Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Between the Devil and the deep blue sea

As I said to a friend late March, after the Rubio campaign cratered, it was hard for me to maintain interest in the race. At that point it would probably come down to choosing the best way to lose. Like being offered a choice of how to be executed: would you prefer death by hanging or firing squad? 

Well, here we are! 

The best argument for supporting Trump is the devil you know v. the devil you don't. Hillary is the devil you know. Trump might be as bad. Hard to see how he could be worse. He might be better.

However, one problem with that argument is that it's too atomized. Even if Trump considered in isolation is better than Hillary (debatable in itself), a President is the titular head of the party, and face of the party. If that's Trump, it will drag down the whole GOP. Discredit the Republican brand.

Mind you, there are people who support Trump precisely because they wish to destroy the GOP. However, Trump may damage the GOP either way. If he loses to Hillary, which is likely, his loss may well have a chain reaction on downticket races. That means, not only will Hillary be elected, but the opposition party will be swept out of power. There will be nothing left to block the liberal agenda. 

Speaking for myself, I've already indicated that I find voting for Trump too self-degrading. I will let the chips fall where they may. 

Jesus before the Gospels

Fire extinguishers

Cessationist critics of the charismatic movement draw attention to the heresy, chicanery, and gullibility that's rife in that movement. And there needs to be more scrutiny in that regard. 

Cessationists don't view these as isolated abuses and excesses that are incidental to charismatic theology, but the inevitable outcome of a flawed theological paradigm. And I think there's an element of truth to that. From my reading, charismatic theology fosters unrealistic expectations regarding the frequency with which God will perform miracles or guide individuals. 

That said, does cessationism suffer from a parallel problem? Are cessationists oblivious to what their own theology may cultivate? Consider mainline denominations like the American Baptist–USA, CRC, ECUSA, ELCA, PC-USA, RCA, UMC, UCC.

Historically, I believe these are either officially cessationists or overwhelmingly cessationist in practice. Although "charismatic renewal" has happened in the ECUSA, that occurred late in the history of the denomination. 

Now, these mainline denominations are hotbeds of heterodoxy and heteropraxy. They're the cessationist counterpart to comparable phenomena in the charismatic movement. Why not link that to cessationism? 

Charismatic theology and cessationist theology are liable to opposing errors.  Charismatic theology is inclines to superstition while cessationist theology inclines to secularization. 

Of course, cessationists will object to my comparison with mainline denominations. They will say that's unfair. At best, there's an incidental overlap between cessationism and liberal mainline denominations. But charismatics would say cessationists are guilty of the same thing when they attack the charismatic movement en masse. 

Moreover, I don't think these are isolated cases, incidental to the cessationist paradigm. In my view, a common flaw of charismatic theology and cessationist theology alike is to assume that God is too predicable. The difference is they assume God is predictable in opposite ways. Predictably interventionist or predictably noninterventionist. 

Cessationism operates with a pretty noninterventionist view of God during the course of church history, and their low expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A noninterventionist God becomes difficult to distinguish from a nonexistent God–except, perhaps, as the "ground of being".
If the charismatic tradition produces arsonists, the cessationist tradition produces fire extinguishers. We need to be equally attentive to the consequences of both traditions. 

My own position is that God is fairly unpredictable–at least from a human perspective. When, where, and how God intercedes in history is generally surprising or perplexing. We pray and wait for whatever will happen-or not.  

Pray in the Spirit

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom 8:26-27). 
15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also (1 Cor 14:15). 
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Eph 6:18). 
19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit (Jude 19-20).

One way that cessationists insulate their position from evidential falsification is to partition prayer from the spiritual gifts. They make allowance for miraculous answers to prayer, but drive a wedge between answered prayer and the spiritual gifts. 

But a basic problem with that disjunction is that Paul (as well as Jude) regards Christian prayer as prayer that's informed or empowered by the Spirit. When Christians prayer, the Spirit is at work in our minds and hearts. So it's a false dichotomy to compartmentalized prayer in isolation to the charismata. In the pneumatology of Paul and Jude, the ability to offer genuine Christian prayer is as much a spiritual gift as the other charismata. The agency of the Spirit is necessary in each instance. 

Monday, May 02, 2016

Altruistic lies

As long as I'm on the topic, let's discuss some complications about truth and falsehood. Biblical prohibitions usually deal with typical or commonplace situations. Some Biblical prohibitions involve moral absolutes, but others concern what's generally wrong. They don't attempt to address exceptional situations. Let's take two cases:

i) It's conventional to distinguish between intentional and unintentional falsehoods. But we can flip that around by distinguishing between intentional and unintentional truths. It's possible to unintentionally make a true statement that you intend to be a false statement. For instance:

In Jean-Paul Sartre’s short-story, The Wall, set during the Spanish Civil War, Pablo Ibbieta, a prisoner sentenced to be executed by the Fascists, is interrogated by his guards as to the whereabouts of his comrade Ramon Gris. Mistakenly believing Gris to be hiding with his cousins, he makes the untruthful statement to them that “Gris is hiding in the cemetery” (with the intention that they believe this statement to be true). As it happens, Gris is hiding in the cemetery, and the statement is true. Gris is arrested at the cemetery, and Ibbieta is released (Sartre 1937; cf. Siegler 1966: 130). 

What's the moral status of that statement? Do we evaluate the morality of the statement by its veracity or the intention of the speaker? 

ii) Suppose I go hiking with some classmates. One of my classmates harbors an irrational paranoia about me. He thinks I'm untrustworthy. And he thinks I'm out to get him.

Suppose I detect a rattlesnake camouflaged in the grassy trail just ahead of my suspicious classmate. I want to warn him to detour around the snake. He's oblivious to his mortal peril. If he keeps walking in that direction, he will be bitten.

But if I tell him the truth, he won't believe me. Therefore, I use reverse psychology. I lie to him about the actual location of the snake. I anticipate that if I tell him to go left, he will go right. My lie saves his life.

In this situation, he will mistake my falsehood for a truth, or mistake my truth for a falsehood. A true statement would be deceptive to him

iii) I could resolve the moral dilemma (if that's what it is) by simply withholding the lifesaving information at my disposal. I say nothing and let him step on the snake–with predictable consequences. But is that where my duty lies? 

Although this example is fanciful, there are real-life counterparts when dealing with someone senile, mentally ill, high on drugs, or developmentally disabled, where it may be necessary to trick them for their own good. 

The father of lies

In objection to a post of mine, a commenter said:

"According to Scripture, liars–among others–are cast into hell. And Satan is portrayed as the arch-deceiver, and the father of lies."

Let's examine that. Let's run through some examples:

8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Rev 21:8). 
44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (Jn 8:44). 
10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 Jn 1:10). 
4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 Jn 2:4). 
22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son (1 Jn 2:22). 
20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar (1 Jn 4:20). 
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son (1 Jn 5:10).

1. The Bible doesn't formally define what constitutes a lie. Therefore, readers typically plug into these statements their own rule of thumb definition. The traditional definition of lying has at least two conditions:

i) The statement is false

ii) The communicator makes a false statement with the intention that others mistakenly believe the falsehood is true.

The purpose of (ii) is to distinguish unintentional falsehoods from intentional falsehoods. 

My immediate objection is not to assess the merits of that definition. But in my experience, that's the operative definition Christians use who think lying is always wrong. 

2. Lying is a recurrent motif in the Johannine writings. In Rev 21:8, does John mean that Rahab and the Hebrew midwives will burn in hell? I seriously doubt that. 

Counterfeit religion is a major theme in Revelation. In the context of the narrative, "liars" are pagans or apostates who practice or promote idolatry. Indeed, there can be a twofold deception. Take the False prophet who uses deceit to facilitate false worship. The methods are deceptive and the object is spurious. 

To construe Rev 21:8 as a statement about "liars" in general rips the statement out of the specific setting in which John frames that conduct. 

3. Why does Jesus call the devil a liar? I assume he's alluding to Gen 3, where the Tempter brazenly said God's prohibition was an idle threat. 

4. That dovetails with what John says in his first epistle. When the apostle talks about "liars" or making God out to be a liar in 1 John, he isn't using the traditional definition of a lie. He doesn't operate with the twofold condition. For John, a "lie" is a statement or action at variance with God's testimony. It isn't confined to false propositions. It can include behavior that's inconsistent with divine testimony. 

Moreover, John doesn't make the intention to deceive a necessary condition of lying. Rather, it's sufficient that the liar, in word or deed, contradicts God's testimony. 

Presumably, John's heretical opponents don't intend to call God a liar. They don't consciously deny the truth, as they understand it. 

But John doesn't distinguish between intent and implication. For him, it's s enough that their teaching or conduct is objectively at odds with God's testimony. There is, of course, an element of willfulness here. 

That's because, for John, the deceivers are self-deceived. False teachers may be sincere, but self-deluded. A Satanic self-deception. Their minds are enslaved by sin. 

5. The upshot is that John isn't referring to "liars" in general. He doesn't have in mind cases like Christians who lie to Nazis to shield Jews. He is using a "lie" or "liar" in a narrow theological context, in reference to those who blindly and willfully deny God's self-witness, or the Father's witness to the Son, or the Spirit's witness to the Son. 

6. To generalize from John's usage would be counterproductive for those who think lying is intrinsically wrong, because John doesn't distinguish between intentional and unintentional falsehood. That would make any false statement, or any action that's inconsistent with the facts, to be a lie. But surely that's too strong. If someone unwittingly makes a statement that deviates from the truth, we don't automatically brand them a liar. If someone acts under the misimpression of what is true, we don't automatically brand them a liar. It's slipshod reasoning to ignore or overlook the framework in which John uses this terminology. 

Nathan's parable

12 And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Sam 12:1-6).

i) There are some very intelligent Christians, as well as some very devout Christians (and these are not mutually exclusive categories) who think lying is always wrong. I discuss this every so often.

ii) The walk of faith would be simpler if fidelity to God meant you always do what God commands, and never do what God forbids. I'd add that that's a good rule of thumb.

However, God hasn't made it that easy for us. For instance, there are times when Jesus condemns religious leaders because they didn't break God's law. Situations in which they had a duty to disobey God's law. Situations where they should teach others to disobey God's law. Seems counterintuitive, but Jesus does that on several occasions. 

As Jesus explains, it's not enough just to thoughtlessly obey God's commands. You need to ask yourself the purpose of God's command. If you take a command out of context, then there are circumstances in which obedience to the command is inappropriate. Indeed, where obedience is subversive to what the command intended. 

Therefore, Christians do have to take that into account. To be faithful to God, we must take into consideration the rationale for a particular command or prohibition. We must pay attention to the context so that we don't overgeneralize the force of the command. We deceive ourselves if we think rote obedience is equivalent to fidelity. Jesus didn't give us that option. We don't have that luxury. 

iii) Consider Nathan's disguised parable. The prophet Nathan resorted to subterfuge. First, he conveys to David the false impression that this is a true story. Moreover, he misleads David into thinking this story is about someone else.

The reason for Nathan's deception is twofold: David is dangerous. By broaching the issue in this roundtable way, Nathan catches David off-guard. 

In addition, the parable is an analogy. Once David agrees with the parable, David is trapped by the implications of the parable. Because the comparison is really about his own behavior. 

iv) The question, then, is whether lying is impermissible, but verbal deception is sometimes  permissible. On the face of it, that's an ad hoc dichotomy. I think examples like this illustrate the fact that lying is not intrinsically wrong, even though it's generally wrong. I'd say lying is prima facie wrong, but there are special situations in which what's ordinarily wrong ceases to be wrong. 

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Validating Genesis


Biblical superheroes

5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. 6 Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done (Judges 14:5-6). 
4 So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5 And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines and set fire to the stacked grain and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards (15:4-5). 
14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men (15:14-15). 
18 And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the Lord and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore; it is at Lehi to this day (15:18-19). 
3 But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron (16:3). 
17 And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.”
20 …But he did not know that the Lord had left him. 21 And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison. 22 But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved (16:17,20-22).

i) I'm going to comment on the credibility of Samson's exploits. There must be people, including Christians, who read the accounts of Samson and can't help thinking that they move in the same mythological world as Gilgamesh, Hercules, Perseus, Theseus, Homeric heroes (Iliad), Jason & the Argonauts (Argonautica)–or Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Likewise, we have lots of comic book superheroes. Some of these make their way into blockbuster films. So is that a legitimate comparison? Is Samson a legendary superhero, on a par with these other figures? 

ii) As a basis of comparison, let's begin by raising some naturalistic objections to his exploits:

a) Even if a man had the physical strength to tear a lion apart with his bare hands, how would he be able to get past the teeth and claws in order to get a good grip on the lion? Couldn't a lion disembowel him with its claws? 

b) Wouldn't catching 300 foxes (or jackals) be extremely time-consuming? 

c) You can only strike your foes down one at a time. If you're surrounded by hundreds of soldiers, they can attack you from all sides. And they don't have to get within striking distance. They can spear you with a javelin.

d) Isn't water from the rock a rather frivolous miracle in this situation? For that matter, why does God protect Samson when he indulges in so much sinful, egotistical behavior?

e) The human body can't be muscular beyond an upper limit. There must be a balance between muscle mass and bone density, as well as the bond between bones, ligaments, and tendons.  

iii) Having set the stage, let's respond. Paul Bunyan and his blue ox are consciously fictional. 

iv) Demigods have innately superhuman abilities, because they are, indeed, superhuman. A hybrid. But Samson is merely human. His superhuman exploits aren't an innate ability. Rather, this represents divine empowerment or enablement. His hair is just a token of divine enablement. 

It might be objected that in the Iliad, the gods sometimes come to the aid of combatants. But the combatants aren't doing anything humanly impossible. Rather, this is a case of the gods taking sides, tipping the scales. 

v) Samson isn't just a muscleman like Hercules. Samson is very clever. Take his riddles. Or the way he sets fire to the grain fields. 

vi) There's an intentionally comical element to some of Samson's exploits. The reader is meant to find some of this humorous. It's a mistake to read the accounts too straight. God is using Samson to mock the Philistines. 

vii) Although Samson is very cocky, he pays dearly for his impiety and impudence. 

viii) The problem with naturalistic objections is the assumption that all the natural objects retain their natural properties. That all the interactions between natural objects operate according to normal physics. That all the standard dynamics were kept in place. 

But there's no reason to impose that rigid framework on the accounts. God needn't empower Samson directly. God can locally suspend certain physical constants to bring about these feats. It doesn't even require direct contact. For instance:

a) The weight of the city gates depends on the gravity. What if God levitates the gates? Reduces their weight by reducing the gravitational force at that particular point? Like an astronaut in space.

Or what if God grants Samson temporary psychokinetic abilities? The narratives don't attribute his phenomenal feats to phenomenal musculature. That interpretation is based on supplementing the accounts with a mental picture of Steve Reeves in Hercules, or beefcake actor Victor Mature. 

But the narratives say nothing about his physique. He could be the proverbial 90-pound weakling. 

Rather, it comes and goes, based on the Spirit "coming upon him" or "leaving" him. Not a permanent endowment, but temporary enduements to do what's required at the time. 

b) Did God strengthen Samson or weaken the lion?

c) God can prompt the foxes (or jackals) to congregate, making them easier to catch.

d) There's the thorny issue of how to construe large numbers in the OT. 

e) How Samson struck down so many soldiers depends in part on how we visualize the scene. Suppose he leads them or lures them into a narrow passageway (e.g. crevice) where they must approach him single file. This isn't groundless speculation. The account mentions a rocky location in reference to the miraculous spring. 

It forces them to form a line. Those behind can't spear him with a javelin because it's blocked by a soldier ahead of them. They must climb over a mounting heap of bodies to get to him, which makes them even more exposed. Fighting at close quarters in a bottleneck, they can never put sufficient distance between Samson and themselves to take advantage of their superior numbers. 

Or God may disorient them. The OT gives examples. 

When we read a passage like this, we tend to fill in the details by forming our own mental picture. Nothing necessary wrong with that. But there are many different ways it could happen. Our imagination has to supply what's missing, which may be wide of the mark. 

Did Josephus exist?

A stock objection to the historical Jesus is the dearth of references to Jesus outside the NT by his contemporaries. Christian apologists usually respond by mentioning references to Jesus in Tacitus and Josephus. 

I'd just like to turn this around. How many references are there to Tacitus and Josephus by their contemporaries? Other than their own writings, what literary references do we have regarding 1C figures like Tacitus and Josephus from their own period? 

Offhand, I don't recall "skeptics" who doubt the historicity of Tacitus and Josephus despite the lack of independent attestation by their contemporaries. 

Liars and deceivers

There are individual Christians as well as theological traditions that consider lying to be intrinsically wrong. For instance, the church of Rome considers lying to be intrinsically wrong:

Mind you, Rome has fudge factors. You also have some Calvinists like John Murray, Vern Poythress, and Wayne Grudem who think lying is intrinsically wrong. 

However, even Christians who think lying is always illicit may think deception is sometimes licit. If, though, you think lying is inherently wrong, then it's arguable that you should think deception is even worse than lying. 

On the one hand, it's possible for a true statement to be deceptive. This is sometimes called a half truth, contextual lie, or lie by omission. What you say is true, but misleading, because you leave out crucial information, causing the listener to draw a false inference. Their interpretation of your statement depends as much on what you don't say as what you do say. So you can manipulate their interpretation by controlling the flow of information. By omitting a key piece of information. This goes to the question of whether lies and deceitful statements are interchangeable, which depends on how you define a lie. 

On the other hand, some lies are not deceptive insofar as some lies lack credibility. For instance, when I'm waiting in line at the checkout stand, I see the screaming headlines of the National Enquirer. These usually involve sensational claims about celebrities. 

Now, I know that many of these headlines are lies. The sensational headlines are bait. A come-on to lure buyers. The headlines are transparently hyperbolic. 

But in that respect, the lies aren't deceptive because the lies aren't plausible. To be deceptive, the headlines would have to be believable. 

In that regard, it isn't even clear if the lying headlines carry the intention to deceive, or if they are merely designed to pique the curiosity of shoppers who take an interest in tabloid fare. Presumably, regular readers (yes, apparently they exist) of the National Enquirer know by experience that the main story will be a letdown compared to the catchy headlines. But they still have an appetite for gossip about the trashy lives of the rich and infamous. 

Or take a reflexive liar like Hillary Clinton. In a sense, her lies are not deceptive because you never expect her to tell the truth. Same thing with the White House Press secretary–of either party. His job is to defend administration policy, no matter how stupid. Stick up for whatever the President said, no matter how stupid. Reporters don't expect him to give straight answers. 

Or public health officials. They think the real danger is mass panic or public hysteria. So they typically downplay a hazard. 

The list goes on. People who lie for a living. What they say isn't persuasive, because you know in advance that they don't mean it. 

Credibility (or the lack thereof) has both objective and subjective features. Some claims are patently absurd. Their falsity should be obvious. But what is obvious to reasonable people may not be obvious to gullible people. Some credulous people find some incredible statements credible–or even compelling. So it's person-variable. 

Likewise, a deception needn't be an outright falsehood. In addition, the meaning of deception is ambiguous: It can either denote the attempt to deceive someone, or the successful result. Compare two statements:

i) I was lied to

ii) I was deceived

In that regard, if you think lying is always wrong, then it's even worse to be a deceiver than a liar. A liar is merely someone who pedals lies whereas a deceiver is someone whose deceptions are convincing. He intends to deceive, and he succeeds. 

So people who think lying is always wrong while deception is sometimes permissible have it backwards. Given their view of lying, they ought to view deception as even worse. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

One of the Best Chess Channels on YouTube

For you chess players out there, Daniel King’s “Power Play Chess” is an absolutely fabulous channel. King is a FIDE Grandmaster, rated over 2500, so he knows what he’s talking about, and he’s been a journalist and chess columnist for years.

When there’s a major tournament going on, his YouTube channel features almost daily commentaries on the best games; when there are no tournaments, lately he’s been walking through the games of former world champions like Mikhail Tal and others.

Here’s today’s video – featuring a game from the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, who incidentally, won the tournament by winning this game. (Sorry for the spoiler!)

Suicide-bomber cessationism

I'll make a few observations on this post and some of the ensuing comments:

i) I appreciate the fact that people like Fred expose hucksters and heretics in the charismatic movement. We need more of that. 

ii) That said, both here and in his initial post, Fred's entire objection to continuationism is an argument from experience. The experience of hucksters and heretics in the charismatic movement.

Problem is, the argument from experience cuts both ways. If an argument from experience is legitimate to falsify continuationism, then an argument from experience is legitimate to verify continuationism. 

ii) Keep in mind, too, that the burden of proof for the continuationism is infinitely lower. Cessationism denies the occurrence of a single continuationist miracle. It doesn't deny the occurrence of modern miracles, per se, but the occurrence of miracles consistent with continuationism.

Therefore, it only requires one good example of the contrary to falsify cessationism. 

edingess on April 27, 2016 at 2:52 pm said:
Hey Fred…spot on my brother! I simply ask these people to put up or shut up. When a Charismatic/Pentecostal starts talking about this nonsense, I simply say, okay then, lets go down to the hospital or the morgue. That is where this debate will take place. Show me what you’ve got or just shut up. The claims made by these people are empirical claims in my opinion. So, lets see you raise the dead, open blind eyes, empty wheelchairs, etc. Unless you are willing to show me, then please don’t waist [sic] my time. That shuts them up every time.

i) And atheists raise the mirror image of that very objection. Why doesn't God heal children with cancer? Because there is no God! If there were a God, he'd clean out the cancer ward at a children's hospital. 

ii) Apropos (i), doesn't Jesus have the ability to heal? He still exists, right? So why doesn't Jesus go down to the hospital, nursing home, or morgue, raise the dead, cure cancer patients, empty wheelchairs, &c? By Ed's logic, Jesus doesn't have what it takes. 

iii) Fact is, healing everyone has downsides as well as upsides. A person who was healed may become the father of a murderer. Atheists, as well as people like Ed, treat it like a self-contained issue. But reality isn't that compartmentalized. 

iv) Now, I don't object to calling the bluff of self-styled faith-healers. But it doesn't take a hundred miracles to prove one miracle. 

edingess on April 28, 2016 at 3:05 pm said:
Ken, your claim to having witnessed a genuine miracle needs documentation. Name, contact information, doctor certification of an illness, doctor certification of restoration, media story reporting the event, eyewitnesses, name of the healer by whom the miracle was performed, etc. Thanks for the information.

i) First of all, people like Ed demand documentation, then turn their back on the documentation. 

ii) We need to draw distinctions. If someone I know, someone whose judgment I trust, tells me about a miracle he experienced, I don't require corroboration. 

iii) That said, it's good to demand solid evidence for reported miracles. However, Ed raises the bar artificially high. He raises the bar so high that his standard discredits every miraculous healing in the Bible. This is suicide bomber cessationism. They are so fanatical that they will blow up the Bible in order to blow up continuationism. 

iv) And it won't do for Ed to hold biblical miracles to a different standard. According to cessationism, the function of biblical miracles is to attest the messenger. In that event, you can't invoke the authority of Scripture to validate the miracle. Rather, the miracle validates the authority of Scripture. That's the structure of the cessationist argument. That's how miracles figure in the argument. The messenger doesn't authenticate the miracle; rather, the miracle authenticates the messenger. 

So according to cessationism, a Scriptural miracle must be credible independent of Scripture. Yet Ed's criteria rule out every miracle in Scripture. It would really behoove cessationists to avoid suicide bomber tactics. 

Inwagen on Hume on miracles

For the philosophically inclined, here's a closely-reasoned dismantling of Hume's celebrated argument against miracles:


The Evidence For Matthew's Authorship

I've written a lot of posts over the years arguing for the apostle Matthew's authorship of the first gospel. I want to put together a collection of links to several of the arguments, so that they can easily be accessed in one post. I'll add more links as they become available. What I'm linking are posts that address the relevant issues. Since some of these posts address more than one subject, you may have to search within a post to find the material you're looking for.

Thomas the Train Wreck and the Analogia Entis

The word “theology”, as everyone knows, is derived from two Greek roots, from θεός, God, and λόγος, word or reason. Thus it is “a word or rational discourse concerning God, and therefore as human wisdom or knowledge concerning God” (from Muller, R. A. (1985). Dictionary Of Latin And Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally From Protestant Scholastic Theology (p. 298). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House). Muller continues with this definition:

The Protestant orthodox systems, both Reformed and Lutheran, consist in revealed theology, and manifest little or no attention to the exposition of a positive natural theology. This characteristic is manifest in the identification of Scripture and not reason as the cognitive foundation or principium cognoscendi [the principle of knowing or cognitive foundation] of theology. This revealed theology, inasmuch as it is a reflection of the divine self-knowledge or theologia archetypa, is also characterized as a form of theologia ectypa, or ectypal theology, and as theologia in via, theology on the way to God, or theologia viatorum, theology of pilgrims or those on the way.

The alternative to this way of understanding theology is known as the analogia entis, or “the analogy of being”. This is primarily the Thomist method of reasoning from things that we know on earth to, primarily, arrive at a knowledge of God “from below”, as it were. Muller gives this definition:

The Synoptics and John

I'm going to piggyback on a recent post by Jason Engwer. Critics stress the differences between John and the Synoptics. They act as though it's problematic that John is so different than the Synoptics. But that really has it backwards. Framing the issue that way is misleading and counterintuitive.

What's striking is not that John is so different, but that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so similar. The conventional explanation is that Matthew and Luke use Mark. They adopt and adapt his basic plot, repeating many of the same incidents–in the same order. 

By contrast, we'd expect two (or more) independent accounts to be very different from each other. That's not surprising. That doesn't require a special explanation. And that, of itself, doesn't call into question their historicity. 

To take a few examples, consider the difference between a Civil War account by a Southern General and a Northern general. Or between a general and a foot soldier. Or between observers (or participants) in Virginia, Missouri, and South Carolina. 

Or consider the difference between a WWII account by an American soldier and a Japanese soldier. Or between a participant in the Pacific theater and the European theater. Or between someone in the navy, air force, or infantry.  

These will all be dramatically different. They could all be equally historical. 

Admittedly, the Civil War–not to mention WWII–was on a far larger scale that Christ's two or three-year ministry in Palestine. But I use these examples to illustrate how dramatic differences between independent historical accounts are par for the course.

The Republican conundrum

There's a lot of voter rage directed at the GOP. Problem is, that's misdirected. 

It's not that there aren't some real stinkers in the GOP leadership. To take a few current examples, governors who fold on religious liberty, viz. Nathan Deal, Mike Pence, Asa Hutchinson–as well as Sen. Portman. 

However, the GOP leadership is not the source of the problem. It's a symptom, not the cause. Angry voters are fixated on a symptom.

The GOP is like a pyramid. The fundamental weakness isn't at the top but the bottom. The base of the pyramid is too small. The reason we have some duds in leadership positions is because there aren't the votes to replace them to stalwart conservatives. There aren't enough rightwing voters to run the table.  

In a country as diverse and populous as the US, to be a viable national party, you have to attract a coalition of different voting blocks. There aren't enough rightwing voters to float a viable national party. That voting block is too small all by itself.

This is a problem with furious voters who wish to raze the GOP. They hope to replace it with an ideologically pure third party. They act as though the GOP is a granite slab that's suppressing the silent rightwing majority. But unfortunately, no such majority exists. 

A third party might indeed be ideologically purer, but it would be purer at the expense of being much smaller. It wouldn't be competitive. Smashing the GOP just reshuffles the same deck. It doesn't add new conservative voters to the deck. It merely rearranges the same basic number of voters. You are still stuck with same basic ideological spread.

Instead of subdividing the deck two ways, between hearts and diamonds, it subdivides the decks three ways, into spades, hearts, and diamonds (or clubs, as the case may be). Regrouping the same number of cards into smaller sets.

Indeed, if conservatives abandon the GOP for a third party, the GOP will cease to be politically viable. In that event, the remaining Republicans will probably join the Democrats. After the dust settles, you'd wind up with a larger Democrat party, and a smaller opposition party.  

To take another comparison, consider Israel, with its Parliamentary system. It has ideologically purer parties, but that's because they are splinter groups. All the parties are weaker.