Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Director's chair

From time to time, Hollywood directors film parts of the Bible. Usually the Gospels, or Genesis, Exodus, Judges, and 1-2 Samuel. These cinematic adaptions of Scripture are widely variable in quality (not to mention orthodoxy). Sometimes they're visually impressive. Sometimes campy, subversive, or banal. Needless to say, most Hollywood directors aren't orthodox Christians, so they're not concerned with accuracy. 

That said, it's actually a useful exercise for a Christian to put himself in the director's chair when reading the Bible. By that I mean, a director who films the Bible has to visualize what the narrative is describing. He must make judgment calls on how it happened. 

If we take the Bible seriously, as we should, then it's good to mentally visualize Biblical narratives. If you were a Christian director, what would you show? When you read the narrative, what do you see in your mind's eye? Part of interpretating Scripture and honoring the historicity of Scripture is to have a realistic picture of what the narrative describes. Let's take some examples:

i) One question scholars debate is whether Gen 1:1 is an introduction to the creation week, or part of day one. If the former, then the primeval sea preexists creation. But I think 1:1 is part of day one. 

ii) How would you depict the Spirit of God hovering over the waters? One possibility is a dove. Obviously, you cann't see anything or show anything absent a light source.

Another possibility, drawn from other parts of the Pentateuch, is to depict the Spirit of God as the Shekinah hovering above the waters. In OT, the Shekinah has the appearance of a plasma cloud. Luminous. Technicolored (like a rainbow). That would enable the viewer to see the primordial ocean, illuminated by the Shekinah.  

The separation of light and darkness refers to the origin of the diurnal cycle. So you could show first light, dawn, morning light, noonday light, afternoon light, and dusk. And fading from day into night would separate each day from the next. You'd show the beginning of each new day by first light or dawn. That would distinguish and transition from one scene to the next.

iii) On day two you'd shift from showing the primordial ocean to showing the sky. Illuminated clouds. The horizon line between sky and sea. 

iv) On day three you'd show the land rising out of the sea. Like volcanic islands. Ascending mountain ranges. Valleys. Coastlines. Lakes and rivers. 

You'd then show, like time-lapse photography, the barren earth erupting in foliage. 

v) Day four might be a flashback to day one, catching up to days two and three. If days one-through-three show lighted objects, day four shows the light sources. The perspective would shift from a downward view of the illuminated earth to an upward view of the luminaries. You could also show moonlight on lakes and seas. Day four would fade out with a view of the star-studded night sky. 

vi) Day five might show fish materializing in the sea, lakes, and rivers–as well as birds materializing. One might show matter organizing into fish and birds. Show atoms forming molecules, forming cells, forming bodies. From the inside out, in ascending scales of complexity and magnitude. Rather like Ezekiel's description in Ezk 37. 

vii) Day six would repeat the process for land animals. 

viii) When we come to the creation of man, day six in Gen 1 shades into Gen 2. Gen 2 is basically a localized expansion of day six in Gen 1. That also means the seventh day would come after the events of Gen 2. 

To some extent, Gen 2 is a microcosm of Gen 1. God plants a garden. God makes plants and animals for the garden. You'd show the same type of process you did in general creation week. 

ix) You could depict Eden as a river valley or river plain. It would be sheltered by steep hills on either side. There'd be verdant foliage on the river banks. 

x) In view of various angelophanies in Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch, it would be logical to depict the Creator in 2:7 as the Angel of the Lord. Adam might materialize as the theophanic angel passed his hand over the ground. Dust particles rising from the ground and arranging themselves a body–like a sand man. He'd animate Adam the way Jesus breathed on the disciples (Jn 20:22). 

Likewise, he'd take flesh from Adam and reconfigure that into Eve. We have other examples of metamorphosis in the Pentateuch, like Aaron's budding rod. 

xi) Day 7 would show the completed creation. 

xii) As I've discussed before, the name for the tempter in Gen 3 is probably a pun. The word can mean "snake," "diviner," or "shining one." Based on the varied connotations of the word, as well as Pentateuchal angelophanies, I think the tempter is a fallen angel. 

That would also explain why Adam and Eve aren't surprised by this visitor. They are used to angels. 

xiii) Let's shift to Exodus. If you were a director, how would you depict the "burning bush" episode? In context, I think the "burning bush" is an observational description of how it appeared to Moses at a distance (presumably at night). But I doubt the bush itself was on fire. 

Rather, the luminosity came from the angel, inside or behind the bush. From a distance, it looked like a bush was on fire, but as Moses drew closer, it becomes evident that the angel is the light source. You see the fire through the bush. Like a candle in a jack-o'-lantern. The bush is not consumed because it's not physical firelight. Rather, it's a radiant angel. 

In Scripture, angels can take on different aspects. Sometimes they look like ordinary men. Sometimes they are luminous. And in the case of the seraphim/cherubim, they have inhuman features. You also have the cherubic "flaming sword" in Gen 3:24. Exod 3:2-3 is a fire theophany or fire angelophany. 

This also relates to the "pillar of smoke and fire" in the desert. It's like a preternatural firenado. A natural firenado is an ephemeral, directionless physical phenomenon. But the pillar of fire is stable and directional. That's probably an accurate way of showing the pillar of cloud and fire. 

In theology, there's a technical distinction between natural, preternatural, and supernatural. A preternatural phenomenon is natural insofar as it employs a physical medium, but it's unnatural or supernatural insofar as it is miraculous. 

xiv) To take a few more examples, if you were filming Balaam's donkey, what would you show? Recent cinematic adaptions of The Chronicles of Narnia have shown how CGI can depict talking animals. Another possibility is telepathic communication, although that would be auditory rather than visual. 

But as I've recently discussed, given the fact that Balaam was a seer, this may have been a vision. 

xv) What about Joshua's Long Day? Due to the poetic nature of the description, it's hard to pin down the precise cause. The main thing is to depict the physical effect of Joshua's Long Day. An analogy would be the miracle of the "sun dial" (a la Ahaz, Isaiah). 

xvi) To take a final example, what about Lot's wife? Consider the pyroclastic flow that instantly fossilized the victims of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  

xvii) In filming the flood, you'd have to decide whether to depict a global or local flood. If global, you'd show rising seas. Coastal flooding, which continues to moving inland and upland to overtake the hills until the mountains are submerged. 

If a local flood, you could depict torrential rain downing trees. Rivers become clogged with debris, causing them to back up–submerging a huge floodplain. Yes, water can move upstream if it has no outlet.  

In Case of Apocalypse Break Glass

With the current Ebola scare, concerns about an upcoming apocalypse are once again ramping up.  But I don't want to talk about your petty viral apocalypse.  Instead, an article ( I read in July detailed how Earth had nearly been hit by a gigantic solar flare a couple years ago that would have taken out most of the electrical infrastructure of the developed world.  It was so close, Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado said, “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”

Ironically, if all the electrical power in the world went out, the safest place you could be is a third world country.  That’s because third world countries already have systems in place that do not rely on electricity, whereas the first world countries are 100% dependent upon it.  Consider what would happen to your food supply if there was no more power in the world—even for as little as a month.

Most people would be unable to cook food.  Microwaves won’t work.  Ditto electric stoves.  After just a few days, all the food in your refrigerator would begin to spoil anyway.  Perhaps you have canned food—that’s good, but do you also have a non-electric can opener to open the cans?  If not, you’re going to have a hard time even with canned food.

If you live in a temperate climate, or if it’s summer, you’ll probably be fine for heating concerns—but if you live in a cold place and rely on electric heat, then hopefully you have a lot of blankets available or food will be the least of your concerns.  You can live for up to 40 days without food, but can die of hypothermia in as little as 15 minutes (of course, that’s worst case scenario).

Perhaps you’d think that you’ll just use a generator.  But of course that requires gasoline (or some other kind of fuel) to run, and when you’re out of your supply how are you going to buy more?  Stores will not be able to use their electronic cash registers, and even if they break out mechanical ones, most of our money supply exists solely in the electronic realm right now.  Speaking just of my own bank account, my actual cash on hand is less than 1% of what’s in my bank account.  Thus, I already almost live a 100% cashless lifestyle.  This would mean that I couldn’t go out and get any new supplies, and even trying to barter for them would not work very well since most of what I have to barter with requires electricity to run in the first place.

In addition, we must consider the fate of food at the local grocery store.  They will be running into the same problems.  Their freezers will cease keeping food cool, and if things are not purchased with hard cash (or outright stolen), they will quickly spoil.  And before we forget, if a solar flare did take out all the power on Earth, it is quite likely that you wouldn’t even be able to drive your car to the store even in the event that you had fuel for it.  How much of our modern cars are based on computer technology?  You cannot even start new cars if the onboard computer is malfunctioning.  So this leaves people with old cars being the sole drivers on the highways.  And again, when they are out of fuel, trying to buy more gas is going to be next to impossible for an American.

Of course, people aren’t stupid (not even those who live in Detroit).  They will look for non-electrical devices to help survive, and I’m sure that we would quickly come up with some other kind of non-electronic funds.   Furthermore, the electronic grid will be repaired over time. But in the short term there will be massive problems simply because we lack a large pool of non-electrically dependent devices.  Since our world assumes a constant supply of electricity, there aren’t a lot of household items you can purchase at your local Wal-Mart that don’t have a plug or battery.  Until production on non-electrical devices ramps up, supplies will be extremely limited no matter how much cash or how many other goods you have to barter with.

But that’s in the first world.  In third world countries, where lack of electricity is the norm, and even places where electricity is found are subject to rolling blackouts, these non-electrical items are already far more plentiful.  For people in those areas, the entire world losing power would have negligible effects.  They already have stock and supplies, and a month without electricity would at worst be a minor inconvenience.  In America, there would be a noticeable death toll (we haven’t even gotten into the medical side of things, with pacemakers, dialysis machines, even refrigerated medications and blood supplies being affected).  In the third world, there would be at most a minor bump in the stats.

So ironically if the world were to lose the entire electrical grid and all electrical devices, it is much better to be living in the third world than in the first world.  There aren’t many times that can be said, but our reliance on electricity does bring about this result if the power apocalypse ever occurs.

Mercy-killing and Arminian theodicy

The distinction between God "causing" or "ensuring" evil and "letting" evil happen is crucial to Arminian theodicy. Roger Olson, for one, constantly resorts to this distinction. It's striking, therefore, that in his sympathetic exploration of physician-assisted suicide, he erases the distinction between killing and letting die:

Some patients simply choose to forego all treatments for their terminal disease and die naturally. Usually this also involves gradually starving to death or dying by dehydration. It can take weeks. Few people blame them or even call it “suicide.” And yet, in a way, it is suicide. 
Some years ago I had the privilege of teaching nurses in several cohorts in a “degree completion” program. My course, which they were required to take as part of their studies, was called “Developing a Christian Worldview” and included a unit on Christian ethics. We talked about the ethical issues surrounding death including suicide. One thing that struck me was that almost all the nurses who worked in hospitals agreed that PAS is quite common. They said that in many terminal cases a doctor will order pain medicine in gradually increasing doses that eventually suppress breathing. And that so long as the doses are necessary to alleviate pain, even if they result in death, most district attorneys will not prosecute the doctors or nurses involved. They said it is one of the best kept secrets in the medical profession—given how common it is. 
Were my nurse students right? Is it fairly common practice for a doctor to increase a dying patient's pain meds to the point where they suppress breathing with the inevitable result of death? 
To me, the line between choosing to forego all medical treatment with the certain result of death and choosing to end one's own life to end extreme suffering is blurry at best.

Is the Euthyphro dilemma a false dilemma?

The Euthyphro dialemma is the standard of objection to theistic ethics in general, and divine command theory in particular. I believe Joyce is a secular ethicist. Yet he argues that the Euthyphro dilemma is basically a false dilemma:

Refuting Dr. Ben Witherington III on His Eschatology

Muller on “The Breadth Of The Reformed Orthodox Phenomenon”

Just a while ago Steve Hays posted a link to Paul Helm’s brief analysis of Oliver Crisp’s “Deviant Calvinism” on the discussion between “freedom of the will” and “grace” in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

I don’t intend to get into the specifics of that discussion. But in my own reading of Richard Muller’s “Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics”, I’ve found that Muller has found a tremendous amount of leeway “within the boundaries established by the major national confessions and catechisms of the Reformed churches”, wherein things may legitimately be termed as “Reformed”.

This goes against the grain of some of those who require more narrow boundaries around “the Reformed Confession” – yes, I’m thinking of Scott Clark, especially with regard to some of the things he’s written about John Frame. But yes, Muller paints the “Reformed Orthodox” period with a very broad brush.

Here’s that selection from Muller.

Aquinas and Bonaventure on the Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

Here’s another long selection from Richard Muller, “Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics”, Volume 2. But it’s important background information for what follows:

Like the majority of the scholastic teachers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Thomas Aquinas did not develop a separate question or article dealing with the doctrine of Scripture.

He did, however, make a major contribution to the medieval doctrine of Scripture and included an extended comment on the sources and grounds of sacred theology in the first question of the Summa.

There, he clearly argues what Alexander [of Hales] stated by implication: that Scripture by its very nature is the ground or foundation of necessary argument in theology—whereas other sources, such as the church’s normative tradition, yield up only “probable” arguments.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Deviant Calvinism" and the WCF

Islam and Ebola

Studied obscurity

There are familiar, tenacious, long-standing schools of prophetic interpretation: amil, premil, postmil, preterist, futurist, historicist, classical dispensationalist, progressive dispensationalist, prewrath, &c. 

I think some of these are just plain wrong, or wrong to some degree. However, I think one reason we have competing interpretations of Bible prophecy is because, to some extent, Bible prophecy is intentionally ambiguous. Even when God discloses the future, he both reveals and conceals the future.

Predicting the future is a tricky business. What makes it tricky is not that the future is uncertain or unknowable, but that the very act of predicting the future can affect the outcome. The way people react to the prediction can throw it off. 

I don't think Bible prophecy was ever meant to be a bus schedule. Rather, I think it has two objectives:

i) To prepare the faithful for the future. Give them some advance notice of what to expect in terms of adversity and deliverance.

ii) After the fact, to enable them to see how this was, indeed, predicted. That shows them that they are in safe hands. 

It's like a subway map. There are so many potential routes and destinations. So many transfer stations. You can't tell where it will end from where it begins. 

Once, however, a passenger has arrived, you can retrace the route from the endpoint to the starting-point. Once we see how it all comes together, we can take the destination as our reference point, and isolate the thread. 

To some extent, I think Bible prophecy reflects a strategy of studied obscurity. God reveals just enough, but not too much. 

Rome blinks

A familiar trope in courtroom dramas is when the prosecutor asks a witness a damaging question about the defendant. The prosecutor knows that his question will be overruled. 

The defense attorney leaps out of his seat: "Objection!" The judge says "Objection sustained." The prosecutor says "I withdraw my question."

The defense attorney requests that the judge have the offending question stricken from the record. The judge directs the court reporter to strike the offending question from the record. The defense attorney requests that the judge admonish the jury to disregard the offending question. The judge directs the jury to disregard the question.

This is all in vain. The prosecutor never posed the question to receive an answer. He didn't expect an answer. He knew in advance that he'd be cut off.

Rather, he posed the question to plant an idea in the minds of the jurors. Once the question is asked, once the jury hears the question, it can't be taken back. The bell can't be unrung. They will remember the question.

Technically, the prosecutor can withdraw his question, but that doesn't cost him anything. It was the question, not the answer, that did irreparable damage to the defendant. A question that lingers and festers. 

And the subsequent effort to erase the offending question is counterproductive. That highlights in the minds of the jurors that this must be a pretty important question. They will never look at the defendant in quite the same way. They will now view him in light of that question. 

That's what happened in Rome this week. Pope Francis tipped his hand for all the world to see. The subsequent damage control is futile. For what we saw is unforgettable. We know the goal. We know his intentions. 

This is like Vatican II in miniature. An expedited version of Vatican II.

When Rome takes a hard left turn, it leaves many followers behind. Ironically, it's the most loyal Catholics who are stranded. 

Many pre-Vatican II Catholics never made the adjustment. They felt betrayed. They were more loyal to Rome than Rome was to them. 

They were taught one thing growing up. That's what they were taught to defend. That's what made Catholicism special. Set it apart from the sects, schismatics, and heretics. 

When Rome suddenly hands them a new script, when it crosses out the old lines which they dutifully memorized and recited, they no longer know who to trust or what to believe. 

Now, Catholic apologists have standard loopholes they can resort to. It wasn't "official" and all that. 

But it's too late. We've been given a preview of how the story ends. 

It's like when the battle plans of the enemy are intercepted. The element of surprise is lost. There is no fallback plan. That was it.

This week, we saw Rome blink. This is supposedly the one denomination that's held the line, unlike all those compromising Protestant denominations. But it's just like the mainline denominations. 

Shake-up in the Roman Catholic Hierarchy

“Bye-bye Conservative Catholics!”
Pope Francis is Getting Rid Of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body

Pope Francis is “cleaning house” by getting rid of conservative influences in the Vatican.

About a year ago, I noted that “Pope Francis” intended to “intended to clean house” – it’s been happening – this past week, we saw the second “shot across the bow” as Cardinal Raymond Burke, the conservative Cardinal (formerly of Bryan Cross’s hometown of St. Louis), has received his second “demotion” in less than a year.

This time, Burke lost his post as “the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (the Vatican’s highest court)”. This is one of two crucially high positions at the Vatican. Roman Catholicism is run first of all by its doctrine (and the overseer of doctrine is the “Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith” – formerly the “Holy Office” and prior to that “the Inquisition”). But on a day-to-day level, it is run by “Church Law”, otherwise known as “the Code of Canon Law”. Burke was the “Prefect” for “Canon Law”.

He is being moved to be “patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta”, surely an “honorary” post at best, and in real life, a move that is likely to be as close to an insult as you can get at this level of the Roman Catholic Church.

But Burke is not just Burke; he represents multiple conservative Cardinals – these include his close associates and co-authors Cardinals Gerhard Müller, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences; Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, Italy; and Velasio De Paolis, president emeritus of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See, - "five Cardinals of the Church, and four other scholars, [who responded negatively] to the call issued by Cardinal Walter Kasper for the Church to harmonize "fidelity and mercy in its pastoral practice with civilly remarried, divorced people".

Last year, it was reported that Burke lost his position as the head of the influential “Congregation for Bishops” council, which is responsible for choosing the individuals who the pope will then name to become bishops. From the story last year:

Cardinal Raymond Burke's departure from the Congregation of Bishops council and his subsequent replacement by the more moderate Wuerl is being viewed by some as Pope Francis moving the Catholic church away from combating hot-button social issues and focusing on a more pastoral approach. Burke is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion, and has in the past said that moderates like Wuerl were "weakening the faith."

Burke has been a vocal advocate against the “reforms” of Pope Francis, which not only have been seeking to “welcome gays” but to re-think virtually all of the “theology of the body” that Pope John Paul II put into place during his long pontificate.

Here is just one Q/A from a recent (last Tuesday) interview with Burke:

Interviewer: One reported discussion was about changing the language of some terms such as “living in sin,” “contraceptive mentality” and “intrinsically disordered.” It was said there was a “great desire” to alter the language and make it more “inclusive,” but there was no criticism of this reported, which many found surprising.

Burke: I was not able to say so publicly, but I have quoted John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, when he says we have to call things by their proper name. He properly called abortion murder, which it is. And here, now, some want to say cohabitation is not living in sin. Well, what is fornication or adultery? And the same thing with regard to same-sex relations, which have come up. Some do not want to talk about disordered acts. Well, what is a homosexual act? It is disordered. And how am I being kind — if you are beset by this inclination and do these acts — how am I being charitable to you by calling the acts by some other name or by giving the impression that there are good aspects to the acts?

That is the other thing. Some are saying that we need to find the good aspects of de facto unions and homosexual unions. What are the good aspects of unchaste acts? There cannot be.

For further reading:

“New paradigms of divorce and homosexuality are now at home in the highest levels of the Church. Nothing has been decided, but Pope Francis is patient.”

This gives new meaning to Bryan Cross’s “agape paradigm”.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Losing misplaced faith in Rome

The ball is in your court

Over at The Secular Outpost, Keith Parsons did a follow-up post on Biblical genocide. Here are my responses to him and some commenters. 

Again, though, Christianity has traditionally been committed to stating its case to unbelievers, using unbelievers’ own canons of rationality and morality to support the truth of the Christian revelation. From Paul on the Athenian Areopagus to Thomas Aquinas to Richard Swinburne and William Lane Craig, Christian intellectuals have sought out the skeptic in his own abode and argued that by even secular standards of rationality and morality, Christianity is the most reasonable and moral position. C.S. Lewis spent his career as an apologist trying to take the argument to the infidel, and to argue on the infidel’s terms. To argue with the unbeliever, you have to open your hermeneutical circle to him; you have to be willing to argue on his terms, not just your own.

i) That's oversimplified. The unbeliever can't just dictate the terms of engagement, however unreasonable or one-sided. The unbeliever has his own burden of proof. If the unbeliever makes the rules, then the outcome is foregone conclusion. You can't lose if you win by definition. That's not a serious debate. 

ii) Moreover, it's not as if "secular standards of rationality and morality" are monolithic. Atheists are all over the map on these issues. There is no uniform standard. 

iii) When, moreover, Christians like me do debate atheists on their own terms, by pointing out how atheism leads to moral and existential nihilism, or global skepticism, atheists become very irate. 

Judging by Veritas’ response, he would say that, yes, Muslims can make the same claim, but they are wrong, and the Israelites were right. Israel worshipped the True God and the Muslims do not. OK, you can take that line, but it obviously vastly increases your burden of proof. The justification for the passages in question now depends upon a whole, massive program of apologetic to prove that the Judeo-Christian God is in fact the true one. Only by proving this can you avoid the charge that you are engaging in special pleading, justifying actions for some (the true believers) that are not justified when committed by others. The ball is therefore in the apologist’s court, and the ball weighs a million tons.

Wrong. You don't have to prove Christianity to disprove Islam. You can disprove Islam on its own grounds. By Muhammad's own admission, the Bible (and the people of the book, Jews and Christians) supply the standard of comparison. 

The perpetrators of the genocide (or whatever you want to call it) are being asked by God to do something that no human being should be asked to do. 

Begs the question.

To be the perpetrator of a mass slaughter is not only a crime; it also entails harm to oneself. 

Whether or not it's a crime is the very point in dispute! 

No human person should be asked to kill children, even if those children are unrepentant idolators. 

Who is claiming the children are impenitent idolaters? 

Nobody should be asked to kill hundreds of fellow human beings in the manner in which God is described as asking the Israelites to slaughter the Amalekites even if those fellow human beings are irredeemably corrupt. 

What is he referring to? Death by the sword? 

People should not be asked to be the perpetrators of such horrendous acts because, again, such carnage involves harm not only to the victims but to the agents themselves.

Actually, doing the right thing can sometimes be emotionally or psychologically agonizing. That's true in war. That's true in some medical situations, where family members must make wrenching life-and-death decisions.  

To take another example, it's much easier to institutionalize some troubled family members (e.g. special needs children, senile parents) than care for them at home. That takes a tremendous toll of the caregiver, even if it's the right thing to do. 

Notice the glaring equivocation. A moral nihilist can't act more morally than a moral realist on nihilistic grounds. At best, he could only act more morally on realistic grounds. But that's judging his conduct by the very position he repudiates. So the comparison is incoherent.

"But you're not a moral nihilist, so what do you care?"
So are you asking the reader to judge the actions of the shooter by Christian ethics? How does that advance the argument for atheism?

"If a moral nihilist went on a shooting spree, would you refuse to judge his conduct by the very position he repudiates?"
Scott, what is the standard of comparison? You keep tripping over the same issue.
In your original comment you indicated the irrelevance of moral realism. You said on the one hand that a moral realist might violate his own principles. On the other hand, you said a moral nihilist might, for subjective reasons, do what the realism failed to do.
So how are you asking the reader to judge the shooter? By moral realism or moral nihilism?
"But you're not a moral nihilist, so what do you care? If the moral nihilist acts in the most upright manner you possibly can think of but the moral realist acts like a terribly awful person his entire life, would you deny that the moral nihilist has acted more morally?"
He acted more morally in spite of his position, not because of it.
"Regardless my point is the moral subjectivist or nihilist and the moral realist can display the exact same behavior…"
In which case, why bring up the shooting spree? If it isn't wrong to go on a shooting spree, what does your example illustrate?
"…so I'm curious why you keep trying to show the moral subjectivist's behavior to be incoherent."
You keep missing the point. Why is that?
I didn't suggest his behavior was incoherent. Rather, I said your evaluation of his behavior was incoherent.
"Moreover, I'm honestly curious how theism solves anything here. Why does God commanding anything thereby make it moral?"
If you're honestly curious, who have you read on the subject?

"I take that as an admission the moral nihilist acted more morally. And I take that as a huge admission."
To say that if Christianity is true and atheism is false, even a moral nihilist can do something objectively right is hardly a concession to atheism.

"No, I’m asking people who believe morality is either objective or subjective to judge the shooter. You obviously fall in the former category. I’m in the latter. And people who fall in either one of those categories can judge what the shooter did to be immoral."
So, moral relativists judge it to be subjectively immoral. Not truly immoral. And by that yardstick. other moral relativists might just as well judge the shooting spree to be subjectively moral.
"You judge it wrong because a biblical God told you that killing was wrong (in some circumstances)."
Well, that's a half-truth. It conflates moral epistemology with moral ontology.
"So the repeated question: 'Why do atheists who aren’t moral realists do X?' is irrelevant. And once I show that that's irrelevant, hopefully we can get back to the topic at hand, and the topic of Parsons's post: God acted really abominably during the whole Canaanite fiasco."
You chronically contradict yourself:
i) Atheists who aren't moral realists surrender the right to say God acted really abominably during the whole Canaanite fiasco.
ii) At best, they could try to argue that, according to Scripture itself, God acted really abominably. But, not surprisingly, they haven't been able to pull that off.
iii) Moreover, as I've pointed out on more than one occasion, if you reject moral realism, then why should you care how Yahweh acted? Why should you care what Christians believe?
iv) Some atheists who claim to be moral realists could attempt to attack Biblical holy war on external grounds. If, however, they take that tactic, the onus is on them to justify their version of moral naturalism. But in that event, they can't begin with an attack on Biblical holy war. Rather, they must begin by defending their value theory.
"Strangely enough, I think Bill Craig would agree with me on this. He has repeatedly said that atheists can act just as morally as theists, or even more so."
Actually, there's nothing unusual about Christian theologians granting that due to natural revelation and common grace, atheists can sometimes do things which are objectively right.
"He would only argue that, on the atheist view, there’s no objective base to that moral behavior."
Yes, that involves the routine distinction between how people act and whether their actions are objectively justifiable.
"But if the behaviors are the same, the issue seems more and more academic."
That only works to the degree that people are inconsistent or oblivious to their presuppositions. If, however, people are consistent or epistemologically self-conscious, that superficial similarity rapidly breaks down.
Moreover, it's funny when atheists like you retreat into anti-intellectualism. Aren't atheists concerned with taking a position to its logical extreme?
"it's unclear how God grounds morality better than anything else."
What literature have you studied on the subject?
"It also applies to me, because I have a subjective standard of comparison. Either way, I take it both of us would deem what the shooter did was wrong, no?"
To deem it to be subjectively wrong is factually indistinguishable from subjectively not wrong or subjectively right.
"I take that as an admission the moral nihilist acted more morally. And I take that as a huge admission."
A huge admission based on what?
"It’s perfectly possible that he acted more morally because of his position."
You keep toying with this Pickwickian definition of morality. If moral nihilism is true, then nothing he does is more moral or less moral.
"Now can we imagine the contrary? That he acted less morally (by your or my estimation)…"
You don't get a vote. You've disenfranchised yourself. You deny the existence of moral facts. Since you don't think there's true or false moral fact in how the shooter behaved, for you to say his action was (subjectively) immoral is an exercise in linguistic deception or self-deception.
"It goes against my subjective preferences…"
Like eating liver? If eating liver goes against your subjective preferences, does that make it wrong? Is a shooting spree equivalent to eating liver?
"No, you suggested his own evaluation of his behavior was incoherent."
It would only be incoherent if a moral nihilist deems his action to be good or bad.
"But as I’ve shown, and I think you've admitted, the non-moral realist can take any action he pleases."
I've admitted that a non-moral realist can be irrational.
"He can, as you admit, be MORE moral than the moral realist."
Not by his own yardstick, but by mine.
"So your attempt to charge incoherency against me and any other atheist fails."
To the contrary, you're confused (see above).
"you’ve got to stop asking me why I do certain things,"
No doubt it would be convenient for atheists to be let off their own hook. Don't expect that from me.
"Is the question too complicated to answer in a comment thread?"
Actually, I've been discussing that with Thibodeau. However, his modus operandi is to declare his own position true by definition. That's a convenient intellectual shortcut, but it proves nothing.
"This argument strikes me as very poor, and since I think Craig’s one of the best theistic proponents, I’ve always figured that was the best the theist had."
To begin with, there are varieties of divine command theory. In addition, there's natural law theory. Moreover, these aren't mutually exclusive.

Cosmic imagery

It is a serious misunderstanding of the relevant ways of speaking and writing to suppose that when the Bible speaks of the sun and the moon being darkened and the stars falling from heaven, and of similar “cosmic” events, it intends the language to be taken literally.

More specifically, different manners of speaking were available to those who wished to write or talk of the coming day when the covenant God would act to rescue his people…Metaphors from creation would likewise be appropriate. The sun would be turned to darkness, the moon to blood. 

It is vital for our entire perception of the worldview of first-century Jews, including particularly the early Christians, that we see what follows from all this. When they used what we might call cosmic imagery to describe the coming new age, such language cannot be reading in a crassly literalistic way without doing it great violence. The restoration which would be brought about was, of course, painted glowing and highly metaphorical colours. The New Testament and the People of God (1992), 283-84.
i) I appreciate the fact that Wright is debunking pop dispensationalism hermeneutics. Mind you, the fact that he's correcting one error doesn't make his own position correct. Indeed, he could be committing the opposite mistake by overreacting.

ii) It may also be that he's trying to make Scripture less vulnerable to scoffers. Perhaps he thinks some eschatological language involves a three story cosmography. Taken literally, that would be false.

iii) For some odd reason, he seems to equate a "literalistic" interpretation of this imagery with cosmic disintegration. But there's no reason to suppose the phenomena he quotes, even if taken literally, denotes cosmic disintegration.

iv) We also need to distinguish between figurative imagery and mythopoetic imagery. He acts as though the imagery he quotes can't be literally true. But even if, for the sake of argument, we think the imagery he quotes is figurative, that doesn't make it mythopoetic. In fact, it's fairly prosaic.

v) Apropos (iii-iv), he doesn't seem to grasp what the imagery describes. In my opinion, a darkened sun denotes a solar eclipse, a darkened or blood-colored moon denotes a lunar eclipse, and falling stars denote a meteor shower. There's nothing inherently figurative about that imagery. These are natural phenomena. I myself have witnessed a solar eclipse. Unfortunately, it was overcast. Even so, for a few minutes morning became night.

I've witnessed a lunar eclipse. The moon was literally darkened. And it was reddish. A red hue. And I've probably seen shooting stars.

vi) As I've remarked before, I think one problem with some Bible scholars is that they are so out of touch with nature that they just assume certain descriptions must be figurative or mythopoetic. It's not something they themselves have observed or experienced.

Keep in mind, too, that if you live in or near a big city, light pollution obscures stargazing. But people in Bible times had a better view of the night sky than we do.

Just recently, as I was returning from a late afternoon walk, I saw a sunset sundog (parhelion). That's a rare optical illusion in which refracted sunlight generates a cloudy virtual mirror-image. A double sun.

Now, if I was a Bible writer or Intertestamental writer, Wright would chalk that up to "figurative" omen. Yet it really happens.

vii) I don't think there's a presumption that cosmic Biblical imagery is either literal or figurative. That depends on the context and the genre. And sometimes context or genre is inconclusive. In those cases, you have to be open-minded.

viii) In addition, there's nothing mythopoetic about Christ returning in the clouds. I think that's like Ezk 1. Christ will return in the Shekinah.


Bad language alert:

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Social Issues And The Electoral College

Here's an excerpt from a good post by Henry Olsen:

Should You Not Do Apologetics Because God Is In Control?

Below are some excerpts from a good post by WinteryKnight. He's responding to a woman named Hope who made some comments related to apologetics. I don't know just how applicable WinteryKnight's comments are to Hope. I don't know much about her, and some of her comments seem more ambiguous than WinteryKnight suggests. But even if he's assumed too much about her and is hyperbolic at points, the general thrust of what he's saying is correct and should be said much more often and in a lot more places. If he's erring in one direction, he's doing so in response to a culture (and church) that's erring by a far wider margin in the opposite direction. More people need to talk like this (with the qualifications I've mentioned above):

Bad case scenario or worse case scenario?

There are several scenarios for how this plays out. One is that the conventional methods of containing Ebola — isolating patients and doing contact tracing of people who might be exposed — lower the rate of new infections until finally the epidemic burns itself out. That has been the case in all previous outbreaks of Ebola, although no outbreak has ever been nearly as extensive as this one.

A second scenario is more dire: The conventional methods come too late, the epidemic keeps spreading, and the virus is beaten back only when vaccines can be developed and scaled up to the point where they can be widely distributed. As the number of infections increases, so does the possibility that a person with Ebola will carry it to another country. This is known as an export. "So we had two exports in the first 2,000 patients,” Frieden said in a recent interview. “Now we’re going to have 20,000 cases, how many exports are we going to have?"

70 weeks

24 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (Dan 9:24-27).
I'm going to discuss several different interpretations of this passage.
1. There's the liberal interpretation, which relates this to the Antiochean crisis in the mid-2C BC. This suffers from some basic problems:
i) It's predicated a the secular assumption that there is no God who reveals the future.
ii) It identifies the character who's "cut off" as Onias III. However, even on liberal dating schemes, that's off by over 70 years. Liberals salvage that identification by blaming the anachronism on the the anonymous author of Daniel, who was confused. Of course, that's a circular argument. Their identification is inconsistent with the evidence. So they preemptively discount falsifying counterevidence.
iii) Antiochus never destroyed the temple or the city (of Jerusalem). And that's hardly an incidental detail.
iv) Likewise, what does the "strong covenant" refer to in his career? 
v) Ironically, liberals have their own gap theory, when they split the seven weeks from the sixty-two weeks. Likewise, they split the "prince" and "anointed one" in vv25-26a into two different figures. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it disqualifies them from attacking amils and premils who draw similar distinctions. 
2. Some interpretations think there are two characters in view. A protagonist and an antagonist. This, in turn, has two basic variations:
i) Jesus is the protagonist, while Titus and Hadrian are the antagonists. Titus and Hadrian destroy the temple and/or the city (of Jerusalem).
ii) Jesus is the protagonist, while a future Antichrist is the antagonist.
3. Apropos 2(ii):
On this view, Dan 9:26 refers to 1C events while v27 refers to still future events. The "covenant" is a treaty or nonaggression pact which the Antichrist makes with the Jews on his rise to power. He later reneges on the deal. 
What are we to make of this interpretation? 
i) I think proponents are correct to believe that the 1C events did not exhaust Dan 9:24-27.
ii) There's nothing inherently ad hoc about positing temporal gaps. Both amils and premils do this. Arguably, that's clearly in view in Daniel, at one point or another. As one scholar notes:
But you notice between verse 2 and 3 there is an unmentioned interval of over 150 years. Daniel simply passes from Xerxes who attacked Greece, to Alexander the Great, who destroyed the Persian Empire. Daniel skips over 150 years without any reference to it. 
…in chapter 2, chapter 7, and chapter 9 he [E. J. Young] is very much against the idea of an unmentioned interval between two great events. But here he assumes a jump of at least two thousand years without it being mentioned between verse 11:35 and 36…Young, without saying so, assumes an unmentioned interval of at least 2000 years at this point between Antiochus Epiphanes and the Antichrist.
Of course, making allowance for temporal gaps doesn't justify posting temporal gaps without sufficient exegetical justification.
iii) However, both 9:26 and 9:27 share a common "desolation" motif. "Desolation" in v27 is a carryover from "desolation" v26. It seems arbitrary to split them up.
In addition, it's artificial to drive a wedge between "city and the sanctuary" in v26 and "sacrifice and offering" in v27. Those are clearly interrelated concepts. Jerusalem and the temple are where sacrifice and offering take place. 
iv) In addition, if we correlation Dan 9:24-27 with the Olivet Discourse, Jesus is, in part, answering a question about the Second Temple. The Herodian temple. That's the frame of reference. Not a Millennial temple.
v) Proponents of this view tend to flip back and forth. V24 is mainly about the future, although "atoning for iniquity" is about the past (i.e. the Crucifixion). Vv25-26 shift back to the past (i.e. the public ministry of Christ) while v27 shifts to the far future. It's a very choppy interpretation, which breaks up the flow of the passage. Not just gaps, but reversals.
In fairness, though, prophecy might include flashbacks and flash forwards. 
vi) There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea that the Antichrist might make a temporary treaty with the Jews. However, the text itself doesn't say that or imply that. In addition, I think that's out of context (see below).
4. Some interpretations think there's just one character in view throughout. That has two basic variations:
i) Christ is the consistent referent.
ii) The Antichrist is the consistent referent.
5) Apropos 4(ii), this suffers from a couple of basic problems:
i) It shares some problems with #3. 
ii) Arguments for the messianic interpretation militate against it (see below).
Apropos 4(i), on this view:
i) The Crucifixion moots the sacrificial system. In effect, the city and sanctuary are destroyed by his definitive redemptive death. At that point they've outlived their rationale. 
ii) The Crucifixion is the abomination of desolation.
iii) The "strong covenant" refers to the new covenant, foretold by Jeremiah (Jer 31). And we know that Jeremiah's oracles were on Daniel's mind (Dan 9:2). 
iv) There's a pun between "cutting" a covenant (an idiomatic term for making a covenant) and the Messiah who is "cut off" (i.e. crucified).
v) The church age is the 70th week. It began in the past, but the ending is future. 
6) I think elements of (5) are very appealing. But it suffers from some weaknesses:
i) Why would we favor a figurative interpretation when the temple and the city were actually razed by Titus and Hadrian's forces? The wording of the oracle, combined with subsequent events, invites a literal interpretation.
ii) Although, taken by itself, the Crucifixon is uniquely "abominable," in what sense would the Crucifixion be a sign or advance warning to flee Jerusalem and head for the hills decades ahead of time? It makes no sense of how that functions in the Olivet Discourse. 
7) It's possible to combine some details of these different interpretations.
i) For instance, who destroyed Jerusalem? Literally, that was Titus and Hadrian. Yet they were agents of God. So God destroyed it. And the Jews brought it on themselves. So they destroyed it–when they repudiated the Messiah. From that moment on, its doom was a foregone conclusion. And there's a sense in which Jesus destroyed it by rendering it obsolete.  
ii) Just as Antiochus was a type of Roman emperors or a type of Antichrist, Roman emperors can be a type of Antichrist. 
Likewise, one can view the fall of Jerusalem as a type of endtime deliverance and judgment. 

Personal protective equipment

It appears there was better PPE used with a fictional movie character in the 1980s than there is in CDC Ebola guidelines today:


What does the future look like?

1) There are different ways of interpreting the Olivet Discourse. Some view it as all in the future. Some view it as all in the past. Some view it as partly past and partly future. 
Of those who view it as all in the past, we can break that down into three subdivisions:
i) Those who think it was a failed prediction.
ii) Those who think it was a retrodiction.
iii) Those who think it was a true, but figurative prediction.
Even if we rightly discount the liberal interpretations, conservative, capable scholars struggle to present a consistent interpretation. Why is that?
2) Let's take a step back and ask how Jesus knew the future. How was he in a position to answer the disciples? What was his source of information?
i) One explanation is divine omniscience. And in the Gospels, Jesus certainly makes statements which dip into his divine omniscience. 
However, a problem with that explanation in this case is his admission of ignorance regarding the timing of the event (Mt 24:36; Mk 13:32). He knows what will happen, but not when it will happen. 
ii) In light of (i), it seems more likely, in the case of the Olivet Discourse, that Christ's foreknowledge is based on revelation. In principle, this could be indirect. It could be based on his understanding of OT prophecy. Or it could be direct. He himself was the recipient of divine revelation. 
3) Let's explore the latter option. Assuming the source of his foreknowledge was revelation, what mode of revelation would that be? Well, in principle, it could one of two different modes:
i) It could be propositional revelation. He was given true ideas about the future. 
ii) It could be visionary revelation. He saw the future. 
Certainly, visionary revelation has ample precedent in the OT, as well as NT counterparts. 
4) Suppose his foreknowledge (in the Olivet Discourse) was based on visionary revelation.  
i) To begin with, what does the future look like? If you could see the future, would it look futuristic? Let's consider some examples:
a) As a kid I saw a short-lived SF series call UFO. The series actually began in 1970, but was set 10 years ahead in 1980. 
Problem is, 1980 came and went, but 1980 didn't look anything like the projection. it only took 10 years for the series to appear hopelessly anachronistic.
b) Even if I didn't know for a fact when Bullitt was made, or who the actors were, I could tell from the cars (e.g. Mustang, Dodge Charger) that it was either made in the late 60s or else it was set in the late 60s. The film contains datable artifacts. Datable technology.
However, even that depends on the background knowledge of the viewer. I was a kid when the film was made, so I remember cars like that. But, of course, you could have a viewer who doesn't recognize period cars. 
c) Suppose I had a vision of a Siberian forest in 1000 BC. Suppose I had a vision of a Siberian forest in 1000 AD. Could I tell, by what I saw, whether I was seeing the past or the future? Does the image contain any chronological clues? Or is it too generic?
d) If I saw a vision of a London in the middle ages, and I knew enough about historical architecture, I could place it somewhere in the middle ages. But suppose I saw an image of the Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde. Could I tell if that was earlier or later than the image of London? Presumably, Cliff palace didn't change as much over the centuries. 
5) My point is not that a prophet can't know if he's seeing the past or the future. My point is that, taken all by itself, what he sees may not be time-indexed. Over and above what he sees, God would have to tell him if it was past or future. 
6) Then there's one additional complication. That's reducing a prophetic vision to a verbal description. Suppose I foresee a Siberian forest. Suppose I describe what I foresaw: "There were lots of fir trees and snow on the ground."
The verbal description doesn't contain any chronological clues. That would have to be supplied by an editorial comment. 
What makes that vision a vision about the future? Basically, the intent of the writer. I intend it to refer to a future scene or future event. 
7) Now, it's possible that this is why some of the descriptions in the Olivet Discourse are chronologically ambiguous. Visions of the near future may be indistinguishable from visions of the distant future, or vice versa. And that same ambiguity may carry over to a verbalized vision. 
Unless you have an editorial aside or parenthetical comment, it may be hard to sort them out.