'm doing in these posts is bringing these issues to a larger audience with the hope that other people will be able to bring about some progress in the contexts involved.

About 20 years ago, Will Storr went to Philadelphia to spend some time with Lou Gentile, a self-described demonologist who was going to take Storr along with him on some cases Gentile was working. Storr was a British journalist and a skeptic of the paranormal. He didn't expect anything supernatural to occur during his time with Gentile. He thought he would be writing a humorous article about the delusions of a demonologist. Instead, he had some unsettling experiences that he considered supernatural, and he went on to spend a year researching the paranormal and writing a book about it, Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006). You can listen to Storr discussing his experiences with Gentile here, in an interview several years ago.

There was a subject Gentile brought up in his discussions with Storr, and it would be a recurring theme with other individuals Storr came across in the process of doing his research. Gentile mentioned a poltergeist case Storr should look into: "The Enfield case was just insane. One of the biggest, best-documented poltergeist cases in history. A real bad demonic case. Man, you should check that one out." (page 8 in Storr's book) He would check it out, to the point of interviewing Janet Hodgson, often considered the center of the poltergeist, and twice interviewing Maurice Grosse, the chief investigator of the case. Near the end of the second interview, Grosse played a recording of the poltergeist's embodied voice, and it was at that point that Storr recognized a connection between Enfield and the cases he was involved in with Gentile:

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Increasing Diversity By Killing It

Veritasium recently highlighted what he calls "The Longest-Running Evolution Experiment" on YouTube. The experiment uses E. Coli bacteria and it's been running for 33 years.  This means that there have been 74,500 generations of bacteria.

To put that in perspective, assuming a generation in humans takes about 20 years, it would take humans 1,490,000 years to have this many generations.  For the record, if you ask a Darwinist, they will say that modern humans have only been around for 300,000 to 800,000 years.  Indeed, going back 1.5 million years, our ancestors would be Homo erectus.  The point is, there are huge differences between H. erectus and H. sapiens that supposedly came about in those roughly 75,000 generations.

On the other hand, if you look bacteria after the same 75,000 generations, they are basically unchanged to this day.  Not only that, but E. Coli can be found back well before this 33-year-old experiment began too. And in all that time, no mutant bacteria formed which would be classified as anything other than E. Coli.

But this is a bit aside the point I wanted to make in talking about this bacteria now.  The point raised by the video is that the E. Coli that exists today ought to have evolved to better fit into the environment of the laboratory, and comparing older strains with modern strains show that modern strains of bacteria are, in deed, "more fit."

This is, in fact, how evolution is typically presented. Organisms become "more fit" in their environment.  The problem is that this overlooks one extremely obvious point: becoming more fit for a particular niche environment does not mean that you are more fit as an organism, as a whole.  What I mean can be seen if we hypothesize a bacteria that has 50% capability of survival in a lab and 50% capability of surviving in a kitchen and 50% capability of surviving in a bathroom.  After thousands of generations, we measure that the bacteria now has a 95% capability of surviving in a lab, and that's all we measure. We then declare that the organism is "more fit", despite the fact that for all we know the new organism has a 0% capability of surviving in a kitchen and in a bathroom now.

The point can be even more readily made by considering what happens when a human feeds wildlife.  Birds, for example, may learn that to get food they just eat the seeds from a feeder all winter long. But what happens when the old woman who used to feed them dies and there's no more seeds?  The birds die too, because they have lost the ability to get food on their own.

So the question is, can birds that learn to eat seeds from a feeder be considered "more fit" than birds that know how to search for food on their own?  Only in the extremely specialized context of that specific environment and only assuming that environment never changes could such a bird be considered "more fit."  In all other points of view, it's actually harmful to the bird to make it dependent upon humans.  

E. coli naturally lives in the intestines of a human being.  Would we still consider the E. coli to be "more fit" if we discovered that all these lab grown bacteria would die if placed back into an intestine?  Does the fact that they are the best at living in the lab really mean the organism is "the best" itself, given that without being able to survive in humans, all of these bacteria have no ability to survive the instant there is no more funding for this experiment?

The reason that becomes important is more than just semantics. Evolution is supposed to explain why organisms become more complex over time, yet all these experiments actually show is organisms adapting to a single variable that we have artificially decided is the only thing we should measure for.  In fact, it ought to be predicted that they would become simpler as a result.  After all, if E. coli doesn't need to survive in the stomach because it's environment is now restricted to a laboratory, then the ability to survive in any other environments is wasted effort on the part of the organism.  It's better to streamline the organism and remove that ability.  But, clearly, this is reducing the available functionality, not increasing it.  And in fact, natural selection is a winnowing process by definition.  Death is not a creative function.  You do not increase diversity by killing off something.

So can you really call this an experiment in evolution?  Only in the sense that the bare-bones definition of "evolution" is change through time, and certainly these E. coli have changed through time. But to try to extrapolate from that some grand scheme of Darwinian progression is simply pushing the data way too far from what it actually provides.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Does the Old Testament anticipate two comings of the Messiah?

Here's a good video by Michael Brown on the subject. I'd add that the Christian understanding of two comings makes more sense of the stone that gradually grows to cover the earth in Daniel 2:35, the figure who already has enemies on earth and is waiting with God in heaven for the subjection of those enemies in Psalm 110:1, and the coming of God in power after having been pierced by his people in Zechariah 12:10.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Lest You Forget...

The current President has demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office; he cannot rise to meet challenges large or small. Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us.

That's a pretty harsh indictment of Biden.

What?

That was the letter signed by more than 200 retired generals against Trump last year?

Oh.

Well, at least there are no mean tweets anymore. 

Surely this isn't evidence that God is upset with people who preach, but do not practice. Who tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and give rules like "don't misgender" and "check your privilege." God's not going to be upset with people who do their good deeds on Twitter for all to see while in secret they grope their interns. These people who cross sea and land to gain a single convert, and once they have that convert they turn them twice as woke as they themselves.

Don't harsh my buzz, and other things Boomers say. God is love. He understands you did your best.

I mean, you didn't, but you would have if it hadn't been for Netflix.  And that's the important part.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Vastness of Space

Last month, the Pentagon released its report on UFOs. Since then, I've been musing a bit on whether or not extraterrestrial life could exist. In itself, this is probably a pointless excursion, given that God can do whatever He wants and He may or may not have made other life out there somewhere without telling us. But something struck me as I thought about the various arguments put forth.

One argument is that there surely must be life out there since there are so many trillions of stars that there must be countless planets just like ours in solar systems far away, and if evolution can have life form here then surely life can form in these other planets too. Setting aside the fact that evolution already presupposes the existence of life in the first place and therefore can't create it, this argument seems to fly in the face of the “anthropic principal” presented by secularists. That is, the anthropic principal is the claim that the necessary fine tuning of all the variables needed in our local solar system for life to exist on Earth is not evidence of design, but rather is simply the result of the vastness of space. Given how big the universe is and how many “rolls of the dice” individual locations were enabled to have, some place had to have the ideal conditions which resulted in our existence.

The reason these two explanations run counter to each other is easily displayed by a simple question. Which is it? Is life so easy to form that the vastness of the universe is why aliens are probably out there, or is life so difficult to form because it needs such precise values that the vastness of the universe is needed for us to exist in our seemingly designed location?

The sad thing is, I don't think most secularists even realize these two views are at odds with each other.

When Your Breath Shall Grow Cold

"Youth, ordinarily, is a post and ready servant for Satan, to run errands; for it is a nest for lust, cursing, drunkenness, blaspheming of God, lying, pride, and vanity. Oh, that there were such an heart in you as to fear the Lord, and to dedicate your soul and body to His service! When the time cometh that your eye-strings shall break, and your face wax pale, and legs and arms tremble, and your breath shall grow cold, and your poor soul look out at your prison house of clay, to be set at liberty; then a good conscience, and your Lord's favour, shall be worth all the world's glory. Seek it as your garland and crown." (Samuel Rutherford, Letters Of Samuel Rutherford [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012], 287-88)

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

May The Lamb That Was Slain Receive The Reward Of His Suffering

"The Moravians were not the only missionaries inspired by Revelation 5, but probably the Moravians gave expression to the beauty of the missionary implications of this text better than anybody. And in the middle of the eighteenth century, they would get on their ships in North Germany to disappear forever out of their families' lives to peoples they had no idea whether they'd eat them or not, and as the ships pulled out from shore, they would lift their hands and say, 'May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of his suffering.' That comes straight out of Revelation 5:9. 'May the Lamb that was slain, in my ministry, receive the reward of his suffering. He was slain for them, and I'm going to go be the means by which he gets his reward for his suffering.' I cannot imagine a vision of life more precious than that. I mean, if you could wake up every morning and preach to yourself, 'I am the instrument in the hands of the grace of God by which the Lamb slain will receive the reward of his suffering.'" (John Piper, at 27:20 in the video here)

Friday, August 20, 2021

Spiritual Fire

"And that thou mayest learn, consider Paul, I pray thee. What is there fearful that he did not suffer, and that he did not submit to? But he bore all nobly. Let us imitate him, for so shall we be able to land in the tranquil havens with much merchandise. Let us then stretch our mind towards Heaven, let us be held fast by that desire, let us clothe ourselves with spiritual fire, let us gird ourselves with its flame. No man who bears flame fears those who meet him; be it wild beast, be it man, be it snares innumerable, so long as he is armed with fire, all things stand out of his way, all things retire. The flame is intolerable, the fire cannot be endured, it consumes all. With this fire let us clothe ourselves, offering up glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, might, honor, now and ever and world without end." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Hebrews, 34:8)

Monday, August 16, 2021

Harmless as an enemy, treacherous as a friend

As we plod through the second year of "14 days to flatten the curve", I see that the relativity of time raises it's head once again.  "It will be three months before the Taliban can occupy Kabul" turned out to be closer to three days.  1975 is a bit before my time, but the pictures from Saigon and the pictures from Kabul bear a striking resemblance to each other.  Almost as though there is nothing new under the sun (I think I read that someplace).

The whole situation reminds me of a quote Mark Steyn attributes to Bernard Lewis sometime around the year 2010 or so: "The danger here is that America risks being seen as harmless as an enemy, and treacherous as a friend."  Well, I think America has gotten the "treacherous as a friend" part down pat, and has been that way for years.

This is why Christians should never put faith in governments, which are composed of sinners after all. Ours has been more interested in flying rainbow flags and keeping the military woke than it has been in planning how to exit a battlefield. Living your life as if God isn't watching is all fun and games until you find out He was watching.  Woe to you if God should find you not only harmless as an enemy, but treacherous as a friend too.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Overlap Between The Synoptics And John

Critics make much of the alleged differences between the Synoptic gospels and John. The amount of overlap between them is often underestimated, including by conservative Christians. I want to gather some links to posts we've written on the subject over the years. These examples are far from exhaustive. You can search our archives for more.

On how much overlap we should expect, see here.

Jesus' family.

His childhood.

His career.

His viewing himself as the figure of Isaiah 9:1-7 and how he interpreted the passage.

And here's one on some agreements about unusual terminology used by Jesus.

Regarding his nonverbal characteristics, see here and here.

Soteriology.

The prominence of love.

The character of the apostles.

The events surrounding Jesus' death and resurrection.

Undesigned coincidences among various passages.

You can find many other examples of agreements between the Synoptics and John in Lydia McGrew's Hidden In Plain View (Chillicothe, Ohio: DeWard, 2017) and The Eye Of The Beholder (Tampa, Florida: DeWard, 2021).

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Goods Of The Throne And The Goods Of The Footstool

"O my heart, my haughty heart! Dost thou well to be discontent, when God has given thee the whole tree, with all the clusters of comfort growing on it, because he suffers the wind to blow down a few leaves? Christians have two kinds of goods; the goods of the throne and the goods of the footstool; immoveables and moveables. If God has secured those, never let my heart be troubled at the loss of these: indeed, if he had cut off his love, or discovenanted my soul, I had reason to be cast down; but this he hath not done, nor can he do it." (John Flavel, Keeping The Heart [Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2019], 42)

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A High View Of Fiction And A Low View Of Life

If you're so moved by fictional characters accomplishing things that are supposed to be great in fictional books and movies, what are you trying to accomplish in your life?

Sunday, August 08, 2021

The Widespread Absence Of A Papacy

One of the reasons for rejecting the papacy is the lack of justification for it. There are apparent contradictions of the concept of the papacy in some New Testament documents and other early sources, but the lack of evidence for the office would be enough reason to not accept it, even if such contradictions didn't exist.

However, Protestants often focus on too narrow a range of contexts in which the papacy is absent in the early sources. A lot of attention is given to passages about Peter in the gospels and Acts and material about church government in the early sources, for example, but we ought to think more broadly about where a papacy could have been mentioned if it existed. A papacy wouldn't have to be mentioned at every conceivable opportunity. But the larger the number and variety of contexts in which a papacy could have been mentioned, but wasn't, the more likely it is that the office didn't exist. What I want to do in this post is provide a few examples of contexts that are often neglected.

The apostles sometimes discussed their upcoming death, what was being done to preserve their teachings, and how Christians should conduct themselves going forward (e.g., Acts 20:17-38, 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8, 2 Peter 1:12-21). If the papacy was considered the foundation of the church, the infallible center of Christian unity throughout church history, the absence of any mention of such an resource in passages like these is significant.

Another group of relevant contexts is the imagery used to refer to relevant entities, such as what imagery is used to refer to the apostles or the church. We get twelve thrones without Peter's throne being differentiated (Matthew 19:28), three pillars without Peter's being differentiated (Galatians 2:9), twelve foundation stones without Peter's being differentiated (Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 21:14), etc.

The early Christians often interact with the objections of their opponents. The gospels respond to the charge that Jesus performed miracles by the power of Satan, Paul responds to his critics in his letters, Justin Martyr wrote a response to Jewish arguments against Christianity, Origen wrote a response to Celsus' anti-Christian treatise, and so on. See here regarding the lack of reference to a papacy in such contexts.

It's important for Protestants (and other opponents of the papacy) to bring up considerations like these, since the absence of early references to a papacy becomes more significant when the absence occurs across a broader range of contexts. If only two pages of early Christian literature were extant, the absence of a papacy (or whatever other concept) would be much less significant than its absence across two million pages. The number of pages matters (assuming the usual diversity of topics you'd get with an increase in such a page number).

One of the reasons why it's become so popular for Catholics to argue for the papacy by an appeal to something like typology or Old Testament precedent is that there's such a lack of evidence in the New Testament and the early patristic literature. So, there's a turn to other sources to try to find what isn't present where we'd most expect to see it.

Friday, August 06, 2021

How can Jesus see seed in Isaiah 53:10?

Michael Brown just posted a good video on the subject. He's responding to Tovia Singer, and one of the points Brown makes is that Singer not only neglects some points Christians have made about the passage, but also neglects what other Jewish sources have said on these issues. I made the same point in an exchange I had with Singer in one of his YouTube threads last year. (You can find other responses to Singer in our archives.)

For more about the Suffering Servant prophecy and the Servant Songs in general, see here.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

The Historicity Of Jesus' Burial And Empty Tomb

Mike Winger recently posted a video that makes some good points about the historicity of the account of Jesus' burial in Mark's gospel.

Though the empty tomb is a different issue than the burial of Jesus, some of the information we have about the former has implications for the latter. Regarding the evidence outside the gospels and Acts, see here. On the letters of Peter in particular, see here. And here's something I wrote on Justin Martyr a few years ago, including his citation of a first-century Jewish source acknowledging the empty tomb. In another post, I discussed some of the cumulative effects of the evidence.

Monday, August 02, 2021

The Impossible Achievement

U.S. Women's Soccer has accomplished the impossible. They have made the majority of red-blooded Americans cheer for a women's soccer team.

It was the Canadian soccer team, but still...

Come Thursday, when the US Women's Soccer team goes to play for the Bronze, Americans will proudly cheer on the Australian team.

One cannot diminish the massive impact of what U.S. Women's Soccer has done.  Virtually any sports team representing their country would have the support of the majority of their country, so the fact that they got nearly everyone to cheer their failure truly is an achievement.

Then again, one can hardly say this was a "sports team representing their country".  That's why I can't just say, "When the US goes to play for the Bronze." Because they do not represent our country. They represent themselves.  

Perhaps that's why the country didn't support them in return.

Rapinoe famously went on a crusade a mere four years ago to eject Jaelene Hinkle from the team because Hinkle is an evangelical who refused to play in a scrimmage after U.S. Soccer required players to wear a rainbow jersey in it. That makes it all the more delightful that Rapinoe just lost to a Canadian team that has a transgender player on it.

Megan Rapinoe once famously yelled, "I deserve this!"

Yes.  Yes you do.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Was the Enfield case faked for money?

The recent release of The Conjuring 3 has brought up issues about the Warrens and their financial interests in the paranormal cases they investigated. I discussed the subject in a post about the latest Conjuring movie several weeks ago. I want to address a related issue concerning the subject of the second movie in the series, the Enfield Poltergeist. What financial motives might the people involved in that case have had? One of the most common motives proposed for any sort of fraud is a desire to make money. That's relevant not just to the Warrens, but also to the rest of the people involved in the Enfield case.

Movies can, and often do, make people wealthy. But The Conjuring 2 came along too late to be a good candidate for motivating anybody to fabricate the Enfield case. The same can be said of the television series on Enfield that came out in 2015. Nobody in 1977 was expecting that sort of television series or movie, much less would anybody have been expecting it to make a lot of money. Something like a movie that comes out nearly four decades after a poltergeist case started offers a poor explanation for why the case originated. What critics of the Enfield case need to be more focused on is the opportunities for making money early on, such as by means of media coverage or the publishing of books.

In the process of discussing these issues, I'll be making reference to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes. I'm going to use "MG" to refer to tapes from Grosse's collection. "GP" will refer to those from Playfair's. MG64B is tape 64B in Grosse's collection, GP3A is Playfair's tape 3A, and so on.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Does the gospel of John put words in Jesus' mouth?

"Notice, too, that the narrator puts his own gloss on Jesus' words [in John 7:39] - namely, that he was referring to the Holy Spirit - but he scrupulously refrains from putting this gloss into Jesus' mouth….New Testament scholars are far too ready to assume that the evangelists, and John in particular, felt free to put words into Jesus' mouth if they thought that something was what he would have said and was consonant with his other teaching. But this is not what we find in John. Instead, when John has some interpretation to give his readers, he distinguishes his own interpretation from what Jesus actually says, as in this passage." (Lydia McGrew, The Eye Of The Beholder [Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021], 76)

Lydia McGrew also has a lot of good material on John and the other gospels on her YouTube Channel.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Priorities Of A Christian

Jesus said that loving God is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38), and similar themes are found elsewhere in scripture (e.g., Proverbs 9:10). We should often ask ourselves how much we're improving the quantity and quality of our thoughts and others' thoughts about God. (For a discussion of some ways to go about doing that, see here. The post just linked is about evangelism, but has broader applications.) People often refer to improving a culture through something like political action, having more influence on the arts, or changing people's moral standards on a particular issue or series of issues. But how people view God is more foundational. If you want to change yourself and change the culture and the world for the better, start with how God is viewed.

To get some idea of how important it is to do that work, see here regarding the state of the culture. (The post just linked is mostly about the United States, but also addresses other countries to some extent.) Most Americans are so ignorant of the Bible (and other subjects) that they can't name the four gospels, among other religious information they're ignorant about. The Department of Labor just released its annual research on how Americans use their time. In 2020, Americans spent an average of 5.53 hours a day on leisure and sports and about 0.09 hours (around five minutes) on religious and spiritual activities. That doesn't mean everybody was involved in religious and spiritual activities, but only to a small extent. Rather, it looks like a large majority of Americans spend no or almost no time on such things, but that the higher level of activity among a small minority of the population raised the average. See the page just linked for further details. How much is God talked about in schools, in the workplace, on television, in the most popular music, on the most popular web sites, at family gatherings, etc.?

The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with the solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God….

But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe. He may be a naturalist, boasting of his ability to dissect a beetle, anatomize a fly, or arrange insects and animals in classes with well nigh unutterable names; he may be a geologist, able to discourse of the megatherium and the plesiosaurus, and all kinds of extinct animals; he may imagine that his science, whatever it is, ennobles and enlarges his mind. I dare say it does, but after all, the most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. (Charles Spurgeon)

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Craig Keener And Michael Brown On Their Upcoming Commentaries

Michael Brown recently interviewed Craig Keener. During the course of the interview, both men talked about some Biblical commentaries they're working on, Keener on Mark and Brown on Isaiah. Go here for the beginning of that discussion and here for some further comments during a later segment of the interview. It looks like both commentaries are a long way from being completed, and Keener's should be a multi-volume one.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Over the Garden Wall

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the miniseries Over the Garden Wall (2014). It's one of the most unique and quirky series in recent memory.

There are a hodgepodge of influences. The setting is predominantly but not exclusively 18th-19th century New England or the Midwest. The specific season is Autumn; I suppose Halloween best suits. Aesthetically it elicits an old timey wimey Americana feel. Other influences I noticed: the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, gothic horror, Peter Rabbit, the Wind in the Willows, Betty Boop, Shirley Temple, Little Nemo, Studio Ghibli, even Disney (e.g. a songbird albeit a sarcastic one). Likewise I detected shades of Dante. For example, the opening chapter begins with the characters lost in a deep dark wood. Our protagonist is "midway" between childhood and adulthood. Also, Beatrice serves as a guide. And the ten shorts seem to roughly correspond to Dante's ten divisions in Inferno.

Story-wise, it's about a pair of brothers on a journey or pilgrimage to return home. One wonders if the story is allegory or reality. Is the pilgrimage in the similitude of a dream (cf. Bunyan) or is it meant to be real - a world between worlds, perhaps a limbo between life and death (cf. Dante)?

The characters are universal archetypes. Wirt is a Byronic hero. Greg is a knight of faith. It's interesting the two brothers are juxtaposed with one another like this - one the prototypical heathen, the other a kind of Christian. The Woodsman is a wild-eyed prophet in the wilderness. The Beast, in my view, is the personification of hopelessness: cue Dante's "abandon hope, all ye who enter here". Same with places and events. For instance, the Unknown seems to represent the afterlife or something like it. At the same time, there's a subversion of expectations in Over the Garden's archetypes (e.g. the big bad wolf is a tame pup).

Pilgrimage stories typically consummate in reaching a destination where the end is the narratival summum bonum. The Pilgrim's Progress' end is the celestial city where God and his people dwell. The Paradiso's end is the beatific vision: "l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle". Over the Garden Wall's end seems to be romantic love in the guise of a girl named Sara. If so, I'm afraid that's a bit of a letdown, for it would suggest (among other things) that even the best secular pilgrimage or journey stories like Over the Garden Wall haven't evolved much since Homer's Odyssey in which Odysseus longs to return home to reunite with his beloved Penelope. Perhaps this is what adolescent or youthful love finds most grand, but then it'd better suit springtime rather than the autumnal themes which are what pervade the entire series. Perhaps this reflects the sad fact that our secular culture has no higher aim or ideal in life to live for than romantic love.

Some recent apologetics resources

Sorry I've been away! I've just been so busy with "normal" life. I'm still busy and "away", but I do like to pop in for a couple of quick posts when I can.

This is just a brief post about several apologetics resources I've recently benefited from that I thought others might benefit from as well:

Bible Trek. A picture is worth a thousand words. And Andrew Ollerton treks across Israel and other biblical lands and shows us these places in person. He offers brief informative talks as he does so too. Ollerton has a PhD in historical theology from the University of Leceister in the UK.

Esther O'Reilly. Esther O'Reilly is a pseudonymn for an incisively intelligent and witty woman with an illustrious pedigree. She discusses all sorts of things, but I believe first made her name with essays on public intellectuals like Jordan Peterson and Doug Murray. O'Reilly has a PhD in mathematics from a school that shall remain nameless.

James Bejon. Not entirely sure how to describe what Bejon does. He offers fascinating insights into the Bible in the vein of guys like James B. Jordan, Peter Leithart, and Alastair Roberts. Bejon is a researcher at Tyndale House in Cambridge, UK. He has a background in math and music, but he's working on his PhD in OT.

Mark Ward. Ward primarily discusses Bible translation and Bible design. Ward has a PhD in NT from Bob Jones University. He works for Faithlife, which produces the Logos Bible.

Parker's Pensées. Long form interviews and deep dives into the philosophical and theological with Parker Settecase. Parker asks perceptive questions to various intellectuals. He is working on a masters degree in theological studies at TEDS, though maybe he has finished now.

Sean McDowell. Lots of great interviews with notable Christian scholars. Sean is the son of Josh McDowell. Sean has a PhD in apologetics and worldview studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He's an associate professor at Biola/Talbot.

Truth Unites. Gavin Ortlund's YouTube channel. He's brother to Dane Ortlund (who recently published a fine Puritan-esque devotional Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers) and Eric Ortlund (an OT prof at Oak Hill College in the UK). Interesting that Gavin is a Baptist, Dane is a Presbyterian, and Eric is an Anglican (I think). Gavin did his PhD in historical theology at Fuller. He has great admiration for Anselm. His channel most reflects his interests in historical theology. Gavin serves as a pastor in California.

What Would You Say. I believe WWYS is affiliated with the late Chuck Colson's ministry. As such, it is about Christian apologetics, but it has a noticeable political bent as well. The videos are relatively concise (~5 minutes or so).

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Roman Catholic Respectability Bought At The Price Of Liberalism

I recently had an email exchange that was partly about the idea that Catholicism is more appealing than Evangelicalism to people who are more educated. It's often suggested that converts to Catholicism are more educated than converts to Evangelicalism, that learning more about church history or some other subject leads people to Catholicism, that Catholicism is more intellectually respectable because it's more correct on philosophical, historical, and other matters, and so on. And Catholicism's alleged intellectual advantages in such contexts are often portrayed as evidence that the claims of traditional Catholicism are true, that conservative Catholicism has been vindicated. Really, though, something else is going on instead. During the course of my recent email discussion, I was reminded that many people are unaware of how liberal much of Roman Catholicism has become.

I'm not just referring to political liberalism, though that's part of it, but primarily liberalism in contexts like theology and the historicity of scripture. See here regarding how Catholicism has changed in various ways on a lot of issues, sometimes in a liberal direction. For some examples of recent Popes taking liberal positions on issues, see here. Raymond Brown was one of the most prominent Catholic Biblical scholars in recent decades. He wrote a book on the infancy narratives that's still widely regarded as the standard in the field. The view he argued for there was largely liberal. Here's a collection of posts I wrote in response to Brown. You can find discussions of other examples of liberalism in Catholicism in other posts in our archives (e.g., here).

Religious, moral, and political conservatives are often attracted to Catholicism because it's such a large and respected institution, with so much social standing, educational institutions that are highly regarded, associations with the arts, and other attributes they find appealing. But much of that has been purchased at the price of liberalism or purchased through some other problematic means. Would Catholicism retain its popularity, its associations with so many institutions, the amount of media coverage it gets, and so on if it were more consistently conservative and did substantially more to discipline its people for departing from those conservative standards? Surely not, as individuals like Raymond Brown and Joe Biden and their supporters illustrate. Catholicism often becomes more appealing by becoming overly involved in a culture and too much like the culture. That isn't all that's going on. There are some traits of Catholicism that distinguish it from the surrounding culture and move it in other directions than what I'm focused on here. But there's a large strand of cultural adaptation in Catholicism.

Steve Hays wrote a post more than a decade ago about the difference between seeing the church as a tabernacle and seeing it as a temple. That distinction has some relevance here.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Evidence For Daniel's Prophecies

Jonathan McLatchie recently wrote an article about the dating of the book of Daniel. The article makes a lot of good points and is well worth reading. He's written a lot of other good material as well, which you can find here. He also has a YouTube channel.

Steve Hays wrote a lot about Daniel and the dating of the book. There's a section in the post here that links several examples. You can find more by searching our archives. The page just linked also cites posts we've written on other issues related to prophecy more broadly, and those have some relevance to Daniel. See here, including the comments section of the thread, for other online resources on when Daniel was written. For example, Glenn Miller has written a lot about the manuscript evidence and pre-Maccabean use of Daniel.

I've done some work on the evidence for prophecies of Daniel fulfilled after the Maccabean era, meaning that the fulfillments offer evidence for Christianity even if we accept a Maccabean date for Daniel or a portion of it. You can find some examples here. The post here discusses problems with arguing that Jesus fulfilled Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy by natural rather than supernatural means. When a fourth kingdom arises after Greece, in the form of the Roman empire, Jesus announces the coming of a kingdom of God during the days of that empire, that kingdom becomes popular to the point of being accepted by billions of Gentiles, Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man of Daniel 7, he dies during the sixty-ninth sabbatical cycle after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem in Nehemiah 2, that death is perceived early on as making a final atonement for sin, and the Romans go on to destroy both the city of Jerusalem and the temple, you can't explain that series of events that line up so well with Daniel's prophecies by dating the book or a portion of it to the second century B.C.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Good thing the infallible Pope is able to correct the mistakes of the former infallible Pope so Catholics can be certain of their traditions

 Pope Francis abrogates Pope Benedict's universal permission for Old Mass

“Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated.”

I stand along with the Traditionalists in faith that sometime in the next thousand years a Pope will instruct us that Pope Francis is abrogated, so you can go ahead and get the jump on that future proclamation by ignoring Pope Francis now.  Imagine being a Protestant and not having such certainty.  I shudder to think.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Loving God More Than Others Improves Our Love For Others

Here's a good collection of quotes from C.S. Lewis on the subject. It's something that ought to be discussed more.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

An Important Book On Near-Death Experiences

I recently read Gregory Shushan's Near-Death Experience In Indigenous Religions (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), which is an important book in many contexts. You can watch an interview Shushan did with Alex Tsakiris here. The video will give you an overview of the book and a lot of other information about it and some related issues. When I cite the book below, my references in parentheses will be to an approximate location in the Kindle version.

Shushan has argued that near-death experiences (NDEs) and some related phenomena have had a large role in originating and shaping religions. The book under consideration here focuses on three groups of indigenous religions, ones in North America, Africa, and Oceania. He doesn't limit his examination to NDEs as typically defined, but instead includes a broader range of phenomena, such as shamanic activity. You can watch his interview with Tsakiris for an explanation of what he included and why. Since he covers multiple centuries of material, you can see developments over time, such as what these indigenous groups believed prior to coming into contact with Christianity and other movements, how they interacted with Christian missionaries, how their beliefs persisted and changed afterward, and so on.

He provides examples of testimony from these indigenous people that their religious beliefs originated in or were influenced by phenomena like NDEs. On some occasions, these indigenous groups told Christian missionaries that they knew Christianity was false because of their experiences with such phenomena. Some NDEs were of a broadly Christian nature, and some were of a partly Christian and partly non-Christian nature, but it seems that most were non-Christian or even anti-Christian.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Many Reasons For Naming The Gospel Authors

I've mentioned that the early Christians had a need to distinguish among the gospels and similar documents and that the names of the documents' authors are the most likely means by which they made those distinctions. I want to expand upon an aspect of that situation.

It's important to recognize the number and variety of circumstances in which distinguishing among the documents would have been relevant. I often mention the use of the documents in church services and the storing of them in libraries as examples. But the need to distinguish among the writings in question would have been present in other contexts as well.

For example, anybody studying the gospels - reading them, looking up passages in them, comparing one gospel to another, or whatever else - would have need to distinguish among the documents. They would need to be distinguished in conversations, oral or written, as well. I've discussed the early Christian practice of distributing copies of the gospels, presumably often involving more than one gospel. They would need to be distinguishable in that context also. So, the need for distinguishing among the gospels and the opportunities for and appeal of placing titles on them, attaching identifying tags to them, and so forth would have existed early and in a large number and variety of contexts.

We should consider the early gospel authorship attributions in light of that background. Not only does that background tend to be overlooked or underestimated, but so do many of the earliest authorship attributions. The combined effect is that people tend to think the evidence for the attributions is much weaker than it actually is. Here are some comments I posted at another blog several years ago about some of the early attributions that are often neglected. Familiarize yourself with that evidence (and there's more like it, which I've discussed elsewhere) and the surrounding context I addressed above.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Video Of The Charlton House Haunting Apport

Sometime within the last few years, I read an interview with Melvyn Willin in which he commented:

A BBC Video Diary programme wanted to film Maurice [Grosse] attending an investigation. ASSAP organised one such event at Charlton House and a cup was caught exploding in a darkened room on video in a locked room with a camera man, Maurice and one other investigator witnessing it. BBC Radiophonic Workshop tested the sound patterns and concluded that it was NOT the sound of a cup being broken in the usual way and further experiments failed to replicate the circumstances. It seemed to implode rather than explode.

In my tribute to Maurice Grosse that I posted a couple of years ago, I linked some videos of the opening segments of that Video Dairies program. To my knowledge, the second half of the show, which includes the material Melvyn refers to, wasn't available on YouTube at the time. But the full program was recently put up, which I saw linked on the Twitter account of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Go here to see the beginning of the relevant segment of the program. The event in question happens at 32:12. After the event, you see some discussion of what happened among the people there at the time and a discussion among some members of the SPR's staff. (Including an argument between Grosse and Mary Rose Barrington, accompanied by a cup-throwing experiment in the SPR's facility!) There's then some intervening material on other subjects, so you can go here to see the remainder of what's relevant to the topic of this post.

For further background about Charlton House and the event under consideration here, read this article at the Occult World web site. I want to quote some comments Guy Playfair made about this incident, then conclude with some comments of my own:

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Creating A God Who Doesn't Exist

This is a much bigger problem than atheism in modern America, despite all the attention atheism gets among Evangelicals:

"We may be responding not to the real God but to what we wish God and life to be like. Indeed, if left to themselves our hearts will tend to create a God who doesn't exist." (Tim Keller, Prayer [New York, New York: Dutton, 2014], 62)

For some ideas about how to address the problem, see here for a brief summary and here for a lengthier discussion (including in the comments section of the thread). The thread here (again, including the comments section) on whether Christianity is a demonic deception makes some relevant points as well.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

How Difficult It Would Have Been To Fake The New Testament's Historical Details

The political condition of Palestine at the time to which the New Testament narrative properly belongs, was one curiously complicated and anomalous; it underwent frequent changes, but retained through all of them certain peculiarities, which made the position of the country unique among the dependencies of Rome. Not having been conquered in the ordinary way, but having passed under the Roman dominion with the consent and by the assistance of a large party among the inhabitants, it was allowed to maintain for a while a species of semi-independence, not unlike that of various native states in India which are really British dependencies. A mixture, and to some extent an alternation, of Roman with native power resulted from this arrangement, and a consequent complication in the political status, which must have made it very difficult to be thoroughly understood by any one who was not a native and a contemporary. The chief representative of the Roman power in the East—the President of Syria, the local governor, whether a Herod or a Roman Procurator, and the High Priest, had each and all certain rights and a certain authority in the country. A double system of taxation, a double administration of justice, and even in some degree a double military command, were the natural consequence; while Jewish and Roman customs, Jewish and Roman words, were simultaneously in use, and a condition of things existed full of harsh contrasts, strange mixtures, and abrupt transitions. Within the space of fifty years Palestine was a single united kingdom under a native ruler, a set of principalities under native ethnarchs and tetrarchs, a country in part containing such principalities, in part reduced to the condition of a Roman province, a kingdom reunited once more under a native sovereign, and a country reduced wholly under Rome and governed by procurators dependent on the president of Syria, but still subject in certain respects to the Jewish monarch of a neighboring territory. These facts we know from Josephus and other writers, who, though less accurate, on the whole confirm his statements; they render the civil history of Judaea during the period one very difficult to master and remember; the frequent changes, supervening upon the original complication, are a fertile source of confusion, and seem to have bewildered even the sagacious and painstaking Tacitus. The New Testament narrative, however, falls into no error in treating of the period; it marks, incidentally and without effort or pretension, the various changes in the civil government—the sole kingdom of Herod the Great,—the partition of his dominions among his sons,—the reduction of Judaea to the condition of a Roman province, while Galilee, Ituraea, and Trachonitis continued under native princes,—the restoration of the old kingdom of Palestine in the person of Agrippa the First, and the final reduction of the whole under Roman rule, and reestablishment of Procurators as the civil heads, while a species of ecclesiastical superintendence was exercised by Agrippa the Second. Again, the New Testament narrative exhibits in the most remarkable way the mixture in the government—the occasional power of the president of Syria, as shown in Cyrenius’s “taxing”; the ordinary division of authority between the High Priest and the Procurator; the existence of two separate taxation—the civil and the ecclesiastical, the “census” and the “didrachm;” of two tribunals, two modes of capital punishment, two military forces, two methods of marking time; at every turn it shows, even in such little measures as verbal expressions, the coexistence of Jewish with Roman ideas and practices in the country—a coexistence which (it must be remembered) came to an end within forty years of our Lord’s crucifixion. (George Rawlinson)