Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An 11th Century “Sinner’s Prayer”

There is an exhortation of Anselm (1033-1109) to a dying brother, written in the most comforting words: “When a brother seems to be in his death struggle, it is godly and advisable to exercise him through a prelate or other priest with written questions and exhortations. He may be asked in the first place: ‘Brother, are you glad that you will die in the faith?’ let him answer: ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you confess that you did not live as well as you should have?’ ‘I confess.’ ‘Are you sorry for this?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you willing to better yourself if you should have further time to live?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has died for you?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you believe that you cannot be saved except through his death?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you heartily thank him for this?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Therefore always give thanks to him while your soul is in you, and on this death alone place your whole confidence. Commit yourself wholly to this death, with this death cover yourself wholly, and wrap yourself in it completely. And if the Lord should want to judge you, say: “Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thee and thy judgment; I will not contend with Thee in any other way.” If he says that you have merited damnation, say: “I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between myself and my evil deserts, and the merits of his most worthy passion I bring in place of the merit which I should have had, and, alas, do not have.” ’

Commenting on Sola Fide prior to the Reformation. Martin Chemnitz, “Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, Eighth Topic: “Concerning Justification”, Section II, “Testimonies of the Ancients Concerning Justification, pg 511.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

When time and tide wait

A notable example that we probably all agree about is Joshua’s battle during which the sun is said to have stood still (Joshua 10:13). I have never met anyone, not even the most conservative Christian fundamentalist, who takes that literally. And yet, when Copernicus and later Galileo argued that the earth revolves around the sun many Christians argued they were denying the truth of the Bible. We have adjusted our interpretation of Joshua 10:13 to accommodate what we now know about the solar system.
But there are those who will still argue that what the story really means to say (in modern terms) is that the earth stopped rotating for a time. But, of course, we also know from modern science what that would mean for plant and animal life on earth.
Many Christians who take the Bible seriously do not take every story in it literally. Who is to say that a Christian who argues that the Joshua story means neither that the sun literally stood still nor that the earth stopped rotating is not a Bible believing Christian?

i) To begin with, Olson doesn't care what this passage really means. He doesn't make a good faith effort to ascertain what it means. He's not committed to the text. As he says in this very thread "Shaking off inerrancy was a total liberation for me." He's just using this as a wedge tactic to rationalize his dismissal of other passages which offend him.

ii) Framing the issue in terms of "literal" interpretation is a ruse. The real issue isn't literal interpretation but grammatico-historical exegesis–which may or may not yield a literal interpretation, depending on the text.

iii) To says "we also know from modern science what that would mean for plant and animal life on earth" if God temporarily stopped the earth from rotating is ridiculous. That artificially isolates the event, as if God would do that one thing without regard for its physical ramification. But if, in fact, that's what God did, then he'd make the necessary adjustments. Does Olson apply that objection to Biblical nature miracles generally? To the extent that these are not discrete, self-contained events, a nature miracle will include whatever's necessary to preserve the balance of nature. 

iv) To say Christians don't take it "literally" is dimwitted. As scholars point out, the passage is poetic. It would be nonsensical to construe poetic language literally. And the grammatico-historical method makes allowance for differences in genre. 

Consider a parallel passage:

The sun and moon stood still in their place    at the light of your arrows as they sped,    at the flash of your glittering spear. (Heb 3:11)

That depicts God as a celestial warrior. Thunderbolts are spears and arrows. The imagery is figurative.  

v) Some commentators think the whole passage is figurative. They think it's analogous to Judges 5:20, where stellar combat is a metaphor for earthly combat. 

However, I don't think that does justice to the specifics of Josh 10. It's not that what happens in the sky is a figurative parallel for what happens on earth. Rather, what happens up above makes possible what happens down below. 

vi) Because the passage is poetic, it's hard to identify the "mechanics" behind the miracle. But in context, the miracle involves prolonging daylight to give the Israelites extra time to defeat the enemy. So I think some astronomical miracle is in view.

vii) Finally, it's interesting to compare this with science fiction scenarios in which some characters are almost motionless in relation to other characters because they occupy different timeframes. It's as if time stood still for them, because they are moving so slowly by comparison.   

The Rock of Gibraltar

A question from a commenter got be thinking some more about the Ezk 38-39. 

i) I don't have anything to add to the linguistic analysis of place-names/proper-names, over and above scholars like Block, Hummel, and Yamauchi.

ii) I think Ezekiel is using names with allusive, historical resonance to denote enemies at the outer limits of the known world. This is something of a Biblical trope, like John's reference to invaders from the East (Rev 9:13-19; 16:12). If Ezekiel were a medieval writer, he might say Thule or the Rock of Gibraltar to denote ends of the world. 

What's constitutes the outer limits of the known world varies according to the geographical knowledge of the author or audience. And that varies in time and place. Wherever you live is the frame of reference. What lies beyond in relation to where you live. The circumference in relation to your center. Likewise, as time goes on, the boundaries of the known world expand. 

iii) That's a consideration if we regard Ezk 38-39 to be a long-range prophecy. Even if, by direct revelation, Ezekiel knew about North and South America, Japan, Australia, &c., he wouldn't name them because that would be unintelligible to his audience.

Ezekiel's geography may reflect an ancient Near Eastern outlook because, in fact, that's where the oracle will be fulfilled. Or it may reflect that outlook because that's the only frame of reference his audience had. 

iv) One hermeneutical question is whether this is about God protecting Jews in the land of Israel. Even if you think this is about Jews, it's not as if the Jews are confined to Palestine. There's the Diaspora. Consider the huge Jewish population center in 1C Alexandria. 

Suppose we think this is a prophecy about Jews in the future. But it's not as if all Jews reside in Palestine, or that all their enemies inhabit the Middle East. The Jewish Diaspora is world-wide. What about Jewish population centers in New York or Los Angeles? 

It's arbitrary to freeze Ezekiel's geography in the ANE, while moving the fulfillment into the modern world. Anachronistic to update the timeline while leaving the geographical setting in place. For the passage of time affects population distribution. 

v) There's the additional the question of whether Ezk 38-39 singles out the Jews, or whether it concerns the people of God generally. What about Christians? 

Down babies

Richard Dawkins has issued an unapologetic apology. It's one of those defensive "apologies" that's just a pretext to double down on the original claim:

I'll venture a few comments:

I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.
Even if we accept his utilitarian yardstick, there's no evidence that giving birth to a Down baby increases suffering or reduces the sum of happiness. In fact, the evidence is very much to the contrary. 

In addition, it's sophistical to say you're acting in the child's own welfare by killing it. The child's own welfare presupposes the child's existence. It takes it from there. 

My position, which I would guess is shared by most people reading this, is that a woman has a right to early abortion, and I personally would not condemn her for choosing it. 

Dawkins is half right. Given atheism, Down babies have no right to live. 

But like many atheists, Dawkins fails to carry his position to its logical conclusion. Given atheism, women have no rights. Humans have no rights. It comes down to raw power. 

If you disagree, fair enough; many do, often on religious grounds. But then your quarrel is not just with me but with prevailing medical opinion and with the decision actually taken by most people who are faced with the choice.

Unless a Down baby pregnancy is significantly riskier than a normal pregnancy, in what sense is there a medical opinion on the preferability of aborting Down babies? Dawkins is hiding behind medical authority to lend respectability to a moral evaluation rather than a medical evaluation. 

Below the belt

How to boil a frog

By itself, this is not a big deal:

It does, however, illustrate the stages of an all-too familiar pattern. When Muslims first move into an area, and begin to acquire political influence, one of their first demands is to insist on separate laws for Muslims. Sharia. Spineless politicians typically capitulate to their demands. 

This emboldens them to take the next step. They begin to intimidate the locals. They insist that no one has a right to offend Muslim sensibilities. That has far-reaching consequences. Although it stops short of forcing everyone to behave like a Muslim, it means no one is allowed to behave like a non-Muslim. 

They also game the system by turning "human rights commissions" against the locals. Pretty soon the locals are persecuting for doing what they used to do before the Muslims moved in.

Here's one classic example:

Here's another classic example:

And keep in mind that this is how they behave when they are in the minority. When they're in the majority, it's far worse for non-Muslims. Just imagine a judicial system in which there's a Muslim litigant against a non-Muslim litigant. Guess who will win every time when Muslims are dominant? 

Unfortunately, Muslims always have quislings who say this is alarmist rhetoric. Alarmist until it's too late to turn back the clock. 

For more:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ectopic pregnancies

I take a pretty hard line on abortion. I reject the "rape/incest/life of the mother exceptions." However, I am inclined to make allowance for tubal ectopic pregnancies. Even among staunch prolifers, that's pretty standard exception. The basic rationale is that if you can't save both mother and child, and both are at high risk of death absent intervention, it's permissible to save one at the expense of the other, rather than letting both die. 

It's usually justified by the double effect principle. If you don't know what that is, here's a detailed exposition and analysis:

By contrast, Lydia McGrew is critical of this exception:

I mention this because it seems to figure in her criticism of Biblical commands to execute the Canaanites. It's my impression that Lydia begins with an a priori position on abortion, then minimizes or trivializes the dangers of ectopic pregnancies. And it isn't clear to me that she has an accurate grasp of the medical issues. For a possible corrective: 

Shedding innocent blood

As a rule, Lydia McGrew is equally adept at bioethics and apologetics. She recently did a post critiquing Paul Copan's handling of OT commands to execute the Canaanites. I think she did a fine job of exposing the exegetical inadequacies of his position. The problem is her own position. 

She did a post at Extra Thoughts, which she cross-referenced at What's Wrong with the World. I'll be quoting her from both sources:

i) In responding to one commenter, she makes a passing reference to the OT prohibition against "shedding innocent blood." It's hard to tell from her post if that's a major factor in her overall argument. But assuming that's the case, she's ripping those passages out of context. Verses which prohibit the "shedding of innocent blood" (e.g. Exod 23:7; Deut 19:10; 21:8-9; 27:25) concern crime and punishment, not warfare. 

That doesn't mean anything goes in war. War doesn't suspend morality. Rather, that's why the Bible contains the laws of warfare (e.g. Deut 20). War had different objectives than crime and punishment. So different considerations apply. 

ii) By the same token, death isn't necessarily punitive. For instance, there were pious Jews who died the fall of Jerusalem, both in 70 AD and the Babylonian exile centuries before. God wasn't punishing them. But due to the fact that humans are social creatures, divine punishment has an incidentally collective aspect. Some innocents are swept up in the current.

One piece of good news, as far as it goes, is that there is nothing about the slaughter of the Canaanite children that is theologically necessary to the truth of Christianity. Unlike, say, the historical existence of Adam, the killing of Canaanite children is not woven into the warp and woof of Christian theology, doctrine, or ethics. Very much to the contrary.

That's seriously confused. It's true that commands to execute the Canaanites are not as intrinsically important as the historical Adam. However, the principle of divine revelation is as intrinsically important as the historical Adam. To deny that God said what Scripture attributes to him denies the revelatory status of Scripture. 

Yes, I'm certainly willing to consider that this portion of Scripture might be incorrect, that God didn't really order that. In fact, I'm _hoping_ God will tell me that when I get to heaven!! My only reason for not _definitely_ saying it is that I have no independent _textual_ reason for doing so. (I'd love to be handed one, though, that would stand up to independent examination.)
Why assume that we know what passages belong in Scripture better than we know what is absolutely and intrinsically evil when it comes to harming babies?
Nonsense. Over and over again in the OT we find that false prophets crop up or that God takes his hand off of a particular leader or deliverer. Why not think this had happened to Moses when he started telling them to slaughter children? Or why shouldn't Saul think it of Samuel in I Samuel 15? That he had gone off the rails? An endorsement of a person as a prophet was never automatically an endorsement for life and for every possible thing the person could say.
i) It is theologically catastrophic to say the OT misrepresents the true character of God. Fundamental to the OT is contrasting the one true God with false gods. The OT presents itself as a corrective to pervasive misconceptions of the deity in the ANE. If, however, Yahweh is just a variation on Baal, Molech, Dagon, Ishtar et al., then it's arbitrary to elevate the OT above other ANE literature.
ii) The NT isn't separable from the OT. The truth of the OT is foundational to the truth of the NT. The NT itself makes that point repeatedly. 
Jeff, I have been intrigued to see how the hard-line response (George's comment is yet another example) seems to be fairly popular. So far I've had quite a number of people, both on blogs and on Facebook, taking a hard-line response of the kind that would make Copan's whole literary approach unnecessary.
The consequentialism really is shocking. Hey, if killing baby boys so they don't grow up to be a later army against you is fine and dandy (assuming that the "you" is some specially important and favored people group), then that opens up all kinds of convenient doors, doesn't it? 
That's a caricature. The point is not that consequences always justify a particular course of action. The point, rather, is that every ethical decision isn't reducible to what's intrinsically right or wrong. Although some things are intrinsically right or wrong, there are other cases in which the circumstances do make a difference to the licit or illicit nature of the action. 
George, I find it a continual astonishment how easily some people just _leap_ over that step where they say, "If God can take a baby's life, then why can't he delegate that to me?"
The answer is so obvious: Because _my_ taking a baby's life is a paradigm case of what we call "murder."
Notice that Lydia's response is fatally ambitious. What, exactly, is she objecting to? There are two different possible positions, which she fails to distinguish here:
i) it is permissible for God to take a baby's life, but impermissible for God to delegate that task to a human party
ii) It is impermissible even for God to take a baby's life 
If her position is (i), she needs to explain why it's permissible for God to directly end a baby's life, but impermissible for God to indirectly end a baby's life, via a second party. For instance, what about the death of the firstborn by an angel?
If her position is (ii), natural evil seems to present counterexamples in which God indirectly ends the lives of some babies, viz. Noah's flood, firebombing Sodom and Gomorah. 
Likewise, even if she doesn't think the "angel of death" is really a second party, that would mean she does think it's permissible for God to end a baby's life (unless she denies the historicity of the Tenth Plague). But in that case, why would it be impermissible for God to authorize a second party to carry out the death sentence?
Furthermore, to say that my_ taking a baby's life is a paradigm case of what we call "murder" assumes the very thing she needs to prove. Is ending a baby's life always equivalent to murder? That's not something she's entitled to stipulate, then deploy against Biblical revelation.
But as I said to Mike T., if you are really willing to consider that our moral intuitions about the wrongness of raping babies might just turn out to be wrong, then all natural law reasoning is o-u-t, out the window. We really have to hold that we know so little about right and wrong that there's no point in arguing against anything, from abortion to unjust war to sexual ethics to...anything, on the basis of the natural light. More or less, the natural light doesn't exist in any remotely reliable form if we could just "turn out to be wrong" about raping babies.
This is obvious from the fact that, if a person stands up in court and says, "God told me to kill that baby," even we Christians don't (or, heaven help us, shouldn't) for a moment consider the possibility that the statement is _true_. We don't think that we should investigate the nature and track-record of the defendant's voices-in-the-head to find out if maybe that really was just the delegated means by which God released the baby in question from the toils of this world and took him to heaven in his innocence! We assume that the defendant is crazy. Why? Well, obviously: Because for human beings deliberately to kill babies is wrong. Therefore we assume that God wouldn't tell a human being to kill a baby.
There are multiple problems with that argument:
i) I wouldn't assume the killer is crazy. Maybe he (or she) is. But, unfortunately, people don't have to be crazy to murder kids. Just evil. 

A killer might say that because the insanity defense is his best shot at getting a lighter sentence, and not because he heard a voice telling him to do that. 

ii) The holy war commands have a specific context: the cultic holiness of Israel. That isn't something which carries over into the new covenant era.

iii) Suppose I'm a juror and the defendant says "God told me to drown my baby." So what? Since God didn't tell me that he told her to do that, I have no evidence that he told her to do that. There's no presumption that God told her that. So why would that carry any weight in my deliberations?

iv) Finally, her position logically extends to Gen 22, a paradigmatic redemptive event. Speaking of which:

Re. Isaac: I knew somebody would bring up Isaac. I frankly admit that in some ways the story of Abraham and Isaac brings up the same issues I have brought up here. I have thought about it myself in those terms repeatedly. There is, however, one thing that gives us more wiggle room with Abraham and Isaac than we have in the case of the Canaanite slaughters: Abraham had a promise from God that "in Isaac shall thy seed be called" and that "thy descendants shall be as the sand of the sea" and "in thee all the nations of the world shall be blessed." Every indication in Scripture is that the promise was given with at least as much evidence that it came from God as the later order to sacrifice Isaac. They are both just things that the Lord "said" to Abraham, whatever that experience was like for Abraham. Therefore, Abraham had at least as much evidence that Isaac, who had never yet fathered a child, would somehow live on and have children and many further descendants. The Apostle Paul glosses this as Abraham's believing that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Notice, too, that Paul credits Abraham with faith *in God's promise* of many descendants from Isaac. If this is correct, then Abraham never believed that he would be killing Isaac in the same sense that one kills a person in any natural situation--where the person just stays dead. Call this the "zombie Isaac" theory if you like. We also have Abraham's own cryptic words to Isaac, "God will provide for himself a sacrifice," where Abraham seems to be holding out the possibility that God would, as God did in the end, remit the order.
Here she's appealing to God's promise. But that frame of reference is only reliable if we can identify divine revelation in the first place. Lydia has called that into question. 
Part of the question here is whether we have _any_ notion of what it means to say that God is good. If literally _anything_ can be in Scripture attributed to God and we have to bite the bullet on it, then apparently we have _no_ idea what good and evil are, and we might as well not bother with the natural light at all.
Let me ask the hard-liners this: Suppose that some book of the Old Testament recorded that God sent a prophet to tell a king to have a woman seized and her unborn child aborted. You can make up your own frame story as to why this was supposedly necessary. Would you just say, "Oh, well, I guess abortion can sometimes be ordered by God. I guess we can't draw the line there"?
Mike, a problem with that is that it seems to allow no limits or pushback from the actual content of the putative order, even at this point, thousands of years later, where we are deciding whether or not this statement in the Bible that God ordered this is actually accurate. If that conjecture about the voice of God just takes care of the problem, couldn't you apply it to anything? Suppose that this experience, whatever it was, which is supposed to tell you "from every fiber of your being" that God the Father is speaking, seemed to contain the content, "Go and rape Canaanite children"? What about adultery? Sexual orgies? Torturing the kids? Etc., etc. There has to be some kind of reductio where we say that the true God _wouldn't_ order such a thing and that therefore we have a problem if a text tells us that He did. My line just apparently falls elsewhere from where it falls for some other people. Because I assume that you do have a line, some act so obviously vile and contrary to the character of God as revealed both in Scripture and in the natural law, that you would not bring that forward as an answer.
i) Is Lydia posing a hypothetical question? If I were not a Christian, but I'm considering religious conversion, then there'd be the question of how to sift rival revelatory claimants, viz. the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Arcana Cœlestia. In that context, we can raise hypothetical questions about what a candidate for the true God would be prepared to say and do. 
I'd add that people often convert to Christianity, not by engaging in comparative analysis, or applying generic criteria, but by fostering a religious experience. They expose themselves to gracious influences. Fellowship with the community of faith. Cultivating the means of grace. 
But if I'm already a Christian, then that presumes that I've already resolved such questions in my own mind. To be a Christian believer is, among other things, to affirm the revelatory status of the Bible. That becomes the benchmark. 
ii) If, however, we reject revealed moral norms as our standard of comparison, then I think moral skepticism is the logical alternative. Yes, we may feel that certain actions are intrinsically evil, but that's the effect of our social conditioning, natural instincts (which varies from species to species), evolutionary programming (or whatever). 
The thing is, we pro-lifers have been making these natural law arguments for years about, say, the intrinsic evil of abortion. Now suddenly all of that is supposed to be out the window? 
I wouldn't say that abortion is intrinsically evil, if by that she means abortion is wrong is every conceivable situation. For instance, I think it's generally permissible to terminate a tubal ectopic pregnancy. In that situation, both mother and child will die unless one dies. 
The whole thing about everybody being a sinner from conception, etc., proves too much, as I said in the original post over at my personal blog.If _that_ sense of "guilt" is enough to remove the "innocence" label from newborn infants (or even unborn infants), then why in the world do _we_ still have to use that "innocence" label when it comes to defining murder for the purposes of human society? Every abortionist in the world _could_ give (if he so chose) a theological defense that he did not kill an innocent human being because "there is none righteous," and all murder laws would fall to the ground.If the innocence of the newborn infant *in the relevant sense* for purposes of the concept of murder can survive the concept of original sin, then the problem of the Canaanite slaughters remains.You cannot just trot out the doctrine of original sin when you need it to indict every infant in the world and make us feel better about mass slaughter and then pack it back up tidily again and let us all get back to calling babies "innocents" for other purposes. Logically, it doesn't work that way.
I myself haven't used that appeal at this stage of the argument. That said, her inference is fallacious. Crimes aren't synonymous with sins. Original sin is not a crime. The fact that no one is innocent in reference to sin doesn't mean no one is innocent in reference to a particular crime. So guilt in that sense wouldn't obviate laws against murder. 
Compare these two statements from her post:

Any attempt to answer the problem by saying that original sin means that no one is really innocent proves far too much, for it removes the rationale for regarding the killing of infants generally as murder.
Steve, I don't have time to answer every point, but actually, *all* human death is indirectly the result of man's free will. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that man would not die if Adam had not sinned.

How can she invoke original sin to justify death by natural evil, but reject original sin to justify death by divine command? 

Here's yet another odd combination of statements:

For a human being to do this meets the definition of murder which it is necessary for us to use to explain to, e.g., pro-aborts why murder is wrong. (For example, "the direct and deliberate taking of the life of an innocent human being.") Implicitly, this definition means _our_ direct and deliberate taking, etc., not God's. But to do it "by God's command" is still for me to do it, not for God to do it directly. I still must act as an agent to aim the gun or swing the sword, doing it deliberately in such a way as to cut off the life of that particular infant. To all appearances, this is murder *by me*.

The wording of this statement seems to be modeled on the double effect principle. She apparently makes approving use of the double effect principle. I don't know what else to make of her distinctions ("direct" and "deliberate") unless she's alluding to the double effect principle. 

I don't want the entire thread to go into a discussion of double effect. I'm generally quite a hard-liner on that one. But we can all agree that in the case of slaying the Canaanite children no double effect was involved. They were _trying_ to slay _those_ individuals. We're talking about aiming your sword *so that* it will cut off the head of *that* child. As far as I am concerned, that is obviously intrinsically evil for innocents, with no exception.

I can't tell from this statement which side she comes down on respecting the double effect principle. But if she endorses the double effect principle, then she can't say taking the life of innocents is intrinsically evil simpliciter. Rather, that will have to be qualified by double effect distinctions. 

Actually I disagree that the verses you probably have in mind in the New Testament actually teach pacifism, but that's a whole different subject.

It's hard to see how she could simultaneously reject pacifism and the double effect principle inasmuch as rejecting pacifism commits her to situations in which the death of innocents is a necessary, albeit incidental, result of securing the strategic objective. 

Olson's imaginary Jesus

I'm going to comment on this post:

Roger Olson
I can't think of a better litmus test than Jesus. 
Jesus must be our hermeneutical litmus test whenever we encounter and interpret biblical (or extrabiblical) texts that claim something about God. He was and is God (Yahweh). 

i) That sounds pious, but as a matter of fact, Jesus is not the litmus test for the veracity of the OT. Rather, the OT is the litmus test for Jesus. And the NT makes that point repeatedly. That's why Jesus, the Apostles, and/or NT writers repeatedly appeal to the OT to validate his messianic mission. 

Throughout history there have been many messianic claimants. A messianic claimant is not the litmus test for the OT. 

And this isn't a question of hermeneutics, but historicity. What really happened. 

ii) Traditionally, Jews regard Christianity as a Jewish heresy, just as Christians regard Islam or Mormonism as a Christian heresy. If a pious Jew were reading Olson, and he thought Olson's position was representative, he'd be justified in viewing Christianity as a Jewish heresy. The NT can only falsify the OT on pain of falsifying itself. (Mind you, I think the NT helps to verify the OT, and vice versa.) 

Just as it's proper to evaluate the claims of Muhammad or Joseph Smith by the Bible, it's proper to evaluate the claims of Jesus by the OT. And we have NT precedent for that procedure. (Mind you, there are additional reasons to reject Muhammad and Joseph Smith.)

Roger Olson
First you answer my question. Can you sit back, close your eyes, and imagine Jesus commanding his disciples to slaughter the children instead of saying "bring them to me for of such is the kingdom of God." If you say that you can, then you and I have totally different ideas of who Jesus was and if you think I have trouble explaining some passages I will simply say you can't explain that one. You seem to assume Scripture is flat; I don't. 
But there’s a problem. Can anyone imagine Jesus turning around and saying “Slaughter these little children”? I can’t. 
But if I can’t imagine Jesus doing that, to any group of children, what am I to do with 1Samuel 15? Was Yahweh someone other than Jesus—different in character from him?

i) Notice that Olson's litmus test isn't really Jesus, but his "imagined" Jesus. What he imagines Jesus would or wouldn't say or do. Of course, an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus. A figment of Olson's imagination. So Olson's litmus test is actually…Olson! 

ii) Yes, Jesus is Yahweh. Therefore, whatever the OT attributes to Yahweh we should attribute to Jesus. 

iii) In addition, the NT teaches us that Jesus is currently ruling the universe. From the time of the Ascension until the Day of Judgment, Jesus is in charge (1 Cor 15:25; Eph 1:20-22). When children die in a natural disaster, Jesus was pushing the buttons. Older Arminians like Charles Wesley didn't hesitate to take that position. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Middle East Forum

Several good (including two old) articles from the Middle East Forum:

"How Dissimulation about Islam is Fuelling Genocide in the Middle East" (2014)

"Beheading in the Name of Islam" (2005)

"Why Arabs Lose Wars" (1999)

"Jonah and the whale"

The book of Jonah is famous for the fish miracle. Some scholars deride it while others defend it. 

Commentators on Jonah aren't ordinarily commercial fishermen or whalers. Same thing with most modern readers. In that regard, it's useful to see the reaction to a sermon on "Jonah and the whale" by a congregation that understands the perils, firsthand. This is account of an Eskimo church service. The parishioners belong to a fishing village on the North Slope of Alaska. The mortal dangers, as well as the theme of divine deliverance, has special resonance for them:

The church was empty when I entered–it was rather fine, walled with the pale oak mass-produced panelling…On the wall above the altar glimmered a scene from the Gospels.  
The service was beginning. Choir men and women took their places, and a serious Iñupiat preacher entered, short in stature, round of face, wearing a white surplice and stole. During the service he sometimes spoke in Iñupiat, sometimes in English. During the hymns I noticed Seth Lowe, a grizzled whaling captain, sitting behind me. I could hear him sing a hearty bass, and many women were singing alto, so I sang tenor, and we harmonized quite well. "Stand up, stand up for Jesus/ Ye soldiers of the cross" was one hymn. The theme running through the service was battle, death, human weakness, the desire for suicide, and God's triumph. The reading was from Jonah and the whale. Tears did not seem very far from any of us. E. Turner, The Hands Feel It (Northern Illinois University Press 1996), 22-23. 

The blind safecracker

The theory of evolution (i.e. macroevolution, universal common descent) is often thought to pose a specific challenge to inerrancy of Scripture. Some professing Christians think that problem can be solved by simply denying inerrancy or reinterpreting Gen 1-2. 

However, this is not just an issue of how evolution relates to the Bible, but how evolution relates to religion in general. Religion is concerned with man's place in the world. To invoke the fact/value distinction, religion is concerned with man's ultimate significance in the great scheme of things. 

Theistic evolution grants the basic evolutionary narrative. It accepts the way Darwinians typically interpret the fossil record (and other putative lines of evidence for evolution). But this creates two major problems for religion:

i) To judge by the fossil record (as Darwinians read it), evolution did not intend the human race. In Gould's metaphor, if you rewound the tape of evolution, the outcome would be different each time, both in general and in particular. 

Not everyone agrees with this. Conway Morris thinks human evolution was inevitable. But even if we agree with him, that doesn't mean evolution intended the human race. If you randomly dial the lock on a high school locker, eventually you will hit upon the right combination. By process of elimination, it's inevitable that that combination will turn up. 

But you didn't intend that combination, because you didn't know ahead of time which combination would unlock it. That's not something you could aim for. Evolution is the blind safecracker. 

ii) Another problem is that evolution implies physicalism. It attributes man's superior intellect to encephalization. Bigger brains. But in that event, brain death extinguishes the person. 

There are, of course, important ways to challenge these conclusions. However, they don't come from within evolution. Rather, they challenge evolution itself. 

Dying young

I'm posting my side of a little impromptu debate between Lydia McGrew and me:

steve said...
Thanks for your intellectual honesty. Sometimes we have to eliminate bad answers before we can explore better answers.

I'm glad I'm not in a position where I have to carry out those commands.

That said, I don't think death by divine command is worse than death by divine providence. I don't see that death by God's command presents a special theodicean problem in contrast to death by ordinary providence. Either both are morally problematic or neither is.

I think the efforts by Copan, Hess, and Matt Flannagan are shortsighted in that regard.

Same thing with more liberal theologians. If there's a problem, it's not with God's word but God's world. Even if one denies the inspiration of Scripture, that just relocates the problem to real-world atrocities, for which God remains ultimately responsible.

Conversely, if we have an adequate theodicy for real-world atrocities, why is that inapplicable to Biblical holy war?
steve said...
Why do you think the death of an infant by divine command presents a special problem, but his death by natural evil does not? Your distinction is not self-explanatory.

Yes, my Calvinism may make a difference, but every theistic tradition (e.g. Thomism, Arminianism, Molinism, open theism) must grapple with parallel issues.

On just about every alternative, God is the ultimate cause of natural evil.

Sorry, but I'm still unclear on why you think death resulting from a divine command is problematic in a way that death resulting from a divine action is not. Take two scenarios:

i) Ed dies because God ordered Ted to kill Ed

ii) Ed dies because God made a mantrap to kill Ed

Does (i) present a special theodicean problem, but (ii) does not?

(I'm using the mantrap as a metaphor for death by some natural evil.)

Yes, you're focussed on the specific issue of babies, but you're combining two issues: who dies and how they die. My question is why the mode of death is especially problematic in one case, but not the other.
steve said...
i) I'm afraid I don't see from your explanation why the mode of death is morally germane. Your key contention is that killing a baby is wrong. So it's still the who rather than the how.

ii) Also, do you really mean that killing a baby is intrinsically wrong, or generally wrong–absent extraordinary mitigating circumstances? What about terminating ectopic pregnancies? What about the double effect principle, viz. if the enemy uses human shields?

"In the second case, a fortiori, God has a right to _permit_ a death by way of the natural laws which He has put in place and which He preserves."

Isn't "permission" a bit weak or euphemistic in that context? Does God merely permit the outcome of natural forces he himself put in place?

To take a comparison: Suppose a car is parked uphill with a wheel chock behind the right rear tire to prevent it from rolling down the hill. Suppose I kick the wheel chock aside, as a result of which the car rolls downhill. I didn't push the car downhill. I merely removed an impediment. Gravity did the rest.

Yet even that action on my part is more than permitting the car to roll downhill. I caused it to roll downhill.

If, moreover, I foresaw that by kicking the wheel chock aside, the car would run over a 2-year-old playing in the cul-de-sac at the bottom of the hill, I did more than permit his death. I engineered his death.

So I fail to see a morally salient difference between death by divine command and death by divine providence. Adding buffers between cause and effect doesn't avoid divine agency or divine intent.

One could imagine Rube Goldberg machines in which the effect is far removed from the cause. Yet the outcome would still be traceable to God.

(At the moment I'm discussing natural evils, not moral evils.)
steve said...
Several issues:

i) Seems to me you're taking a harder line than you did in the body of the post. There you framed the issue in terms of a prima facie conflict between two sets of divine commands. Now, however, you're saying it's intrinsically wrong to kill babies/children.

ii) If, on the one hand, Scripture unmistakably contains commands in God's name to kill babies/children–while, on the other hand, killing babies/children is intrinsically wrong, then either the God of biblical theism doesn't exist, or else he permitted Bible writers to misrepresent his true character. If the latter, this would mean that even though Scripture presents itself as a corrective to false views of deity in ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman religion, in fact the Bible cannot be used as a standard of comparison.

iii) It isn't quite clear to me whether or not you think God has the right to take the life of a baby/child. When you say that's intrinsically wrong, do you mean in reference to human agents, or do you include God in that prohibition? You've said God has a general right to take life, as well as acting in the best interests of the baby/child, but unless I missed something, there's a reaming ambiguity regarding your position on God's prerogative in taking the life of a baby/child.

iv) If you think God has the right to take the life of a baby/child, then I don't see why it would be intrinsically wrong for God to command someone to take the life of a baby/child. That would not be a case of the human agent "playing God" by making life-and-death decisions which only God is entitled to make. Rather, the human would be divinely tasked to carry out a divine decision. Are you saying it would be illicit for God to delegate the implementation of his decision to a second party? Or is the decision itself illicit, even for God?

v) I'm studiously striving to avoid turning this thread into a debate over the freewill defense, but since you keep introducing that consideration, I have to say something about it. I mention natural evils because that would be a case of babies/children dying as an end-result of a chain of events initiated by God. God taking life through intermediate agencies, which is analogous to human agents who carry out divine commands.

Yes, there are cases in which natural evils are partly brought about by the choices/actions of free agents, but surely there are many exceptions. Take miscarriage. Although the pregnancy was partly brought about by human free agency, the miscarriage was not.

Whether a natural disaster kills humans (including babies/children) may be contingent on "where a family chooses to live in a certain year," but God could avert their death by giving them advance warning of an imminent natural disaster. That wouldn't destabilize the natural order or infringe on their freedom. Far from violating their freedom of choice, advance warning would expand their freedom of choice by giving them another, better option. More opportunities to choose from. So I don't see how invoking the freewill defense, even if we grant its key assumptions, will salvage your position.

vi) No, the double effect principle doesn't not apply in this particular case. The question, though, is whether, in principle, it is always wrong to take the life of a baby (or innocent life). If not, then that's not intrinsically wrong.
steve said...
Thanks. A few final points. I'll leave the last word to you:

i) I don't think the Fall accounts for natural evils, per se. Just human death by natural evil. Actually, natural "evils" are often natural goods. They preserve the balance of nature. I have no reason to think that's a result of the Fall. They only become "evil" in relation to us if humans happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

ii) You seem to be suggesting my response is inconsistent. Keep in mind that I was responding to you on your own terms, as you chose to frame the issue.

iii) To speak of advance warning as "interference" with "free human day-to-day decisions"strikes me as special pleading. Enabling people to make informed decisions about their future is hardly equivalent to interfering with their libertarian decision-making process. To the contrary, that enhances their freedom of opportunity. So I think there's a tension in your appeal which you are reluctant to acknowledge.

Notice I didn't use suggest God suspending the laws of nature. Freewill theists sometimes argue that we need a stable environment with predictable consequences to make free decisions. But even granting that assumption, advance warning is a different principle.

iv) Finally, many kids/babies die every year from natural causes. Death by natural causes can be more painful and prolonged than death by a sword or spear. Although you can say free choices figure in some of the deaths, I don't think it's plausible to universalize that claim. 

"No magic bullet--Copan's insufficient answer to the slaughter of the Canaanites"

Adam, animals, and death

Young-earth creationists typically reject animal mortality before the Fall. One oddity with that position is that Adam and Eve were created naturally mortal. They had they opportunity to acquire immortality by eating from the tree of life. 

It would be incongruous if man, the apex of creation, was naturally mortal, while animals were naturally immortal. Or do young-earth creationists think every plant was a tree of life for herbivores? 

Natural evil and original sin

On the face of it, the freewill defense can only account for moral evils, not natural evils. Natural processes aren't personal agents. 

There are a couple of ways freewill theists try to deflect that objection. They may say a stable environment is necessary to make decisions with predictable consequences. Predictability is an important component of moral and rational deliberation. 

One objection to that response is that orthodox freewill theists make allowance for some degree of divine intervention in the natural order (e.g. miracles, answered prayer). Sometimes God does override the automatic setting. But if that's consistent with a stable environment, then they can't invoke the uniformity of nature as a necessary condition of free choice. They permit many exceptions. 

Another response is to invoke the Fall. On this view, Adam's sin made humans liable to death by a variety of natural causes.

But is that appeal consistent with freewill theism? According to libertarianism, human agents are the ultimate source of their own choices. That's prerequisite for moral responsibility.

Suppose a families dies in a natural disaster because it was at the wrong place at the wrong time through no fault of its own. How does appealing to Adam's sin justify their death by natural disaster? How can Adam's sin be the ultimate reason for their vulnerability when libertarianism requires each human agent to be the ultimate source of his own choices? 

This is less of a problem in Calvinism, because Calvinism is less individualistic. In federal theology, a representative individual may act on behalf of others, for good or ill. Of course, some people think that's unfair, but my immediate point is that appealing to Adam's sin to justify death by natural causes would be internally consistent with Calvinism, whereas it seems to be internally inconsistent with freewill theism. 

One can still try to attack federal theology, but you have to attack it from the outside by showing how it conflicts with some external standard. And, of course, you have to defend your external standard.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The new eugenics

Due to amniocentesis (which is unobjectionable in itself), I expect there will be increasing pressure to euthanize the developmentally disabled. Indeed, bioethics is moving beyond abortion, which it takes for granted, to infanticide ("after-birth abortion"). 

I expect the pressure will be due to increasing hostility towards the developmentally disabled. Parents will be publicly shamed for having developmentally disabled kids. Social disapproval will be extended to them and their kids, functioning as a deterrent to other prospective parents who flout social convention by daring to have developmentally disabled kids. 

In other words, you might have parents who, left to their own devices, would bring a developmentally disabled child to term, but there will be an external disincentive in the form of peer pressure. If the power elite succeeds in secularizing law and culture, this will become a very dangerous world for the weakest, most defenseless members of society. Indeed, we're already well-advanced in that direction. 

Dawkins and Down Syndrome

People with Down Syndrome lead happier lives than Richard Dawkins. Does Dawkins strike you as a happy person? Maybe someone needs to put him out of his misery.’s-get-real-about-down-syndrome/

Unsung heroes

One of the ironies of the Ferguson story, and all the stories like it, is that it's always the losers, the thugs, the young dead black hoods, who get all the attention and sympathy.

One of my older relatives was a private piano teacher. And she hosted other teachers. She had a local painter teach students. 

She also had a classical guitarist come in. He was a black musician.

After his last student left for the day, he'd wait until her last student left for the day. He'd continue to play guitar in the other room until she was ready to leave. 

Why? He was protective. He waited until she got safely into her car and safely out of the parking lot before he left. 

He was probably more street savvy than she was. More alert to the dangers after dark in that part of town. 

Later he moved away. I think to a big city back east.

Somehow she found out a few years later that he was murdered. Shot dead on the streets. 

These are the blacks you never hear about. The unassuming heroes.