Sunday, December 21, 2014

“A New Pagan Era”

When it comes down to it, there are only two worldviews, according to Peter Jones (“One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference – Romans 1 for the Twenty-first Century”, Escondido, CA: Main Entry Editions, 2010). For simplicity’s sake, he identifies these simply as “One-ism” and “Two-ism”. The chart here (which I have modified somewhat) should be familiar to most Reformed readers. It illustrates how these worldviews line up:

When the chickens come home to roost


According to this story, two NYPD cops were assassinated in a revenge-killing today:


According to this story, some bystanders cheered their execution:


This is the predictable result of public officials like Obama, Holder, and Blasio who pander to the narrative that cops target blacks.

But the logic of the narrative recasts cop-killers as freedom-fighters. It's hard to see how public officials can do an about-face without repudiating the narrative. 

To take another liberal narrative, Hamas operatives are really freedom-fighters in relation to Israel. It's the same logic. 

We do have a serious problem with rogue cops in this country. But it lacks the racial angle that the liberal establishment, as well as some misguided evangelicals (e.g. Thabiti Anyabwile), foist on it. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mad Cow Disease


This looks interesting:

Don and Jill are church-planting missionaries in Germany.  In August of 2000, Don was diagnosed  by two teams of doctors at two university hospitals with new variant-Creuzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), the human version of Mad Cow Disease.  The Vanderhoofs were told by both hospitals that this disease is always fatal.  However, God had other plans and healed Don of the disease.  A book has been written detailing how God helped Don and Jill through Mad Cow Disease.  The book is entitled From Strength to Strength, and is their testimony of God's grace, help, and healing from this terminal illness.  
Its first printing of the book was in the English and German languages.  The English version is now in its third-edition printing and contains pictures with letters from three different doctors. 
http://www.donandjillvanderhoof.com/who-we-are/66.html

Gifts of healing

to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles (1 Cor 12:9-10).
According to Gordon Fee, in his revised commentary on 1 Corinthians (Eerdmans 2014):
The plural charismata ["gifts of healings"] probably suggests, not a permanent "gift," as it were, but that each occurrence is a "gift"in its own right. So also with the plurals in the next item [lit. "workings of miracles"], 659.  
[Quoting Bittlinger] "Every healing is a special gift…" 659n134.
That's a potentially revolutionary take on the typical cessationist/noncessationist debate or stalemate. It's not so much that the healer has a "gift of healing," but that each healing is a divine gift. An act of God's gracious merciful kindness. 
It's possible that some Christians are healers, viz. God heals more often through some Christians than others. But it's not a resident ability which the healer can switch on and off at will. It's just that God chooses some Christians to sometimes act in that capacity.

Keeping our promises


America, and you, have lost the moral high ground on this issue. I find it despicable that any person who is required by Jesus to give his life for others--including enemies--as Jesus himself did can even countenance making the sort of arguments you have in the wake of the torture revelations. 
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frenchrevolution/2014/12/11/three-points-about-the-torture-report-and-morality/#comment-1737993728

I find his comment a bit puzzling. If Inglis thinks that Jesus requires him to give his life for others, then the world is chock-full of opportunities to do what's required of him. What's he waiting for? Reminds me of a dialogue from I Claudius:

Lentulus: (kissing Caligula's hand) Your recovery is a miracle! 

Caligula: But you prayed for it, Lentulus. 

Lentulus: Oh, night and day! But prayers are not always heard. 

Caligula: But yours were special, so I understand. You offered your life to the gods in place of mine. That was extremely noble! 

Lentulus: It's true, I did. 

Caligula: And what are you going to do about it? 

Lentulus: Do about it? What do you mean? 

Caligula: Well, I'm still here, and so are you. But we oughtn't both be here. Should we not give the gods the things we promise them? You're in danger of the crime of perjury, Lentulus. Think about it. But not too long–gods won't wait forever, that I can assure you only too well.

Trial by ordeal


Some people claim the Bible actually endorses abortion. They allege that Num 5 is a recipe for an abortifacient. 

i) One hermeneutical challenge is that Num 5 contains some obscure terminology. For that reason alone, it's very precarious to make this a prooftext for abortion. 

ii) Even apart from the semantic issues, this is not a ritual for pregnant women in particular, but for suspected wives in general. Whether or not the woman happens to be pregnant is incidental to the ritual. The point of the ritual is to establish guilt or innocence, and penalize guilt. 

iii) In Scripture, barrenness is sometimes (but by no means always) a penalty for sin. It would be consistent with that theme if the punishment in Num 5 is infertility. 

iv) Some critics will complain that the ritual is sexist or misogynistic. By way of reply:

a) In the Mosaic law, adultery was a capital offense for adulterer and adulteress alike (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22). 

b) In Lev 20:20-21, childlessness is a penalty for incest. Apparently, God will curse the incestuous couple with infertility. They will be unable to reproduce. Presumably, they will outlive any children they may already have.

c) In traditional cultures, adultery is an offense against the husband. She has shamed him. And it's up to him to restore his honor.  

In the OT, by contrast, adultery is primarily a religious offense. A question of how men and women conduct their lives in the sight of God. Whether they lead God-honoring or God-dishonoring lives. 

Hence, trial by ordeal (Num 5) takes the case out of the husband's hands. A wife, falsely accused, has been dishonored by the accuser (her husband). If innocent, the rite restores her honor. The efficacy of the rite is contingent on God's will. 

v) Here's a good discussion of the terminology:

The priest himself holds the vessel which contains the "water of bitterness." There has been much debate regarding the meaning of the term "bitterness" here. The Septuagint translates it as "waters of testing" or "proof," and, of course, that makes good sense in the context. This reading has been supported by G. R. Driver. Snaith, using Arabic cognates, suggests that it may mean to "cause an abortion." There is no support from the Hebrew language for such a reading. Pardee argues that it may mean "curse-bringing," and he bases his translation on an Ugartic textual parallel. Brichto takes an entirely different approach by saying it means "instruction, revelation." 
Sasson has taken a unique approach to the issue. He argues on the basis of an Ugaritic cognate, that the term translated above as "bitterness" actually means "blessing." Thus, in his view, the closing of v18 is really a merismus, which reads, "waters which bless and bring the curse." In other words, the judgment is still in doubt, and the outcome will depend on her guilt or innocence with regard to the test. 
In these verses the priest administers an oath-taking ceremony. If she is innocent, then may she "be free" from a curse…If, on the other hand, she is guilty of committing adultery, may she receive the "oath of the curse." The term for "curse" here is used of an imprecation that is added on to an oath. Thus, the woman is calling down punishment on herself if she is indeed guilty of the crime.  
The specific punishment is that Yahweh will cause her "thigh to sag" and her "belly to swell up." 
What is meant by these two physical ailments is uncertain…The ailments probably, in a sense of ironic justice, prohibit the act of procreation. The "thigh" is commonly used to refer to sexual organs, particularly in regard to the male (see Gen 46:26, KJV).  
Distending of the belly is more difficult to interpret. Frymer-Kensky has offered a reasonable solution. She argues that the verb "to swell up" (of which this is the only occurrence in Hebrew) is related to the Akkadian verb "to flood." And, thus, the woman's uterus is directly flooded by the curse-bearing waters. She is not able to have intercourse, to conceive, or to bear children. J. Currid, Numbers (EP 2009), 93-96.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Yes, there's evidence that God exists

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frenchrevolution/2013/08/14/there-is-evidence-god-exists/

Letters from home

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Heb 11:13-16). 
My father was a WWII vet. He told my mother that there were two kinds of soldiers in his unit: those who frequented brothels, and those who wrote their sweetheart or fiancée every day.
On bases far away, or serving overseas, that's what kept some soldiers going. Having that to look forward to. 
Having a woman who was waiting for them. Having a woman they were waiting to see again. Planning a life together. 
Writing a letter to their sweetheart or reading a letter from their sweetheart. Hoping to see her again, face-to-face. Hoping to embrace. Hoping to pick up where they left off.
This is what many men ultimately fight for. For the folks back home. Having that to return to. 
And that's like the life of faith. The waiting. The longing. Like letters to home or letters from home. Counting down the days before reunion. 
Of course, many soldiers never made it back. Yearning for home, but dying far from home. They died unfulfilled in this life. 
And I suppose this is one of the worst things about a civil war. Even if you survive, what if you go back home, only there's no home to go back to? When you go back, you find burned buildings. Makeshift graves of friends and family you left behind. They waved you good-bye. Hugs, tears, and kisses. That's the last time you saw them alive. While you were gone, the life you knew was blown to bits. Literally. 
There's nothing left for you here. Nothing left to keep you here. Going back shows you there's nothing to go back to. 
And that, too, is like the life of faith. Especially as the losses accrue. By faith we override what we can see and feel–putting our faith in what we can't see or feel. What we can see and feel is real, but ephemeral. What we can't see or feel is everlasting. 

The commercialization of Christmas


This time of year you always have some Christians and pastors bemoan the commercialization of Christmas. And, in a sense, they are right on the merits. The gratuitous spending. The kitsch. The secular Christmas songs. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, &c.

But in the providence of God, the commercialization of Christmas has a fringe benefit. For the commercialization of Christmas exposes many unbelievers to a major redemptive event. Exposes them to the story and the theology of Christmas. If it weren't for the commercialization of Christmas, many unbelievers would be utterly ignorant of this central redemptive event. 

For instance, because Good Friday isn't commercialized, many unbelievers don't know the first thing about the significance of Good Friday. They don't know what it stands for. Many of them aren't even aware of Good Friday. 

If Christmas wasn't a national holiday, with all the popular hubbub, many unbelievers would be even more ignorant than they already are of Christian theology. For all the excesses of the season, it makes them aware of something profoundly important. So even though the commercialization of Christmas is bad in itself, God can use that to create a theological foothold to reach people who never step inside a church. It's a start. Instead of complaining, we should build on that.

Did God love the Egyptians?

http://www.craigkeener.com/did-god-love-the-egyptians/

Darwin and the Mathematicians

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/11/darwin_and_the_mathematicians027911.html

The greatest flimflam man on earth

http://www.uncommondescent.com/evolution/one-long-bluff-a-review-of-richard-dawkins-the-greatest-show-on-earth/

The presumption of creation


I could be wrong about this. I haven't seen any scientific polling data. But it's my impression that we seem to be living in a time, at least in North America, where a larger that usual percentage of professing Christians have jettisoned the historical Adam for theistic evolution. 

I imagine this is due in no small part to the impression that given the (allegedly) mounting evidence for evolution, that theory is now the presumptive position. Young-earth and old-earth creationists are supposedly fighting an uphill battle. Or a rearguard action. Pick your metaphor. 

However, it's important to keep in mind that there's no antecedent presumption in favor of evolution. Indeed, if you tune out the barrage of evolutionary propaganda and step back a few paces, evolution is antecedently implausible. Monumentally implausible. 

The theory of naturalistic evolution is like a corridor millions of miles long. Every few feet is a door with a combination lock. The blind safecracker must try every possible combination until he hits on the right one. That opens the door, allowing evolution to proceed for a few feet until the next door. 

Of course, Darwinians might take exception to my metaphor. However, I don't think it's a trade secret that mathematicians are more skeptical of evolution than biologists. Biologists say that's because mathematicians don't know much about the life sciences. Mathematicians counter that that's because biologists don't know much about probability. So it's a metaphor with a real-world analogue. 

Hence, there's no antecedent presumption that evolution is true. To the contrary, there's an antecedent presumption that evolution is false. Indeed, a well-night insurmountable presumption to the contrary. It's divine creation that's the default position. 

However, a theistic evolutionists might object. It's not a blind safecracker. Rather, if evolution is divinely guided or front-loaded, then God knows the combination lock. 

And it's fair to say that theistic evolution might not be improbable in the way that naturalistic evolution is. Intelligence has problem-solving abilities that mindlessness does not. 

There are, however, problems with that appeal:

i) If a young-earth creationist or old-earth creationist invokes divine agency to make his theory work, he's accused–often by theistic evolutionists!–of resorting to a deus machine or God-of-the-gaps. He's lectured on the continuum of physical cause and effect. 

ii) If theistic evolutionists need to invoke divine agency to make the theory work, that raises questions about the explanatory power of the theory in the first place. 

Let's assume scientific realism for the sake of argument. Serious scientific theories, even if they are wrong, aren't simply wrong. What makes them serious theories is that they can account for some of the evidence. What makes them lose out to competing theories is if the competition can account for more of the evidence.

A mark of a failed theory is that it only accounts for some of the evidence, not to mention evidence to the contrary. It lacks the explanatory power of a theory that accounts for more evidence, and is at least consistent with all the evidence. 

If the theory of evolution needs God to get the kinks out, isn't that a telltale sign of a failed theory? If we're going to invoke divine agency, why bother with the theory of evolution at all? The theory may need God, but God doesn't need the theory. 

Is Tolkien Christian?


Many Christians love Tolkien's fiction. Some love the books. Some love the movies. Some love both.

However, for some, this is a guilty pleasure. That's because C. S. Lewis is a Christian novelist in a way that Tolkien is not. Lewis uses thinly-veiled Christian symbolism and overt analogies. 

As a result, some Tolkien fans resort to special pleading to make his fiction more Christian than it is. They offer typological interpretations.

Now in some cases I suppose that's more plausible. You could claim that Gandalf is a Christ-figure who dies for his friends, then is "resurrected." Mind you, that would be more plausible if Gandalf in general were more Christ-like. 

i) I think one problem is when Christians feel the need to justifying their enjoyment of something that isn't Christian. But something can be good–artistically good–without being Christian. Even unbelievers must take their materials from God's hand. 

ii) That said, I think there's a way of offering a more Christian interpretation of Tolkien. It seems to me that the genre is basically in the medieval chivalric tradition. Gandalf is priestly or monkish. Aragorn and Legolas are knightly. Saruman is an evil monk and sorcerer. Frodo is the holy fool. Gollum is an apostate. Sauron is a fallen angel. And medieval literature had mythological creatures which have their counterparts in Tolkien. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Climbing Mount Improbable

Here are three critical reviews of Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins. Interestingly, all three reviewers are Jewish. One a Messianic Jew, and the other two secular Jews:

http://creation.com/book-review-of-dawkins-climbing-mount-improbable

http://www.discovery.org/a/132

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v18/n08/jerry-fodor/peacocking

The Spanish Inquisition redux


In one example, interrogators were told that a detainee's medical files showed he had a severe phobia of the dark and suggested ways in which that could be manipulated to induce him to cooperate. 
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/24/politics/24gitmo.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0 
In March 2002, the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah, believed then to be a high-level Qaeda mastermind. Abu Zubaydah apparently feared insects. Someone at the CIA came up with the idea—right out of "1984," it would seem—of putting him in a small, dark box and letting an insect crawl on him. But since this was America, and not Orwell's fantasy police state, the CIA first had to get permission from a lawyer at the Department of Justice. Parsing statutes against torture, the lawyer (Jay Bybee, then chief of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel) ruled that Abu Zubaydah's interrogators could not tell the suspect that the insect was venomous because, under the law, prisoners could not be threatened with imminent death. However, Abu Zubaydah could be placed in a "confinement box" with a harmless insect as long as he was told nothing about it. The CIA had proposed using a caterpillar. 
http://www.newsweek.com/trying-make-sense-torture-memos-77599

Evil "by definition"


Critics of "torture" always employ the same methodology: 

i) Begin with a broad, amorphous, stimulative definition of "torture"

ii) Claim that "by definition," torture is evil

iii) Claim that various techniques of interrogation fit the definition. That makes them "torture" by definition

iv) Ergo, that makes said techniques evil by definition

But why would any reasonable person think that tendentious, circuitous method is the logical way to determine if, say, sleep deprivation is immoral? 

Why not consider sleep deprivation on its own terms? Why not consider if that's licit or illicit in its own rights? Why not consider each technique on the merits?  

Moreover, why treat various techniques in isolation to the terrorist? Has the terrorist forfeited certain prima facie protections by his actions, associations, or intentions? 

"Primitive" snakes


i) When I read about reticulated pythons, it's amusing to see them described as "primitive" snakes. As if these are early, draft models of more advanced snakes–like venomous snakes.

Yet reticulated pythons are perfect killing machines. Quick, clean, bloodless. They have rows of incurved teeth to get a solid grip. They suffocate their prey within minutes, then swallow it whole. They have detachable jaws which enable them to swallow prey wider than themselves. They have gorgeous camouflage, ideal for an ambush predator. 

It's a very efficient, complete mechanism for killing and costuming prey. How would you improve on that?  

It doesn't look like a primitive design which natural selection has to get the kinks out of. It's not a test model, but a final design. A fully developed, fully-functional system. 

ii) Moreover, it's not transitional to venomous snakes. Death by constriction and death by envenomation are two unrelated methods of predation. Python design is not a bridge to a rattlesnake. 

iii) Darwinians counter that pythons have vestigial hind-legs. And they point to fossil snakes with hind-legs. For them, that's evidence that snakes evolved from quadrupeds. But it seems to me that there are problems with that inference:

a) Vestigial structures don't disprove special creation. Structures can atrophy through disuse. Take blind cave fish. That's not inconsistent with special creation or fiat creation.

b) Why assume a fossil snake with hind-legs evolved from quadrupeds, rather than viewing it for what it is–an extinct snake with hind-legs?

c) To my knowledge, only the largest snake species have vestigial legs (of that's what they are) or hind-legs (in the case of fossil snakes).

That raises the question of whether hind-legs were functional. Do snakes that long and heavy need hind-legs–unlike shorter, lighter snakes? Did that help them get around, or get going? 

d) By parity of argument, should we infer that walking catfish evolved from quadrupeds? Are their pectoral fins vestigial legs? 

iv) Are pit-vipers more advanced than mambas and cobras? Infrared vision might seem to be a more advanced design. But that's only beneficial for nocturnal predators. That's not advantageous for diurnal snakes like mambas and King cobras. So it' s not more "advanced." 

If, moreover, all snakes had infrared vision, then they'd be in competition night and day. By contrast, if some snakes are diurnal while others are nocturnal, that's a time-sharing arrangement. 

Retractable fans might seem to be more advanced than fixed fangs. Yet venomous snakes with fixed fangs are some of the world's deadliest. 

v) Another fascinating predator is the electric eel. In evolutionary terms, this is a "primitive" creature compared to, say, a dolphin or leopard. Yet it's a marvel of engineering efficiency. It uses electricity for offense, defense, and navigation (like radar). It stuns or electrocutes its prey, then swallows it whole.

A very compact design. How would you improve on that? How is that "primitive"? 

Are Cheetahs evolving dogs?


As a rule, why do dogs and cats have different paws? That's because canine paws are designed for running whereas feline paws are designed for climbing and/or killing (e.g. puncturing, gripping). Although cats can run, they run in short bursts–when they are chasing down prey. They lack stamina. By contrast, wolves, Cape Hunting dogs, &c., are long-distance runners. They can run for miles and miles without becoming winded. That's how they wear down their prey. Cats are sprinters, dogs are marathon runners. 

The Cheetah is an exception. The Cheetah has paws like a canine rather than a feline. It's a necessary adjustment to equip it for extreme speed. It couldn't run that fast, or turn that fast, with big soft paws and retractable claws. 

According to evolutionary reasoning, we should infer that Cheetahs have canine paws because Cheetahs and canines share a common ancestor. Indeed, Cheetahs are transitional species. Either felines evolving into canines or canines evolving into felines. 

But, of course, in the case of Cheetahs, Darwinians admit that this is simply an adaptation. It's not common descent, but the environment, that accounts for this adaptive trait. That exploits a food niche. Superior speed enables Cheetahs to outrun prey that's too fast for lions and leopards. 

But that raises questions regarding evidence for evolution. Are similar traits due to common ancestry or adaptation? 

From a theistic standpoint, Cheetahs are cats with dog-like feet because God designed them to run fast. A very specialized cat. God makes a wide variety of creatures. God rings the changes on possible combinations.

The divine origamist


I'm no expert, but it seems to me that this is a significant discovery:


i) Lately, a number of professing Christians have abandoned the historical Adam based on (alleged) genetic evidence for the common ancestry of apes and humans. The basic argument is that common genes imply common ancestry. The more two creatures are genetically alike, the greater their affinity by common descent. They share so much genetic material in common because they share common ancestry (i.e. most recent common ancestor).

ii) However, even Darwinians admit that the shared vocal ability (i.e. imitation, vocalization) of parrots and humans isn't due to a common ancestor. Rather, they chalk that up to independent development of the same morphology and brain circuitry. 

iii) But a familiar problem that convergent evolution poses for evolutionary theory in general is that it undermines evidence for common ancestry. 

iv) Another issue is why we'd attribute this to independent evolution rather than special creation. 

v) Finally, if parrots and humans have similar vocal abilities because they have similar genes, then how do shared genes count as evidence for evolution (whether convergent evolution or common ancestry)? 

From a theistic standpoint, if God chose to make two creatures with similar vocal abilities, he does that by giving them similar genes. They have similar genes, not because they are related to each other, or because they evolved, but because that's the natural mechanism to produce a similar result. God uses similar physical causes to produce similar physical effects.

To say they are related because they share common genes is  circular. You can reason from similar morphology to similar genes or vice versa. Each implies the other. 

If God designed to creatures to have similar abilities, then the way to engineer that would be to give them similar genes. 

Some creatures are more alike because God chose to make them more alike. Some creatures are less alike because God chose to make them less alike. The range of diversity is a tribute to divine ingenuity. Like origami. All the different figures you can shape by folding the same piece of paper different ways. That takes great imagination, artistry, and skill.

"Development of Doctrine" for the Roman Catholic: A blank check for a wax nose.

It seems to me that what Roman Catholicism has done over the years is to “synthesize” and to bring in unbiblical concepts, which it then understands to be “divine revelation”. That is why I’ve written recently about Aquinas being “the problem”.

Aquinas “synthesized” Aristotelian metaphysics, and in doing so, he did alter what was at the time “the Classical doctrine of God”, sacraments, etc. The challenge with understanding all of this is to understand (a) where the concepts came from, and (b) at what point did they become “doctrine” and hence, at what point, did Rome begin to consider them “divine revelation” -- or “tradition”, in other words.

In the Roman system, “tradition” is not the same as what the Eastern Orthodox mean by “tradition”. There is a whole elaborate set of explanations to say why these Roman accretions are “development” and how they continue to be part of “tradition” (or rather, “Tradition”, with a capital “T”), even though some of them are less than 50 years old.

Before Aquinas, the writing of someone like a pseudo-Dionysius existed, and some likely loosely held to them. Aquinas incorporated what we now clearly know to be a forgery into his “theology”, and his “theology” became ratified into dogma in large scale by the RCC.

Keep in mind, there is a difference between “doctrine” (or “dogma”) in Roman Catholicism and “theology”. Any “theology” can be (and is) easily dismissed by apologists, especially that which doesn’t suit their purpose du jour.

Dogmas then, for Rome, become “reformulated positively” -- essentially a blank check for a wax nose, all of which occurs under the rubric of “development”.

This is essentially why Rome, while having the claim to being “old”, really is the adopter of “every wind of doctrine” that has come down the pike. It keeps a couple of dusty old artifacts (such as “the papacy”), and all the rest is a whirlwind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Does The Behavior Of The People In Matthew 2 Make Sense?

Jonathan Pearce has been writing some posts lately about how the individuals mentioned in Matthew 2 wouldn't have behaved the way Matthew describes (see here, here, and the comments section of the thread here). Below are some of my comments on the subject, taken from my review of Pearce's book on the infancy narratives and what I've written elsewhere:

Depicting angels


In a recent interview, Ridley Scott said:

But I didn’t like the idea of an angel associated with wings. I wanted everything to be reality based….  
The writer I chose to finally polish it said, “You couldn’t have asked a worse person to do this because I am a dyed in the wool atheist. I simply don’t believe in this stuff.” I said, “Well, on the contrary, it’s a bit like being in science fiction. ‘Cause I never believed in it, I had to convince myself every step of the way as to what did make sense and what didn’t make sense and where I could reject and accept.  
When you take into account the reality and feasibility of those “rock men,” which really should be part of the hobbits. I’m serious. Listen, I think [“Noah” director Darren Aronofsky] is a great director, but rock men? Come on. I could never get past that. The film immediately kicked off as a fantasy…that was a problem. If you begin that way, it’s hard to get past that without saying, “I’m going to build a boat and on it’s going to go creatures two by two, and make that credible.” 
But that’s what we do for a living. So I have to part the Dead Sea and I’m not going to part the Dead Sea because I don’t believe it. I don’t believe I can part the Dead Sea and keep shimmering water on each side. I’m an absolutely very, very practical person. So I was immediately thinking that all science-based elements placed come from natural order or disorder–or could come from the hand of God, however you want to play that.
Any liberties I may have taken in terms of how I show this stuff was, I think, pretty safe ground because I’m always going always from what is the basis of reality, never fantasy….So the film had to be as real as I could make it. 
http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/12/10/christian-bale-ridley-scott-talk-religion-exodus-rns-interview/
And a Christianity Today review said:
no “staff-to-snake” scene 
The controversial choice to depict God’s mouthpiece as a young boy called Malak (11-year-old British actor Isaac Andrews), who is only visible to Moses, actually works. Before you shout heresy, ask yourself: If you were a filmmaker, how would you visualize God’s voice? In a story where Moses has frequent conversations with a rather garrulous “I Am,” what are the options? A booming, James Earl Jones-esque voice from the clouds? Morgan Freeman in an all-white suit? Any visual artist telling this story must make an artistic decision, and though it may not be perfect, I found Scott’s choice to be compelling and interesting, in a good way. 
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/december-web-only/exodus.html?start=1
i) At the risk of stating the obvious, Christians can't expect secular directors to make movies about the historical narratives of Scripture that are faithful to the text, or the worldview of Scripture. If we think that should be done, then it's something we must do ourselves. Of course, the catch is financing. 
ii) At the same time, there's no reason why Scott shouldn't have theological advisors. Or, for that matter, Christian screenwriters. There are basically two audiences for a film like this: Christian moviegoers (including some Jewish viewers) and moviegoers who like spectacular, panoramic action films. There's no reason for him to gratuitously snub a major market niche for his film. 
iii) The problem with his definition of realism is that what's realistic given naturalism is different from what's realistic given supernaturalism. Yet he's adapting a narrative that's explicitly supernaturalistic, in general outlook as well as specific incidents. 
That's presumably why he filmed the plagues, but not the metamorphosis of inanimate objects into snakes. He could depict the plagues naturalistically, but there's nothing naturalistic about the metamorphosis of inanimate objects into snakes. 
iv) Now let's shift to the question of how to depict God on film. There are, of course, "Puritanical" Christians who think that's wrong in principle. I'm going to ignore that because I've discussed that repeatedly.
v) In Exodus, there are different kinds of theophanies. There's an angelophany. There's the Shekinah. There's the pillar of fire. And there's the Sinai theophany.
In principle, CGI could simulate a representation of the Shekinah and/or the pillar of fire. An artistic interpretation of the narrative descriptions. And that could be visually impressive. 
vi) In Scripture, angels manifest themselves in roughly three different forms:
a) Humanoid angels. These are angels who can pass for humans. They look human. They have solidity. The only thing that gives them away is their supernatural power (e.g. Gen 19:11).
Humanoid angels don't have wings. A human actor could depict an angel like that without any special effects. 
b) Luminous angels. Sometimes, angels have a humanoid appearance with a nimbic aura. They glow. But they don't have wings.
You could use a human actor, then enhance the image with a nimbic aura. That could be impressively done. 
c) Cherubim and seraphim. These have wings. Indeed, they have two or three pair of wings. 
Given the association between wings and fire or lightning, are these wings that look like flames or flames that look like wings? In any case, it's probably no feathers, but something like flickering firelight or electricity. 
Assuming that Isa 6 and Ezk 1 & 10 are representative, the basic distinction seems to be that seraphim are the angelic retinue for the stationary heavenly sanctuary or throne room whereas cherubim are the angelic retinue for the God's mobile throne (cf. Ps 18:10). 
It's not clear if these are different kinds of angels. Since angels are essentially incorporeal, this is merely how they manifest themselves, not how they naturally subsist. 
The cherubim are tetramorphs. They don't have the appearance of a winged-man. Rather, they are hybrids. In principle, CGI would simulate a representation of a cherub. An artistic interpretation of Ezekiel's description. That could be breathtaking. 
Based on Biblical iconography, there's no reason to assume the Angel of the Lord had the appearance of a winged-man. Audiences raised on science fiction films are conditioned to expect and appreciate inhuman figures, so long as that's skillfully and imaginatively executed. According to Biblical exemplars, there's nothing comical about the appearance of angels. 

Writing a blank check


Unfortunately, but perhaps predictably, Steven Wedgeworth has done yet another confused post on "torture":


He consistently fails to frame the issue correctly. His latest post is basically worthless. 

What is his objective? What does he think he's trying to prove? Is his goal to show that "torture" is intrinsically evil? Is his goal to show that "torture" is wrong in principle?

If so, then attacking the arguments of Dick Cheney or John Yoo is beside the point. I shouldn't have to explain to Wedgeworth that if your objective is to disprove a position, you need to attack the strongest version of the position. Your foil needs to be the most astute representatives of that position. 

In fact, there are philosophers who, before attacking the opposing position, will even improve on the arguments of the opposing position. They will make the strongest case they can for the opposing position before they proceed to dismantle it. 

As I pointed out before, John Yoo was giving legal advice. That's not even relevant to the moral status of coercive interrogation. 

Cheney is a bright guy, but he's not a philosopher or ethicist. And, from what I can tell, he's a nominal Christian at best. 

Even if his case for coercive interrogation is ethically flawed, what does that prove? It does't begin to prove that coercive  interrogation is wrong in principle. If that is Wedgeworth's objective, he chose the wrong foil. 

Here's an example of a more sophisticated argument:


What is Wedgeworth's goal? Is it to assess the interrogation program of the Bush administration? Or is it to assess coercive interrogation as a matter of principle?

For instance, two people can support the same thing for different reasons. My reasons for supporting coercive interrogation can be entirely independent of Cheney's. 

The moral question which underlies everything is always answered by a sort of “two wrongs make a right” red herring. The evil of our enemies is all the justification we need.
Speaking for myself, I haven't used that argument. 
But the reality of using that sort of argument is that it creates a blank check for any and all actions taken in response to 9/11.
Except that that's exactly what Wedgeworth is doing, albeit unwittingly. There are two different ways of approaching this issue:
On the one hand, you can begin by formulating general criteria, or necessary and sufficient conditions, for licit and illicit interrogation techniques. You then use that to rule in or rule out specific methods.
On the other hand, you can begin with paradigm-cases of licit or illicit interrogation, then analogize to comparable candidates or methods. 
Wedgeworth doesn't do either. He vents. He emotes. 
He offers no constructive guidance to officials sworn to protect Americans from foreign terrorists. By his intellectual dereliction, he hands them a blank check.

Vigilantism


A friend asked me if violent opposition to abortion is legitimate in principle. Here's my response:

Before answering your question directly, I'd note that the point of my AHA post was not to expound my own position or discuss the issue on the merits, but to interpret Trewhella's actions/statements on their own terms, and consider if that's consistent with AHA's stated nonviolent philosophy. 

I think there are situations where we can honestly say, "I wouldn't do it, but I don't blame someone who does." I'm not referring to this issue in particular, but generally. However, it's not incumbent on me to make Trewhella's (or AHA's) arguments for him. 

For instance, years ago a convicted sexual predator was paroled. But someone burned his house down before he could move into the neighborhood. That's not something I'd do. But I don't fault the person who did it. And if I witnessed the person who did it, I wouldn't report him to the authorities. If the police questioned neighbors, including me, I'd feign ignorance. 

On the substantive question, I'm inclined to say "no." I don't think vigilantism is wrong in principle. But I think there are are implicit parameters to permissible vigilantism. And like many ethical issues, it's hard to drawn the boundaries precisely. We have borderline cases. So I don't know that I can lay down an exceptionless generalization. I'll have to content myself with illustrations.

If I'm walking in the park, and I see a man attacking a woman, it's generally permissible, and sometimes obligatory, for me to forcibly intervene. Mind you, even that depends on other considerations. If he's 6' 4" and I'm 5' 5", my intervention would be futile, unless I have a gun.

Likewise, if I'm the caregiver for my elderly invalid mother, then I can't risk injury. In fact, I probably can't even risk a police investigation. 

But as a rule, I'd be justified in counterattacking the attacker to protect the third party.

Keep in mind that even in that situation, I wasn't on the lookout for muggers or rapists to neutralize. I simply happened upon that altercation. I found myself in that situation. I didn't seek it out. 

By contrast, in many parts of the world, innocent people are murdered with impunity. One country invades another country without provocation. Or you have a bloody civil war.

But I don't have a duty to hop on a plane, fly to that theater, choose sides, get a gun, and start killing the aggressor. Not only is that not obligatory, but I doubt it's even morally permissible. The enemy soldiers aren't my enemies. They are not a threat to my own family. It's really none of my business. 

And I'd say the Bible corroborates this viewpoint. If vigilantism was generally obligatory, the Roman Empire afforded countless worthy causes. Yet Jesus, the apostles, and/or NT writers don't call upon Christians to practice frontier justice. For instance, Christ did not align himself with the Zealots, even though they had legitimate grievances.

Indeed, St. Paul implicitly discourages vigilantism:  

11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one (1 Thes 4:11-12). 
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Science and Faith: An Interview with a Biochemist

http://reflectionsbyken.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/science-and-faith-an-interview-with-a-biochemist/

Ethics in “The Hunger Games”

http://reflectionsbyken.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/ethics-in-the-hunger-games/