Saturday, August 20, 2016

Carrier's snow job, part 2

Here's a sequel to my previous post:

In this post I'm commenting on Carrier's self-serving debate postmortem:

he argues these Gospels must be telling the truth because they “exhibit extensive and compelling verisimilitude,” which is the same thing as saying Mike Hammer novels are really realistic and get all sorts of cultural and historical facts right, therefore Mike Hammer existed. The fallacy is palpable. 
It’s entirely possible John correctly describes the location of the pool, that it was indeed five porticoed, was named as he said, was a healing site, and near the sheep gate (the location of which archaeology has not identified). But this information would have been available in reference books and histories of Judea, and in other stories and legends of events there, and known to countless persons who had lived there in later decades (like Josephus, for example). That the authors of John knew the layout of Jerusalem therefore tells us nothing about whether they had any eyewitness information pertaining to Jesus, or any historical information about Jesus at all.
But even what little verisimilitude the Gospels have is moot. To get Jewish culture and geography right only requires being Jewish or knowing or reading any informed Jew, especially someone who grew up in that time and place, or wrote about it—like Josephus, who did both.
That the Gospels, like many myths and legends and other varieties of historical fiction in antiquity, get some incidental cultural and historical details right, is not evidence that Jesus existed.
Matthew knew these better and repairs Mark’s mistakes, but not from being a better witness to Jesus, but just being a more informed Jew. Hence correcting these errors and getting them right has no connection to having any special knowledge of Jesus. It just means an author knew the Holy Land and Jewish laws and customs better. Luke, meanwhile, gets his details of the region from the Jewish historian Josephus (and probably, in the same way, other historians now lost, for other regions discussed in Acts). And John has been edited out of order so hopelessly it’s actually of little use geographically (see OHJ, Chapter 10.7), and he says nothing about customs that wasn’t common knowledge among Jews. So there really isn’t anything remarkable about these books using common knowledge and reference books to set their scenes.
i) That poses a central dilemma for Carrier. On the one hand, to discount the historicity of the Gospels, he must insist that these were written too late to be in touch with living memory. On the other hand, to account for the historical accuracy of the Gospels, he must insist the authors did have access to informants from that time and place. Carrier can't straddle that fence. He will falling over one side or the other. 

ii) Sure, it's possible to write accurate historical fiction. There are two or three ways to do that. If the novelist lived at that time and place. But Carrier denies that with respect to the Gospel writers.

Or if the author had access to informants who lived at that time and place. But if Carrier concedes that in reference to the Gospel writers, then he can't exclude testimonial evidence to the historical Jesus. 

iii) I'm also curious about his casual appeal to "reference books and histories of Judea". Really? He thinks a Gospel writer, after the Jewish War, could just go a local library or local bookstore to consult a tour book on Jerusalem or Palestine before the fall of Jerusalem? 

Already the non sequitur is obvious. But it’s worse, because there is little else in the Gospels that is so specific. And indeed much that is erroneous.
His Argument from Second Century Historians is basically that historians a century after the fact say Jesus existed, therefore he did. The same historians who did not know anything about Jesus except from what Christians told them—Christians who were relying on the Gospels. So his argument is: later historians repeat the fact that Christians a century later said Jesus existed, therefore Jesus existed. This is a non sequitur. No second century historian gives any indication they had any means of knowing whether the man depicted in the Gospels actually existed or not. 

What makes Carrier assume that someone like Papias or Polycarp had no direct knowledge of Christ's disciples? Likewise, the chain from John to Irenaeus. 

They were two or more lifetimes removed from the pertinent events, and mention no access to any documents or witnesses or memoirs to guide them.

As a teenager, my mother knew a great-aunt who came to live with her parents in her old age. Her great-aunt was born in 1842. I'm writing in 2016. In that respect, there's just one link between me and my great-great aunt. Likewise, my father's grandfather was a Civil War vet. I know because he used to tell my father war stories about his experience. In that respect, there's just one link between me and my great-great grandfather. Because generations overlap, living memory can span a considerable interval. 

We have no eyewitnesses to the historicity of Jesus, and no author who claims he existed on earth has shown that they had any credible access to eyewitnesses. In fact, none even claim they did—except the authors of the Gospel of John, and their witness is a fabrication (OHJ, pp. 500-05; fabricating witnesses was common in ancient mythography: Alan Cameron has a whole chapter on it in Greek Mythography in the Roman World).

Richard Bauckham will be publishing an expanded edition of his classic monograph on Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Paul, the only source we have who definitely wrote in less than an average lifetime after when Jesus would have lived…

The "average lifespan" is a statistical mean that's diluted by high child mortality in the ancient world. But people who survived childhood could have a normal lifespan. Consider the church fathers (excluding those who died prematurely from martyrdom). 

One (Luke) outright denies it and conspicuously does not mention having access to any eyewitnesses, only to the previous Gospels, none of which written by eyewitnesses nor citing any.

Luke doesn't say his research was confined to previous Gospels. And it's clear from Acts that Luke had a wide range of contacts, including founding members of the Jerusalem church. 

The earliest (Mark) cites no sources at all, and was clearly not himself an eyewitness, and never mentions knowing or speaking to any.

i) How is it "clear" that Mark was not an eyewitness to any of the events he narrates? And if he was an eyewitness, then we wouldn't expect him to cite sources.

ii) Moreover, Carrier is duplicitous. Even if Matthew, Mark, or Luke either claimed to be eyewitnesses or cite eyewitnesses, Carrier would preemptively discount their testimony as fabricated. 

And Matthew just copied Mark verbatim…

Matthew sometimes simplifies Mark to make room for Matthew's supplementary material. So it's not verbatim. The fact, though, that Matthew is so conservative in his use of Mark demonstrates his fidelity to his sources. He doesn't take historical liberties with Mark.

and expanded and revised him with more speeches many of which many scholars agree were composed afterward and thus did not come from eyewitnesses (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount is an original composition in Greek written after the Jewish War: OHJ, pp. 465-67). 

That's nothing more than a tendentious assertion. Incidentally, it's funny how Carrier reprimands Evans for appeal to scholarly consensus, yet Carrier is quick to invoke scholarly consensus when it serves his own purpose. 

Nor would an eyewitness just copy verbatim the book of a non-witness and pass it off as their own testimony… 

A strawman inasmuch as Matthew doesn't just copy verbatim Mark's account. In addition to the material that Matthew and Luke derive from Mark, they include some distinctive parables. Yet the parables of Jesus constitute evidence for the historical Jesus:

And much of what Matthew adds to Mark is sufficiently ridiculous as to rule out his having or using eyewitness sources at all (like magical stars: 2:9-11; virgin births: 1:18-25...

That's only ridiculous of you presume miracles are ridiculous

zombie hordes: 27:52-53; 

These are no more "zombies" than Lazarus restored to life (Jn 11). "Zombie" instantly triggers associations with Hollywood horror films. That's not an accurate comparison. It's just an applause line for Carrier's sycophants. 

flying monsters from outer space: 28:1-8; etc.).

An angel is a "flying monster from outer space"? That's hardly an accurate description. Rather, it's another applause line for his groupies. 

Carrier's snow job, part 1

Last Spring, Richard Carrier debated Craig Evans:

In this post I'll comment on that debate. Carrier also posted a self-serving analysis of the debate which I will comment on in a sequel post:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Ten Problems with Presuppositionalism"

I'm going to comment on this:

According to his profile, John Partain is a philosophy prof. According to the Frame/Poythress website, he used to teach at Covenant College. 

I won't directly respond to all ten points. That's because his 10-point critique is very redundant. He repeats the same objections, based on his systematic misrepresentation of presuppositional apologetics. 

1. I don't know how much he's read about presuppositionalism. In his post he only mentions two sources: a 32-page booklet, and a single book by Van Til: A Survey of Christian Epistemology. There's no evidence that he's read John Frame's Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief, or books and articles by Vern Poythress and James Anderson, in which they engage in presuppositional apologetics. He seems to be unacquainted with the most astute exponents of the position he presumes to critique. It's a dereliction of his professional duties for a philosophy teacher to be so uninformed about the position under review. 

2. One insight of presuppositionalism is that apologetics can argue from Christian theology as well as for Christian theology. That's because some Christian presuppositions have independent explanatory power. You don't need to be a Christian to appreciate that fact. That's not an appeal to authority. Rather, you need to be shown the explanatory power of certain Christian presuppositions. That's not a circular argument, for the exercise is to demonstrate how certain Christian presuppositions can account for facts in a way that atheism is deficient or counterproductive. That's what astute presuppositionalists like Vern Poythress and James Anderson do in some of their writings.

3. Another insight of presuppositionalism is that when engaging unbelievers, we need to point out how much they take for granted. They have many residual beliefs that are inconsistent with their overall worldview. Although they still entertain many true beliefs, their worldview is unable to warrant their true beliefs. 

4. Even if we confine ourselves to Van Til, the noetic effects of sin are to some degree offset by common grace. Unbelievers are capable of understanding truth in general, including theological propositions in particular. The problem isn't a lack of understanding, but a lack of sympathy. Unbelievers are resistant to unwelcome truths. 

In fact, it's because they can understand theological truths that they reject them. They are hostile to the message.

5. We need to avoid overgeneralizing about unbelievers. They range along a continuum. Many unbelievers don't reject Christianity. They don't know enough about Christianity to reject it. What they think they know about Christianity is piecemeal. Based on hostile, secondhand sources. What they think they reject isn't Christianity, but a malicious and ignorant caricature of Christianity.

Some unbelievers are receptive to the gospel. They are just waiting to be evangelized. At the other end of the spectrum are intellectual atheists who've developed elaborate rationalistic objections to Christianity. In that case, it's necessary for a Christian apologist to remove intellectual obstacles to Christian faith. 

Common ground is person-variable. How much common grounds is there between John Partain and John Dominic Crossan?

6. Presuppositionalism doesn't deny that unbelievers can and do know truth in general. It doesn't deny that they can grasp theological propositions. 

Rather, the distinction is between what unbelievers can know and what unbelievers can justify. Given their worldview, unbelievers know many truths for which they are unable to provide an epistemic justification. 

7. It's bizarre for Partain to suggest that Scripture is sufficient for apologetics. That's an appeal to authority, an authority which unbelievers deny. Unbelievers often raise scientific, philosophical, and historical objections to the veracity of Scripture. Therefore, you can't just quote the Bible. 

For instance, unbelievers typically reject miracles. They raise scientific objections to miracles. They appeal to the explanatory power of secular science. The success of naturalistic explanations. They say that "by definition," a supernatural explanation is the least likely explanation. Hence, any naturalistic explanation, however improbable, is more probable than a supernatural explanation. 

Therefore, a Christian apologist must make a case for the credibility of miracles. That's a presuppositional issue. A philosophical issue. 

By the same token, many unbelievers raise moralistic objections to the Bible. So it's necessary for a Christian apologist to discuss metaethics. Can atheism justify moral realism?

Likewise, some unbelievers say you can't establish the general historical reliability of the Gospels because a true historian must operate with methodological atheism, which automatically discounts the supernatural incidents in the Gospels. Any historical residual will eliminate miracles. 

Therefore, a Christian apologist must challenge methodological atheism. That's a presuppositional issue. A philosophical issue. 

Moreover, evidentialist apologists don't just quote the Bible. Rather, they attempt to make a case for the general historical reliability of the Gospels. For instance, they appeal to archeological confirmation. Likewise, "classical apologetics" doesn't just quote the Bible. Indeed, classical apologetics tends to focus on natural theology. 

Finally, his insistence on common ground conflicts with his insistence on the sole sufficiency of Scripture. For unbelievers, Scripture is disputed ground, not common ground.

8. I don't see that presuppositionalism is committed to a coherence theory of truth to the exclusion of a correspondence theory of truth. Why treat coherence and correspondence theories of truth as mutually exclusive? Shouldn't theories of truth be suited to the nature of the truths in question? If, say, it's a belief about a state of affairs, then that's more suited to a correspondence theory. If, however, it's about the interrelationship between two or more beliefs, then that's more suited to a coherence theory. 

What's the relation in question? A relation between a belief about the world and the world? Or a logical relation between one belief and another? If two beliefs, or propositions, are mutually inconsistent, then they can't both be true. 

Moreover, the correspondence theory of truth is complicated. It's odd that a philosophy prof. like Partain relies on dictionary definitions and Nicole's "The Biblical concept of Truth." Compare that to philosophical models of the correspondence theory:

9. The apostles and prophets operate within a theological framework. Indeed, that's often set in explicit contrast to paganism. Theological presuppositions undergird the gospel. Presuppositions about the existence and nature of God. God's activity in the world. 

10. If Christian presuppositions are true, then the only "relativism" which presuppositionalism affirms is that truth is relative to truth. What's wrong with that? Presumably, Partain concedes that Christian presuppositions are true. 

11. Evidential apologetics can be just as technical or philosophical as presuppositional apologetics. Take the Bayesian evidentialism of Richard Swinburne, Timothy and Lydia McGrew. When you get into the weeds, that quickly becomes highly technical and philosophical. 

Or take The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Consider Pruss on the Leibnizian cosmological argument, Collins on the fine-tuning argument, Craig and Sinclair on the kalam cosmological argument. Once again, these get very technical. 

12. Although transcendental argumentation is a distinctive feature of presuppositional apologetics, it's not an exclusive alternative to traditional arguments. Presuppositionism is compatible with the cosmological argument, teleological argument, argument from prophecy, argument from miracles, argument from religious experience, &c. Van Til's contribution is, in part, to draw attention to what had been a neglected line of argument in Christian apologetics. But using transcendental arguments for God's existence doesn't preclude you from using other kinds of arguments. 

13. It's odd that Partain accuses presuppositionalists of being too philosophical at the expense of biblical authority when most critics of presuppositionalism accuse it of begging the question by putting too much emphasis on biblical norms. 

14. "When it comes to knowing reality, presuppositions are like glasses cemented to our faces. We cannot see God or other persons or anything else outside of us directly but only indirectly through the conceptual framework or presuppositional state of the mind."

That's simplistic. On the one hand, humans are born with natural glasses. God designed our minds. On the other hand, humans can rebel against God by making tinted glasses glasses that filter out God. Take village atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, or sophisticated atheists like Theodore Drange, Graham Oppy, Jordan Sobel, Richard Gale, William Rowe, and W. V. Quine, or nominal Christians like Rudolf Bultmann and Schleiermacher. Although unbelievers can see without their tinted glasses, they refuse to do so. It's possible for unbelievers to compare and contrast the view using their natural glasses with their tinted glasses, but some of them are unwilling to remove their tinted glasses. 

15. It's unclear what Partain's alternative is. In contrast to presuppositional apologetics, evidential apologetics and classical apologetics are subject to some of the same objections he raises to presuppositional apologetics. His position is unstable. When you argue from the Bible, viz. the argument from prophecy or the argument from miracles, it will be necessary to go beyond the Bible. For instance, the argument from prophecy requires you to establish that the oracle is prior to the fulfillment. That will get you into debates over the date of the sources containing the oracle. Likewise, to establish fulfillment may require appeal to archeological confirmation. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


This is a sequel to my previous post:

i) Unbelievers mock the "talking snake" in Gen 3. Suppose a foreigner was reading a newspaper account of the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, or Jacksonville Jaguars. He might be perplexed by how the reporter personifies animals. He'd be shocked at how superstitious Americans are. We actually believe in talking tigers and cougars! Americans are so backward!

My point is that just because a story, even a true story, refers to a talking animal, that doesn't ipso facto mean it's actually a talking animal. People sometimes use animal names to designate humans. And not just "primitive" people. Modern people name sports teams after aggressive animals. Likewise, consider some nicknames for military units: Screaming Eagles, Hellcat, Red Bull.

The motivation is to associate a human or humans with desirable animal traits. You want sports teams and military units to be aggressive, so you name them after predatory animals. 

(Admittedly, Oregonians name football team after ducks and beavers. No wonder they lose so often. How can you expect a team that's named after a big bucktoothed vegetarian rodent to win?) 

ii) This doesn't mean the Tempter in Gen 3 can't be a talking snake. But the mere fact that it has an animal name doesn't create that presumption. Consider names like Wolfgang and Beowulf. That doesn't mean the named individual is a werewolf. 

iii) Serpentine mythology is very ancient. Consider Australian depictions of the Rainbow snake–or the snake column at Göbekli Tepe, in Neolithic art. 

In addition, serpentine mythology is geographically diverse. Snakes have diverse features that give rise to diverse mythological roles.

For instance, shedding skin makes them a symbol of rebirth and immortality. Conversely, venom makes them a symbol of death and the underworld. Consider the fire-breathing cobras guarded the netherworld in Egyptian mythology, or gorgons in the netherworld of Greek mythology. The Egyptian Book of the Dead contains spells to ward off snakes. 

Consider Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent, and Xiuhcoatl, the fire serpent, in Mesoamerican mythology. This may be based on indigenous species like the coral snake, bushmaster, fer-de-lance, and rattlesnake. But it may also be a carryover from their countries of origin. When ancient people migrated to the New World, they imported their heathen outlook.  

For the original audience, the "talking snake" in Gen 3 would evoke familiar connotations with ancient Near Eastern heathenism. Yet it's been demoted from a god to an accursed creature. 

A Christian response to transgenderism

Parenting tips for Scripturalists

Scripturalists (i.e. disciples of Gordon Clark) reject sense knowledge. This raises some intriguing questions about child-rearing.

Suppose you live in snake country. Timberback rattlesnakes are prevalent in your location. Their skin has patchwork patterns and colorations that blend into the background. That's advantageous for an ambush predator. It also affords them some protection against predators. 

If a Scripturalist was raising curious young boys in snake country, would he warn them about rattlesnakes? Would he show them the different markings that distinguish a King snake from a rattlesnake? 

Scripturalists regard vision as an unreliable source of information. And in the case of camouflage, that's designed to deceive the senses.

Does the fact that camouflage is designed to deceive the senses mean vision is useless is that situation? Or does it mean we need to take special precautions to avoid stepping on a rattlesnake? Is the fact that vision is even less reliable under these conditions than normal conditions reason to be more alert? 

Would you warn your kids not to play in piles of fallen leaves where rattlesnakes might be hiding? Would you warn your kids to be careful about walking over logs, where a rattlesnake might be lurking on the other side? Likewise, would you warn them to be careful about rattlesnakes under the car or under the porch?

If you can't tell the difference between a coiled rope and a coiled snake, would you instruct them to first touch it with a long stick–to stay out of striking range in case it's a rattlesnake? 

Or would you say such precautions are irrational given the "fallacy of induction"? 

Supporting Stalin to oppose Hitler

One argument that conservatives like Dennis Prager use to elicit support for Trump in the general election is to claim that it's analogous to an alliance with Stalin to defeat Hitler. There are, however, some basic problems with that comparison:

i) Historical comparisons tend to be very loose analogies. Often, past and present circumstances are quite different. 

ii) More to the point, the comparison is relative to your viewpoint. If, during WWII, you were an Englishmen, or a Jew, or a member of the French Resistance, or a member of the Italian Resistance, then defeating Hitler is your number one priority. He poses a direct and urgent threat. An existential threat to your national survival or ethnic survival. 

Empowering Stalin is very dangerous, but that's a battle for another day. If you don't beat Hitler, you won't survive to fight another day. So that comes first.

iii) If, however, you're a Russian, Central European, or Eastern European, then you might assess the relative threat very differently, especially if you happen to be prescient. It's a choice between different sets of victims. There's some overlap, but Russians, Central and Eastern Europeans had more to lose from Stalin than Western Europeans. 

And even if Hitler won, Germany would be a severely overextended empire. Given how many young German men died in the war, how could Germany muster an effective occupation force to police its empire–assuming it won? 

My point is simply that the comparison between Hitler and Stalin is provincial. In the nature of the case, it's more appealing to prospective victims of Hitler than prospective victims of Stalin. 

The point of the comparison is to illustrate the choice between bad and worse. But worse for whom? For many Russians and Eastern bloc countries, Stalin was a worst-case scenario. Was the Soviet Empire better for them than a Third Reich?

Is inerrancy an impediment?

A common knock against inerrancy is that inerrantists can't produce "real" scholarship because their a priori commitment to inerrancy precludes them from asking certain questions or considering certain answers. "Real" scholarship is open-ended. Nothing is out of bounds.

Before getting to my main point, I'd like to make a few preliminary observations:

i) There's a lot of groupthink in "critical" Bible scholarship. Although there's the occasional maverick who bucks critical consensus on some particular issue (e.g. Cyrus Gordon, C. B. Caird, Luke Timothy Johnson, J. A. T. Robinson, Dale Allison, Martin Hengel), that's conspicuous by its rarity. 

Take Peter Enns. When does he ever say anything that's surprising for a liberal Bible scholar? When does he ever present an explanation or interpretation that's unexpected? Didn't think so. 

ii) By their own logic, liberals can't produce "real" scholarship because of their a priori commitment to methodological atheism precludes them from asking certain questions or considering certain answers. The main character in Scripture is a God who talks to people and intervenes in human history. Yet liberal scholarship denies that in advance. So it's like staging Hamlet without Hamlet. Edit out the main character. 

Indeed, in addition to God, Scripture also contains people who say God spoke to them, and people who perform miracles. Again, liberals deny that in advance. They systematically reinterpret a religious text irreligiously. 

So it's not just God that they edit out. They edit out Biblical prophets and miracle-workers. Like staging Hamlet, but leaving out Hamlet, Ophelia, Yorick, and Gertrude.  

iii) Now to my main point. I was reading John Goldingay's commentary on Genesis (chaps. 1-16). Although he's liberal, ever so often, even liberal scholars may say something insightful. But I was struck by how thin his interpretation is. So prosaic. 

To be sure, it's pitched to a popular audience, so he doesn't have the space to go into detail. However, Derek Kidner had half the space, yet he packs far more insight into far less space. 

I think the source of Goldingay's problem is that, given his low view of Scripture, he doesn't find much because he doesn't expect much. If you think these are merely human documents, then your shovel strikes deadpan in just a few inches. Given human limitations, the meaning bottoms out pretty quick. The meaning can't run very deep. 

Fact is, most Bible writers have less natural talent than the greatest poets, playwrights, and novelists. So if you deny inspiration, then you'd expect to find far less depth of meaning in Scripture than you can unearth in Shakespeare, Racine, T. S. Eliot, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Broch, Dostoevsky, &c. 

I'm sure Goldingay would deny that he has a low view of Scripture, but for scholars like him, inspiration is indistinguishable from the absence of inspiration. As a result, his interpretations in Gen 1-16 are very superficial. Almost perfunctory. He doesn't think there's much to see here. How could there be, given his view of Scripture? 

For liberals, interpreting Scripture is the easy part. By modern standards, the authors were simple men. Ignorant. Primitive. Short-sighted. Liberal scholars think they know so much more than the Bible writers they exegete.. It's the greater interpreting the lesser. 

For liberals, all their ingenuity goes into the preliminaries. Reconstructing the sources and sitz-in-leben. That's the hard part. Once you have that out of the way, interpretation is a breeze. The Bible is too backward to be sophisticated. The complexity lies, not in what the authors thought, but the editorial process. 

By contrast, it's the much maligned inerrantists who dig deeper. Who uncover layers of meaning. They don't give up so easy, because they think there's more to find. Inexhaustible meaning.  Ironically, it's liberal scholarship that puts the Bible in a little box. For them, the Bible is all to human. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Joker and Penguin for President

Reviewing Hud, film critic Pauline Kael said heroes and villains both want the same things–it's their way of getting them that separates one from the other. From the standpoint of Hollywood movies, that's true. 

Actors like Bogart, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, and John Wayne play heroic characters who were just as worldly as their villainous counterparts. They'd be uncomfortable and unconvincing if they tried to play Christian characters. 

What sets them apart is their refusal to cross certain lines. Although the heroes and villains want the same things out of life–what divides them is that villains are willing to do whatever it takes to get whatever they want, whereas heroes are willing to sacrifice what they want, even what they most want, because they have a sense of honor. Their honor code exerts a measure of moral self-restraint. They won't take what they can get by any means necessary. When push comes to shove, they prioritize self-denial over self-debasement. Heroes have too much self-respect to demean themselves by stooping to the level of a villain. That puts them at a disadvantage. They'd rather lose with honor than win with dishonor. 

By contrast, villains have no sense of shame. They don't really think they've disgraced themselves, because they don't think we live in that kind of world. They are cynical. 

Secular heroism is unstable. The villains are right, given their shared viewpoint with the heroes. Since this life is all there is, nobility is a foolish inhibition. You won't be rewarded for your virtue. Why should you care what people think of you? 

From a Christian standpoint, Kael's distinction is a half-truth. Heroes and villains have the same natural desires. There are, however, things villains value that Christians do not or should not. 

Villains don't just live for pleasure. They live for power and prestige. They hanker to impress people. They crave status symbols. 

Those aren't Christian values, and it's not that Christians are suppressing natural desires. This isn't artificial piety. Rather, living for power and prestige is vacuous. That's not a meaningful life. It's pathetic filler. 

It's not surprising that with the progression of secularization, the distinction between heroes and villains has become very eroded. It's harder to tell the good guys from the bad guys. 

Some Clint Eastwood films represent a turning-point in that regard. And that's been taken further. 

Moreover, this isn't confined to movies and TV dramas. In 2016, both major parties nominated villains. The villainy of Trump and Hillary isn't even disguised. Many voters don't want heroes. Hillary is brazenly corrupt, while enough primary voted pulled the lever for Trump because they think it takes a villain to counter a villain. Hillary and Trump are villains, both in what they want and how they try to get it. And primary voters rewarded them. This is Gotham without Batman. An election between Joker and Penguin. 

Fluvial islands

There are different ways to visualize the garden of Eden. There are several reasons for that. We weren't there. It no longer exists. Gen 2 gives some basic details, but is fairly sketchy. 

It's a useful exercise to mentally reconstruct Biblical scenes. In Gen 2-3, you have a clear-cut distinction between the world inside the garden and the world outside the garden. That raises the question of natural barriers. There are different kinds of natural barriers. One possibility is that Eden was located in a narrow river valley, where steep hills separated Eden from the outside world.

In theory, water can be a natural barrier. Take a tropical island, surrounded by the ocean. Consider the fabled island paradise of Dilmun. However, the geographical markers in Gen 2 are centered on rivers. 

Mind you, some rivers are wide enough to have islands (fluvial islands or river archipelagoes). Take the Brazilian island of Marajó (situated at the mouth of the Amazon River), the size of Switzerland. Bananal Island is another example. That's upriver. 

Moreover, some fluvial islands have tidal rivers. They have rivers inside and out. 

On a related note are river deltas. Indeed, there's the Tigris-Euphrates delta. Of course, the topography has changed over the millennia. 

But just as water can be a natural barrier, absence of water can be a natural barrier. Eden was lush because its rivers provided natural irrigation. But by the same token, it might have been surrounded by desert. Expansive deserts can form impenetrable barriers for many animals. 

This might link Gen 2-3 to Gen 1:28. Why the command to subdue the natural world if the whole world was paradisiacal before the Fall or the Flood? Well, perhaps because the prelapsarian, prediluvian world wasn't paradisiacal in general. Eden was exceptional, due to its auspicious location. Indeed, God was the Edenic landscaper.

Where were the 5000 fed?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Josephus on Gen 6:1-4

It's often said that the angelic interpretation of Gen 6:1-4 represents the traditional interpretation of the text. The most ancient interpretation. Let's consider a statement by Josephus:

For many angels (11) of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants. Ant. 1.3.1. 

What's striking about this statement is the caveat: "for the tradition is…"

That disclaimer seems to distance Josephus from the interpretation he recounts. He shares that interpretation with the reader, without committing himself to it. Indeed, it suggests tactful skepticism on his part. 

After dark

Nowadays, when a commentator approaches Gen 1, he's keenly conscious of how Gen 1 relates to modern science. Whatever his position on the relationship between Gen 1 and modern science, his interpretation is often has that frame of reference in view. That, however, can lead a modern reader to neglect features in the text that might be significant to an ancient reader. 

I've often discussed the significance of light and dark, day and night, to an audience that existed before the advent of electrical lighting. For instance, dawn, dusk, and night are apt to evoke ominous associations with nocturnal and crepuscular predators. 

I'd like to add a few more observations in that regard:

i) People dream at night. Genesis records several revelatory dreams given to Abimelech, Jacob, Joseph, the Egyptian baker, the Egyptian cupbearer, and Pharaoh. 

Genesis is the only book in the Pentateuch that records revelatory dreams. Is it just coincidental that that's the same book which records God creating day and night? Those are correlative: you can't have one without the other. 

By creating night, God creates the conditions for a mode of revelation. Given the prominence of revelatory dreams in Genesis, that action seems to foreshadow revelatory dreams.

ii) Procreation is a major motif in Genesis. "Be fruitful and multiple." The genealogies. 

Couples normally have conjugal relations at night. That's in part because, before the advent of electricity, sunlight was the primary source of light to work by–especially out of doors. 

In addition, darkness affords a degree of privacy for sexual relations. That's important in cultures where people live in close quarters, viz. one-room huts.

Likewise, there wasn't much to do after sunset. And couples, who might be separated in daytime, according to the division of labor, were back together at night. So one thing leads to another. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Licona on verbal inspiration

Muslim propagandist Yahya Snow has been posting some edited videos of Michael Licona. Normally, Snow isn't even on my radar. I only become aware of his stuff when someone else draws my attention to it. That said, I'll comment on two videos.

1. I'd like to begin with a general comment. To judge by three videos I've seen, Licona isn't good at answering off-the-cuff questions. He stumbles and flails around when ad libbing answers. 

By itself, that's not a personal criticism. However, Licona is a well-known Christian apologist. As a public spokesman for the Christian faith, he has a responsibility to carefully articulate the Christian faith. It does a disservice to the cause of Christianity when he gives these half-baked answers. He should desist from answering questions in this forum. That's not his strong suit. It's a poor representation of the Christian faith. To judge by his performance on these occasions, he should confine himself to prepared answers. 

Note: I'm not faulting him for his lack of improvisational skills. Rather, I'm faulting him for putting himself in that situation to begin with. He blunders through these questions. Since he's not good at winging it, he shouldn't even try. 

2. Regarding the Trinity:

i) We need to draw an elementary distinction between what's essential to be a Christian and what's essential to Christianity. Christian theology is based on many revealed truths and redemptive events. For Christianity to be true, it's necessary that these things be the case. 

However, you don't have to be a systematic theologian to have saving faith. Take Christian parents of a grown child with Down Syndrome. Someone with Down Syndrome can have saving faith in Jesus, even though their theological grasp is rudimentary, at best.

ii) There's a difference between having an inchoate understanding of the Trinity and consciously rejecting the Trinity.   

3. Regarding inerrancy:

i) Licona rejects the verbal inspiration of Scripture. He classifies that as "rigid" inerrancy. God wasn't concerned with "peripheral details". 

He suggests that God merely put concepts in the minds of prophets and Bible writers–who then convey these inspired ideas in uninspired words. 

But that completely disregards the Biblical distinction between true and false prophets. True prophets speak "words" which God gave them, not merely "ideas" which God gave them.

ii) Licona talks as though he never had any thorough grounding in systematic theology. He rightly rejects the dictation theory, but he seems to equate the dictation theory with verbal inspiration, as if that's the only possible mechanism for verbal inspiration.

Evidently, it doesn't occur to him that God can inspire people at a subliminal level. A prophet or Bible writer needn't be conscious of divine inspiration. In Scripture, there are many examples of God working behind-the-scenes to cause a person to say or do something. The person himself is unaware of that ulterior dynamic.

By the same token, exponents of verbal inspiration like Warfield operate with an "organic" theory of inspiration, which includes divine providence. 

iii) Licona attacks the distinction between inspired autographa and uninspired copies. In fairness, he's responding to Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. But that's a poor frame of reference. 

iv) Is the Bible I'm holding in my hands the inerrant word of God? It's inerrant insofar as the critical editions of the Greek and Hebrew preserve the original readings. Most of the text of Scripture is not in serous doubt. 

v) Not only is there a factual distinction between originals and copies, but an inerrant original is important even if it no longer exists. To take a comparison, a doctor writes a prescription which a pharmacist fills. Sometimes a pharmacist misreads the prescription. He may give the customer the wrong dosage or the wrong medication. But imagine if a pharmacist didn't even have the doctor's prescription to guide him. 

Likewise, suppose a pharmacist inputs the prescription into his computer. Suppose he then discards the paper copy. Although the original no longer exists, the computer entry is based on the original. It's not something the pharmacist make up whole cloth. 

vi) I think some puzzling numbers in Scripture are the result of scribal error. Indeed, it's pretty inevitable that scribes will sometimes miscopy numbers. It's easier to miscopy numbers than words or sentences, because numbers aren't meaningful in the same way that words and sentences are meaningful. If you inadvertently use the wrong word in a sentence, you can usually tell that something went wrong, because the sentence won't make sense. But a sentence will often make sense even if the wrong number is used.

vii) However, I don't think all or most of the puzzling numbers in Scripture are the result of scribal error. I think this is often based on idioms or numerology, and modern scholars sometimes lack the background knowledge to decode it. Consider some modern idioms:

half a mind

cut both ways

zero in

one step ahead

one-horse town

all in one

back to square one

one of these days

on the one hand

one for the road

not one iota

two's company, three's a crowd

two strikes

two minds

two bricks shy of a load

two cent's worth

stand on two feet

put two and two together

play second fiddle

think twice

the third degree

three cheers

three sheets to the wind

fifth wheel

deep six

six degrees of separation

six feet under

six of one, half a dozen of another

roll a hard six

at six and sevens

seventh heaven

nine-day wonder

a stitch in time saves nine

on cloud nine

nine times out of ten

cat has nine lives

at the eleventh hour

a dime a dozen

forty winks

hundred to one shot

a thousand times

bat a thousand

never in a million years

feel/look like a million bucks

million-dollar question

a million miles away

one in a million

I think we should make allowance for the possibility that when we run across puzzling figures in Scripture, they may be idiomatic. It's like a foreigner who's bewildered by the idiomatic expressions of another language. They make perfect sense to a native speaker, but a foreign speaker lacks the original context.