Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Why the choir was late

Here's a striking example of a coincidence miracle:

It happened on the evening of March 1 in the town of Beatrice, Nebraska. In the afternoon the Reverend Walter Klempel had gone to the West Side Baptist Chruch to get things ready for choir practice. He lit the furnace — most of the singers were in the habit of arriving around 7:15, and it was chilly in the church - and went home to dinner. But at 7:10, when it was time for him to go back to the church with his wife and daughter Marilyn Ruth, it turned out that Marilyn Ruth's dress was soiled. They waited while Mrs. Klempel ironed another and thus were still at home when it happened.  
Ladona Vandergrift, a high school sophomore, was having trouble with a geometry problem. She knew practice began promptly and always came early. But she stayed to finish the problem.  
Royena Estes was ready, but the car would not start. So she and her sister called Ladona Vandergrift, and asked her to pick them up. But Ladona was the girl with the geometry problem, and the Estes sisters had to wait.  
Sadie Estes' story was the same as Royena's. All day they had been having trouble with the car; it just refused to start.  
Mrs. Leonard Schuster would ordinarily have arrived at 7:20 with her small daughter Susan. But on this particular evening Mrs. Schuster had to go to her mother's house to help her get ready for a missionary meeting.  
Herbert Kipf, lathe operator, would have been ahead of time but had put off an important letter. "I can't think why," he said. He lingered over it and was late.  
It was a cold evening. Stenographer Joyce Black, feeling "just plain lazy," stayed in her warm house until the last possible moment. She was almost ready to leave when it happened.  
Because his wife was away, Machinist Harvey Ahl was taking care of his two boys. He was going to take them to practice with him but somehow he got wound up talking. When he looked at his watch, he saw he was already late.  
Marilyn Paul, the pianist, had planned to arrive half an hour early. However she fell asleep after dinner, and when her mother awakened her at 7:15 she had time only to tidy up and start out.  
Mrs. F.E. Paul, choir director and mother of the pianist, was late simply because her daughter was. She had tried unsuccessfully to awaken the girl earlier.  
High school girls Lucille Jones and Dorothy Wood are neighbors and customarily go to practice together. Lucille was listening to a 7-to-7:30 radio program and broke her habit of promptness because she wanted to hear the end. Dorothy waited for her.  
At 7:25, with a roar heard in almost every corner of Beatrice, the West Side Baptist Church blew up. The walls fell outward, the heavy wooden roof crashed straight down like a weight in a deadfall. But because of such matters as a soiled dress, a catnap, an unfinished letter, a geometry problem and a stalled car, all of the members of the choir were late - something which had never occurred before.  
Firemen thought the explosion had been caused by natural gas, which may have leaked into the church from a broken pipe outside and been ignited by the fire in the furnace. The Beatrice choir members had no particular theory about the fire's cause, but each of them began to reflect on the heretofore inconsequential details of his life, wondering at exactly what point it is that one can say, "This is an act of God." Edeal, George. "Why the Choir Was Late." Life (March 27, 1950), 19-23.

What are the odds that 15 people would all be late for choir practice due to 15 different, independent reasons? Seems like a strong candidate for special providence.

i) However, skeptics will raise a familiar objection. And even some Christians may have nagging doubts. We might be more likely to credit that as divine intervention if it fit into a larger pattern of divine intervention. But why would God save those people when so many other Christians die in terrible accidents and natural disasters? Considered in isolation, it appears to be too lucky to be sheer luck, but compared to what happens generally, it appears to be random. After all, anomalous events happen. Like someone who survives a plane crash when all  his fellow passengers die. 

ii) But there are problems with that objection. Suppose a gambler is dealt three royal flushes in three successive games. Would it be reasonable to discount the outcome by pointing out that most gamblers aren't dealt three royal flushes in three successive games? 

iii) Suppose we lived in a world where events like this happened routinely. It's easy to imagine atheists adapting to that challenge by saying it just goes to show some people have precognition and telepathy. They have a premonition, which they telepathically communicate to their acquaintances. The synchronized delay was due to natural factors. Turns out some humans naturally have telepathy and precognition!

iv) What makes examples like this so arresting is precisely because they're so rare and naturally inexplicable. To be recognizably miraculous or providential, it can't be too routine.

v) In addition, a world in which God constantly intervenes is a world in which people become careless and irresponsible, since they don't fear the dire consequence of their actions. They do reckless things because they expect a deus ex machina to spare them. Unless our actions have reasonably predictable results (at least in the short-term), we become morally frivolous and callous, since we don't think our actions, or negligence, will be harmful to ourselves or others. 

Were the Wright brothers a hoax?

It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed

When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. 
– Hume

There are several problems with this claim. For one thing, it begs the question. Hume knows full well that his audience will instantly think of Jesus. There's testimonial evidence that this very thing has indeed been observed.  If so, that would belie the "uniformity" of experience against every miraculous event. 

But I'd like to focus on another issue. There's a sense in which Hume's statement could certainly be true, even though Jesus rose from the dead. It depends on the timeframe. Suppose Jesus rose from the dead. Yet anyone who died before c. 30 AD could honestly say that a dead man returning to life has never been observed in any age or country. That never once occurred–right up to the moment it occurred!

Anyone living before the time of Christ could say what Hume said without begging the question. For anyone living before the time of Christ, it would uniform experience that no one came back to life.  

By the same token, anyone who died before the 20C could truly say that human fight has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against human flight. That was true right until December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

So, to paraphrase Hume, As a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of human flight; nor can such a proof be destroyed. When anyone tells me, that he saw the Wright brothers fly, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. 

That's a basic problem with Hume's argument. You could truly say it never happened…until it happened! Before it happened, it never happened. It never happened in the past. It never happened all the way up to the moment that changed. So Hume's objection turns out to be a tautology with no predictive value. It is, at best, a statement about the past, not the future. It's only true, if at all, for the observer's provincial sample of time. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

More Reason To Date The Synoptics And Acts Early

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about internal and external evidence that Acts was written in the early to mid sixties. In a Facebook post earlier this year, I wrote about some other evidence for Acts' earliness and reliability. What I want to do here is make some other points to supplement the previous two posts.

The dating of Acts is important not just because of the implications the dating has for Acts, but also because of the implications for the dating of the gospels. Luke was written prior to Acts. Most scholars think Luke used Mark as a source, so dating Luke earlier has implications for Mark. Even if Luke didn't use Mark as a source, the similarities between Mark and Luke, as well as their similarities with Matthew, are best explained if the three documents were written within months or years of each other rather than a decade or more apart. So, an earlier date for Luke would imply earlier dates for Mark and Matthew as well, even if none of the gospels used another one as a source.

How Biblical is Molinism (Part 4)

McGrew on miracles and NT historicity

Monday, December 05, 2016

Theistic proofs

I stumbled across this while I was drafting a post. Although I'd already completed my outline by the time I found it, this was useful for the linked material:

Although it has a few dead links and needs to be updated in a few places, it's a goldmine of online theistic proofs, as well as bibliographical references for more of the same. 

Hitler's Religion

Some atheists claim Hitler was a Christian. Here's a review of a book by a historian who provides documentation to the contrary:

Also, the reviewer is an atheist, so he might have a vested interest in saying Hitler was a Christian, but he doesn't take issue with the book. 

Evidence for God

I'm going to list and summarize what I deem to be the best arguments for God, as well as the major objections (such as they are) to God. 

I. Framing the issue

It's important to have reasonable expectations regarding evidence for God. If the God of classical theism exists, then he's not directly detectable. God is not an empirical object. God is imperceptible to the five senses. The public evidence for God involves inferring God's existence from his effects and or his explanatory power. 

That's not an unusual concept. For instance, the past is not directly detectable. At present, the past is imperceptible to the five senses. In some cases we have audio and visual records of the past. Even that's one step removed from the object. In most other cases, we infer the past from trace evidence. We infer the past from the residual effect of the past on the present. Likewise, we may infer abstract objects (e.g. numbers, possible worlds) based on their indispensable explanatory value. So the kinds of evidence for God are not unique to classical theism. There are analogous topics where we resort to the same kinds of evidence.

To take a specific example, interpreting a murder scene is an exercise in historical reconstruction. A homicide detective may have to determine the cause of death. Was it natural causes? Was it accidental? Or was it murder? A clever killer will attempt to conceal the true cause. A homicide detective must be alert to subtle clues of intelligent agency. 

Of course, God is able to make his existence more explicit via an audible voice or miracles. Indeed, many people say they've witnessed that. But that's by no means a universal experience. 

The origin and authority of the NT canon

Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Investigation

Pope Bergoglio Pulls On Thread; “Seamless Garment” Falls Apart

Bergoglio-appointed Bishop
Robert McElroy of San Diego
openly permits divorced-and
civilly-remarried-Roman Catholics
to take communion
Here’s a headline that caught my eye this morning:

New Appeal to the Pope. The Catholic Doubts of
“The New York Times”

by Sandro Magister

Then the first paragraph sent off some warning signs:

In California the bishop of San Diego, a favorite of Bergoglio, admits de facto divorces and remarriages, as in any Protestant church. From the news arises the question: Can “Amoris Laetitia” be interpreted this way, too?

It turns out that “the news” in this first paragraph (Magister’s “first paragraphs” are always summaries of his articles) is the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a “Catholic Convert” along the lines of Richard John Neuhaus of First Things, who is “mostly convinced that Roman Catholicism is the expression of Christianity that has kept faith most fully with the early church and the words of Jesus of Nazareth himself”. These are folks claim to know more than popes and bishops together, as has been noted elsewhere. So he is able to compartmentalize history somewhere, and forget it and then ignore that he has forgotten it. But anyway….

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Another Way To View The Delay Of Christ's Return

"I want us to think of Christmas this year not as a great event in the flow of history, but as the arrival of the end of history which happened, as it were, but yesterday, and will be consummated very soon by the second appearing of Christ. Let me make one last effort to help you see it this way. Most of you probably know someone who is 90 years old or older—probably a woman. I want you to imagine 22 of these ladies standing here in front, side by side, facing you, each one still alert and able to remember her childhood and marriage and old age. And then instead of seeing them side by side as contemporaries, have them turn and face sideways so they form a queue, and imagine that each one lived just after the other. If the one on my far left were alive today, do you know when the one on my far right would have been born? At the same time Jesus was. Jesus was born just 22 ladies ago. That is not a very long time. Just 22 people between you and the incarnation." (John Piper)

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Quick: what do Paige Patterson, Fidel Castro, and Marshal Pétain have in common?

Patterson doesn't own the SBC, much as he might like to. It's a big denomination with many different, sometimes rival power centers. And at 74, he's hardly the future of the SBC. 

Some men should quit while they're ahead. Marshal Pétain went from being a war hero in WWI to a Nazi collaborator in WWII. Died in disgrace.

Patterson did some yeoman work during the inerrancy wars back in the 70s, but he had a taste for power. His frequent abuse of authority and mismanagement of SWBTS has sullied his former reputation. 

He's like those revolutionaries who had a good cause, but having toppled a bad regime, replaced it with their own bad regime. A certain Cuban dictator, recently deceased, comes to mind. 

The Trojan horse comparison is inept. In that ruse, the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse to stage a takeover. By contrast, Calvinists in the SBC are out in the open. 

Eschatological compensations

From what I've read, eschatological compensation is a neglected feature in philosophical theodicy. When Christian philosophers formulate responses to the problem of evil, it's usually variations on some standard issue theodicies, viz., the freewill defense, the greater good defense, the need for natural laws, soul-making virtues. By contrast, eschatological compensations are neglected.

That's striking, both because Scripture emphasizes eschatological compensations, and because the promise and prospect of eschatological compensations are something that helps many lay Christians cope with personal tragedy. So there's a disconnect. 

Consider Joseph the patriarch. He had a pretty miserable life. He received two related premonitory dreams. He's excited to share his experience with his family. In his charming naivete, it doesn't occur to him that his brothers will resent the dreams. He's too self-absorbed to anticipate the reaction.

Indeed, resentment is an understatement. His brothers are so incensed that they plot to kill him. Only Reuben's intervention restrains them. 

So Joseph becomes an Egyptian slave. Things seem to be looking up for him slightly until he's falsely accused of rape, resulting in his imprisonment. Finally, due to his oneiromantic reputation, Pharaoh elevates him to the prime ministership. 

While that's certainly an improvement on his status as a slave, then a prisoner, think about how much he's lost. He's been separated from his entire family. He's had to learn a foreign language on the spot. Consider his social isolation. Consider how lonely he must be, cut off from all his relatives. 

Although there's a family reunion, you have to wonder if he can ever look at his brothers the same way. Apart from Reuben, he might well feel permanently estranged from his other brothers. And his father dies. Joseph can't make up for the lost years.

In God's providence, Joseph was made to suffer for the benefit of others. To save his relatives from famine. To illustrate how God knows and controls the future. And for Jews and Christians to learn from his experience.  

You have other notables in Scripture who led pretty miserable lives. Consider Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and St. Paul. 

What can make up for that if not compensations in the world to come? It's too late for them in this life.

The point is not that God owes them anything. It's not a question of what they deserve, but what they need. They need to be made whole. 

Where's God?

As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible.(Milton, Paradise Lost) 
By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.(Hebrews 11:27)

"Where's God?" That's a common complaint, by believers and unbelievers alike. 

One time, as I was returning from a walk, it was getting dark. The street lights were on. Cars in the oncoming lane had their headlights on. And I could see cars with glowing taillights in the other lane. 

I was on the sidewalk when, a block or so ahead of me, a minivan pulled out of a parking lot and made a right turn onto the road. Only he didn't have his lights on. 

I dimly saw the side of his van, but once he straightened out, he was essentially invisible. I couldn't see the back of the unlit van in the darkness. 

But here's a paradox: I knew he was there because I couldn't see him! At first blush that doesn't seem to make a lick of sense. Yet I knew he was there because of what I couldn't see. When he pulled out onto the road, he blocked my view of cars of ahead of him. If he hadn't been there, I'd be able to see the last car in line from the glowing taillights. But his car obscured the view, like a black spot where there ought to be light. Like a black spot encircled by light. I knew he was there due to the contrast between what I could and couldn't see. 

By the same token, God can be active when he seems to be inactive. God can be blocking evil, only we can't see it because his intervention renders his intervention indetectable. If God preempts an evil, then there's no record of that nonevent. If God prevents an evil, that preemptive action leaves no trace behind–for the evil never happened. 

"The real reason evangelicals don't baptize babies"

From a sociological standpoint, Morris is probably on to something. Mind you, it's patronizing insofar as you have many Baptists who have thoughtful, principled reasons for opposing paedobaptism. So his analysis borders on a hasty generalization.

But that caveat aside, he's probably right that for many evangelical Americans, opposition to paedobaptism is influenced by a revivalist paradigm. And I share his aversion to decisional evangelism.

However, even though I myself am a tepid paedobaptist, his analysis is one-sided. To begin with, decisional evangelism represents a travesty of conversion. But we shouldn't judge the principle by the travesty.

Moreover, we need to compare and contrast that to the opposite error. The 18C evangelical revival was a heaven-sent reaction to the dead formalism of liturgical churches. If decisional evangelism is bad, so is the presumption that your child is saved because a minister sprinkled water on its head. Many people are only too happy to seek spiritual shortcuts and vest false assurance in religious ceremonies. Ironically, the revivalism of Finney and Graham is just a different kind of ritualism, replacing baptism with the sacrament of the altar call. 

The basic problem is taking a cookie-cutter approach to everyone. But everyone doesn't have the same experience. On the one hand, some people are devout, lifelong Christians. They were Christian for as long as they can remember. For them, there was never a conscious transition. And there couldn't be, since it was real to them as soon as they had the cognitive development to reflect on it.

On the other hand, you have nominal Christians. Some of them lose their hereditary faith. Others assume they are Christian just because they grew up in church. 

A good pastor needs to preach an evangelistic sermon every so often. Take nothing for granted.