Monday, April 24, 2017

What's the difference between Peter Enns and William Lane Craig?

I'm reposting some comments I made on Facebook:

How is Craig's position different from Peter Enns? Is it just a difference of degree? What's the difference between evangelicalism and progressive Christianity, if any?

How is the comparison with Peter Enns a red herring? Peter Enns also jettisons OT stories. Is there a line to be drawn between Craig and Enns? Is one acceptable while the other is unacceptable? If so, what's the principle?

Craig said, "Questions about the historical reliability of these ancient Jewish texts just has [sic] no direct bearing on whether God exists…"

What God? The God of the Kalam cosmological argument? I don't object to philosophical and scientific arguments for God's existence, but these should be a supplement to the record of revelation and redemption, not a substitute.

If Craig thinks the God of Adam and Eve may be a fictional character, and if he thinks the God of Noah may be a fictional character, at what stage in OT narrative does Yahweh denote a real individual who says and does what the narratives attribute to him?

Does the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph exist? Or is that a fictional character? What about the God of Moses? 

Liberal scholars say the Exodus never happened. So what about the God of the wilderness wandering? What about the God of Joshua and Judges? What about the God of David or Daniel? At what juncture does the real God step into the picture?

Is the God whom Christians worship the same individual as the God of Abraham, David, Asaph, and Isaiah? Or is that a literary construct? 

I don't just mean a common object of belief, but whether there's a God who said and did the things that OT narratives attribute to Yahweh in reference to Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, &c. Is there a real continuous referent from OT times to NT times to modern times? Is the God whom Christians pray to the same God who spoke to Noah, Abraham, Moses, &c.? Or is that pious fiction?

Let's briefly review: in my last comment, I asked, given Craig's answer, to what degree OT theism corresponds to the God Craig believes in. After all, when the questioner pointed out how Jesus appeals to certain OT episodes, one of Craig's outs is to compare that to explicitly fictional literature. Where a hypothetical speaker was referring to an incident in Robinson Crusoe. 

I didn't infer that Craig is prepared to compare "these ancient Jewish texts" to pious fiction. Craig himself specifically presented that as one of his viable options. 

But if Gen 2-3 is fictional, then presumably Adam, Eve, and the Tempter are fictional characters. And in that event, Yahweh is necessarily a fictional character in the same story. You can't have a real speaker talking to fictional characters, who respond to a real speaker. Both speakers must either be real or fictional. You can't have a fictional dialogue with a real interlocutor, or a real dialogue with a fictional interlocutor. So it must be consistently fictional or historical. Same thing with the flood account.

So at what point does Yahweh cease to be an imaginary artifact of the narrator? Is there a sudden shift when we get to the patriarchal narratives? Of the life of Moses? Of the life of David? Where does Craig draw the line? Does he have a principled distinction? 

Moreover, on Craig's view, we can't use the example of Jesus to corroborate the historical genre of OT narratives, because another one of Craig's outs is the live possibility that Jesus was a fallible teacher. And that would apply a fortiori to other NT speakers or writers like Paul. 

Is there any historical and metaphysical continuity between the God Craig affirms and the God of St. Paul, St. Luke, St. John, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalmists, Joseph, Abraham, &c? 

What The Enfield Poltergeist Tells Us About Skeptics

Near the end of a November 23, 1977 broadcast, a BBC reporter commented that the events he was covering could be "the best-documented ghost story of all time". He was referring to the Enfield Poltergeist.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of the case, so it's getting additional attention this year because of that. MonsterTalk, a podcast of Skeptic magazine, recently ran a two-part series on the poltergeist. The first part is an interview with Guy Playfair, one of the chief investigators of the case, and the second part looks at the case more broadly from a skeptical perspective.

What I want to do in this post is recommend some resources and discuss some of the evidence pertaining to the case. In the posts that follow, I'll interact with some skeptical attempts to explain what happened. The first few of those posts will address skepticism in general. The four posts that follow will each address an individual skeptic: Chris French, Deborah Hyde, Joe Nickell, and Anita Gregory. I expect to be posting one segment in the series every two days.

The principles involved in analyzing the Enfield case are applicable to other cases as well. And it's useful to see how skeptics handle a case that's so recent and so well evidenced, involving so many events and so many witnesses.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

McGrew interview

https://soundcloud.com/the-eric-metaxas-show/lydia-mcgrew

The rightful heir

Commentators and theologians struggle with a perceived tension in John's Christology. On the one hand, John has high Christology, stressing the full divinity of Christ. On the other hand, there's the apparent "subordination" in John. Recently, I was reading an article by Richard Bauckham. After exegeting some passages in the Fourth Gospel that demonstrate the full divinity of Christ, Bauckham goes on to observe:

In the much-debated statement "the Father is greater than I" (14:28) the reference is probably to the Son's dependence on the Father's giving, not to the Son's obedience to the Father, which is not relevant to the context. The use of the term "subordination", which implies a hierarchy of rank, may therefore not be very helpful. The Johannine account implies not that the Son ranks below the Father, but that the Son owes everything to the Father. Since everything is given, there is both asymmetry (14:28) and complete commonality (16:15; 17:10). “The Trinity and the Gospel of John,” in The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance, ed. by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman (London: Inter-Varsity Press [Apollos] 2016), 110. 
We should be careful to follow the outlines of the way the Gospel actually depicts the Father-Son relationship, which does not conform in every respect to the relationship of human fathers and sons in the ancient world. A key difference is the fact that both Father and Son are eternal. In a restricted sense the Son's position resembles that of a son who has inherited his father's status and estate at the latter's death. Ibid. 110n55.

The theological metaphor of the messiah as David's heir and God's heir is a common motif in OT prophecy, viz. Pss 2; 72; 89; 110; 132; Isa 9; Dan 7. 

This metaphor is picked up in the NT, viz. Mt 21:33-46, Eph 1; Phil 2:9-11; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1, Revelation. 

Let's begin with the human analogue. A grown son is his father's natural equal. They are both adult men, with comparable natural abilities. 

In reference to royal succession, a prince is "subordinate" to the king, his father's legal inferior, unless and until the son assumes the throne. At that point he may be his father's legal peer (in a cogency), or his father's legal superior (if the king abdicates the throne in favor of his son).

The reason for royal succession is human mortality. Sometimes the prince inherits his father's throne when the king dies in office. Sometimes the king abdicates the throne to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. To insure that his designated heir will ascend to the throne–rather than a usurper. Sometimes the king makes his son coregent.

In this human legal context, if a son is an heir, then he receives something from his late father–and if he's the sole beneficiary, then he receives everything from his late father. All his royal prerogatives pass on to the son.

Another aspect of this metaphor is that only a loyal, faithful, obedient son is his father's chosen heir. A father, and especially a king, won't ordinarily leave his estate or his throne to a disloyal son. 

It's easy to see how much of this framework carries over into OT messianism and NT Christology. We see an interplay between the Son's natural status as the Father's equal, and his legal status as the Father's temporary inferior. Yet as the rightful heir, he will take his place as the Father's legal peer. 

We might also ask how much of this is literal and how much is anthropomorphic:

i) When the Son returns to the Father (Jn 17:5), this isn't just a resumption of the status quo ante, for he returns as the Incarnate Son. Something has changed. The Incarnation elevates the humanity of Christ. In addition, the Son's successful mission, and "reward," is conferred on the attached humanity.

ii) Clearly divine succession isn't dependent on the usual vicissitudes of human mortality. Just as we shouldn't think of the Father as an aging, failing monarch, it's a mistake to press the "subordination" of the Son. We need to be consistent. It's ad hoc to exempt the Father from the anthropomorphic connotations of the metaphor, but not the Son. 

iii) I think God created a world with fathers and sons, kings, princes, and heirs, as preparation for redemption. That creates a reservoir of theological metaphors which the Bible taps into.

iv) I think there's a degree of divine accommodation, where Father and Son assume roles familiar to human social relations and social conventions. That makes the nature of redemption comprehensible to human readers. 

On the one hand, it's not just a literary depiction. On the other hand, this is playacting for the benefit of the redeemed. The Trinitarian division of labor in the economy of salvation is real, but not because there's eternal, metaphysical subordination in the immanent Trinity. Rather, this is an example of divine condescension. God makes himself more accessible by coming down to our level, since we can't rise to his level.  

Apollinarianism

A while back, William Lane Craig said:

It seems you’re not familiar with my proposed neo-Apollinarian Christology in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. It was crafted precisely because I think the usual model tends to Nestorianism for the reasons you mention. On the traditional model the human soul of Christ is not a person, which I find baffling. On my model the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the soul of Jesus Christ. By taking on a human body the Logos completed the human nature of Christ, making him a body/soul composite. So Christ has two complete natures, divine and human.  
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/christological-conundrums#ixzz4eeDDRiFo

i) Craig's priorities are strange. Why does he suppose Nestorianism is worse than Apollinarianism? I think Apollinarianism is just as bad as Arianism (or Tuggy's "humanitarian unitarianism"). Nestorianism at least has the merit of preserving the two essential ingredients of the Incarnation. A Christological model that preserves both relata (divine nature, human nature) that comprise the relation, but has a deficient view of how they are interrelated, is significantly better than a Christological model that denies one relatum or the other relatum that jointly comprise the relation. Arianism and Apollinarianism represent opposing extremes. Both deny the Incarnation in opposite ways. One denies the true humanity while the other denies the true divinity.

Many Christians, including theologians, have a muddled view of the hypostatic union. That's because there's a mysterious element to the Incarnation. The real problem is when people deny the raw ingredients which feed into a biblical Christology. 

ii) In addition, I think that just as an orthodox Triadology will have a somewhat tritheistic appearance, an orthodox Christology will have a somewhat Nestorian appearance.

iii) In a sense, a Christian physicalist could make Apollinarianism orthodox since, on that view, the brain produces the mind, so that would combine a full divine nature with a divine human nature. A human body includes a brain that produces a human mind. And that would be in combination with the divine Son.

Of course, that simply relocates and parallels the complications of a substance dualistic Christology: 


human body+human (incorporeal) soul+divine Son

What's presuppositionalism?

For years there's been controversy over the correct interpretation of Van Tilian apologetics. I don't comment on this very often because I think it's usually a blind alley. 

What accounts for persistent disagreement regarding the interpretation of Van Tilian apologetics? I'm reminded of what the SEP entry on the double effect principle says: "It is not at all clear that all of the examples that double effect has been invoked to justify can be explained by a single principle."

And that may be a large part of the difficulty in pinning down Van Tilian apologetics. Perhaps it's not the outgrowth of a single overarching principle, but a family of related positions. Or maybe they're not all closely related. Maybe some elements are adventitious.

1. TAG

Considered in isolation, even though it's associated with Van Tilian apologetics, and sponsored by Van Tilian apologetics, as if that's a distinctive of Van Tilian apologetics, there's no reason why TAG couldn't be just one among a range of a priori and a posteriori theistic proofs. No reason, at this discrete level, that it couldn't be incorporated into classical  apologetics or figure in a cumulative case approach. 

2. The necessity of TAG

If, however, we take a step back and ask why TAG is said to be necessary, or why transcendental arguments generally are important or indispensable, then at that underlying level it's not just one of many theistic proofs. Rather, Van Til's contention is that we naturally take many fundamental truths for granted that are groundless unless God exists. And not mere theism, but Reformed theism. 

On that broader and deeper level, the claim is that TAG reflects a distinctive, all-embracing, and unifying orientation regarding the justification of knowledge. Without that theistic grounding, global skepticism looms large.  Even if TAG is compatible with classical theism, or a commutative case metrology, the rationale for TAG is more foundational. As the IEP entry puts it, "Transcendental arguments are partly non-empirical, often anti-skeptical arguments focusing on necessary enabling conditions either of coherent experience or the possession or employment of some kind of knowledge or cognitive ability, where the opponent is not in a position to question the fact of this experience, knowledge, or cognitive ability, and where the revealed preconditions include what the opponent questions. Such arguments take as a premise some obvious fact about our mental life—such as some aspect of our knowledge, our experience, our beliefs, or our cognitive abilities—and add a claim that some other state of affairs is a necessary condition of the first one."

On this view, even if there's nothing distinctively presuppositional about TAG, there is something distinctive about transcendental theism.

3. Reductio ad absurdum 

In addition, Van Til had a two-prong strategy for apologetic dialogue or analysis: assume their viewpoint for the sake of argument and take it to a logical extreme; have them assume the Christian (i.e. Reformed) viewpoint for the sake of argument and take it to a logical extreme. Compare and contrast their respective explanatory power or reductionism. A reductio ad absurdum or argument ad impossibile. 

(3) is related to (2). As a Calvinist, Van Til thought that for experience to be coherent, everything must happen for a reason. Every event must be coordinated in a part/whole, means/ends relation, according to a wise and benevolent master plan for the world (predestination, meticulous providence). By contrast, theological indeterminism leads to loss of ultimate coherence. Uncontrolled, uncoordinated events that are individually pointless, going nowhere. 

4. Divine incomprehensibility 

Due to his interpretation of divine incomprehensibility, Van Til didn't think it was possible to prove God directly. His intuition seems to be that if God is paradoxical, then he defies straightforward proof. 

There are other components to his overall thinking, but those are crucial features, I'd say. Is this a tight package? If you accept (2), then that commits you to (1). On the other hand, you could see the value of (1) without strong commitment to (2). 

Likewise, belief in (4) commits you to (1), and perhaps to (2), but you can see the value of (1) and or (2) without a strong commitment to (4). 

(3) is a practical strategy rather than a principle, although (3) may be a way of illustrating the contrasting alternatives implicit in (2). 


Another issue is whether transcendental arguments are, in fact, a unique kind of argument. According to the SEP entry, 

As standardly conceived, transcendental arguments are taken to be distinctive in involving a certain sort of claim, namely that X is a necessary condition for the possibility of Y—where then, given that Y is the case, it logically follows that X must be the case too. Moreover, because these arguments are generally used to respond to skeptics who take our knowledge claims to be problematic, the Y in question is then normally taken to be some fact about us or our mental life which the skeptic can be expected to accept without question (e.g., that we have experiences, or make certain judgements, or perform certain actions, or have certain capacities, and so on), where X is then something the skeptic doubts or denies (e.g., the existence of the external world, or of the necessary causal relation between events, or of other minds, or the force of moral reasons).


But couldn't some other theistic proofs be framed in similar terms? They take some generally uncontested fact like the existence of the physical world, or thinking beings, then give reasons for supposing that God supplies a necessary condition for their existence. Cosmological arguments give reasons for why God supplies a necessary condition for the possible and actual existence of the universe. Teleological arguments give reasons for why God supplies a necessary condition for certain types of natural organization. The moral argument gives reasons for why God supplies a necessary condition for moral realism. The argument from reason and argument from consciousness give reasons for why God supplies a necessary condition for consciousness and the reliability of reason.

To be sure, some people deny moral realism, &c., but then you just recast it in hypothetical terms: If moral realism is true, then that it must be grounded in God. If mathematical realism is true, then it must be grounded in God. If modal realism is true, then it must be grounded in God. The existence of something necessary is a prerequisite for the existence of something contingent. And so on and so forth. 

Perhaps they are treated as distinctive because, as originally conceived, they are epistemological theistic arguments. But is the epistemological application an exclusive kind of argument or a specific application of a more general principle? 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Medieval science fiction

http://jameshannam.com/Medievalsciencefiction.html

Chucking the OT

I'm going to comment on a recent response that Craig gave to a questioner:


When people ask me what unanswered questions I still have, I tell them, “I don’t know what to do with these Old Testament stories about Noah and the ark, the Tower of Babel, and so on.” So I find myself in the same boat as you, Jon. I don’t have any good answer how to resolve these problems. Yet these unanswered difficulties have not kept me from Christian faith or from abandoning Christian faith. Why not?

In one sense there's not much to say by way of response because Craig doesn't specify what in particular he finds problematic about these OT "stories". There is, though, a self-reinforcing factor in his attitude. Because he doesn't feel the need to take them seriously, because they're expendable for him, he hasn't made much effort to work through the perceived problems. 

Well, a large part of the reason, as you note, is that the truth of what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity” doesn’t stand or fall with such questions. “Mere Christianity” denotes those central truths of a Christian worldview. 

Although I think there might be some value in "mere Christianity" as a preliminary apologetic overture, mere Christianity is an artificial construct. A man-made sample. It's like the Jesus of scholars who presume to give us their reconstruction of what Jesus was "really" like. Christianity is not in the first instance a set of central truths but a set of central events. Events freighted with theological significance. Events leading up to Jesus, including OT history, as well as the conception and calling of John the Baptist. Then the life, death, resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. As well as apostles and prophets whom he and the Holy Spirit raised up to interpret the events and disseminate the Gospel. It doesn't begin with ideas, but with divine action in history. The truths need to track the events. Truths grounded in events. Events that include divine revelation. That's Christianity in real space and time, as God reveals it through people and events. Not a freeze-dried abstract. 

When God the mighty Maker died

Apostate Dale Tuggy attempted to respond to my analysis of his presentation:


Here's my original post:


Funny thing about Dale is that he imagines that he's really onto something. A few quick observations:

1. We need to be clear on the burden of proof. When someone posits an inconsistent triad, that's like the logical problem of evil. In disproving an inconsistent triad, it isn't necessary to defend the truth of your assumptions or definitions. The only question is whether the three propositions, as you define them, are logically mutually consistent.

2. Much of Tuggy's discussion revolves around the definition of death. 

i) There are roughly four or five different ways to define death: medical, theological, philosophical, or a popular and/or prescientific definition.

ii) When the Bible says Jesus died, or when the Bible says anyone dies, it's usually operating with a popular, prescientific definition. How people in the ancient world understood what it means for a human (or in many cases, an animal) to die. To some degree that would be a phenomenological assessment. The person stops breathing. Becomes unresponsive. You can't wake them up. 

That's a few minutes after death. With the passage of time, the body begins to decay. A stench is initial evidence. With additional passage of time the body undergoes visible decomposition. It may be infested with maggots. Eventually the body is reduced to skeletal remains.

A hot climate accelerates the process of decay, which is one reason Jews expedited burial. Another reason was ritual impurity. 

When the NT says Jesus died, it's uses the term that way.

iii) With advances in medical science, we have technical definitions of death. More methods to determine death, viz. EEG readings. 

iv) But that cuts both ways. Ironically, although medical science has more precise ways of defining death, it's complicated the concept of death. In some situations, medical science has extended the window between life and death. Some patients without "vital signs" can be resuscitated. Some patients who drown in a frozen lake can be resuscitated more than 30 minutes after they "expire". 

Some surgical techniques temporarily suspend the heart beat or brain waves. Although the patient has no "vital signs," they can be "brought back to life". That's because machinery keeps blood flowing and the body oxygenated. There's no necrosis. 

There's also the familiar phenomenon of reported near-death-experiences, including veridical examples. 

However, even with medical advances, death is often irreversible. And the corpse begins to undergo necrosis. There's a point beyond which the patient cannot be resuscitated, although it may take a while before that's evident.

v) There are theological definitions. The Bible sometimes uses "death" metaphorically for a dire moral or spiritual condition. The Apocalypse uses the "second death" as a synonym for damnation. But those are irrelevant to the issue at hand.

vi) Another theological definition uses "death" to denote the postmortem condition of the decedent. Not the process of death, or the effect on the body, but what happens to the decedent after they expire. The intermediate state. 

That involves a biblical anthropology. 

vii) Then you have philosophical definitions of death. These involve a philosophical anthropology, like physicalism or substance dualism. 

Tuggy attempted a more general definition which can be extended to immaterial beings (angels). He's at liberty to define death however he sees fit. But for purposes of an inconsistent triad, different people may define the key terms differently. His preferred definition won't be normative for them. 

And all they need is a definition that escapes logical inconsistency. They onus is not on them to show that it's true.

3. A related issue, and this is where Tuggy equivocates, is over the question of what dies. In popular usage, we typically employ identity terms. We simply say Ruth Graham died. She died. We may even say a person died. 

The identity statement isn't meant to be philosophically or anthropologically precise. Rather, we use that language for ease of reference. Ordinary language is philosophically crude.  

Now, if you happen to be a physicalist, then the identity statement is precise, because that's all there is. There's nothing more to a human individual or person than their body. On that view, the identity statement univocal. No need for further qualification. 

However, I don't think the linguistic convention intends that degree of precision. It's just a way of referring to an object, and things that happen to an object. 

When a Christian substance dualist uses the convention of identity language to say someone died, they don't mean to imply there's nothing more to the person than their body. They don't think the individual or person is constituted by their body alone. To the contrary, they think there's something essential to the person, over and above their body, that survives. 

Although it's customdary to say that when Ruth Graham's body expired, she died or Ruth Graham died, the usage doesn't imply strictly identity between Ruth Graham and her body, as if Ruth Graham just is her body, for better or worse. There is more to who or what she is than her body.

And in that qualified sense, the person or individual never died. The soul can't die. The soul is incapable of death. 

A person or individual didn't die in the sense that death is applicable to everything that constitutes a human individual or person. Rather, it only pertains to the physical component. 

4. Apropos (3), another way to define death is to say that a body is normally essential to be a part of the physical world and to interface with the physical world. To die is to be cut off from the physical world. To no longer have access to the physical world. To be unable to physically interact with other embodied agents. 

On this definition, at death, something happens to the individual or person. Something radical. In this respect, you could even say death happens to the entire individual or the whole person in the sense that death affects the condition in which they find themselves. Death has a direct impact on the body, and thereby an indirect impact on the body's possessor. 

The body is like a vehicle for the soul. Even if the engine is destroyed, the driver survives. The driver exits the nonfunctioning car. 

It's funny how often Tuggy trips over identity statements. He suffers from a persistent mental block on that issue. His inconsistent triad fails to make allowance for the elementary distinction that the same claim can both be true and false in reference to the same person, but in different respects. 

Even though Tuggy rejects the two-natures of Christ, a competent philosopher is able to acknowledge a conceptual distinction for the sake of argument. 

For instance, the same individual can both be a son and not be a son. That can even be simultaneously true. He is a son to his father, but he is not a son to his own son. It's easy to formulate specious inconsistent triads by using simplistic phrases that omit key qualifications or essential background information. 

5. Tuggy says my position contradicts how some church fathers define the human nature of Christ. But that's a red herring. 

Likewise, he brought up the tradition of an anhypostatic union in reference to the communication of attributes. But while that debate is interesting from the standpoint of historical theology and philosophical theology, it's another red herring inasmuch as I didn't frame the Incarnation in those terms. I didn't say the "one person" of God Incarnate "just is" the eternal Son or divine nature. Indeed, I reject that reductionism. 

6. Tuggy asks how I think the NT generally uses the word "God". Short answer: I think the extension of "God" is indefinite in reference to the Trinity or any particular person of the Godhead unless the context uses "God" with a more specific extension, to distinguish one divine referent from another divine referent. (I'm using "extension" in the sense of intensional logic, a la Frege and Quine, where "extension" is a synonym for reference, in contrast with meaning)

Tuggy seems to think that "God" has a default referent, synonymous with the Father, unless the context makes clear that it has a different referent. But that's circular. Our only clue that "God" denotes the Father is in passages where the context singles out the Father as the intended referent. 

There can be no evidence for a default referent, for unless the context supplies further specification, we have no additional information to justify a more definite or determinate referent. 

BTW, it's nonsensical for unitarians to refer to God as the Father. The paternal designation implies a filial designation, and vice versa. These are symmetrical, correlative designations. 

7. Tuggy recycles stock unitarian objections I've repeatedly addressed. 

The Incarnation

Consider an analogy. Take a video game designer. Suppose, for discussion purposes, that artificial intelligence is possible. Suppose the virtual characters he creates have minds of their own. 

What is more, suppose he writes himself into his own program. He creates a character that corresponds to himself. On the one hand, the character who represents the gamer has the attributes of other ordinary video characters. He's a dynamic character. He acts in real time. He interacts with the environment of the virtual world.

Likewise, the character who represents the gamer can be as intelligent as the gamer. Has the same mind as the gamer. Can know as much as the gamer. 

Conversely, the gamer can limit how much the character knows. Compartmentalize the character's knowledge. 

The gamer can confer superhero powers on the character who represents the gamer. The character may have special abilities that ordinary virtual characters lack. He can work miracles.

On the other hand, the gamer is ontologically distinct from the character who represents him. The gamer exists outside of the simulation. The gamer is not, in himself, a video character. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Making a case for the Resurrection

Over the years I've read a number of prominent Christian apologists make their case for the Resurrection. Notable examples include John Warwick Montgomery, C.E.B. Cranfield, William Lane Craig, Timothy and Lydia McGrew, Richard Swinburne, Gary Habermas, N. T. Wright, and Mike Licona. Craig in particular has been influential in making a stereotypical case for the Resurrection, based on his minimal facts strategy, that's widely copied. 

So I was thinking recently about how I'd make a case for the Resurrection if I was asked to give a presentation at church or college. 

Does science make it impossible that Jesus rose from the dead?

As a side note:

Some may find it ironic no scientists are included. However, this should be weighed against the fact that scientists aren't experts when it comes to historical or philosophical matters.

Also, given how many people today laud science and/or belittle philosophy or history, it might be worth considering a different perspective such as one from mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson:

When I grew up in the '30s, science was really unpopular. Science was responsible for the horrors of World War I, especially chemical warfare. That was so horrible and was very much on people's minds. When I was in high school, only the dumb kids would take science. If you were really capable, you'd do Latin and Greek. If you were second-rate, you would do French and German. If you were third-rate, you would do science.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!

How can it be, the one who died,
Has borne our sin through sacrifice
To conquer every sting of death?
Sing, sing hallelujah.

For joy awakes as dawning light
When Christ's disciples lift their eyes.
Alive he stands, their friend and king;
Christ, Christ he is risen.

CHORUS
Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!
Oh, sing hallelujah.
Join the chorus, sing with the redeemed;
Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.

Where doubt and darkness once had been,
They saw him and their hearts believed.
But blessed are those who have not seen,
Yet, sing hallelujah.

Once bound by fear now bold in faith,
They preached the truth and power of grace.
And pouring out their lives they gained
Life, life everlasting.

CHORUS
The power that raised him from the grave
Now works in us to powerfully save.
He frees our hearts to live his grace;
Go tell of his goodness.

CHORUS
He's alive, he's alive!
Heaven's gates are opened wide.
He's alive, he's alive!
Now in heaven glorified.

See what a morning

See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
Folded the grave-clothes, tomb filled with light,
As the angels announce, "Christ is risen!"
See God's salvation plan,
Wrought in love, borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man,
For he lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

See Mary weeping, "Where is he laid?"
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
Hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
It's the master, the Lord raised to life again!
The voice that spans the years,
Speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us,
Will sound till he appears,
For he lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty.
Honor and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with pow'r and authority!
And we are raised with him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with him,
For he lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

The trumpet shall sound (Ramey)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OM2yUH3E4JA

The trumpet shall sound (Hines)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDtZtnoPXU8

The trumpet shall sound (Howell)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtHETjybBn4

I know that my Redeemer liveth (Sutherland)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhL3sPEFC7I

Quantum gravity

Ever since the development of quantum mechanics in the 20s,  there's often thought to be two conflicting pictures of the physical world: the subatomic domain is indeterministic while the macroscopic domain is deterministic. Put another way, Relativity is deterministic while quantum mechanics is indeterministic. Despite some of the best minds in science laboring to reconcile the two theories, the conflict remains intractable. Or so I frequently read. 

In fairness, I've overstated the issue. Some interpretations of quantum mechanics are deterministic. The hidden variables interpretation is deterministic. But from what I've read, Bell's theorem, while it didn't rule out hidden variables, made life very confining for the possibility of hidden variables.

The many-worlds interpretation is deterministic. Every alternate possibility that's physically possible must play out. Hence, the multiverse. That's my understanding. 

But for whatever reason, there are prominent physicists who are dissatisfied with that interpretation.

You can also have antirealists like Stephen Hawking who don't think there's a real conflict because quantum mechanics is just a mathematical model. Likewise, I don't think Bas van Fraassen believes in "theoretical entities" like elementary particles. 

I myself don't have a stake in this issue. Physical indeterminism is compatible with theological determinism. 

What I'd like to briefly discuss is a general principle. Are physical determinism and indeterminism irreconcilable? Can both be true in different respects? 

There are, for instance, situations where the initial state may be indeterministic, but cross a threshold into determinism. For instance, the way a chess game begins doesn't predetermine how it will end. At the outset there may be an infinite number of pathways to victory or defeat. But as the game progresses many pathways are (literally) taken off the table. There comes a turning-point in the game where it's no longer for one player to win. He is bound to lose. In x number of moves, he be checkmated.

Good players can see that coming and concede defeat before it happens. So something that was initially indeterministic can become inevitable.

Another example is gridlock. At one time of day there may be multiple viable routes out of town, but if all the arterials become too congested, there comes a point where the hapless driver can't go forward, backward, right, or left. 

To take a final example: consider the floor plan for a house. Suppose you begin with square footage. Say you have 5000 sf to play with. At that initial stage the possible floor plans are endless. Could be one story, two stories, three stories. Could be square, rectangular, hexagonal, and so on.

However, as you begin to pencil in rooms, that reduces available space for additional rooms. Likewise, the location of some rooms increasingly limits where to put other rooms. As the process continues, you narrow down the range of options. There comes a point at which earlier choices select for the remaining choices. They literally squeeze out alternative configurations. 

So, as a genera principle, I don't seen an inherent conflict between physical determinism and indeterminism. But it may well be that the relationship between Relativity and quantum mechanics isn't analogous to my comparisons.

Jesus Christ is risen today


This Joyful Eastertide

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tipsbcfuB4

Divine hiddenness and evil

I'd like to briefly consider the relationship between two popular atheist arguments.

1. The first is the hoary argument from evil. This is typically presented as an inconsistent tetrad:

i) God is omnipotent

ii) God is omniscient

iii) God is benevolent

iv) Evil exists

The atheist them labors to show that in combination, these four propositions are mutually inconsistent. 

2. The other concerns the divine hiddenness argument. In particular, the claim that there exists a class of nonresistant unbelievers. These are people who don't believe in God through no fault of their own. If God did exist, there'd be no nonresistant unbelievers because God would provide sufficient evidence to convince them. 

Problem is, (2) is in conflict with (1). According to the logic of (1), God would be unworthy of reverence even if he did exist because such a God would not be good. An omnipotent, omniscient God who allows evil is not benevolent. Hence, people would be justified in withholding reverence for such a Deity. (I'm not endorsing that claim. I'm just stating the viewpoint of the atheist.) 

Now, an atheist might say there's an actual class of nonresistant unbelievers insofar as the problem of evil has yet to sink in where they are concerned. 

If, however, they were to absorb the implications of the argument from evil, they'd be resistant unbelievers, even assuming that God exists and provided them with unmistakable evidence for his existence. So these two arguments stand in conflict. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Time, times, and half a time

I'd like to make a brief observation about the experience of time. The nature of time crops up in some theological conversations. For instance, freewill theists are apt to espouse the A-theory of time rather than the B-theory of time. They say the future is open. Indeterminate. 

According to classical theism, God is timeless. Conversely, some freewill theists say God entered time at the moment of creation or the moment of the Incarnation.

You also have debates about mature creation. For instance, Gosse distinguished between prochronic time and diachronic time. 

Let's take a comparison. Suppose a video gamer designs a dynamic, interactive story. This story involves three different times. To begin with, the virtual characters are dynamic. The plot unfolds in real time. Scenes change from one timeframe to the next. There's a flow of time.

In addition to the actual temporal succession, the plot may unfold according to a calendar. Events happen on particular days or time of day. Events occur in particular years. So the characters operate within a chronological framework. 

Suppose, for instance, the game is set in the middle ages. Suppose the game is a reenactment of the Song of Roland. 

In that case, there are two different times or temporal perspectives or temporal levels. There's the real time flow of events. How long it actually takes for a character to say or do something in the game. Then there's the assigned chronology of their historical period.

Finally, you have the timeframe of the gamer, who exists outside the simulation. For instance, he will design the game in advance. He will then activate the game. 

The internal chronology of the story and the real time succession of events don't strictly map onto each other. There's a distinction between narrative sequence and actual succession.

Suppose the virtual characters are artificially intelligent. From within their experience, from within the simulation, could they distinguish real time from calendar time? 

A Selection of Presuppositional Arguments

"A Selection of Presuppositional Arguments" by Prof. James Anderson.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Easter Hope

https://blog.logos.com/2017/04/understanding-ancient-history-uncovers-hope-easter/

Peter Enns on apparent age

“Apparent age” means that God created the cosmos to look billions of years old when in fact it is only a few 1000 years old.  
http://www.peteenns.com/god-did-not-create-the-cosmos-with-apparent-age-3-reasons/

That's a misleading way of putting it. Mature creation isn't like antiquing an object to make it look older than it really is by artificial means. Rather, the theory of mature creation is that to create anything ex nihilo is to go from absolutely nothing to something concrete, thereby skipping over what would normally be the intervening stages in a cyclical process to arrive at that instantaneous result.  Once a cycle is in place, there's a continuum to how things come into being, persist, and cease to exist. But creating the initial conditions is discontinuous with the status quo. 

You may still reject mature creation, but you need to be clear on what the position represents.  

The Titanic

I recent exchange I had on Facebook:

Smith 
What "evidence" is there that the Holy Spirit actually exists? I mean this as a serious question because when I was "saved" at 10, I did not feel any supernatural force guiding me, nor have I ever that I am aware of. It was a decision in my brain that caused me to walk the aisle and tell the preacher I wanted to be saved. How can anyone discern any difference between a conscience and the Holy Spirit? There doesn't seem to be a clear distinction. And shouldn't we KNOW with a significant degree of certainty that we are being led by this supernatural guide? 

Hays 
Ray, decisional evangelism and the alter call are 19C theological innovations that have nothing to do with the Biblical theology of conversion. So you're using the wrong standard of comparison. That's pop folk fundamentalist theology.

In terms of supernatural guidance, a better example would be unambiguous cases like premonitory dreams.

Smith 
Steve, how do you know a dream is from the Holy Spirit?

Hays 
If a dream were to come true, then it's revelatory. That would be a veridical, supernatural dream.

Smith 
Steve, if a dream comes true, it may be a random coincidence, which I contend is much more probable than someone having a dream that predicts the future.

Also, you can't just count the hits and ignore the misses. How many dreams has the person had that did not come true? Most likely more dreams do not come true than do come true.

Hays 
Whether it's a random coincidence depends on the specificity of the details and/or the antecedent improbability of the event.

As a matter of fact we can just count hits and ignore misses. Misses simply mean something didn't happen. The fact that something didn't happen hardly subtracts from something that did happen. A nonevent isn't counterevidence, but nothing at all. It does nothing to obviate evidence for something. The fact that most cruise ships don't hit an iceberg and sink hardly makes the sinking of the Titanic less credible.

Smith 
But it makes the sinking of the Titanic less probable because you know that on say 99 trips, the ships did not hit an iceberg. So you could estimate that 1% of cruise ship trips result in hitting an iceberg.

Misses are events. I'm sure you know how batting averages are calculated.

If a person has 99 dreams that do not come true, those are misses and they do count.

Hays 
i) Why is the abstract probability of the Titanic accident relevant when we have evidence that it sunk? Do you really think we need to counterbalance the evidence that it hit an iceberg and sank against mathematical improbabilities? No one says, let's begin with the mathematical odds of a cruise ship hitting an iceberg and sinking. Let's put that on one side of the scales. Then let's put news reports of the Titanic accident on the other side of the scales, and see which tips the scales. No, we just go with the evidence that the Titanic sunk.

ii) Swinging a bat and missing the ball is an event. That's quite different from something that didn't happen.

Most dreams don't come true because most dreams aren't premonitory in the first place. That's a red herring. Most dreams are not about the future. You can only miss what you're aiming for. There's no presumption or expectation that dreams in general are supposed to be revelatory or premonitory, but 99 times out of a 100, they fail to envision the future. The presumption, rather, is that most dreams are ordinary, imaginary mental events. What distinguishes a premonitory dream is precisely that it's not normal in that regard.

iii) Problem is we need some criterion to distinguish a coincidence from what's not a coincidence. Atheists are intellectually lazy about that. They play the coincidence card, but of course, but they also need some criterion to rule out events that are not coincidental. Otherwise, their appeal is ad hoc.

Rebecca 
I had a series of dreams recently about hot air balloons (never been in one, and no reason to dream about them). In a short space of time, two separate people (who didn't know each other) mentioned hot air balloons to me specifically relating it to the meaning of my dream. They didn't know I had been dreaming about hot air balloons. Coincidence?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Removing the roof

I generally avoid debates over apologetic method because they rarely get beyond methodology. Having worked out my own philosophy of apologetics years ago, I just do it. Since, however, I keep running into the same stale objections, it it's sometimes useful to revisit the issue. Here's a recent exchange I had. Facebook exchanges tend to be choppy, so I've rearranged the order of comments to tighten the flow of argument:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wood reviews The Case for Christ

In addition to his other talents, it turns out that Wood is a comedic impressionist:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0wcyqjwQj0

The intercession of Christ

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25).

This is a deceptively simple verse. 

A. The first clause could mean two different things:

1. It might have a modal or qualitative meaning. It might mean Christ is able to completely save those who come to him. Not just assisting them in their pilgrimage. Not just a necessary condition. Rather, what he provides is all-sufficient to ensure their salvation. 

And that interpretation can be supported by the general theology of Hebrews, which lays great stress on the sufficiency and finality of the atonement, in contrast to the deficient nature of the old covenant. Moreover, the efficacy of the atonement is grounded in something absolute–the power of an indestructible life (Heb 7:16).

This might complement the temporal meaning (see below). Because the atonement is intrinsically sufficient, it's sufficient for now and for eternity. 

2. Or it might have a temporal or quantitative meaning: "for all time". Christ is always available to save those who come to him. And that interpretation receives support from the next clause. 

Moreover, the quantitative meaning can, in turn, have two different senses or applications:

i) It might refer to the same recipients. For instance, Christians remain sinners, so throughout life they never cease to need the redemptive work of Christ to atone for their sins: past, present, and future. Even–or especially–in heaven, the saints will never face the prospect of divine judgment. 

ii) Or it might have futuristic orientation. Perhaps it refers to future generations. Christ isn't merely alive to save Christians who were contemporaneous with the author of Hebrews, but Christians throughout the course of church history. On that view, Hebrews includes a futuristic eschatology.  

That's a sense in which the work of Christ can be both finished and continuous. 

B. The second clause could mean two different things:

1. It might have general reference to divine intervention. For instance, Jesus responding to petitionary prayer. 

And that interpretation has support from the general theology of Hebrews, which stresses God's providential preservation of the faithful, as they face trials and tribulations. Indeed, it is God who keeps them faithful (e.g. 2:18; 4:16). 

2. It might have specific reference to the application of the atonement. 

And that interpretation has support from the general theology of Hebrews, with its focus on the priestly office of Christ (vv26-28; 1:3; 2:17; 9:26,28).

(1) and (2) are complementary. Jesus sits at the right hand of God (1:1-14), so he can dispense favors. Moreover, he's not merely a priest, but a sympathetic priest. He knows firsthand what his people face (2:10-18; 4:14-16). His humanity and deity combine to make him an ideal intercessor. Omnipotent and empathetic.  

Finally, it's unnecessary to choose between these interpretation options, since they all have a foundation in the overall theology of Hebrews, and there's no antecedent reason to suppose the author felt the need to exclude those truths. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Regarding Christ according to the flesh

Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer (2 Cor 5:16).

What does Paul's cryptic comment mean? Here's a possibility: On the one hand there were thousands of Palestinian Jews, as well as however many Samaritans and gentiles, who heard Jesus preach, saw him work wonders and cast out demons. Yet many of them were his enemies. Indeed, some members of the Sanhedrin probably knew Jesus according to the flesh (in that sense), yet voted for his execution. Not to mention the lynch mobs who attempted to stone him or demanded that Pilate crucify him. So even firsthand knowledge of Jesus doesn't automatically save a person.

On the other hand, precious few Christians in churches planted by Paul had firsthand knowledge of Jesus. Living on mainland Greece, they didn't hear Jesus preach, see him work wonders and cast out demons. Yet they could be saved without knowing Jesus according to the flesh (in that sense). 

The perspicuity of Scripture

I'd like to comment on a neglected consideration in debates over the clarity of Scripture. The perspicuity of Scripture is a favorite target of Catholic apologists. If Scripture were all that clear, why so many competing interpretations? Sometimes atheists get in on the game. 

Many commentators and theologians operate from the unquestioned assumption that every statement of Scripture is supposed to have a singular meaning. Hence, the goal of exegesis is to ascertain that singular meaning. If it's hard to choose between two well-argued interpretations, then the aim of exegesis is frustrated. 

On this view, if you have two well-matched interpretations, then Scripture was either unclear, or it may have been clear to the original audience, but there's a missing piece of information which modern readers lack.

Now, in many cases, I'm sure Bible writers only intended a singular meaning. But I think it's dubious to make that a general or universal operating principle. My point is not to replace one presumption with the opposite presumption.

In some cases, or perhaps in many cases, we may have studied ambiguity. By that I mean, a Bible writer may deliberately make a statement that can be taken in two different ways. If you think about it, that's an efficient mode of communication. Rather than having to make two different statements to convey two different ideas, one statement can convey two different ideas.

Notice I said "different", not "divergent". Like a double entendre. For instance, that's a common feature in John's Gospel.

Or it may not so much be that they were intentionally ambiguous. Rather, if, in his own mind, a Bible writer thinks both senses are true, there's no overriding reason to word his statement to specify one meaning to the exclusion of another. 

But the ambiguity wouldn't be unclear in the sense that a writer failed to express what he really meant. To the contrary, in these cases he meant to leave it somewhat open-textured because both interpretations are true to what he intended to convey. He didn't word his statement to rule out an alternative interpretation so long as that's theologically true.

On this view, to accuse the text of lacking clarity reflects a gratuitously reductionist assumption on the part of the reader. An insistence that the text is supposed to be univalent rather than polyvalent. But in some instances, the reader may be guiltt of imposing that assumption on the text, despite the author's intention.

i) I think it's good for commentators to first see if there's one clearly superior interpretation. If, however, they can't narrow it down to that degree, they should be open to the possibility that both interpretation options may be original and equally valid. 

ii) That won't work for mutually exclusive interpretations. Both interpretations must be mutually consistent.

iii) Moreover, consistency is an insufficient criterion. There must be evidence in the text and context that the author may well have had that idea in mind.