Monday, December 31, 2012

I Can't Wait for A++

Do you have 400 channels of cable but can find nothing to watch? Well, I commend to you the newest, top-of-the-food-chain atheism denomination in the ever-expanding atheism stratification: Atheism Plus or, as it is affectionately known, A+.

For shear entertainment value, you can't beat the A+ forums. The A+ forums do not have a general rule about being nice to a poster with whom you disagree--no this place has a rule about complaining about the regulars not being civil--that is a serious crime known as tone-policing, although I believe only the privileged (at least along some "axis") can commit the crime.

As a representative example of their methodical, rational, scholarly approach to the important topics of the day, I recommend this thread: Seeking Stories about Sexism for Article. The thread is started by someone named backpackergirl. She writes:
I'm working on an article about gender inequity within the secular movement (advocating progress, not exposé). I've spoken with some great people (PZ Myers, Greta Christina, etc.), but would really like to hear some stories from women on the ground, both physically speaking (conferences and local meetings) and metaphorically speaking (forums, blogs, email, etc.).
If you've personally experienced sexism in one of these contexts and would be willing to "speak" with me verbally or digitally, drop me a note at (redacted). I'd love to hear your story.
So you are now thinking: heddle, that's not surprising or offensive or entertaining or any of those things. It is seemingly a reasonable request on the A+ forum, given that the plus sign allegedly stands for social justice.

Ah-- the very fact that it is a reasonable, understandable post and doesn't read like a Sokal hoax should be a clue that backpackergirl is not the protagonist of the story, but the antagonist.

Go and read. If you know the A+ crowd it will reinforce what you already suspect. If you are new to them--prepare to be amazed.

PZ you magnificent , narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, chowder-headed caricature of a human being: Behold your legacy!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Faith is Not Belief, The Gospel in Four Words

2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” (Gen 15:2-5)
By now Abram had already talked to God on several other occasions. He had witnessed God make a unilateral covenant. At this very point in Abram's life, would you say that Abram believed in God? Surely the answer is yes in that Abram, at this point, believed God existed. He had first-hand contact of which we can't help but be envious. He would have, we can be certain, given his full intellectual assent to a question about the reality of God.

Then we move on. The very next verse tells us:
6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
V6 expresses a change that occurs at that point--then he believed. That belief cannot mean "he accepted that God was god and that he existed." Abram already did that. It has to mean something else. The word translated in v6 as "believed" could also be translated as "had faith" or "trusted."

I'm convinced there is no adequate word in English. Trust may be the closest. Faith is more common. This inadequacy is part of what makes the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone so difficult to understand.

What is faith? I can only begin to grasp it by what it isn't. It is not works. Abraham was not justified because he trusted God and offered Isaac. Cause and effect are backwards in that view. No, Abraham trusted God and offered Isaac because he was justified, and that justification manifested itself as faith. Abraham was already justified before he offered Isaac. Before he did anything meritorious.

If you are saved you are justified by faith. What is that? Mentally delete everything good (in human terms) you did prior to being saved. Those are but filthy rags with no merit. Also delete everything good you did after to being saved. They may indeed be meritorious--but mentally delete them just the same. Without any of these, you are still justified by faith. Whatever is left in you after you have deleted all those good works--that is faith. And it comes from God.

The gospel in four words comes from Romans 4:5; God justifies the wicked.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Justification (Post 3) Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546) 

Martin Luther was born in Germany. In 1505, he received his Master's degree and proceeded to study Law. Not for long. One day Luther was returning home. As he neared the village of Storterheim, he found himself in the rages of a severe thunderstorm. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck the ground next to him, throwing him off his horse (and killing his friend and traveling companion). Terrified, Luther cried out, "St. Anne, help me! I will become a monk!"

He lived. And he kept his word. On July 17, 1505, Luther entered the monastery at Erfurt. In 1507, Luther was ordained as a priest. He was sent from Erfurt to Wittenberg to become a tutor at the university. There he obtained his first degree, a Bachelor's degree in the bible. After one year he was transferred back to Erfurt. There, at age twenty-six, he obtained his second degree in theology. While teaching in Efurt, Luther was sent to Rome on monastery business. While there he was shocked by the city's decadence. He also visited many shrines, including Scala Santa. The twenty-eight marble stairs are said in Catholic tradition to be the steps walked up by Christ on his way to trial before Pilate. St. Helena, mother of the Constantine, was a collector of relics, and the staircase is supposedly among her finds, brought to Rome in c.326 AD.

According to Luther's son Paul (there is no other confirmation of the episode), when Luther was crawling up these stairs he heard a voice saying "The just shall live by faith." It is said that the contradiction of what he was doing (seeking merit from works)  and what he heard (the just will live by faith--not even "the faithful will be justified")  caused him to get up, turn about, and walk down the stairs. Nevertheless, at this time Luther returned home as a loyal Catholic.

Luther returned to Wittenberg and earned a Doctor of Theology degree. For the rest of his life he would lecture on the bible at the university. In the monastery, Luther lived a life of severe asceticism. It is said that other priests dreaded taking Luther's confessions, for each daily confession, covering only the sins since the previous day, could take up to six hours.

Luther, in spite of the (perhaps apocryphal) insight on the steps of the Scala Santa, was still trying to obtain salvation through his works. But no matter how hard he tried, he could never convince himself that he had done enough.

Some light shone in the darkness

Luther found comfort in the writings of the 12th century cleric Bernard of Clairvaux, who stressed the free grace Christ of salvation and to whom Calvin attributed the doctrine of forensic justification. He was also greatly influenced by the writings of Augustine, so much so that although it occurred over a millennium after his death, some have said that Augustine, not Luther was the father of the Reformation. But most of all, he studied the bible.

Sometime toward the end of 1512, Luther was in his cell studying Romans. There he read:
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." (Rom. 1:17)
He would later say an unspeakable joy flooded his heart and his oppressive burden to prove himself worthy was lifted away. For Luther, Romans 1:17 was "a gate to Paradise".

Thursday, December 27, 2012

John and Richard

John Loftus is a much easier to take (I mean that as a genuine compliment) critic of Christianity (and, by leaps and bounds, a far better writer) than the detestable Richard Carrier.

To digress a bit, The latter, Richard Carrier, is the proverbial “self-made man in love with his creator” who proclaims on his hideous self-referential and self-worshiping blog that he is “renowned” and “His avid fans span the world from Hong Kong to Poland.” *Gag.* He also seems to have found a niche industry—he can convince the atheist innumerate (of which there appear to be innumerable, from Hong Kong to Poland) that his (ab)use of freshman probability (Bayes’ Theorem) surely means that his conclusions are sound and profound—given all those symbols and equations. They look so mathy! Proof by invoking math that is impenetrable to your choir is very analogous to Dembski’s tactics. (Although, to his credit, Dembski, based on the evidence at-hand, knows infinitely more math than Carrier.) Other “philosophers” take the same approach using the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle—wow the readers with quantum indeterminacy.

Carrier is currently preening that he has a peer-reviewed article (one is again reminded of the IDers, who also treat peer-reviewed articles as the Holy Grail) disproving the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum, the disputed reference to Jesus in Josephus’ Antiquities.
Antiquities 18.3.3. "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day."
He seems to have missed the memo that Christian scholars, for the most part, already acknowledge that this was possibly if not most likely an interpolation by misguided early Christians.

Of course, most scholars are not as in love with themselves (or at least are clever enough to hide the fact) as Carrier is. They present their case and allow readers to reach their own evidence-based conclusions. Carrier, in contrast, not only presents his argument--such as it may be-- but also tells us what definitive conclusion we must reach—because he is, after all, Richard Carrier:
… combined with the arguments I assemble in my article for JECS, spells the final death knell for any hope of restoring any part of the Testimonium Flavianum. It is 100% Christian fabrication.
What a loser!

Back to John Loftus. He has a post boldly (I mean that sincerely) entitled In a Godless Universe the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting is What We'd Expect Would Happen. Of course Loftus condemns the massacre. However he then writes:
In a godless universe shit happens without rhyme nor reason. Life is predatory from the ground up. Creatures eat one another by trapping unsuspecting victims in unusual ways, launching surprise attacks out of the blue, and hunting in packs by overpowering prey with brute force and numbers. Sometimes a creature just goes wacko for no reason at all. Humans are not exempt. Sometimes the wiring in our brains goes haywire and we snap. We too are violent and we inherited this trait from our animal predecessors. We also show care and concern to our kith and kin but we can lash out in horrific ways at what we consider an uncaring world.
On the one hand, a very illuminating observation. On the other hand it is nothing more than yet another attempt at the proof of godlessness by the existence of evil. Axiomatic atheism is, if you will, a one-trick pony: Bad things happen, ergo no god. They also throw in “show me god exists” – a reasonable request from their perspective—but this is a negative statement rather than a positive. The only positive argument atheism has is, as Loftus puts it, shit happens. He writes:
In a universe where there is an all powerful, perfectly good, all knowing God this tragedy is not what we would expect to happen.
Here Loftus is 100% wrong. He is operating under the misguided assumption that Christianity is a religion that teaches shit never happens.

The bible teaches us to enjoy life, God’s bounty, and temporal happiness. It also promises, like a prescription medication: side effects may include pain, despair, suffering, lapses into grievous sin, weakness, apparent senselessness, persecution, misery, and physical death. Why atheists think that fallen man in a fallen world behaving exactly as the bible tells us is somehow a problem for Christianity is unfathomable. Shit happens. Loftus is correct that a godless world predicts as much. He is incorrect that a world with the god of the bible does not. Both hypotheses fit the data.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Jerry Invokes the Law Again

Jerry Coyne, whose circle or orthodoxy is too small to include atheist skeptic Michael Shermer and the New York Times, to name just a few that are too "accommodationist" for his dogma, is in a tizzy again.

He writes:
Theodicy is the Achilles Heel of faith. There is no reasonable answer to the problem of gratuitous evil (i.e., the slaughter of children or mass killings by natural phenomena like tsunamis), and the will to continue believing in the face of such things truly shows the folly of faith. For those evils prove absolutely either that God is not benevolent and omnipotent, or that there is no god. (Special pleading like “we don’t know God’s mind” doesn’t wash, for the same people who say such things also claim to know that God is benevolent and omnipotent).
Jerry thinks this is a clever argument against theism. This argument is one of the laws of internet atheism:
The Law that Logical Proofs regarding God are like Diodes:  
All logical proofs for God are trivially wrong. However, the construction:  
  P1: God is omnipotent.  
  P2: God is omnibenevolent.  
  P3: Human suffering exists. 
  C1: Therefore P1 and/or P2 is wrong. 
  C2: Therefore God does not exist.
is bulletproof.
and Jerry never tires of using it. That link contains my response to Jerry's "argument." I won't reproduce it here.

And of course there is no point to attempt a comment on his blog. Jerry is mendacious in regards to permitting dialogue on WEIT, even stooping to unprecedented cretin-like tactics of not releasing comments from moderation while using the "absence" of a rebuttal to his acumen to declare victory.

That is:

He does not (or rarely) performs an honest, public banning for cause or even just for the hell of it.

He does not do a silent banning--which would already place him among the pond-scum of bloggers, except..

He doubles-down by coupling a silent banning with a dishonest interpretation that the critic has withered from his irrefutable counter-arguments and Sir Robbined the hell outta there.

Jerry has a great punchline at the end of his pout:
Religion is not just the enemy of rationality, but the enemy of democracy.
   -- Jerry Coyne

Jerry, the lidless-eyed overseer of the planet, has pronounced his verdict.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Stanford Lunacy

According to,


an ecclesiastic attached to the chapel of a royal court, college,etc., or to a military unit.
a person who says the prayer, invocation, etc., for an organization or at an assembly.
Seems reasonable enough.
It is of course also unsurprising that the PC chowderheads at Stanford University hired an atheist chaplain.  Not an atheist counselor. Not an atheist therapist. An atheist chaplain.
You can't, as they say, make this stuff up. Hire someone as an advisor on religious studies who disavows religion in toto. Maybe they will search the Tea Party for someone to advise a leftist student organization. Or hire Joe Torre to manage their chemistry department.

The prime chowderhead in this story would appear to be Rev. Scotty McLennan, dean for religious life at Stanford University.  
It does remind one, yet again, that people like Scotty McLennan (or Hector Avalos) should look up the term "useful idiot." If the gnu atheists win the day, there will be no more Departments of Religion or Deans for Religious Life. Something to look forward to, actually, in a "silver lining" sort of way. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bad SBC, Bad!

I’m late to this, but it occurred during my blogging hiatus. So let me cut to the chase: The Southern Baptist Arminians don’t know jack about Calvinism.

Earlier in 2012 the SBC released a poorly-researched document discussing the tension in the SBC between the Arminians and the Calvinists. The errors of fact or, even more egregiously, by intentional misrepresentation, begin to accumulate in the preamble. There we read:
For example Even the minority of Southern Baptists who have identified themselves as Calvinists generally modify its teachings in order to mitigate certain unacceptable conclusions (e.g., anti-missionism, hyper-Calvinism, double predestination, limited atonement, etc.).
But anti-missionism, hyper-Calvinism and double-predestination are not “conclusions” of Calvinism, they are anti-Calvinistic distortions. This is equivalent to saying that Pelagianism is an “unacceptable conclusion” of Arminianism.

Limited atonement doesn’t even belong here. It’s the perennial scapegoat/whipping boy of Calvinism—somewhat silly given that the SBC Arminians and Calvinists agree that the Atonement is indeed limited to those who have a saving faith in Christ. Only Universalists truly preach an unlimited atonement. There is no such thing as a four-point Calvinist. There is really no such thing as a five-point Calvinist either. There are only one-point Calvinists: Total Depravity. On that single foundation the U, L, I, and P stand or fall together.

In contrasting Arminian soteriology with that of Calvinism, the SBC writes:
Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology is grounded in the conviction that every person can and must be saved by a personal and free decision to respond to the Gospel by trusting in Christ Jesus alone as Savior and Lord.
So does Calvinism. Calvinism teaches that the elect respond with a free decision. Now, I allow someone who acquires his full knowledge Calvinism on Wikipedia might come away with a "God-the-puppet-master" view (I've seen it happen many times on atheist blogs) but not an educated committee of the SBC. At least I would have hoped not.

So guys, here it is in a nutshell:


  • Step 1: Salvation by a personal and free decision to respond to the Gospel.


  • Step 0: God sovereignly gives some men a new heart so they are then in position to complete the next step, i.e.,

  • Step 1: Salvation by a personal and free decision to respond to the Gospel.

In a certain sense, Calvinism states nothing more than the belief that God changes some to be in the very position to which Arminianism supposes they are born. But after that,  the choice is just as free.

On to the Articles

Here I lay out the ten affirmations and denials of the SBC and offer a very quick comment.

Article One: The Gospel

We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved.

We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.
Calvinists share the affirmation of Article One.

The denial is some sort of gratuitous slap at the SBC's cartoonish Calvinistic strawman. What is with the "select few"? Calvinism states nothing about the population of heaven. Indeed there are many postmillennial (and optimistic amillennial) Calvinists who argue that Revelation teaches of a crowded heaven. Substituting the word "elect" for "select few" would have been much more accurate--but of course elect is a word that appears in scripture exactly in the manner Calvinists use it--so I guess it is wise to avoid reminding SBC readers of that inconvenience.

Finally, the SBC statement begs-the-question by sending the message that double-predestination is a Calvinistic fait accompli. But non-caricatured Calvinism (i.e., "real" Calvinism) does not teach that the reprobate are predestined to hell by an active decree of God, but rather they condemn themselves.
Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.
Wow, just wow. I have to assume the writes just had a senior moment. The denial that Adam's sin rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinnedcomes close if not actually achieving denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. I don't believe that the SBC is this liberal. At least not yet.
Article Three: The Atonement of Christ

We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.

We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith. We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will. We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.
Everything is fine (and in no conflict with Calvinism) up to the final sentence. Of course Christ did not die for the sins of the lost--if he did, why are they still lost? This is to make a liar out of God--and to accuse him of double billing. If Christ died for the sins of the lost then he paid for those sins. This denial then implies that the lost will also pay for those sins. May it never be,
Article Four: The Grace of God

We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.

We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.
Really? Well congratulations then, you're a Calvinist.
Article Five: The Regeneration of the Sinner

We affirm that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life.

We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel.
Calvinism shares in the affirmation. As for the denial--at least you show some understanding of the Calvinism here. I assume that if you believe at least some dead babies are saved, as well as at least some who are cognitively handicapped, that you have an explanation as to how they first heard and responded to the gospel?
Article Six: The Election to Salvation

We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.

We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.
Here you affirm one thing and then turn around and deny it--apart from sneaking in, once again, double-predestination.
Article Seven: The Sovereignty of God

We affirm God’s eternal knowledge of and sovereignty over every person’s salvation or condemnation.

We deny that God’s sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.
Here you affirm one thing and then turn around and deny it--apart from sneaking in, once again, the "God as a puppet-master" distortion of Calvinism.
Article Eight: The Free Will of Man

We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an “effectual call” for certain people that is different from a “general call” to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.
This contrast is mostly fair, except that these guys can't resist suggesting distortion of Calvinism. Calvinism does not deny man's free will. As I have said many times, Calvinism actually grants man the most libertine of free wills and the only workable model of free will--that we always choose what we want most.
Article Nine: The Security of the Believer

We affirm that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity. This process begins with justification, whereby the sinner is immediately acquitted of all sin and granted peace with God; continues in sanctification, whereby the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit; and concludes in glorification, whereby the saint enjoys life with Christ in heaven forever.

We deny that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.
We are in general agreement.
Article Ten: The Great Commission

We affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth. We affirm that the proclamation of the Gospel is God’s means of bringing any person to salvation.

We deny that salvation is possible outside of a faith response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I would only argue that the faith response is the normative one. Even here you cannot put God in a box. He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy. Again, Arminianism has a serious problem with dead babies-- who are not capable of responding (Well nobody is apart from regeneration--but it is painfully obvious for dead babies) as Arminianism demands. If any dead babies are saved--and the bible gives us reason to believe that some are--then they exemplify what was denied by the SBC in Article Ten--apart from doing violence to what is implied by a "faith response."

I understand that there is a "Calvinism problem" in the SBC. However, I would have though that they'd put together a more scholarly response.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Our New Building

A web cam showing the final-stage construction of Luter Hall. We'll be moving in over the summer. This will make the oldest academic building on our campus four years old.

Math Swag

At CNU we have a "Signing Day" where sophomores put on some nice clothes, go to the ballroom in the student union, find their department's table, and sign a register officially declaring their major.

It's pretty cool.

This will be my second and last as chair of the math department. My plan is to return to the physics department next fall.

So we wanted to give the math majors some nice swag when they signed our book. We settled on a thumb drive (2 GB) with one of math's most famous equations.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's Always the Nazis. I Hate Nazis.

Those of us who are atheists are familiar with how ‘Godwin’s Law‘ allows Christian fundamentalists and other imbecilic religious people to link us to Adolph Hitler in some of the most amusing ways, but mostly because they’re too stupid to realize Hitler was (and still is, according to the Catholic Church) a rather zealous Christian whose entire campaign to wipe out the Jews and those pesky homosexuals was based almost entirely on Christian doctrine.
--Al Stefanelli, atheist blogger
I used to think that Jerry Coyne penned the dumbest anti-Christian blog screeds. But I think that distinction now rests in the capable hands of Al Stefanelli. The torch has been passed. Although it takes a certain evil genius to pull a Godwin (the mother of all Godwins, in fact) while ridiculing people for pulling Godwins. Well played, Al, well played. I have blogged about Nazism and Christianity several times. I hate to do it again, but it's the topic that never dies. Here is a rehash.

The Godwinners on atheist sites often argue this way:
  1. Those Nazis who claim to be Christian (as Hitler did) are therefore Christian. All it takes is the claim. And any modern Christian who argues that Hitler was not a true Christian is guilty of the "True Scotsman" fallacy.
  2. As a corollary it is sometimes argued that Stalin was a Christian, because he attended a seminary. And if that doesn’t count, then surely he was the deity of the religion Stalinism. But no matter what, he was not an atheist. Impossible. But I digress.
Point one is specious. One can co-opt the teachings of anything (evolution, Christianity, Islam, Heavy-Metal Rock) to justify heinous acts. Even if you insist that Hitler claiming to be a Christian makes him just as much of a Christian as, say, Thomas Aquinas, there is a little bit of history you'll have to explain to support your contention. Rutgers University (that hotbed of fundamentalist Christianity) has a "Nuremberg" project where they are investigating Nazi documents. One major part of the Nazi Master plan, it turns out, was "The Persecution of the Christian Churches." You can find some of this here

The editor of the project, Julie Mandel, quoted in the Phildelphia Inquirer, Jan. 9, 2002:
A lot of people will say, 'I didn’t realize that they were trying to convert Christians to a Nazi philosophy.' … They wanted to eliminate the Jews altogether, but they were also looking to eliminate Christianity.
And from a 1945 OSS report: Important leaders of the National Socialist party would have liked to meet this situation [church influence] by complete extirpation of Christianity and the substitution of a purely racial religion Source: Christianity Today blog 01.09.2002

Yeah them Nazis, they sure were true Christians. Because they said so, and we have to take them at their word. Al Stefanelli insists.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Go Away, Bryan Fischer

I have to join the chorus of people criticizing Bryan Fischer of the lamentable American Family Association. His comments on the massacre in Connecticut were utterly repulsive.

He starts with a correct observation: that God could have prevented the massacre. But then he proceeds down a well-worn path of jackassery characteristic of the politically active religious right. To wit: to presume to know the mind of God (dumb) and to apply this special knowledge to score political points (dumber). Fischer, you, see, knows why God didn’t stop the killings—because Fischer knows (somehow) that "God doesn’t go where he is not wanted."

God would tell us, according to Fischer, that He'd be happy to to protect our children, but he won't enter public school grounds unless he is invited, because he (God) is a "gentleman."

Bryan Fischer is just making stuff up. He competently demonstrates once again that while atheists are impotent when it comes to harming Christianity, Christians can land some devastating body-blows.

His argument is vomitous on many levels, including the fact that he presents it with a backdrop of the US Constitution. A venerable document to be sure, but it was not written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is, in my opinion, worthy of admiration—it is not, however, worthy of motivating the behavior of Christians other than as Americans. One thing (Christianity) has nothing to do with the other (the constitution).

Fischer's greater offense is his statement that "God does not go where he isn’t wanted." First, Bryan Fischer does not get to put God in a box. And second, the statement is batshit crazy on the face of it. How many counter-examples from scripture could we come up with in five minutes? In fact a much more supportable statement from scripture is that, as the result of the fall, practically the only place God goes is where he is not wanted.

The Bryan Fischers of the world (and their flag-waving, priority-challenged para-church organizations) are too intent on saving America. In this mission, which obviously I have no objection to in-principle, they —either willingly or with self-delusion —sacrifice biblical teaching if not outright outright lie for Jesus. They do this for the “greater good” of keeping America as something it never was, hopefully never will be, and something that the bible never instructs us to strive for: A Christian nation. So, Bryan Fischer and the multitudes of like-minded of the politically-active Christian right: Do not try to save America in this manner. Imposed adherence to Christian values, mores, and commandments is meaningless. We are not called, anywhere in the New Testament, to make sin illegal in our civil government 1. The bible is very clear on these matters—while rituals before the first advent were useful as types in foreshadowing what was to come—empty adherence for purposes of appearances—which is what we get if we say, force public school prayer or outlaw the personal sins of unbelievers, is not, we are told, pleasing in God’s sight. Lessons like Matthew 6:6 may not be intended to stand without the possibility of exception, but the evangelist is certainly giving us the normative expectation.

Forget trying to restore America to some mythical Christian nation past. Forget trying to demonstrate (with incredibly stupid arguments about twins) that gays are never born that way2. Forget arguing that gay marriage will destroy marriage. Shut down your bizarrely prioritized para-church organizations.

Instead: Feed and clothe the poor. Support missions. Preach the gospel. Live the gospel. Study the word. Give up on the nation building--we are not called to do that. We are pilgrims. We are aliens. We are citizens of someplace else.

If you can’t do any of that, at least stop misrepresenting scripture. At least stop lying for Jesus, and stop pretending that you know anything about science. If you offend people with the gospel, that’s fine—but stop making us look like buffoons.

1 This is intended as a nuanced comment. I am not arguing, for example, that Christians should not vote or should not vote their principles. I am arguing that winning those votes is not something we should be overly concerned with. 

 2 Which is bad science. And worse theology. A form of Pelagianism. A Pelagian view that God would not demand obedience of a people who are born without the ability to obey. To paraphrase the classic debate: 
Pelagius: God would not punish people for how they were born.  
Augustine: Yes He would. That's why we need a savior.
Now consider the modern debate over homosexuality:
Christian homosexual apologist: I was born this way. So a loving God won't punish me.
Christian a la Bryan Fischer: No you weren’t, you chose to be gay. So you are indeed at risk.

Notice that both sides in this debate tacitly accept the Pelagian position: God would not punish someone for how they were born. Both sides deny original sin. 

The proper Christian response is: It would not be surprising at all if you were born that way, but that changes nothing. We’re all born sinners.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Faculty Tricks

Here's the deal. I have one member of my faculty who collects all the students' cell phones and puts them on a table in the front of the class. Maybe 35 phones, just sitting there.

I want to get all the phone numbers. Then, in the middle of the class. I want to send a text to all the phones simultaneously.  How cool would that be! I don't know how to do it--but I'm investigating.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Where does mass come from? Blimey! The 'iggs!

I gave a talk to some bright high-school students on how the Higgs field is responsible for mass. Not an easy task. But if you are interested, the talk is here.

Let me know if the link does not work.

Former Pastor, Current Pinhead

Al Stefanelli is an internet atheist—one of the mouth-breathing, bottom-feeding, lower-brow class, definitely not an elite Atheist-Plus. He apparently used to be a pastor. It is easy to understand why he no longer is—he knows less about Christianity and the bible than your average stuffed animal.

Here is Al at his finest. In a recent post he recommends a social experiment, to be conducted in grocery stores and in which the experimenter targets moms with "Christian jewlwery or clothing" shopping with the kids. (Crosses are always dead giveaways that the wearer is a Christian! *Eyeroll.*) Yep, he is suggesting that you should head to the supermarket and approach moms with small children-- but in a sensitive "stealthy but not stalkerish" manner--and then act really, really creepy. Brilliant.

The experiment unfolds. What you are then supposed to say, loud enough for the kids to hear, is
Did you know that if you don’t behave yourself, you will be be tortured and burned to the brink of death and kept in severe and writhing pain forever and ever and ever, with no hope of ever getting away!
Ain’t that special? To avoid a scene, you are to explain:
[I] noticed [you] were a Christian, and [was] just reiterating to [your] child a very common Sunday school lesson.
This is soooooo stupid I felt obliged to add another internet atheist fun fact to the growing list, without attribution but in honor of the ignorance of Al Steffani:
Jack Chick Developed Our Curriculum Myth: This is the certain knowledge among many internet atheists that we get our kindergarten Sunday School materials from Jack Chick. That we send four-year-olds off to class and they return with nicely colored pictures (stay in the lines, Billy-Bob, like your sister/cousin/aunt Billie-Bob did!) of sinners in hell screaming in agony—dancing in flames while being skewered by ferocious demons. In the top center, lording over the entire scene, Satan is laughing, and saying: “it all started when they were bad children who sassed their mammas!” We keep the Crayola factory running day and night with our insatiable demand for red, orange and yellow crayons.
Al goes on to write:
Before they can respond, ask them if they believe what the bible says about hell, and what happens to people who don’t behave. This works no matter if you believe in salvation by grace or by works, as Scripture is so malleable and enigmatic that it won’t take much effort to explain the lighter points of eternal damnation with respect to children.
Al—the bible nowhere teaches "If you don’t behave you will go to hell." Or anything to that effect. If bad behavior gets you to hell, heaven will be empty.

Like I said—it is no surprise he is a former pastor—except that it requires that he actually was one in the first place. That's a scary thought.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Justification (post 2): What is Justification?

Suppose we respond to the gospel call. Perhaps God is Arminian and, with the help of prevenient grace, we mustered some faith from within. Or perhaps God is a Calvinist and it was all by grace. We can, at the moment, sidestep this question we love to ponder. Instead we ask, simply,  what now?

For the Arminian and the Calvinist the answer is the same. It may sound impertinent, but the next step is for God to fulfill his part of the agreement. For if we turn to Christ in faith the promise is that our sins will be forgiven. 

Justification is the process by which this occurs. And it is done in response to our faith.

Justification allows us to stand without the stain of sin before a holy God.  We present ourselves righteous before God. Consider that for a moment: Through justification we are made righteous before God.

But not really—that is we cannot really stand before God without the stain of sin. We are still sinners. This is quite the puzzle—the conundrum which we must unravel in this study—that we are made acceptable before God while at the same time we are sinners. Luther understood this oh-so-clearly, and described it as Simul iustus et peccator - "At the same time righteous and a sinner".

What caused the Reformation? Luther (and the Reformers) believed that scripture taught simul iustus et peccator. The Roman Catholic Church, as we will see, considered this heresy. According to Roman Catholicism you cannot be righteous and a sinner—they are mutually exclusive.

We are not going to argue the case yet. We will just introduce some thinking on the matter. First of all. let's look the scriptural attribution as to the sole source of the justification—God. In Romans Paul writes:
 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
He justified. We do not justify ourselves, God justifies us. Rome and the Reformers agreed on this point. But that is about all they agreed on.

Rome, we will see, believes, reasonably at first blush, that for a person to be righteous before God, that person must be, in fact, righteous. Truly righteous. Stands to reason.  But Rome also believes in Original Sin and man’s fallen nature. And therein lies the problem. Even supposing a man could achieve actual righteousness before God—it would not last long. Rome understands this—the Catholic Church recognizes that a righteous man is in a state of highly unstable equilibrium, like a ball resting on a small peak. The slightest perturbation—a single wayward thought, and the condition of righteousness is lost, and the ball of righteousness rolls down the hill into oblivion. The sinner must then actively seek to restore himself through the complex system of penance provided by the Church.

The Reformers taught a very different view—a forensic view of justification. In this view, man does not “really” become righteous. He is declared righteous by God. It is a legal declaration. God says: I will treat you as righteous because my son was righteous, and I will impute his righteousness to you. I know that you still sin—but I am going to regard you as if you had no sin. Simul iustus et peccator. And it is once-for-all for a believer.

Rome accused the Reformers of creating a legal fiction that impugned God’s character. The Reformers accused Rome of ignoring the plain teaching of scripture and taking for herself the role of justifier. Each side declared the other guilty of the unthinkable crime of teaching a false gospel—and the Reformation was off and running.

It was not about indulgences for pardon from temporal punishment of sin.

It was not about Marian doctrine.

It was about how we can present ourselves before a holy God.


Oh, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal nailed it. I mean nailed it.

Internet Atheist Facts O' Fun: UPDATED

Here is a repost of my favorite inviolate laws of internet atheism, with a few new added at the end. I'm sure I've forgotten many--so if you have any you'd like to add, leave them in the comments.

1. The Law of the Converts: Every atheist who claims to have been a devout Christian was. Every Christian who claims to have been an atheist, wasn't.

2. The Pharyngulyte Corollary to the Law of the Converts: The more the atheist's deconversion was due to encountering someone similar to a Revrun' Mike, a prototypical Baptist minister who wears a white suit, chews tebaccy, routinely preaches on evilution and miscegenation, and instructs young children (under six, when they're impressionable) with explicit images of unimaginable torture in hell (which they must color in Sunday School), the more credible and weighty is the testimony.

3. The Law of the Biblical Knowledge: Atheists in general know more about the bible than Christians—who in fact only read certain parts of their so-called holy book.

4. The Law of the Biblical Scholars: Atheist biblical scholars are credible because they have no agenda. Christian biblical scholars lack credibility because they have an agenda.

5. The Law of the Useful Idiots: Dime-a-dozen atheist Religious Studies professors such as Hector Avalos at Iowa State are useful. Just don't let them know that when we're in charge the first thing on the chopping block will be Religious Studies Departments. 1

6. The Law that Blind Faith is The Ultimate Christian Virtue: Christians are never told to think, only to accept without thinking. Using your brain, they are taught, is not sporting. Those pesky Bereans are never a model for actual Christians. And never mind that those praised for their faith in the Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11) had no need for blind faith since they spoke to God, demanded proof of God, and witnessed miracles. 

7. The Law of Bright Darkness: The worse the behavior of a Christian, the more honest the Christian is. For example, this comment from a reader on Ed Brayton's blog 2:
If you really want to see the most honest adapation [sic] of what the bible and Christianity really stands far if you follow the most literal interpretation of the bible, go to [Fred] Phelps.
8. The I-Say-Therefore-I-Am Law: Questioning the sincerity of self-identified Christians such as the late Fred Phelps (or the Big H—-you know, that guy with the funny little mustache) is immediately dismissed as a No True Scotsman Fallacy. The definition of a Christian is: "anyone who claims they are a Christian."

9. Exception to the I-Say-Therefore-I-Am Law: Anyone questioning the atheism of an inconvenient self-proclaimed atheist is granted blanket immunity from the No True Scotsman Fallacy. It's only fair.

10. The Ipso Facto No Atheist Is That Bad Law: Stalin and Mao were not atheists. They were demigods of the religions Stalinism and Maoism. We know this because mass murder on such a scale can only be committed by religionists.

11. The Law of "When Ken Ham is right, he is really right!: YECs like Ken Ham are the dumbest jackasses in the world. Except when they interpret Genesis One. For that single chapter in the bible they are exegetical savants.

12. The Coyne Corollary to the Law of Ken Ham: Ken Ham is also correct in his claim that modern science and Christianity are incompatible.

13. The Law that Logical Proofs regarding God are like Diodes: All logical proofs for God are trivially wrong 3. However, the construction:

P1: God is omnipotent.
P2: God is omnibenevolent.
P3: Human suffering exists.
C1: Therefore P1 and/or P2 is wrong.
C2: Therefore God does not exist.

is bulletproof.

14. The Law of the Atheist Hermeneutic: The most important verse in the bible is "Judge not, lest ye be judged." This means that Christians cannot judge Fred Phelps (for example) to be apostate. How dare they! As for the verses that follow (don't give what is holy to dogs, pearls before swine,--verses that would seem to presuppose judging) as well as the verses which seem to indicate how they are to judge (by their fruit) —and also those verses that describe excommunication—which again presupposes judging--well for Christians to bring those up is disingenuous.

15. The Ruby Tuesday Law: The second most important passage in the bible is
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."
This means that the only reason Christians don't call for stoning of blasphemers or condone slavery is that they are cafeteria Christians. Arguments that this passage means anything other than "All Levitical Laws are still in effect" are to be dismissed as evasive. Be prepared to dismiss summarily alleged counter-arguments such as:
  • Jesus encountered blasphemers and didn't call for their stoning. 
  • Jesus upgraded the law in the Sermon on the Mount. (To, effectively, not "What Would Jesus Do?" but "What Would Jesus Think?")
  • A phase transition occurred on the cross--it wasn't just an interlude after which things returned to normal.
  • Jesus violated Levitical rules on the handling of lepers and the Sabbath. 
  • Jesus claimed he was Lord of the Sabbath and that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  • Peter has a vision telling him to ignore the Levitical food laws. 
  • The church's first council, recorded in the Book of Acts, voided the sacrosanct law regarding circumcision.
  • In the Old Testament animal sacrifices were commanded. In the New Testament  their use for the same purpose would be an abomination.
  • Consider this passage concerning Jesus:
    For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (Eph. 2:14-15).
  • Consider this passage about Jesus the new High Priest:
    For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. (Hebrews 7:12).
All these are but red herrings. The full force of the Old Testament law—a law intended for a nation that no longer exists—is still in effect, and only honest Christians like Fred Phelps admit it. All others are cowardly hypocrites.

16. The Law of Small Miracles: All theists believe in the mother-of-all-miracles: that the creative force behind the universe is God. Some such theists (e.g., His Vomitousness, The Bishop John Shelby Spong) are useful tolerable because while they quietly accept this big miracle, they loudly poo-poo what are by comparison itty-bitty miracles, like Jesus walking on water.

17. Irrefutable Proof that Miracles can't happen: Miracles, by definition can't be explained by science. Everything can be explained by science. Therefore miracles can't happen. Because they can't be explained by science. Therefore science and religion are incompatible.

18. The Law of Axiomatic Incompatibility: Science is how we know what we know. Science demands experimental testing. Nothing is exempt from this requirement. Except for The Holy of Holies: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion. It has no observable effect. Nobody has ever designed an experiment that demonstrates the incompatibility. But nevertheless it's true axiomatically. Like A = A.

19. The "We Know" axiom: A more general case of the Law of Axiomatic Incompatibility, this is a common favorite of internet atheists, as the use of the “we know” axiom is another method that has the advantage of precluding the need for evidence or rational debate. Anything that “we know” is simply—true. You might read, for example, “we know that most of Paul’s letters are forgeries.”

20. The Super-duper Paul of Tarsus View: Atheists often attribute the Apostle Paul with powers far beyond what Christians grant. To wit: it is often suggested that he a) did not exist. And yet in spite of  not actually being real he managed to b) usurp Christianity, creating an entirely new religion quite different from that taught by Jesus—who by the way probably did not exist either. And c) Paul managed, while not existing, to steal Christianity —through the use of forged letters. Remarkable! In a nutshell the "super Paul" view is that two people who never existed created two distinct religions (fraudulently). Then later fools, who believed in both of these non-entities, merged their contradictory teachings into a franken-religion.
21. Atheist Biblical Inerrancy: Internet atheists have a form of biblical inerrancy which goes like this:  The King James Version of the bible mentions unicorns. Therefore, ipso facto,  quid pro quo,  quod erat demonstrandum, the biblical writers believed in mythical one-horned horses guess they missed Noah’s boarding call, ha ha!!  Any attempt to go back to the biblical Hebrew to investigate the word, or to suggest that the KJV translators might have used unicorn as something different that the modern picture of myth is, of course, heresy.

22. The Universe is Atheio-centric: This is the myth that Christians obsess over atheists, think about them all the time, are afraid of them,  hate them, irrationally demand their respect, and tremble at the thought of their ridicule.  The truth of course is that we rarely think of them, are not afraid of them, don’t hate them, and wish only that if they criticize us they do it intelligently or at least with humor. Dear Dawkins, the look we give you when you say “if god invented  everything, then who invented god?” or “religion ruins everything” is not one of fear or hate or anger or puzzlement, it is a look of boredom. And no, we don’t obsess over you. When I hear atheists mentioned in church it is usually along the lines of Christians need to behave better; our behavior should distinguish us from the atheist, but it doesn’t. And really—try to remember that you are not as famous as you think—the real world is not the internet. My church is made up of educated people—lawyers and NASA engineers, teachers and shipbuilders.  I suspect I am the only person in the church who has heard of PZ Myers, even though he is “so famous” that  Sam Harris (now of him we have heard, and also Dawkins, but who is this Myers? Who is this Coyne?) correctly dubbed him the “shepherd of internet trolls” and the purveyor of a “odious blog.” That demonstrates a certain internet notoriety—but in the real world it translates to a big fat zero. We wouldn't be afraid of you even if we knew you--which we don't.

23. Up to 30,000 and counting: This is a composite myth that is usually stated something like: There are 30,000 Christian sects each one claiming to know the absolute truth.  First of all there are not 30,000, but more like 800. The 30,000 comes in part from things like counting independent Baptist churches as separate sects, even though their theology is indistinguishable. Secondly, very few of these sects, only a few on the lunatic fringe, claim to be inerrant. Hell, most people do not agree with everything jot and tittle in their own church’s doctrine statement, let alone claim their church has sole ownership of the “absolute truth.” Of course atheists have their own stratification (where the mouth-breathers are  "dictionary atheists" and those who can offer a spirited defense of their atheism are True Atheists™.  And they even a brand new denomination, Atheism-Plus, with its own iconography and wiki. But that's different. We know.

24. Jack Chick Developed Our Curriculum Myth: This is the certain knowledge among many internet atheists that we get our kindergarten Sunday School materials from Jack Chick. That we send four-year-olds off to class and they return with nicely colored pictures (stay in the lines, Billy-Bob, like your sister/cousin/aunt Billie-Bob did!) of sinners in hell screaming in agony—dancing in flames while being skewered by ferocious demons. In the top center, lording over the entire scene, Satan is laughing, and saying: “it all started when they were bad children who sassed their mammas!”  We keep the Crayola factory running day and night with our insatiable demand for red, orange and yellow crayons.

25. Back in the Closet Rule: One of the verses at the fingertips of every internet atheist is Matt. 6:6: But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Oh noes, where dat come from?) The atheist apologist will plunk this gotcha verse down knowing we never read it (see #3. The Law of the Biblical Knowledge.) It will be applied to any instance of public prayer in this manner: Stupid christoidjits don't even read their own babble! No nuance is permitted. It cannot be, as the context suggests to some, that this is a reference to personal petitions and confession, not corporate prayer. And of course the fact Jesus himself prays in public (e.g., Matt 19:13, Luke 3:31, esp. John 17) as do the apostles on numerous occasions (Paul, alone, more than 20 times) must never be interpreted that maybe, just maybe Matt. 6:6 is not a blanket prohibition of all praying in public. For Dawkins's sake, may it never be! No, these counter-examples are only allowed to be applied to the theory that babble is full of inconsistencies.

26. The Our Secretary (but not your Secretary) will Disavow Rule: Atheists have no leaders. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc. They are just famous people with intelligent, critical readers. At the very most, primarily as a courtesy, you might call them fans.  But if, for example, Dawkins says or does something beyond the pale of atheist orthodoxy embarrassing, why  it's all on him. Christians, however, have leaders. Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Ken Ham, just to name a few--these all are bona fide Christian leaders. If they say or do something embarrassing (when don't they?) it reflects on all Christians. Because they are Christian leaders and spokesmen and all Christians are their loyal followers and sheeple.

27. The meta-rule rule: If you cite a named rule or fallacy, and claim some theist has committed it, they have in fact committed it. (HT: Nathan Duffy)

28. The Richard Carrier Rule.  To five significant figures we can use Bayes' Theorem to compute the strong probability that Jesus did not exist. And if he did exist, we can use Bayes' theorem to prove that he suffered from ingrown toenails (but only to three significant figures.) And for $50 you can have the peer-reviewed masterpiece: How to use Bayes' Theorem to prove anything, by Dr. Richard Carrier, super-genius.

1 In a broken-clock sort of way, on this I am in agreement.
2 To be sure, I would bet the farm that Ed would call this guy an idiot.
3 See footnote 1.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Justification (post 1): Let's whet the old appetite

The Protestant Reformation is usually said to have started in 1517 1 with Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on All Saints'eve. The official title of the theses was "Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" (Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum). The theses mainly objected to the abuse of indulgences-- which were intended for the relief of temporal punishment for sins that had been forgiven. Here are some of Luther’s theses:

 29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;

34. For these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

Following the Reformation there was, on both the Protestant and Catholic sides, an explosion of exegetical scholarship, empowered by research techniques developed during the European Renaissance.

For example, much was written concerning the doctrines of Mary the mother of Jesus, so-called Marian Doctrine. Take for example the doctrine that Mary was a perpetual virgin and that the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in scripture were not his blood siblings but either cousins or step-siblings—sons and daughters of Joseph from a previous marriage.

According to Rome, when the Gospels speak of the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus, they do not mean other children of Mary. The Hebrew words were very broad, according to Catholics, and they could cover any sort of relationship. In addition, those who defend the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity point out that Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ and his disciples, lacked a specific word for "cousin", so brother and sister were often used in lieu of cousin. Even modern English, they point out, uses "brother" and "sister" more broadly for members of fraternities and sororities. Not to mention that all Christians refer to one another as “brothers and sister.” Proponents also claim there is implicit evidence of Jesus being without any living brothers or sisters at the time of his crucifixion in that Jesus entrusts his mother to John instead of a sibling. In addition, it is sometimes argued that if "brothers and sister"” really means brothers and sisters, it refers to Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. In this view, Joseph was much older and died much earlier than Mary.

There are many objections to Rome’s view that Mary was “ever-virgin,” perhaps none stronger than the plain reading of this passage:
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matt. 1:24-25)
To most Protestants, this passage clearly implies that Joseph and Mary had normal sexual relations after the birth of Jesus. To Catholics, who argue, in part based on the subtleties of the Greek word heos, (translated as until) this passage states nothing more than what happened during the time period under discussion—from the conception of Jesus until His birth, with no implication for what occurred afterward even though in modern English we infer that the until" generally implies not just duration but that the situation later changed. Defending this viewpoint, one theologian of the era of the Reformation wrote2:
This passage (Matt. 1:24-25) afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius3. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary's perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of [Matthew], as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.
This same theologian, affirming the doctrine that Jesus had no brothers and that Mary was forever a virgin addresses: But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (Gal. 1:19) in this manner2:
Who this James was, deserves inquiry. Almost all the ancients are agreed that he was one of the disciples, whose surname was "Oblias" and "The Just," and that he presided over the church at Jerusalem. Yet others think that he was the son of Joseph by another wife, and others (which is more probable) that he was the cousin of Christ by the mother's side: but as he is here mentioned among the apostles, I do not hold that opinion. Nor is there any force in the defense offered by Jerome, that the word Apostle is sometimes applied to others besides the twelve; for the subject under consideration is the highest rank of apostleship, and we shall presently see that he was considered one of the chief pillars. It appears to me, therefore, far more probable, that the person of whom he is speaking is the son of Alpheus.
We of course argue that James was indeed the blood-brother of Jesus. Another theologian of the Reformation era wrote4:
I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.
And a third wrote5:
I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.
It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin.” And also: “Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.
The three theologians under discussion are, in order, John Calvin, Huldreich Zwingli and Martin Luther. The big three Protestant Reformers. I could have also provided examples of the Reformers’ views on baptism and the Lord’s supper that to the modern Protestant, especially the Baptist, sound “Catholic.” And why do I consider this important? It is from my belief that if you ask a modern Protestant “why was there a great schism of the church that we call the Reformation?” he is likely to respond “because of indulgences” or “because of strange Catholic doctrines” like Mary’s perpetual virginity or because they view the Lord’s supper as more than commemorative. Nothing could be further from the truth. The schism known as the Reformation was due to something else entirely. It was due to irreconcilable differences over the doctrine of Justification. That is why it is important for us to study Justification. The differences between Reformed theology and Catholic theology on Justification are the same today as in the time of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

1 And, apropos nothing, we point out that 1517 is an interesting number, being the product of two consecutive primes, 37 and 41.
2 Calvin Commentaries.
3 Helvidius was the author of a 4th century argument against the perpetual virginity of Mary.
4 Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424)
5 Martin Luther,That Jesus was born a Jew.