Saturday, April 09, 2016

Letter boards

Suppose, though, that the scribe got all the words 100 percent correct. If multiple copies of the letter went out, can we be sure that all the copies were also 100 percent correct? It is possible, at least, that even if they were all copied in Paul's presence, a word or two here or there got changed in one or the other of the copies. If so, what if only one of the copies served as the copy from which all subsequent copies were made — then in the first century, into the second century and the third century, and so on? In that case, the oldest copy that provided the basis for all subsequent copies of the letter was not exactly what Paul wrote, or wanted to write.  
Once the copy is in circulation — that is, once it arrives at its destination in one of the towns of Galatia — it, of course, gets copied, and mistakes get made. Sometimes scribes might intentionally change the text; sometimes accidents happen. These mistake-ridden copies get copied; and the mistake-ridden copies of the copies get copied; and so on, down the line. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the original copy (or each of the original copies) ends up getting lost, or worn out, or destroyed. At some point, it is no longer possible to compare a copy with the original to make sure it is "correct," even if someone has the bright idea of doing so.  
Suppose that after the original manuscript of a text was produced, two copies were made of it, which we may call A and B. These two copies, of course, will differ from each other in some ways — possibly major and probably minor. Now suppose that A was copied by one other scribe, but B was copied by fifty scribes. Then the original manuscript, along with copies A and B, were lost, so that all that remains in the textual tradition are the fifty-one second-generation copies, one made from A and fifty made from B. If a reading found in the fifty manuscripts (from B) differs from a reading found in the one (from A), is the former necessarily more likely to be the original reading? No, not at all — even though by counting noses, it is found in fifty times as many witnesses. In fact, the ultimate difference in support for that reading is not fifty manuscripts to one. It is a difference of one to one (A against B). The mere question of numbers of manuscripts supporting one reading over another, therefore, is not particularly germane to the question of which reading in our surviving manuscripts represents the original (or oldest) form of the text. B. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (HarperCollins, 2005), 59, 128-129.

This is one of Ehrman's stock objections to the authenticity of the NT text, as we have it today. He repeats variations of this objection in his debates.

The argument appears to undercut the common apologetic appeal to the number of Greek MSS and even the antiquity of some Greek MSS. Although we have lots of MSS, if these derive from the same copy, that really counts as one rather than many. Likewise, although some of our MSS are very early, if they derive from the same defective parent copy, their antiquity doesn't make them reliable. I've discussed this before, but I'd like to say a bit more about the issue. 

i) We've all seen letter boards. These are signs with movable letters. You have a box with magnetic letters of the alphabet. That way you can change the message on the sign when you have a new product or service to advertise.

We've all seen signs in which one or more of the letters dropped off. Sometimes the effect is comical. It changes the meaning of the message. However, it's usually easy to figure out the original message. If you know the language (e.g. English, Spanish), if you know the context, you can mentally reconstruct the intended message. This is something we all do. You don't need to have access to the original as a basis of comparison. Ehrman is overlooking really obvious counterexamples to his facile objection. 

ii) Another problem with his objection is that we have four Gospels, not merely one. So he'd have to postulate that the chain of transmission was garbled, not just once, but independently for all four gospels. 

iii) Ehrman has a "heads I win, tails you lose" approach to the Gospels. If they're different from each other, that's a contradiction! But if they agree, that's not independent multiple attestation. Rather, that just means Christians were telling each other the same stories, which eventually got written down. He's rigged it so that nothing can ever count as evidence for the historical Jesus.  

Nothing on the other side

Mainstreaming incest

A third-party perspective on black/white relations in America

Dr. White has recently responded in his Dividing Line podcast to the false accusations of racism that were charged at him. As a non-white and an outsider to the American situation, I would think I have a third party perspective to this whole controversy over race, which I find ridiculous. In Singapore where I grew up, we have 4 main "races": Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian, and we get along rather fine. What I find ludicrous about the whole "conversation" about race in the US is the binary it produces: that there are only "Whites" and "Blacks." "Whites" have the white man burden of proving they are not racist (which is again, why?), while "blacks" seem to get a free pass as being the default victim class. Just by stating this, we can see a whole host of problems. First, why the racial binary? How about other races like Korean-American, Chinese-American, and so on? And just in case one is tempted to lump them into one "colored" category, well, that is just plain ridiculous! The different "colored" people do not necessarily get along, and they do not necessarily see themselves as one monolithic bloc called "colored." I'm sorry if I actually believed in racial diversity! Chinese-Americans and Korean-Americans are not the same, and I refuse to treat them as one and the same thing!

Friday, April 08, 2016

Careerist feminism

Lesbian feminist atheist gadfly Camille Paglia:

I totally agree with Carlson that pro-choice Democrats have become “callous and extreme” about abortion. There is a moral hollowness at the core of Western careerist feminism, a bourgeois secular code that sees children as an obstruction to self-realization or as a management problem to be farmed out to working-class nannies. 
Liberals routinely delude themselves with shrill propaganda about the motivation of “anti-woman” pro-life supporters. Hillary deals in those smears as her stock in trade: for example, while campaigning last week, she said in the context of Trump’s comments on abortion, “Women’s health is under assault in America”—as if difficulty in obtaining an abortion is more of an assault than the grisly intervention required for surgical termination of a pregnancy. Who is the real victim here? 
There are abundant contradictions in a liberal feminism that supports abortion yet opposes capital punishment. The violence intrinsic to abortion cannot be wished away by magical thinking.

“Pope Francis”: “Sustained and Wholesale Assault on the Faith”

God have mercy on His Holy Church.
There's no other way to put it: The pope's Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia is a catastrophe.
Though released only this morning, Catholic observers and commentators have already begun to identify several objectionable passages in which the doctrine and discipline of the Church's Faith is elided, wrested, and contradicted. We at Rorate Caeli will have more to say on this subject, but we can affirm that the headline of Dr. Maike Hickson's commentary at OnePeterFive is correct: "Pope Francis Departs from Church Teaching in New Exhortation."  Also correct is Voice of the Family's observation, "There are many passages that faithfully reflect Catholic teaching but this cannot, and does not, lessen the gravity of those passages which undermine the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church." (Be sure to read all of Voice of the Family's excellent critique.)
Do read Dr. Hickson's comments, and when you have time, visit Canonist Edward Peters' weblog and read his "First thoughts on the English version of Pope Francis' Amoris laetitia."  His criticisms isolate what are probably the worst aspects of the pope's exhortation (there are many others that are also very bad), 
To understand the enormity of Francis' teachings, compare and contrast Amoris laetitia 300-310 with Pope John Paul II'sFamiliaris consortio 84. The doctrine and discipline that persons living in a persistent, objective state of adultery may not receive Holy Communion is not found anywhere in the pope's exhortation. On the contrary, Amoris laetitia 301 and footnote 351 contradict the Church's doctrine on this point.  Again, the Church's teaching, "Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery" (CCC 2384), is nowhere explicitly affirmed in the exhortation.
To these criticisms we must add our objection against Amoris laetitia 301's general principles, which are corrosive to all sacramental disciple. Indeed, in light of the pope's reflections there, how could the Church bar anyone from receiving Communion? Also objectionable is the pope's reference to some people being "in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin," as if the Law of Christ regarding marriage and divorce cannot be obeyed -- something that contradicts paragraph 297, which affirms that "the fullness of God’s plan . . . is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit."
So, on the one hand, we have the Church's doctrine as expressed in documents such as Familiaris consortio and theCatechism of the Catholic Church.  On the other hand, we have Pope Francis' teaching in Amoris laetitia.
The exhortation is effectively a sustained and wholesale assault on the Faith. 

Is Cruz a Dominionist?

Racial lensing

An issue which the kerfuffle over James White's statements regarding the juvenile delinquent raised is whether Christians should be colorblind or view the world through a racial lens. 

i) One objection to a colorblind policy is that race is an integral element of what we are. Hence, we inevitably view the world through a racial lens. And if we consider racial diversity to be a natural good, there's nothing wrong with racial lensing.

ii) However, there are problems with framing the issue that way. It's true that we inevitably view the world based on what we are. I can't avoid using myself as an ultimate frame of reference. And that includes racial identity. 

But a racial lens is just a small part of that. What I am, and how that affects the way I view the world, is far more complex than the racial component. Even at a biological level, whether I'm male or female has far more intrinsic impact on my outlook than my racial genetics. 

In addition, where I grew up, when I grew up, my parents, my social class, &c., are lenses through which I view the world. So we're talking about a multifocal lens. There's no reason the racial lens should be dominant. Each of us views the world as whole persons. 

iii) Moreover, even though race has a biological component, when we talk about a racial lens, arguably the most significant aspect of race isn't biological but socially constructed. 

Take Icelanders. Due to their relative geographical isolation, they've developed a fairly homogenous culture over the centuries. In a sense, you could say Icelanders see the world through a racial lens: they are paradigmatically "Aryan". Yet the racial dimension is incidental to the cultural lens. It's their time and place, rather than racial genetics, that's the constitutive factor. 

Put another way, a cultural outlook is transferable in a way that racial identity is not. Take the question of Jewish identity. Is it primarily ethnic? Religious? Cultural? Historical? 

For instance, you have philosophers who happen to be Jewish (e.g. Ronald Dworkin, Hubert Dreyfus, Saul Kripke, Hilary Putnam, Ludwig Wittgenstein), and then you have philosophers whose central orientation is Jewish (e.g. Maimonides, Abraham Heschel). 

iv) Another problem with racial lensing is that race and ethnicity are not monolithic. Take a short list of Latinos:

Luis Borges
Che Guevara 
Claudio Arrau
Gloria Estefan
Cain Velasquez
Eduardo Saverin
Carlos Castaneda
Alicia de Larrocha
Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Héctor-Neri Castañeda
A Mexican migrant farmer

Do they view the world through a common racial lens? Isn't this a very disparate group of people? Differing widely in their nationality, social class, education, formative experiences, &c. Is it not hopelessly reductionistic to superimpose a single racial lens onto their outlook on life? 

Put another way, who speaks for Latinos in general? Is there one particular vantage-point to appropriate? 

v) A final problem with this framework is the need to distinguish between the racial lens through which a "person of color" views the world, and the lens through which Caucasians are supposed to view "persons of color". At least in my experience, when people commend racial lenses, they are saying white folks should view ethnic minorities the way ethnic minorities view themselves or view the world from that (minority) perspective. White folks should adopt the racial lens of the minority. That's a part of becoming sensitized to the outlook of those who don't share "white privilege". 

But a problem with that recommendation is that it's a recipe for racial stereotyping. Telling white folks to imagine what it's like to be non-white is demanding that I treat an Asian (to take one example) based on my idea of what it's like to be Asian. My projected notion of minorities onto minorities. 

This involves an outsider pretending to see things from the viewpoint of an insider. But unless I actually privy to their experience, that's highly presumptuous. 

vi) This doesn't mean we can't ever get inside other cultures to some degree. For instance, if I have multiracial friendships, then I can gain some insight about what it's like for that person to be from Singapore. (Same thing with interracial marriage.) But that's learning about individuals from individuals. That's not applying a generic racial lens. Indeed, categories like "Asian," "white," and "Latino" are terribly coarse-grained. And operating with those categories can easily blind us to all the fine-grained differences within different nationalities, regions, religions, social classes, &c. 

A Conversational Theory of Moral Responsibility

Click on "PDF" at the top to access the PDF version

“Pope Francis” is “Feelin’ the Bern”

It’s a difficult day in conservative Catholicville…

“Pope Francis” “departs from Magisterium”; The Battle is on! Time for a little “Resist This Pope”?

Well, it’s been settled. OnePeterFive has spoken, the matter is settled. A pope has made a statement that deviates from the Magisterium!

two grave and deeply serious claims in this new papal document which were not discussed during the previous two Synod sessions in the manner in which they appear in the exhortation. Each represents a deviation from the Catholic Church’s traditional moral teaching, thereby effectively departing from the Universal Magisterium of the Church (emphasis in original).


Excerpts from the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Lætitia”. “Roman Catholics may agree to disagree … not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

Quoting from the document itself:

3. Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. […] Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.

So, Kasper gets his way. The German bishops will be able to “seek solutions better suited to their culture” without having to consult the Magisterium. Strikingly, “Pope Francis” finds an ally in Aquinas:

Catholic Left, Catholic Right Unite in One Voice: “Only We Have the Correct ‘Interpretation’ of Papal Teaching”

George Weigel, in “First Things”:
Things That Can’t Change

The pope cannot, in other words, change the deposit of faith, of which he is the custodian, not the master. The pope can’t decide that the Church can do without bishops, or that there really are eleven sacraments, or that Arius had it right in denying the divinity of Christ. As for those “other obligations too numerous to mention,” they include the pope’s accountability to the ways things are, which is another boundary to papal authority.

Michael Sean Winters at “National Catholic Reporter”:

At First Things, George Weigel makes the case that the pope really can’t do very much, an argument he never really made when his hero John Paul II was sitting on the papal throne. His key argument is contained here:

“Pope Francis” on “The Joy of Sex”

#JoyOfPapacy #BlueprintForAnarchy #Rome’sDividedMind
That’s how the conservative Rorate-Caeli blog has tagged its pre-release summary of the “Apostolic Exortation” entitled “Amoris Laetitia”. The official English translation is “The Joy of Love”, but Rorate and other conservative Roman Catholic sites are calling it “The Joy of Sex”.

The conservative [and therefore infallible] website One Peter Five has provided some “interpretations” that it can foresee some lesser cardinals and bishops taking:

Are all sins equally bad?

"Are All Sins Equally Bad?" by Prof. James Anderson.

Thursday, April 07, 2016


1. Last month, James White kicked a beehive when he uploaded dash cam footage onto Facebook, accompanied by his social commentary on the antics of a juvenile delinquent. 

He deleted it, but due to screen capture technology, it was too late. A KJV-onlyist wackjob reposted a doctored version (embedded editorializing) of the statement on his own blog. 

Because White had deleted the original, the doctored version was the only available version, so that's what got quoted. Here's the original:

Someone might object that since White deleted the statement, it's wrong to repost it. Since, however, people continue to attack his statement while he continues to defend his statement, it's hard to see how one can fairly evaluate the statement without having the actual, verbatim statement before you as the frame of reference. Without access to the original, how can you accurately represent and comment on what he said?

2. It's challenging to find an entry point into this debate. One reason is that many people have a love/hate relationship with stereotypes. Many people resent being stereotyped by the outgroup, but the same people may stereotype the outgroup. In addition, the ingroup may stereotype its own members.  

3. There's also the question of whether stereotypes are intrinsically bad. Stereotypes can be positive or negative. 

A stereotype may have a basis in fact. The danger is to overgeneralize. To extrapolate from some to all. 

4. It raises the question of whether we should judge strangers as individuals, or judge them in the context of a preexisting interpretive grid. 

5. Let's consider some concrete illustrations:

i) Black Lives Matter thinks police stereotype blacks. However, police think Black Lives Matter stereotypes police. Whenever you have a publicized altercation between a white cop and a black suspect, many pundits automatically assume the incident was racially motivated. But isn't that prejudicial to cops?

ii) Italian-American directors (e.g. Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola) are sometimes chided for self-stereotyping Italian Americans as Mafiosi. Yet they are considered great directors of classic films. So there's a conflicted attitude.

iii) Black Hip-Hop performers are sometimes chided for glamorizing and reinforcing a negative stereotype of blacks.

iv) Woody Allen movies play on Jewish stereotypes.

v) The "angry white man" stereotype (or loner male stereotype)

vi) How the liberal establishment caricatures Christians.

vii) Asian stereotypes 

viii) Canadian stereotypes

ix) Irish stereotypes

x) Russian stereotypes

xi) Latino immigrant stereotypes

xii) Southerners

xiii) New Yorkers (esp. Manhattan and the Bronx)

xiv) Texans

xv) WASPs

xvi) Valley girls and surfer dudes

xvii) Lawyer jokes

xviii) How Michael Bird stereotypes Americans

6. Take the "white privilege" meme. Except for Caucasians who are susceptible to white guilt-tripping, white folks tune out the moment someone uses that tendentious phrase. They think that's stereotyping whites. If that's how you frame the issue when you're addressing whites, you lost your audience from that point on. They stop listening. They discount what you say. 

Suppose we substitute "Jewish privilege" for "white privilege". The claim that Jews are overrepresented in banking, medicine, physics, the media, judiciary, &c. Well, there's a sense in which that's true. But that's achieved status, not ascribed status. Something they had to work for.

7. Then there's the question of the reference class we use to pigeon-hole individuals. Some of what White said about this teenager is the same kind of thing black pundits like Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Juan Williams, Ben Carson, Stanley Crouch et al. have remarked about the inner city subculture. 

But that's not the only frame of reference. There are different demographic perspectives. You can view it from the standpoint of juvenile delinquency in general. Age, sex, and socioeconomic status. Juvenile delinquency is more prevalent among young underclass males. Same thing with street gangs, which reflect a wide variety of races and ethnicities. And we see similar patterns developing among white working class communities, as Kevin Williamson recently noted at NRO. 

8. White sees a downward spiral. But I think that says more about different places than different times. Street gangs have been a fixture of big cities for decades. The inner city has been notorious for tough schools for decades. Before driveby shootings, it used to be knife-fights. Just off the top of my head, examples include Last Exit to Brooklyn (Cubby Selby)The Cross and the Switchblade (David Wilkerson), Run Baby Run (Nicky Cruz), Black and Free (Tom Skinner), The Warriors (Sol Yurick), and Blackboard Jungle (1955 film). And if you go back further, you had the "Wild West" in the 19C (e.g. Tombstone; Dodge City). 

If there's been a change, I think that's more a matter of inner city social mores spreading to the suburbs and exurbs. Personal anecdote: I grew up in a white, middle class, rural suburb in the 60s-70s. I attended white suburban public schools (just a handful of minority students). 

A few years ago someone indexed the local newspaper, and put that online. Out of curiosity, I skimmed the headlines from the mid-50s to the mid-70s. I was surprised by the amount of juvenile delinquency, home-burglaries, and even armed robberies, in the small town adjacent to where I grew up. This was mostly white middle class and working class. 

To some degree, I think street gangs and immigration go together. First-generation immigrants tend to band together. The boys join ethnic street gangs for protection. That's been going on for decades. In that regard, White's historical perception seems to be provincial. 

9. In addition, his view of law enforcement culture is rather blinkered and dated. It fails to take into account the corruption of law enforcement and the evolving police state. I'd say he's caught in a timewarp on that issue.

The proliferation of cellphone cameras, police dash cams, and push for body cams, has revealed an alarming amount of police abuse that went undocumented in prior times. Moreover, some police knowingly do this right in front of cameras (e.g. dash cams), which makes you wonder what they do out of public view. Serpico is another iconic example. 

I'm not saying that reflects a general pattern. It's hard to say how representative that is from a statistical standpoint. 

But if you combine this with district attorneys who cover for police, prosecutorial misconduct by district attorneys, how the Obama administration has weaponized the Federal bureaucracy to spearhead its ideological pogroms, White's reflexive deference to the authorities is naive and out-of-touch with current realities. His viewpoint reflects a sheltered experience. 

10. Although discipline and hard work are good advice, that's not a guarantee that you will get ahead in life. I'm not quite sure what he means by a "good education". Certainly a college degree is no guarantee of success in life, and college loans can set you back. Problem is, not only has tuition spiked astronomically above and beyond the inflation rate, but if more folks have college degrees, then it ceases to be a competitive advantage.

Is there a base rate for the Resurrection?

Village atheists suffer from groupthink. They constantly repeat each other, which means repeating the same blunders. Here's a classic example:

"...if Jesus’s resurrection is the ‘disease’ and the witness report is the ‘test’, we can now do the algebra to decide whether to believe in the resurrection. The base rate for the resurrection is (let’s say) one in 1 billion. The witnesses go wrong only one time in 100,000. One billion divided by 100,000 is 10,000. So, even granting the existence of extraordinary witnesses, the chance that they were right about the resurrection is only one in 10,000; hardly the basis for a justified belief."

 Lydia McGrew said...

The author goes wrong because the resurrection was not, if it occurred, some sort of spontaneous but random event the probability of which is set by a "base rate," like a disease. If it occurred, it was a personal act of God. This argument would be like talking about the number of times you propose to some woman or other in the population, setting a "base rate" by that means, and then disbelieving your fiance because you were so unlikely to propose to a randomly selected woman, so (allegedly) you were unlikely to propose to her! She must have just made a mistake. (People do make mistakes sometimes, yada, yada.) The prior probability for the resurrection should thus be decided on the basis of completely different considerations, such as what other evidence we have about Jesus, whether Old Testament Judaism has independent support, whether Jesus seems to have been the Messiah (based on other evidence aside from the reports of the resurrection), and so forth.

The author also goes wrong because the question of whether the witnesses made an error should _also_ not be estimated in some off-the-cuff fashion concerning "how often witnesses go wrong." Rather, the specific circumstances of _these_ testimonies have to be taken into account to see if _these_ testimonies are well-explained by their "going wrong." That gets us into discussing alternative hypotheses such as hallucination, error, lying etc., which do a terrible job of explaining these testimonies in this historical context.

Did Papias know John?

Who's minding the store?

From a recent interview:

Benedict XVI: There is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma. While the fathers and theologians of the Middle Ages could still be of the opinion that, essentially, the whole human race had become Catholic and that paganism existed now only on the margins, the discovery of the New World at the beginning of the modern era radically changed perspectives. In the second half of the last century it has been fully affirmed the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized and that even a purely natural happiness for them does not represent a real answer to the question of human existence. If it is true that the great missionaries of the 16th century were still convinced that those who are not baptized are forever lost – and this explains their missionary commitment – in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council that conviction was finally abandoned.
From this came a deep double crisis. On the one hand this seems to remove any motivation for a future missionary commitment. Why should one try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it? But also for Christians an issue emerged: the obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals. If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated.

Lately several attempts have been formulated in order to reconcile the universal necessity of the Christian faith with the opportunity to save oneself without it. I will mention here two: first, the well-known thesis of the anonymous Christians of Karl Rahner. He sustains that the basic, essential act at the basis of Christian existence, decisive for salvation, in the transcendental structure of our consciousness, consists in the opening to the entirely Other, toward unity with God. The Christian faith would in this view cause to rise to consciousness what is structural in man as such. So when a man accepts himself in his essential being, he fulfills the essence of being a Christian without knowing what it is in a conceptual way. The Christian, therefore, coincides with the human and, in this sense, every man who accepts himself is a Christian even if he does not know it. It is true that this theory is fascinating, but it reduces Christianity itself to a pure conscious presentation of what a human being is in himself and therefore overlooks the drama of change and renewal that is central to Christianity. Even less acceptable is the solution proposed by the pluralistic theories of religion, for which all religions, each in their own way, would be ways of salvation and in this sense, in their effects must be considered equivalent. The critique of religion of the kind exercised in the Old Testament, in the New Testament and in the early Church is essentially more realistic, more concrete and true in its examination of the various religions. Such a simplistic reception is not proportional to the magnitude of the issue.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

“Becoming One in Marriage”

I’ve come across Dan Allender’s work because of research I’ve been doing on sexual abuse for the book I’m writing about my wife. But separately, I’ve come to genuinely respect and admire what he has to say about marriage. I’ve listened to all of these sermons on marriage – he is both a therapist and a wise guide to the implications of and the meaning of Genesis 1-3 regarding marriage. He adheres to a literal interpretation of these passages.

“Becoming One in Marriage” Part 1:
“Becoming One in Marriage” Part 2:
“Becoming One in Marriage” Part 3:

(In the first two videos, the “church service” portions have not been edited out. Scroll to about 14:00 to see the sermon.)

“The Paradigmatic Bishops of History”: Agreement (with BOH) and Methodology

Brandon Addison has published the second and third parts of his blog series addressing the “development” of the office of “bishop” in the city of ancient Rome:

Part 1, Prolegomena:

Part 2, Agreement:

Part 3, Methodology:

Here is the original article: “The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment

Here is Bryan Cross’s 200-page dogmatic puff piece, “Bishops of History”

Why doesn't God heal autistics?

1. I'm no expert on autism. I'm not venturing specific, positive claims about autistics.  Likewise, I'm not claiming that God never heals autistics. I don't have any statistics on that one way or the other. I'm just exploring why God might not answer a prayer to heal someone with a certain kind of cognitive disability.

There are Christian parents of autistic kids. I expect most Christian parents in that situation pray for their healing. And in most cases I expect God turns them down. 

I'm sure that makes some of them mad at God. Or confused. Or they lose faith in God. 

I'm going to explore the question of whether parents who pray for healing in cases like that are making a mistaken assumption, which might explain why God declines to heal their child. 

Suppose you have a 20-year-old son (or daughter) with autism, Down syndrome, or FASD. Suppose you take your child to a faith-healer. This is what you hope for: the healer will lay hands on your child, a few moments later, God will repair the brain damage, and your grown child will suddenly be a normal young adult, as if he never had brain damage. As if he had a normal brain all along, had a normal childhood and adolescence. 

Is that realistic? Or does that overlooks something crucial? 

2. I'm a substance dualist. I think the human mind is ontologically independent of the brain. However, so long as the mind is coupled with a brain, cognitive function is largely dependent on brain function. The brain can facilitate or impede cognition. 

To take a comparison, consider someone who's high on LSD. Even if his sensory perception is unimpaired, his perception of reality is severely impaired. How he interprets sensory input is dangerously distorted. 

On the nature/nurture debate, I split the difference. I don't think we are blank slates at birth. I think we have innate character traits and instinctual know-how. But there's a lot we need to learn through experience. We're more like waffles than blank slates. A built-in structure, but to complete it you need to add the butter and syrup of the natural maturation process. 

So our cognitive development is dependent on the developing brain, and how that enables us to perceive the world and interact with the world. 

3. Suppose God heals a blind man. He could be blind in one of two ways. Maybe he as born blind, or maybe he became blind. 

Suppose he lost his vision at 15 due to brain cancer, traumatic brain injury, radiation therapy, &c. If he's healed, he will resume his former life. Pick up where he left off. 

But if he was born blind, that's a brand new experience for him. Paradoxically, even though it's hazardous to be blind, it's even more hazardous to be newly sighted. 

He can now see–indeed, he has 20/20 vision–but he doesn't know what he sees. He doesn't know what things are supposed to look like. This is the first time he's seen them. He can't gauge distances. He can't tell what's harmless from what's harmful. Indeed, even what's ordinarily safe for a normally sighted person might be dangerous for a newly sighted person. 

If he was born blind, he has coping skills. And he has a routine. But as a newly sighted, he's in a transitional phase where his old coping skills are largely useless, yet he hasn't developed alternative skills. It's riskier for a newly sighted person to cross a busy intersection than a congenitally sightless person. It's riskier for a newly sighted person to walk down a flight of stairs than a congenitally sightless person. 

If he just received his sight, it would be very dangerous to leave him unattended. Like dropping him into the middle of a mine field. 

Eventually, he will adjust, but it will take however long to get his bearings. He's having to make a fresh start. 

Although miraculous healing furnishes the missing brain structures, it won't furnish missing knowledge that's a product of the brain structures. A person whose sight was restored after he lost his vision can easily revert, because he already knows how to use his eyesight to navigate in his physical environment. But a newly sighted person lacks that preexisting know-how. 

4. Consider another comparison: suppose we transfer mind of 5-year-old into body of 20-year-old. That would be one scary 20-year-old! He'd have an adult body. And adult brain. The physical, and to some degree, the raw mental abilities, of a normal adult. 

But he'd have a 5-year-old's judgment, a 5-year-old's impulse control, a 5-year-old's emotional makeup, a 5-year-old's moral compass. 

5. Now let's circle back to the case of autism. Due to congenital brain damage, our 20-year-old may have missed some crucial steps in his moral formation and socialization. To furnish the missing brain structures won't furnish the missing judgment. He will lack normal adult judgment, because he didn't pass through the usual stages of cognitive development. To have an adult mind, conscience, social skills, and so on, is contingent on a normal process of maturation. But if congenital brain damage inhibits comprehension or empathy, then that was never acquired. 

Compare that to God healing someone with dementia. If the soul is the seat of personality, then their personality will be intact. The deteriorating brain was just an impediment. Miraculous healing would remove the clogged filter. 

But what if they never had that personality in the first place? If God miraculously healed an autistic adult, that might well result in a very dangerous adult. 

6. One objection to my explanation is that God could heal the autistic sooner. However, a problem with that objection is that developmental disabilities aren't necessarily evident early on. Ironically, some developmental delays forecast superior abilities. There's what Thomas Sowell dubs Einstein Syndrome.

You also have autistic savants, where there seems to be a tradeoff. Paul Dirac may present a related example:

7. And then there's the soul-making theodicy. Loving the disabled is a virtue that makes us better persons. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

"Homophobia" in the church

The Desiring God website recently did a post on "homophobia" in the church:

It was by a "worship pastor" (whatever that means) named Nick Roen. One question is how much editorial control Piper has over material posted at the website. Be that as it may, let's comment on some of Roen's statements:

Some may object to my use of the word homophobia. It can sometimes be used as a politically loaded term wielded to silence any and all opposition to same-sex sexual activity. 

That's an understatement! When is it not used that way?

However, this is not the root definition of the term. Simply put, homophobia means a fear of homosexuality and, more specifically, homosexual people. 

That's a classic semantic fallacy. The meaning of a word isn't based on etymology, but usage and connotations. 

Is your opposition to so-called same-sex marriage based on a principled biblical definition of marriage? Or is it more influenced by a fear that same-sex couples might signal the unraveling of comfortable cultural norms and usher in the end of a once-pristine “Judeo-Christian society”? 

i) False dichotomy, as if opposing the homosexual agenda due to its social consequences is unbiblical, or contrary to opposing the homosexual agenda because it contradicts a principled biblical definition of marriage.

ii) Opposing the homosexual/transgender agenda isn't due to fear over the unraveling of "comfortable" cultural norms. That utterly trivializes the issue. This is about protecting children from harm. Protecting minors from coercive indoctrination. Protecting straight students from persecution by administrators. Protecting women and underage youth from sexual predators. Preserving parental rights. Preserving religious freedom. Protecting Christian (and Jewish) employers or employees from state persecution. 

Does your opposition to homosexual practice include the ability to lovingly welcome LGBT people into a Sunday service or other gathering with other Christians? Or does opposition for you mean that you wish they would just stay away so you aren’t made uncomfortable by their very presence?

That's a classic example of projection. Homosexual inclination is not a visible condition. Because homosexuals may be very self-conscious about their identity, they assume other people are acutely conscious of their identity. But there's nothing about homosexual inclination, in itself, that signals that identity to observers. It's like asking whether acrophobes will be welcomed into a Sunday service. There's no reason congregants would even be aware of their acrophobia. 

A homosexual must do something to make their inclination apparent to others. For instance, introduce yourself as a homosexual. But why would you do that? Would I introduce myself as an acrophobe? If I suffer from acrophobia, that's not something I normally have occasion to discuss with strangers or mere acquaintances. My friends might not even be aware of it. 

And not because I'm ashamed of my acrophobia (assuming I have that phobia), but because it's nobody's business. 

I think part of Roen's problem is the loss of privacy. It's my impression that many younger people, raised on YouTube, social media, texting, and tabloid talk shows, have no sense of keeping things to yourself. 

Or does standing for biblical sexuality mean that they can come to church, but they can’t grow in influence or serve the body through teaching, and they should probably stay away from the youth group?

Given the homosexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, is it not prudent for them to stay away from the youth group? 

He wasn’t threatened or repelled by us; he wasn’t afraid to enter a relationship with us, sinners that we were (and still are).

i) Jesus never ordained a homosexual to be the youth pastor, or authorized homosexual adults to take minors on retreats. 

ii) Jesus could not be harmed unless he allowed himself to be harmed. That hardly sets an example for the rest of us. Should a woman walk down a dark alley at night because Jesus could do so with impunity? Jesus could get away with things that would be utterly reckless for most of us. 

Retroactive punishment

AHA is schizophrenic on the question of criminal penalties for abortion. Russell Hunter did a video in which he said murder is a punishable crime. We should treat abortion as murder. The punishment for someone who murders another human being by abortion should be the same as the punishment for someone who murders another human being with a knife or a gun. He was quite emphatic on the point:

Yet AHA been posting testimonials by women who say:

I had an abortion and I am not a victim
I am a repentant murderer redeemed by my Lord Jesus Christ.

Does AHA think that if Charles Manson was penitent, the murder charges should be dropped?

Will Abolitionist lawmakers sponsor bills to execute women who had abortions? 

It's not just a question of "punishing" women. What's the just punishment for murder? Don't conservative evangelicals generally think murder ought to be a capital crime? 

But I see AHA deny that they are referring to retroactive punishment. Why not? There's no statute of limitations on murder, and for good reason. 

Yet I also see AHA say that "If you listened to those who created the recent memes, every one of them is prepared to go and turn themselves in for the murder they have committed, once abortion is made illegal."

What is that if not retroactive punishment? 

AHA accuses prolifers of inconsistency. Doesn't seem like AHA has a consistent position. 

Dynasties and genealogies

I'd like to explore some neglected considerations regarding the compatibility of Matthew and Luke's genealogies:

1. Liberals take one of two positions:

i) Matthew and Luke are using independent, divergent traditions. There's no reason to believe either tradition is historically reliable.

ii) Matthew and Luke fabricated the genealogies. 

Conservative attempts to harmonize the two genealogies are chalked up to special pleading. 

2. Let's begin with a personal anecdote. I have a cousin who has three daughters. By definition, I'm a generation older than her daughters, yet her daughters are older than me! Sounds like a riddle. How is that possible?

My cousin and I share common ancestors in our maternal grandparents. They had 9 children, covering a 14 year spread. She and I are children of their children. 

She's about 25 years older than me, and she married at 15. As a result, her daughters were born before I was born. 

Even though I belong to the same generation as their mother, they are older than me. Seems contradictory that people who are a generation younger than me can be older than me, but that's one of those wrinkles you run across in real life. 

And you can imagine this might be confusing to a reader who didn't have all the information. Indeed, it might seem like a discrepancy! 

3. Suppose we compare two lists of people that both terminate with Queen Elizabeth II. They have a few names in common, especially towards the end. But most of the names don't match. On the face of it, these are discrepant, indeed, irreconcilable lists. Although they converge near the end, they are mostly divergent. 

But in principle, both could be correct. You see, one could be her family tree while the other could be the royal succession. One list could be genealogical while the other list could be dynastic. 

In one sense, the two lists cannot be harmonized. Most of the names don't match. Yet the two lists are indirectly interconnected because both lists are related to Queen Elizabeth. The names aren't related to each other, but to her. They both list predecessors, but two different kinds of predecessors. One list is based on biological descent while the other is based on dynastic descent. One is a list of rulers while the other is a list of ancestors. Both lists could be diagrammed as trees, but they operate on different principles. 

They can't be combined because they employ different selection criteria. Yet the two lists are mutually compatible.  

There are, of course, stretches during which biological lines and royal lines overlap. But although the royal lineage is continuous, the biological lineage is discontinuous inasmuch as dynasties may die out, or be abruptly supplanted by a rival house. Because the royal families of Europe and Great Britain intermarried from time to time, the two lists will intersect at random points. 

Now, imagine if you had a copy of both lists, but they weren't labeled. One wasn't entitled the rulers of Great Britain and the other wasn't entitled the family tree of Elizabeth II. You just had a sequential list of names. It would be very puzzling to compare the two lists. Puzzling to discern a unifying principle. You have no overarching context. Just two bare lists.

Imagine if these lists were 2000 years old. Your knowledge of that period is full of gaps. Historical records that identify names on the list are quite fragmentary. 

It would be easy to conclude that one or both lists are inaccurate, contradictory, legendary, or fabricated. Yet that would be an ignorant conclusion. 

4. Apropos (3), does "beget" language (X begat Y) entail a genealogical relationship? Not necessarily. The same language can be figurative to denote a dynastic relationship, viz. 2 Sam 7:14, Ps 2:7. God was not David's literal progenitor. 

So when we read the "genealogies" of Christ, are these consistently biological precursors, or might they sometimes be royal precursors? Keep in mind the Davidic emphasis, not only in the Matthean "genealogy," but Matthew's Gospel generally. 

5. And here's a final wrinkle. Biblical lists of people aren't necessarily arranged according to a single structuring principle or selection criterion. Take the Table of Nations (Gen 10). Is the linkage genealogical, geographical, or socioeconomic? Seems to be some of each. 

That should perhaps forewarn us not to presume that the "genealogies" of Christ in Matthew and Luke are reducible to a single type of affinity. 

Monday, April 04, 2016

“The Pardigmatic Bishops of History: Prolegomena” - Brandon Addison

Brandon Addison has completed a paper that responds to Bryan Cross’s response to his “The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment”.

He’s set up a blog in order to make the response manageable. His initial response article may be found here:

I’ll put up links as more portions of this as they become available.

Meanwhile, here are some of the conclusions from Brandon’s initial article:

I have undertaken the burden of proof in this article to prove that the church in Rome was led by a plurality of presbyters in the city which we have defined as “presbyterian.” In the second section I attempted to demonstrate that this view was not unique to Protestants and that the vast majority of well-respected Roman Catholic scholars who shared this view did so not because they had violated their interpretative paradigms, but because the evidence had persuaded them in that way.

In the third section we saw how every mention of church leadership in Scripture refers to a plurality of leaders. From Acts, the Pastorals, and 1 Peter we saw that the biblical witness always refers to leaders in the plural, often using “presbyters” and “bishops” as equivalent terms. This equivalence of “presbyters” and “bishops” was further articulated in the fourth section where the extant literature never speaks to a monarchical leader in Rome but instead to a plurality of leaders in the city.

In the fifth section I explored the historical context of the lists of bishops found in the writings of Hegesippus and Irenaeus. We determined that Hegesippus’s list was created as an anti-Gnostic polemic concerning the apostolic teaching and not concerned with the succession in the office himself. The list of Irenaeus borrows from Hegesippus’s utilization of succession lists (which Hegesippus borrowed from Judaism) and also uses a pre-existing source composed at the time of Eleutherus c. AD 180. We noted that Irenaeus’s list is either factually wrong about Peter and Paul founding the Roman church, or at least not supportive of the Roman Catholic idea of succession from Peter.

In the sixth section I gave a broad overview of the argument for fractionation of Roman Christianity as found in Peter Lampe. I then showed how the work of Roman Catholic scholar Allen Brent demonstrates the fractionation of Roman Christianity even further than does Lampe, as in the case of anti-pope Hippolytus.

Here is Bryan’s 200-page dogmatic puff piece essentially asserting Roman dogma contra Brandon – it’s this piece to which Brandon is replying.

Bad lip-synching

I've discussed Balaam's talking donkey before, but I'd like to add a few things:

1. Some unbelievers will say defending the historicity of this incident betrays the absurd lengths to which Christian inerrantists will go. How can anyone seriously defend anything that palpably ridiculous?

But that misses the point. It's like giving thumbs down to a Woody Allen comedy because it's too comedic. 

The Balaam incident is intentionally satirical. God parodies the heathen seer. Yet ridiculous things happen in real life, and there's no a prior reason why God cannot, would not, or should not perform a satirical miracle. 

2. By the same token, if we think this incident actually happened, then it's proper to explore different models. That's taking the account seriously. Even a miracle is realistic. 

3. The basic objection to animal speech goes something like this: a donkey lacks the vocal chords, as well as language centers in the brain, to utter sentences. It lacks the brain structures to send commands to the tongue and vocal chords. It cannot coordinate the tongue, teeth, lips, and vocal chords to enunciate words. Even apes lack the necessary equipment, which is why primate researchers try to teach apes sign language. 

4. Christians who defend the Balaam account often agree with unbelievers about what's required, but they say God miraculously changed the donkey to make that possible. 

Now God is certainly able to do that. But as I read it, that's not what the text says or implies. I don't think it's necessary to say that God temporarily gave the donkey a human IQ, or gave the donkey instant fluency in the Moabite language. 

The question is whether the donkey produced the sentences. I don't think so. Rather, It's preferable to think God directly produced the sentences. All that's needed is for Balaam to hear the words emanating from the donkey. 

5. Part of the issue is how we visualize the account. In the past, when movies depicted talking animals, the effect looked like bad lip-synching. And that's what it looked like because that's what it was. Photograph what an animal naturally does with its mouth, then have an actor dub the dialogue. But the mismatch is evident.

With advances in CGI, it's now possible to depict talking animals on film (e.g. Aslan) where the animal appears to be forming words like a human would. But is that the right way to visualize the Balaam incident? 

6. Consider the notion of disembodied voices. (I don't mean ghosts.) 

In the modern era, we are saturated with disembodied voices. Movies, television, telephones, audio-recordings, &c. The voice, words, sentences, have been electronically detached from the physiology of speech. The technology reproduces speech. 

Suppose you're watching actors in a movie theater. Because their speech is precisely synchronized with how they move their lips, and because we're so conditioned to viewing movies, it seems like we are hearing and seeing them speak. Like we're in the very same room with the actor, hearing words from his mouth. But that's an illusion.

We aren't hearing words issue from their mouths. Rather, audience members hear words issue from loudspeakers in the movie theater. By the same token, one might view Balaam's donkey as a kind of loudspeaker. 

7. On a related note is the question of how God speaks to people. In Scripture, there are different modes:

i) God may speak to people in dreams. That's telepathic, simulated speech.

In fact, Maimonides thought the incident regarding Balaam's donkey was a visionary audition. His donkey didn't actually speak. That's something Balaam saw and heard in a vision. Cf. Guide to the Perplexed, 2.42. 

And since Balaam was a seer, there's something to be said for that interpretation. It would also explain why Balaam takes the donkey's speech in stride. And I've discussed that interpretive option elsewhere:

But for now I wish to probe the traditional interpretation. 

ii) In angelophanies, God may use a humanoid body to communicate.

iii) But sometimes, all the person hears is a disembodied voice. In that case, God is directly producing phonemes. Causing speech waveforms. The effect of phonation. 

7. And that's one way to visualize the Balaam incident. It doesn't require the donkey to produce speech. Rather, speech is immediately produced by God, but localized in the donkey. Balaam heard words issuing from the donkey's mouth.