Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pastor makes un-unprecedented claim: Current events show Jesus will return soon!

This was published in May, but I just came across it, perhaps in the nick of time:  Greg Laurie: Could NK threat spell Last Days for U.S.?

Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. According to his wiki page:
President Donald Trump selected Pastor Laurie as one of several evangelical church leaders to participate in the National Prayer Service hosted at the Washington National Cathedral following the Presidential Inauguration of 2017.
Alrighty then!

Pastor Laurie reveals this profound eschatological exegesis:
"How does this fit into the prophetic puzzle? Well, in the last days there is no mention of any nation that would resemble North Korea,” Laurie mentioned next, noting that one explanation could be that North Korea sells its nuclear weapons to Iran, which is a key player in the Bible’s account of the End Times. "Here is what concerns me – we do not find the reigning superpower on the face of the Earth anywhere in the Last Days scenario, [but] other nations emerge. So where is America?”
If I follow his, um, compelling argument it boils down to this:
  1. There is no superpower mentioned in wherever he is getting his end times prophecy. 1
  2. Therefore America will probably be destroyed before Jesus' return (bummer.)
  3. The most likely source of our imminent destruction is North Korea.
  4. Ruh rho, North Korea doesn't show up in Revelation either! 2
  5. Therefore North Korea will sell its nukes to Iran, aka Persia, a major end-times player and bogeyman. Persia will do the nasty to us.
I'm convinced. How about you?

1 Presumably some combination of Daniel, Ezekiel, The Olivet Discourse, Revelation, The Late Great Planet Earth, the Left Behind Series, and the Trump State Department.

2 I think he is just not being creative. Surely any endtimes exegete of note can find a reference to North Korea if he looks hard enough.

The Baltimore Catechism (modified)

The next time you are making a purchase on amazon, I strongly recommend spending another six bucks on The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2.

This volume (the second of four) is at the level of preparing Catholic Children for confirmation, typically around age seven.

What is fantastic about this book is that it is both informative and yet delightfully anachronistic. The illustrations and examples will fill you with nostalgia, especially if you are over fifty or a fan of the Mystery Science Theater series, because they are very much in the style of those 1950's short films put out by the government on topics from personal hygiene to atomic power. Tommy knows that a boy's hair should be parted two inches to the left of the center line of his head, and it should be straight and clearly visible. And remember, the atom is your friend.

For example, in a section on "Occasions of Sin" there is a picture of a boy reaching for a pack of cigarettes on a dresser, with an ashtray and matches nearby. The boy reminds himself: "These are my father’s cigarettes. But he told me not to smoke, I'm too young..." In one generation we went from "you're too young to smoke" to "cigarettes are a repulsive habit that will kill you." The cultural change is so interesting. I can't even remember the last time I saw an ashtray. And yet in my lifetime people used to smoke on elevators. Elevators!

As for learning about Catholicism--if you want to learn what Rome teaches you should, at least at first, use the Catholic Church's own resources. There is a lot of bad if not slanderous garbage written by Protestants. There is plenty of material in this book that will point out substantive differences and also many similarities between conservative Catholicism and evangelism. One striking example of the former is on the inside cover of the catechism, where we read:
The faithful who devote twenty minutes to a half hour to teaching or studying Christian Doctrine may gain:
An indulgence of 3 years. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions twice a month, if the above practice is carried out at least twice a month.
--Apostolic Brief, March 12, 1930; S. P. Ap., May 26, 1949.
In teaching about the Eucharist and transubstantiation, the catechism states:
351. Is Jesus Christ whole and entire both under the appearances of bread and under the appearances of wine?
Jesus Christ is whole and entire both under the appearances of bread and under the appearances of wine.
Notice what it states, for it is substantive: it argues that the body and the blood are both present in the bread and wine separately. The bread is not only body, and the the wine is not only blood.

The reason for this doctrine, which is to defend the practice of withholding the wine from the laity (because they have a tendency to spill it, which necessitates special cleansing) is not mentioned. If the blood is also present in the bread and not just the wine, then the bread constitutes a complete meal, and the laity is not missing anything by not drinking the wine, so no spills to worry about.

I found quite interesting an explanation as to why transubstantiation doesn't go all the way--that is, why only the substance of the bread changes, but not the appearances:
The appearances of bread would also change into those of Christ if God did not prevent this by a miracle.
When the priest says, "This is my body," at Mass, you would immediately see Christ, and not the appearances of bread, if God did not prevent it by a miracle. He keeps the appearances of bread in existence to enable us to eat the flesh of Christ without difficulty. (p. 165)
Of course, in many Protestant churches the extreme opposite view, the Great Absence, is taught: the Lord 's Supper is purely a memorial service, nothing supernatural, no grace being bestowed, no statement about whether or not Christ is present in any manner different from the other three Sundays when the Lord's Supper is safely secured in some kitchen closet.

Monday, October 30, 2017

God and Baseball Statistics (modified)

Note: I have heard that tomorrow, 31 October 2017, the 95 Reasons the Dodgers Will Win The Series will be nailed on the doors of Joel Osteen's "church". It will mark the closest ever penetration of the gospel into that establishment. It's just the first shot--the gates of hell (which are believed to be in the basement) will not prevail.


In the six days of sports creation, God created sports successively closer and closer to the perfect divine image. To be precise:

Day 1: Basketball (Intended for the Nephilim, to keep their minds off the daughters of men. Alas it didn't work, because the sport was too boring, with too many stoppages and fouls and semi-infinite timeouts, not to mention the daughters of men were hawt.)

Day 2: Soccer

Day 3: Real Football

Day 4: Hockey

Day 5: Baseball


And on the seventh day he watched NASCAR. And it was very good. Except for Kevin Harvick hitting the wall in turn two.

A "Sports Theodicy" is an attempt to explain the puzzle of where figure skating, prepubescent gymnastics and Formula One Racing came from, since God had nothing to do with these. He is never the author of sports that are highly feminized. They are believed to be the result of free will.

Though baseball is not the pinnacle of sports creation, it's darn close. And it has been given the special honor as the sport-most-holy in its conduciveness to statistical analysis.

Here is something from Numbers. We all know about batting average (BA). If you don't—well in the words of that great American philosopher Foghorn Leghorn, "I say, there's just something yech about a boy who don't, I say, don't like baseball." BA is simply the number of hits divided by the number at bats.

By divine fiat the number of significant digits in the BA shall always be kept at three. Never four, and five is just out of the question. And thou shall omit the leading zero, lest thou be sentenced to be a Pittsburgh Pirate fan.

So a player who has 207 hits in 611 at bats has BA of .339.

And thou shall also reference the BA as if multiplying by the holy number 1000, holy because it is 103, with 10 being the number of commandments, and 3 being the persons of the Trinity. (Modern students may need a calculator.) Thus the player with the batting average of .300 shall not be said to be hitting "point 3 oh oh" nor  the even more heretical "point 3", but "three hundred." Because inscrutable reasons.

A more interesting statistic is the batting average on balls in play (BABIP). For this statistic, you take the number of times the batter gets the ball in play, i.e., hits it into fair territory, divided by plate appearances. Strikeouts and home runs are excluded. Sacrifice flies, however, count as plate appearances. The formula is:

BABIP = (H – HR)/(AB – K – HR + SF)

where H is hits, HR is home runs, AB is at bats, K is strikeouts, and SF is sacrifice flies.

By comparison, the regular batting average is given by:


The average BABIP is around .300. Usually, but not always, a hitter's BABIP is higher than his BA.

Here is where things get interesting. If you are a general manager and your team needs a hitter, you generally snag the one who is available with the highest BA. But suppose there are two players available with the same BA but different BABIP. For example:

Bill Buckner: BA: .280, BABIP: .290
Omar Moreno: BA: .280, BABIP .340

Which would you take? The counter-intuitive answer: take Buckner, the hitter with the lower BABIP.


Because it turns out that to a good first approximation once a batted ball is in play whether or not it results in a safe hit is random. Does the ball go to where a defender ain't? So a BABIP below the average of .300 indicates a player who has, statistically speaking, been unlucky. His BA should be higher. Conversely a player whose BABIP is higher than .300 has been lucky. His BA is artifically high.

Over time you expect the BA of a player with a high BABIP to drop, and the BA of a player with a low BABIP to rise.

So take Bill Buckner. Send Omar Moreno to AAA.

I don't know what this post is about (modified)

Are you Cold, Hot, or Lukewarm

In the Book of Revelation, in the letter to the church at Laoedecia, it is written:
"And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, "These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. (Rev. 3:14-16

Here I use the NKJV because I like the use of the word “vomit” instead of “spit”. No sense being lukewarm about it.

What I am about to write about is just speculation, but it seems plausible. And many of you probably head this:

I always thought what was being written about the Laodiceans was that they were marginal Christians—and Christ would rather they were hot (fervent believers) or cold (unrepentant non believers) but this middle-of the-road stuff was really annoying. And I always thought that odd—surely someone making a feeble attempt is still better (in some sense) than a heathen.

There is an alternate explanation related to the supply of water. Laodicea was near Heirapolis  and Colosse (of the letter to the Colossians fame). The three cities were “sister” cities, of sorts. (Again I am obliged to apologize if I am the last person to hear this, but hey—I paid for this blog.) Without getting into geological detail, Heirapolis was known for the medicinal benefits of its hot water, which emanated from hot springs. Colosse was famous for its refreshing cold water from mountain runoff. Laodicea was noted for its good-for-nothing lukewarm water, which had no redeeming qualities. So the alternative explanation is that the Laodiceans should be hot (healing) or cold (refreshing) in terms of their ministry and works, but not lukewarm which provides neither benefit. To make it really kind of interesting, the first letters of the cities Laodicea, Heirapolis , and Colosse match the first letters of their temperatures. It’s nearly as miraculous as the fact that hymns translated from their original language into English still rhyme.

[Aside: the Laodiceans must have taken notice to the warnings in John’s vision. Laodicea thrived as a Christian center. Long after the church at Colosse faded, Laodicea was important enough (in spite of its tepid water) to host a major church council, The synod of Laodicea, in 364 A.D.]

And now for something completely different.

The Enigma Named Nicodemus

Nicodemus appears only in John’s gospel. We first meet him at the beginning of John chapter 3 where he is the “straight man” for the most famous of Christ’s sayings:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus,asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:1-16)
Nicodemus next appears in John chapter 7:

Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, "This certainly is the Prophet." Others were saying, "This is the Christ." Still others were saying, "Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? "Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?" So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, "Why did you not bring Him?" The officers answered, "Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks." The Pharisees then answered them, "You have not also been led astray, have you? "No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? "But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed." Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, " Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?" They answered him, "You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee." Everyone went to his home. (John 7:40-53)

[Aside: At the end of this passage a Pharisee said “Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” Actually several prophets did come from the vicinity of Galilee, which the Pharisee presumably knew. What he was actually referring to (and what was alluded to earlier in the passage) was the Messianic prophesy of Micah 5:2 that says the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. This guy (along with many others) was apparently under the mistaken impression that Jesus was born in Galilee and so could not be the Messiah.]

And his swan song is in John 19, where he helps Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus.

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.  Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.  (John 19:38-40)

Here is my question (for which I cannot possibly know the answer): do you think Nicodemus was saved? If it weren’t for his helping Joseph of Arimathea I would be highly doubtful. Even so, he could have helped because he liked Jesus as a man while not believing he was the Son of God.

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night—and the Bible makes a point of telling us that (twice). It is as if Nicodemus did not want to be seen with Jesus. In John 3, you wonder if Nicodemus had an inquisitive, skeptical, sarcastic (especially the question about re-entering the womb) or antagonistic tone. Jesus does not seem to treat him “gently”, but says, in effect, you are a teacher and you don’t know this? What are you people (the Pharisees) thinking? In John 7, Nicodemus starts to defend Jesus-- whether it was because he believed him or just had sympathy for him is unclear. He appears to back off after the rebuke about Galilee.

Curious man that Nicodemus. I hope to see him in glory. I’ll be a little surprised if I do. Of course lots of people will be very surprised to see me there.

Friday, October 27, 2017

I'm possessed (modified)

I’ve decided that the toughest verse in the Bible is Luke 12:33. In particular, the first sentence thereof.
32 "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34)
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Now, how do I avoid the plain meaning? Let's fire up a few of tried-and-true escape mechanisms:

1) Is this in a parable? No.

2) It applies only to the apostles. I don't think so. That's a stretch.

3) Can this be cast as figurative? Does it really mean: "Do not hold on to your possessions. Be willing to give them up at a moment’s notice, should they be of use to God or the church. Do not make idols of your possessions. Do not value your self-made kingdom more then the kingdom of God." Can it be taken that way? No.

I would like it to mean (3). I could convince myself that I was commendable in that regard. But does it actually say that? No it doesn’t. It states:  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.

I am so out of compliance. It is not because I am materialistic, because I’m not. Many sins I suffer from, but materialism is not among them, at least not in a big way. I'm reasonably confident that your private gossip about brother David H when you know you shouldn’t be gossiping would not be: “Boy, is he is materialistic.” Or if it is, I'd honestly be surprised. 1

My discomfort is all about what I would call, in my spin room, responsibility while others might call it a lack of trust. I am building a bigger barn (which has gotten considerably smaller in recent days) called "retirement" and "trust fund" because I have responsibilities. I have to think about my disabled son. I have to provide for him for when I am at room temperature. I am anxious for him. You can say: God will take care of him to which I say: And how do you know that what I am doing is not God’s way of taking care of him?

But I am not selling my possessions and giving to the needy. Nor am I likely to live up to that standard. Ever. And that’s a real downer.

1 Hmm. Interesting question. What do you reckon people are gossiping about you? I've been through a lot lately; ecclesiastically speaking I had a rather spectacular fall from grace. I don't think I'd actually want to know what people are saying about me, or thinking about me. And I feel uneasy just contemplating the matter.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Atheism Minus: Oh Please Do!

About five or so years ago dumbest of the dumb and the most loathsome of the loathsome internet atheists 1,2 started a movement called Atheism+ ("Atheism Plus", or "A+"). It was essentially a new denomination of atheists, with a circle of orthodoxy of about a Planck length in radius.

The statement of faith of A+ was that True Atheists  went beyond just disbelieving in gods. A+ converts added to their atheism: third-wave feminism, intersectionality, humanism, science, uber-rationality, far-left ideology, and most importantly social justice. Theological leaders decreed that these are not just desirable additions to atheism, but in a gnostic sort of way they are natural consequences for the enlightened atheist. The True Atheist.

A+ had its own iconography and its own forum. The forum eventually died of neglect, and it is greatly missed. While breathing it provided an endless stream of yuks and a veritable mother lode of blog fodder. Essentially it burnt itself out through zealous discipline of its own congregation.

What generally happened is this:

1. Dogmatically pure "elders" became the inquisition, i.e. the forum moderators. A requirement seemed to be that you self-diagnosed and placed yourself on the autism spectrum.

2. Excited wide-eyed noob acolytes would  eagerly join the forum.

3. Within a post or two they would unwittingly violate a commandment and be charged with one of a semi-infinite number of "ism" mortal sins, which included, alphabetically: (ableism, ageism, ...) 4

4) The noob would be expected to prostrate itself 5 and acknowledge its unworthiness, and vow to repent.

5) Upon a second offense (which often occurred via another ism-sin in the noob's apology for the first ism-sin) the dog 6 was shunned for a period and could not post.

As you can imagine, such a brilliant star will quickly burn through its own fuel. A+ is now nothing more than a brown dwarf, 7 invisible to the naked eye.

A+, what happened? I miss you so much!

Not to despair. A replacement has been announced!


Oh PLEASE let this happen, please! It is so very clever. Instead of adding dogma to dictionary atheism to create A+, you remove heresy from--something, I don't know what it is (it can't be dictionary atheism, since that means "only" denying the existence of gods) to arrive back at the same place. It is reminiscent of hole theory in physics, where the removal of a negative particle is the equivalent of adding a positive hole.

I especially love how the siren call is to "us original members of the Atheist Movement".

This is an amazing gift.

1 The movement's "intellectual" heavyweights included the likes of Bishop PZ Myers (aka Peezus) and Cardinal Richard Carrier (two peas in a pod). I rest my case. They even had a deceiver, a fallen from grace morningstar, an anti-Peezus, who was, believe it or not, Richard Dawkins.

2 There are, of course, super-intelligent, thoughtful, civil, formidable,  friendly, likable, knowledgable, and scholarly internet atheists. They did not join the A+ denomination.

3 The atheist-in-name-only heretics who only disbelieved gods were segregated into another apostate denomination, the so-called "Dictionary Atheists" (hisss!) Roughly speaking the analogy is:

Dictionary Atheists : A+ :: Mainline Christianity : Westboro Baptists

4 Listing them alphabetically is the sin of lexicographism.

5 In additional to mortal sins, A+ had an unpardonable sin: the use of an incorrect pronoun.

6 Rats, by using dog as an insult I committed the sin of homosapienism, and then repeated my error by starting this footnote with "Rats". Dogs and rats are just as good as people.

7 I cannot even enumerate the ism-sins of brown dwarf.

CSL is "da man"

Here is a oddball quiz, symmetrized for fairness:

1. Quiz for the Arminian: which Calvinistic Christian do you wish would abandon (or had abandoned) his or her believe in election, and recognize the truth that all people have, within themselves, the ability to cooperate with prevenient grace and respond positively to the gospel call which leads to regeneration?

2. Quiz for the Calvinist: Which Arminian Christian do you wish would abandon (or had abandoned) his or her believe in a universal vestigial goodness, small but sufficient to self-generate a desire for God, and recognize the truth that God in his sovereignty must resurrect us from death and regenerate us before we want anything to do with Him? 1

I think I worded that fairly. Any complaints?

The answer to the first quiz is easy: Jesus! Or if he is not allowed as an answer, then: the apostle Paul! (I know, I  know--sorry Arminian brothers and sisters. Sort of. But...)

The answer to the second quiz is very subjective. But I'd have to go with C. S. Lewis. He should have been a Calvinist, but wasn't. What's up with that?

I thought about C. S. Lewis because I was directed to his essay on the efficacy of prayer, an essay I somehow previously missed. It's awesome.

1 An uglier quiz for Calvinists is: Which Calvinists do you wish weren't, because they are downright embarrassing? There's a depressingly large pool of possible answers.  2  A subset of this pool is the complete set of hard-core Presbyterian theonomists.

2 Gee, I hope I'm not on anyone's list. Nah. couldn't be. Could it? Nah. I'm not worried. Really.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

There he goes again

The Rasputin-esque topic of fine-tuning came up on Biologos again.  I commented this, which you've heard me say a semi-infinite number of times, so forgive me:
I'm going to get on my soap box again. "Fine Tuning" and probability should never be mentioned in the same context. They have nothing to do with each other. Fine tuning is simply the observation that the habitability of the universe (or more precisely, the ability of the universe to manufacture heavy elements) appears to be highly sensitive to the values of the constants. End of story. No mention of probability. If the universe is fine-tuned, then it is fine tuned whether the values of the constants are probable or not. Furthermore, if you insist to turn [it] into an apologetic, IDers (as is their custom) take exactly the wrong approach. They argue (with no scientific support) that the [probability of the values] values of the constants [is] vanishingly small, ergo god. When in fact it is more likely if the [probabilities]  are vanishingly small it would be ergo multiverse. The best apologetic would be a fundamental theory that predicts the constants (unit probability) which, when coupled with the fine-tuning (sensitivity) would be the best possible prima facie evidence for design.
It is the height of arrogance to assume I'm right and everyone is wrong, I would never think of doing that. Except in this case. Those Intelligent Design advocates who tie fine-tuning to low probability are  making the worst scientific, mathematical, and strategic mistake they could possibly make. I suspect they don't care about the first two, but the last one, you'd think, would be of some importance.

Venn there, done that (modified)

Let's take a look venerable Venn diagram. Few constructs have the power to display a concept as succinctly and clearly as a Venn diagram.

In Christianity a Venn diagram that often shows up is one that reflects St. Augustine's notion of the visible and invisible church. The former is the set of professed believers, the latter is the set of actual believers.

We can extend this using some modern internet terminology. "Self-Identified Christians" and True Christians™. The little trademark symbol is used in a pejorative manner—atheists will tack it on to mock the notion that any given Christian will consider that only some other self-identified Christians are legitimate. It is used as a tiny symbolic form of the "No True Scotsman fallacy" charge. But I kind of like it—the symbol that is—so I'll accept it with gratitude from my atheist comrades, in the spirit in which it was not intended.

For the most part the atheist Venn diagram for Christians is:

That is, they self-righteously make no distinction between those who claim to be Christians and those who have a saving faith. Whether this is out of actual ignorance or feigned ignorance for convenience I can't say—but I suspect mostly the latter. For it allows them to say: Fred Phelps claimed to be a Christian, who am I to say he was not? As far as I'm concerned he just as much a Christian as anyone else. But atheists read the bible, they know that a Christian is to be judged by his fruit—so neither we nor they are at the mercy of accepting someone's word.

Not all internet atheists are so silly. Some actually grasp the concept that words have meaning. Atheist Jason Rosenhouse once gave an example that I have used many times since. He argued something along the lines of this: if someone claims I am a Christian, I believe in Jesus. And I believe in Elvis. And I believe Elvis is Jesus then it would make no sense to accept his claim of legitimate Christianity. Bravo Jason.

No, the actual Venn diagram is the same as Augustine's:

The fascinating groups are those who, on either side, fall outside the intersection. The Self-Identified Christians who are not True Christians™ come in at least two groups: the charlatans and the self-delusional. Where is Benny Hinn? Joel Osteen? My guess: in the charlatan category. Where was Fred Phelps? My guess: in the self-delusional category. Based on his fruit I judge(d) them, as commanded, this way: that unless, someday, he is truly regenerated he id destined to hear those frightful words: I never knew you. Of course my judgment doesn't count for squat--it only means that I would have refused to accept Fred Phelps as a Christian. The point is: I am supposed to judge--I am am supposed to withhold the holy from dogs.

On the other side (assuming it's not the null set) are even more fascinating people: True Christians™ who are not Self-Identified Christians. We have reason to be hopeful that this includes dead infants and the mentally handicapped. I personally believe it also includes people who have not heard the gospel but who have been evangelized by creation. And people who have been mislead. In any event, the bottom line: it can include anyone God wants it to include.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Honest Science (modified)

Scientific American: Scientists say free will probably doesn't exist, but urge: "Don't stop believing!"

Silly scientists.

(a) Telling us to believe in something that they cannot demonstrate or explain and
(b) actually do not think is even real.

That's worse than theists! At most we are guilty of (a), but not (b).

Of all the things with which you could fill in the blank: Without God there is no [blank], one of the hardest things for atheists to address is free will.

Morality? Altruism? Evolved, evolved, next question?

Free will?

<<crickets chirping>>

There is no scientific explanation possible for free will. True free will, if it exists, is inherently supernatural. By its very definition it involves circumventing nature. The universe's differential equation is leading you to perform action A, but you rise up against nature's next time-step and choose instead.

Hey nature, you didn't see that one coming didja?, you dumb old broad!

Free will means that via the power of your thoughts you can change the state of the universe. More amazingly, you can create a discontinuity wherein the universe jumps into a state with no antecedent cause.  And this is happening gazillions of times, every instant, as all beings equipped with free will somehow, in a nondeterministic way,  exercise their ability to "decide" what to do next.

There is no way out for science. Free will is supernatural. All science can ever say is that there is no free will, it is only an illusion. And they are are usually loath to admit it.

Which leads them into quagmires of Vietnam proportions. Consider this blurb (could they not have come up with a better example?) from the Scientific American article.
A middle-aged man hires a prostitute, knowingly exposing his wife to a sexually transmitted infection and exploiting a young drug addict for his own pleasure. Should the man be punished somehow for his transgression? Should we hold him accountable? Most people, I’d wager, wouldn’t hesitate to say “yes” to both questions.

But what if you thought about it in the following slightly different, scientific terms? The man’s decision to have sex with this woman was in accordance with his physiology at that time, which had arisen as a consequence of his unique developmental experiences, which occurred within a particular cultural environment in interaction with a particular genotype, which he inherited from his particular parents, who inherited genetic variants of similar traits from their own particular parents, ad infinitum. Even his ability to inhibit or “override” these forces, or to understand his own behavior, is the product itself of these forces! What’s more, this man’s brain acted without first consulting his self-consciousness; rather, his neurocognitive system enacted evolved behavioral algorithms that responded, either normally or in error, in ways that had favored genetic success in the ancestral past.

Given the combination of these deterministic factors, could the man have responded any other way to the stimuli that he was confronted with? Attributing personal responsibility to this sap becomes merely a social convention that reflects only a naive understanding of the causes of his behaviors. 

It is even worse. The man could not choose otherwise, so we should not judge him. But we who judge him must judge him, in accordance with our physiology, which has arisen as a consequence of our unique developmental experiences, which occurred within our particular cultural environment in interaction with our particular genotype. Not only that, the writer had to question whether we should judge him, and the editors of Scientific American had to publish his paper, and I had to write about it, and you had to read about it.

After all is said and done what does science say? There is no free will, but don't stop believing. The incongruity of such a position is mind boggling.

Monday, October 23, 2017

You've been flanked! (Alternate title: I'll turn you into a newt!)

The cess-pool atheist blogs I visit (there is also a cess-pool of Christian blogs--I do hope my head is above water) have long bragged about America's move from religiosity, such as is documented in this Pew survey:

But of course they have nothing much to boast about--the growth in the category "atheist" is quite modest--it's the so-called "nones" that are growing.

Well, the first comment I'd make is one I've made before--the decline in the number of self-identified Christians in the US is a good thing. As the stigma associated with being an atheist or other non-Christian wanes, perhaps more non-Christians will come out of the unbelieving closet and out of the pews, were they don't belong. Now I am of course not talking about "seekers" (whatever that means) or just the plain curious--I'm talking about those who have been self-identifying as Christians, inflating the numbers of Christians in the US (which makes us susceptible to be blamed for, well, everything) and going to church for years out of peer and/or familial pressure. They should just stop. It's a win-win if they do not feel pressure to lie about their beliefs--or lack of beliefs.

My second comment is that the previously mentioned atheist blogs like to imply that the "new atheists" are winning, and science is somehow winning (presumably in its make-believe war against faith) and rationalism and modernism are fueling this unprecedented abandonment of religion.

Um, no. Sorry, at least according to a recent USA Today article, millennials are not scampering from the superstitions of religion into the out-stretched welcoming arms of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. They are embracing witchcraft and astrology:
Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.
Sorry self-proclaimed uber-rational atheists. You are not winning. You are now fighting a war on two fronts. Sucks to be you.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Bunyan on Law and Grace

John Bunyan, making the SAT analogy:

Thundering Law: Promise of Grace :: Hagar:Sarah

He writes:
Wherefore whenever thou who believest in Jesus, dost hear the law in its thundering and lightening fits, as if it would burn up heaven and earth; then say thou, I am freed from this law, these thunderings have nothing to do with my soul; nay even this law, while it thus thunders and roareth, it doth allow and approve of my righteousness. I know that Hagar would sometimes be domineering and high, even in Sarah’s house and against her; but this she is not to be suffered to do, nay though Sarah herself be barren; wherefore serve it (the law) also as Sarah served her, and expel her from thy house. My meaning is this, when this law with its thundering threatenings doth attempt to lay hold on thy conscience, shut it out with a promise of grace; cry, the inn is took up already, the Lord Jesus is here entertained, and there is no room for the law. Indeed if it will be content with being my informer, and so lovingly leave off to judge me; I will be content, it shall be in my sight, I will also delight therein; but otherwise, I being now upright without it, and that too with that righteousness, with which this law speaks well of and approveth; I may not, will not, cannot, dare not, make it my Savior and Judge, nor suffer it to set up its government in my conscience; for so doing I fall from grace, and Christ doth profit me nothing. (John Bunyan, The Law and The Christian)
I can agree with this. It is not a treatise against the law per se, it is against letting the law trump (with a lower case 't')  grace. The law convicts and teaches, but don't allow grieving over sin to cross the threshold into despair and unrighteous self-loathing. We are called to joy, not self-flagellation.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Science v. Science+

I am being asked to speak about the reconciliation between science and faith, so here are a few stream of consciousness  thoughts, many of which I've written down before.

When people talk about the incompatibility of science and faith, they are not talking about science. They are talking about science plus something. Let's call it Science+ ("Science Plus"). More on that anon.

Science itself is simply a method for studying the world. It has rules, commonly called the scientific method. There are many formal definitions of the scientific method. I'll give two working definitions:

Form 1:

1. Design an experiment; document the experimental procedure
2. Faithfully record the raw data
3. Analyze the data; document the analysis procedure
4. Disseminate the experimental results (whether you like them or not)
(Note: Steps 5&6 below are often done by others)
5. Derive a hypothesis (theory) from the results; Compare theory and experiment
6. Disseminate the results of the experimental-theory comparison

Form 2:

1. Make or adopt a hypothesis (theory)
(Note step 1, above, is often based on work done by others)
2. Design an experiment; document the experimental procedure
3. Faithfully record the data
4. Analyze the data; Compare theory and experiment; document the analysis procedure
5. Disseminate the experimental results and the comparison to theory

What goes unstated I will make explicit: You are not allowed to invoke the supernatural as part of your hypothesis. That is outside the domain of science. You can investigate supernatural processes (if they exist and you're lucky enough to be near one) but you'll never explain them. If Jesus came down and announced that he was going to take a stroll across Lake Erie, you could record it. You might be able to detect pressure variations as he trundles by. But you'll never explain it, because you aren't allowed to insert the famous "then a miracle occurs" step into your theory.

That's it. Science is a process (methodological naturalism). It is completely agnostic about the practitioner. It doesn't care if the scientist is:
  • Atheist or theist
  • Man or woman (or any linear combination thereof)
  • Black, brown, yellow, or white
  • Saint or Sinner
  • Straight or Gay (or any linear combination thereof)
  • Motivated by good, motivated by evil, motivated by $, or motivated by grades
Furthermore, it doesn't care if you like science or even if you "believe" in science.

I know professional scientists who don't like science. It has become a job. But the best illustration is to go into a student lab. There you will easily find students who absolutely hate science (the pre-meds are a good pool) yet who do first-rate science. They follow the scientific method to a T. And all the while they absolutely hate what they are doing. They just want a good grade. If you look at their beautiful lab report, you see good science. You cannot detect that they loathed every minute in the lab.

How about believing in science? What does that even mean? And whatever it means, isn't that a minimum requirement?

No. The process says nothing about you affirming the validity of the process. I have a common hypothetical (but plausible) example that sort of illustrates the point. Suppose I hate String Theory and think it is so bad that it is "not even wrong." I don't believe it for a minute. I could be passing time reading the String Theory literature, perhaps looking for more ways to denigrate String Theory, when I come across an unsolved mathematical problem that is holding back the field. Suppose, being a good mathematical (I'm not) I solve the problem and publish the solution. I become a hero in the String Theory community. I have done great String Theory science. And yet I still think it is "not even wrong."

The alleged incompatibility between science and faith should have, via science, a measurable effect. According to science, as a corollary of the method, if you can't measure it there is no point talking about it--at least not scientifically. So scientifically, at least, science and faith are not incompatible--unless you devise a way to measure/detect the incompatibility. I have proposed two experiments:

1. I'll give you ten papers from teir-1 peer-reviewed journals. Five from atheists, five from theists, with the names redacted. Detect the incompatibility and accurately separate the papers into the two groups.

2. Design an experiment that can be done by an atheistic scientist and not a theistic scientist.

Science+ is an attempt to redefine science to make it more than what it has been. It takes many convenient forms. It might add "love" to the requirements. Real scientists love science. (One would hope so, but it is not demanded.) Real scientists "believe" in science. Real scientists work for the good of humanity. Real scientists hold no superstitions. Real scientists don't work on defense. Real scientists don't experiment on live animals.

Science is not incompatible with faith, because it is not incompatible with anything as long as the method is respected. Science is the most compatible endeavor in the world. Follow this simple method, and you are doing science--just as well as anybody else.

Science+ can be made trivially incompatible with anything, by the appropriate definition of what a Real Scientist is.

If someone tells you that science and faith are incompatible, they are talking about Science+.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Drama of Redemption Part 7 (modified)

This series is largely based on R. C. Sproul’s audio series The Drama of Redemption, available from his website.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

The Intrusion of Sin

At the turn of the fourth century, one of the most important controversies in the history of the church erupted. It was a debate between St. Augustine (354-430) and a British monk by the name of Pelagius (ca. 354 - ca. 420/440). Such a big controversy—such an innocent catalyst. The event that launched the brouhaha was a modest sounding prayer penned from Augustine:
God, Command what you desire, and grant what you command.
This prayer encapsulates what we now call the doctrine of Original Sin. We believe it to be biblical, but in human terms it is said to have been first formulated by Augustine.

Augustine’s prayer acknowledges that man does not have the power, without God’s help, to obey God’s commands. Augustine’s prayer is this: God, I recognize that you are sovereign and can command of me whatever you want. I also recognize that I am unable to do what you command, apart from divine assistance—i.e., apart from grace. Help me.

It is important to recognize what original sin means and what it doesn't mean. Original sin means, quite simply, that we are born to sin. We sin because we are sinners; we are not sinners because we sin.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps. 51:5, NIV)
Original sin does not mean we stand charged with Adam's sin. Lead a sinless life and God will not keep you out of heaven on a technicality: True you committed no sin, but you forgot that Adam's sin was in your debit column. Gotcha! Such a concept impugns God's justice. No, original sin means something much worse, something that Augustine recognized. It means that we are such a corrupted race that in our natural state we have no choice but to sin. That is the dire consequence of the fall. Whatever we do as natural men, no matter what its outward appearance, is but filthy rags in God's eyes. Adam, as we will see, was our representative. He sinned, and the race suffered for it.

Augustine (and Reformed theology) teaches this: you have moral responsibility but, in your natural state, you lack the moral ability. In other words, apart from grace, you cannot choose not to sin. The fall did not change the requirement of obedience, but it changed us radically. So, apart from grace, we are doomed.

Jonathan Edwards wrote a treatise on Original Sin. At one point he argued that even if the bible never taught the doctrine of original sin, human experience common sense would demand it. Why? Because if we are born innocent, then occasionally we would expect to find someone, be it one in a thousand or one in a million, who remained pure—but we never encounter such a person.

Pelagius denied the doctrine of original sin, arguing that Adam’s sin affected Adam alone. He believed that, at birth, infants are in a state identical to Adam and Eve’s before the fall. Consistent with this view, he looked at baptism of infants as not in a cleansing them from sin but in imparting a higher sanctification through union with Christ. He didn’t really have a developed theology of baptism—it was a simple matter that it did not cleanse you of original sin because original sin did not exist. Augustine, in contrast, taught that infants are baptized to purge them of the sinful nature inherited from Adam.

According to Pelagius, there was no imputation of Adam’s sin onto his descendants. But scripture makes the symmetry plain: We are made righteous through imputation: Christ, as our representative, has abounding righteousness which is credited to us through imputation. It is not a fiction, and it is not a meaningless legal technicality: we are changed as a result. Likewise Adam’s sin, as he was our representative, is imputed to us. (Only later to be imputed from us to Christ on the cross.) It is not that we are charged with Adam’s sin, but that we are deeply affected by it. The physical result of the imputation is that we incapable of seeking or desiring or obeying God. We are dead in out trespasses.

So Pelagius argued that it is unnecessary for God to “grant” what he commands of us. Instead, according to Pelagius, it is possible for man, on his own, to fulfill God’s commandments. Pelagius believed that moral responsibility implied moral ability; it would be unjust for God to demand that we obey and yet arrange it so that we are born with the inability to do so. He argued that we must be born morally neutral—or innocent.

Pelagius had a role for grace: it facilitates our quest for moral perfection, but it is not required. In principle, at least, we can make do without grace. And, in fact, Pelagius argued that some people do, in fact, live a perfect life. Augustine, on the other hand, argued that grace is not only helpful but required.

Attacking Augustine and his doctrine on original sin, Pelagius argued that human nature was created good. In fact, we stay good. Sin does not change our essential human nature—we always will be “basically good.”

At the heart of the debate between Pelagius and Augustine is the thorny issue of free-will. Pelagius argued that Adam was given a free will, and his free will was not corrupted by the fall, nor was man’s moral character affected by the fall. Everyone, according to Pelagius, is born free of a predisposition to sin. Augustine agreed than man had a free will, but that man, on his own, was unable to use his will to choose God. Augustine believed that sin is universal and that man is a “mass of sin.” Man cannot, according to Augustine, elevate himself to doing good without benefiting from God’s grace.

Harnack (German theologian, 1851-1930) summarizes Pelagian taught:
Nature, free-will, virtue and law, these strictly defined and made independent of the notion of God - were the catch-words of Pelagianism: self-acquired virtue is the supreme good which is followed by reward. Religion and morality lie in the sphere of the free spirit; they are at any moment by man's own effort.
R.C. Sproul writes:
Augustine did not deny that fallen man still has a will and that the will is capable of making choices. He argued that fallen man still has a free will (liberium arbitrium) but has lost his moral liberty (libertas). The state of original sin leaves us in the wretched condition of being unable to refrain from sinning. We still are able to choose what we desire, but our desires remain chained by our evil impulses. He argued that the freedom that remains in the will always leads to sin. Thus in the flesh we are free only to sin, a hollow freedom indeed. It is freedom without liberty, a real moral bondage. True liberty can only come from without, from the work of God on the soul. Therefore we are not only partly dependent upon grace for our conversion but totally dependent upon grace.
Pelagius was condemned at the synod of Carthage in 418. Subsequent councils affirmed the condemnation of the Pelagian heresy and reaffirmed the doctrine of original sin.
So Augustine won the battle, but Pelagius won the war. Because we are a race of beings that doesn’t like grace, but with a religion that is only grace with no way to work your way to heaven. Strangely we have a natural affinity for the idea of salvation by works, so we try to sneak it in at every opportunity. And so the church, from the time the battle was won by Augustine, has faced a constant assault of Pelagian thought.

Sproul writes:
Humanism, in all its subtle forms, recapitulates the unvarnished Pelagianism against which Augustine struggled. Though Pelagius was condemned as a heretic by Rome, and its modified form, Semi-Pelagianism was likewise condemned by the Council of Orange in 529, the basic assumptions of this view persisted throughout church history to reappear in Medieval Catholicism, Renaissance Humanism, Arminianism, and modern Liberalism. The seminal thought of Pelagius survives today not as a trace or tangential influence but is pervasive in the modern church. Indeed, the modern church is held captive by it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Well he is bald!

Now this is somewhat troubling:

Jim Bakker (yes that Jim Bakker) threatens the wrath of God upon those who mock him. I'm going to watch out for bears on the way home.

Maybe if I buy some tasty survival food buckets from his store, I'll be forgiven?

I seem to recall something in the bible related to false prophets...

Good Work, Professor Coyne

Jerry Coyne, as most of you know, is a retired (and respected) atheist evolutionary biologist from the prestigious (and IMHO best comprehensive research university in America) University of Chicago.

Coyne sometimes posts on Christianity, and on that subject he is almost always wrong 1.

Coyne sometimes posts on an alleged incompatibility between science and religion, and on that subject he is almost always wrong 2.

Professor Coyne, however, deserves enormous praise for his comprehensive and diligent posting on the Regressive Left Mob's (among other sins) campaign to curtail free speech --which they often do under the guise of an Orwellian claim to be doing the exact opposite.

Here are some recent examples:

American University cancels “Unsafe Space” Title IX discussion on dubious grounds

How Kirkus changed its review of American Heart after mob pressure

An apologist says that Islam is the best way to prevent sexual abuse

Biloxi pulls “To Kill A Mockingbird” from eighth-grade readings

Bisexual student threatened by a University of Texas official after saying he said he didn’t have a “high opinion of Islam” because he’d be killed in some Muslim countries

Wellesley student paper argues for “hate speech” limitations on free speech

Well played, Dr. Coyne.

1 By which I mean I disagree with him.
2 See footnote 1.

A Born Again Star

Perhaps the brightest nova ever seen.

This is a not a supernova, but a nova. A supernova is the death of a single massive star after it runs out of fuel. Our sun is not massive enough to end its productive life as a supernova 1. Instead its out-of-fuel fate is to simmer on (with a inoperative fusion engine) as a white dwarf-- which is more or less a dead medium sized star. However, if there is a nearby star (a so-called binary system) then the white dwarf can steal material from its companion and its fusion engine can reignite.

In other words a nova is a redeemed star that has been born again. You don't have to be Fellini to see the metaphor.

Of course if you are a Young Earth Creationist you could argue that this is but a false memory, kind of like if Adam had false memories of getting a Thomas the Tank Engine on his fourth birthday. That God placed the light, in transit, as if two stars collided 200,000 years, ago although they never did--they never even existed. God did that. Because reasons.

1 This is set to occur in about five billion years. The inner Hal Lindsey in me predicts that Jesus will return before then. What the astronomical and cosmological ramifications of the Parousia are--about those I cannot speculate.

Homeopathic Holiness (modified)

Consider this verse:

The wicked flee when no one pursues (Proverbs 28:1)

Matthew Henry gives this commentary:
What continual frights those are subject to that go on in wicked ways. Guilt in the conscience makes men a terror to themselves, so that they are ready to flee when none pursues; like one that absconds for debt, who thinks every one he meets a bailiff. Though they pretend to be easy, there are secret fears which haunt them wherever they go, so that they fear where no present or imminent danger is, Ps. 53:5 . Those that have made God their enemy, and know it, cannot but see the whole creation at war with them, and therefore can have no true enjoyment of themselves, no confidence, no courage, but a fearful looking for of judgment. 
R. C. Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God, has a different take. He views it as a repulsion when unbelievers encounter the holy, even the tiniest holiness of God reflected in virtually homeopathic (my word, not his) quantities among believers. He relates an anecdote of a professional golfer who was part of a foursome with Billy Graham. After the round the pro returned to the clubhouse in a foul mood complaining to a friend that he didn't appreciate Billy Graham shoving his religion down his throat. But upon further questioning, it turned out the Graham had not mentioned his religion, not even once.

From my recollection as an unbeliever, I think Sproul is closer than Henry. The slight uneasiness I felt around believers (that is, around those who were not proselytizing. Around that type there was a profound uneasiness) was not that of a criminal fearing that an arrest warrant was about to be produced, but a slight revulsion telling me that I should not stand too close to this person. He has cooties.

At any rate Henry and Sproul (and I) agree that the irony here is that there is, in fact, no persuit.

Sproul also discusses how people fear God much more after they come to know Him. This is very true--and interesting, given that atheists will often say that we come to God out of fear. Whether or not that is ever true (it was not in my case) it is certainly true that we come to know fear. Sproul gives the perfect example from scripture:
3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 6 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5: 3-8)
Peter was just getting to know Jesus. He was not afraid. He was even (possibly) a little condescending in an eye-rolling manner with Jesus. Ahem. Just who is the fisherman here? But OK I'll humor you, teacher. But when he saw God revealed he was so afraid that he had his personal Isaiah-6 moment, recognized his own unclean lips, and asked Jesus: please, just go away.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Clergy Housing Tax Break: Good Riddance

Well, this opinion may not be shared by many of my friends. Nevertheless, here goes:

The housing deduction enjoyed for the past 60 years by clergy is the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).  The FFRF has prevailed in the latest round of appeals. As reported by Christianity Today:
Once again, a federal judge has declared that the longstanding clergy housing allowance violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. 
Offered only to “ministers of the gospel,” the 60-year-old tax break excludes the rental value of a home from the taxable income of US clergy. It’s the “most important tax benefit available to ministers,” according to GuideStone Financial Resources. 
It’s also the biggest: American ministers currently avail themselves of the tax break to the tune of $800 million a year, according to the latest estimate by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
This is a blatant special privilege for clergy. There is no reason why a pastor should get a housing tax break as opposed to, say, a carpenter, or a lawyer, or a staffer at Planned Parenthood.

This was an indefensible benefit created primarily for Christian clergy. We shouldn't take advantage of government support, beyond what is given to all non-profits.

Those of us who can give more to make up the loss should do so. We should be supporting our pastor--his housing should not be subsidized by the government.

What. Does. That. Mean? (modified)

A question to any readers out there:

If you could have just one biblical passage explained to you, perfectly, with no possibility of error, which one would it be? I don't necessarily mean in importance--just one that bugs you because you have no clue what it is about. One that leaves you scratching your head.

For me it would be this:
16If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:16-17
It doesn't matter how many commentaries I read. None give satisfaction on this passage. I don't get it. I don't get it at all. I do not buy the fairly common explanation that this is about sin that leads to immediate death, such as in the case of Ananias and his wife Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). That explanation has the slimmest of purchase. Apart from somebody sinning and dying, it doesn't fit nor offer any help in understanding the passage as a whole. Not to mention that since Ananias and Sapphira were summarily terminated there has been an obvious paucity of people sinning and dropping dead on the spot. With nothing new under the sun, if there are sins leading to immediate departure, you would think it would not be a rare phenomenon.

No, I don't think that's it. It is not about Ananias and Sapphira.

Sigh. It's one of those instance were I am reminded of the aphorism that it is not what you don't understand about the bible that should keep you awake, but what you do understand.  I get that. But it's not helping. This passage has always been stuck in my craw.

Do you have a passage that drives you nuts?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

You! Come up out of that water this instant! (modified)

As you read this, keep in mind I'm a Baptist. I just don't think you can prove that immersion, as a mode of baptism, is prescribed biblically. I look at it more or less as a perfectly sensible tradition tat if you don't like it--well don't join a Baptist church!

The Baptist insistence on immersion as the only acceptable mode for baptism is based on three arguments.
  1. One is the meaning of the Greek word babtizo, for which the claim is made that it absolutely implies immersion. (It doesn't. It can refer to a cleansing that doesn't demand immersion.) 

  2. The second argument is that Paul's writing identifies baptism as the symbolism for Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and only immersion gives justice to that symbolism. This is an attractive and compelling argument (and the basis for immersion being such an acceptable tradition) but ultimately is a subjective appeal.

  3. And the third is that the baptisms described in scripture clearly indicate immersion.
The last point is the weakest of the three, and is the only one I'll discuss here.

The basis for the argument is the Greek preposition eis which, in the relevant passages we'll examine, is translated as out of and into. However, it can also be translated as to, upon, unto, towards, for, and among.

The most quoted passage is that of Jesus' baptism, another famous 3:16 verse:
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (Matt 3:16, KJV)
Here the argument goes that if Jesus came "out of" the water, then he must have been immersed. Obviously that is not the case: if one is waist deep with a dry head one can still come up out of the water by walking to the shore. This passage is, at most, suggestive of immersion. It does not require it.

However, the death blow to this argument (not the death blow to the case for immersion, just the death blow for using such passages to prove that it is the only legitimate mode) comes from the case of the Ethiopian eunuch. There we read:
36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39)
The problem here for we Baptists is that whatever was described for the Ethiopian in relation to the water must also apply to Philip. They both went "into" the water. They both came "up out of" the water. If such language, the same as used in describing Jesus' baptism, demands immersion—then we must conclude that the baptizer (Philip) was also immersed. I know of no Baptist church that requires the pastor to be immersed when administering the ordinance.

 The observant will note there is no verse 37. It was not left out.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Four Bad Proofs for Biblical Inerrancy

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. ) 

Four Bad Proofs

As important as biblical inerrancy is, we need to avoid bad arguments supporting it. In the book Primitive Theology, Gerstner outlines four bad proofs. These are four ways that are sometimes used but which in fact are fallacious and should be avoided. These four “bad arguments” are lifted, nearly verbatim, from Gerstner’s treatment of their error in Primitive Theology.

1. The Bible’s own Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

We cannot use passages such as 2 Tim. 3:16 to prove the bible is inspired or inerrant. Probably everyone senses the circularity of such an approach, or the logical fallacy of begging the question, in which the conclusion is demonstrated by first assuming it to be true. And of course, if a claim of inerrancy is all that is required then we must allow that the Koran and the Book of Mormon are also inerrant.

Here is the important distinction: The bible is not the word of God because it says so, it says so because it is.

Some will argue that the bible is different. In general, they agree that something is not true merely because it says it is true. However the bible, being the word of God, is subject to different rules. It is God’s word, and God’s word cannot be challenged. This, of course, is true. But it misses the point. The question is not whether we should instantly obey the word of God. We agree with the prophet Samuel who said "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Sam 3:10) but like Samuel we must first know that the voice we hear is really God’s. The question is whether we can accept the bible as the word of God merely because it says that it is. The answer is we can not.

Some will argue it is simply too presumptuous and impious to put the bible to the test. On the contrary, it is an act of humility. For we are using the only means at our disposal that God has given us, our reason, to distinguish between the true word of God and the word of men falsely claiming to speak the word of God. We are again reminded that Jesus’ miracles are offered as proof of his claims of deity.

No we cannot use the bible’s own claim as proof of its inspiration. However, if we can successfully make a case for inerrancy (not in this post) then the bible’s lofty claims about itself will carry great weight. It’s claim of inspiration will be of comfort, and its refrain of “Thus sayeth the Lord” and its proclamation of the gospel will be sources of great joy.

2. The Holy Spirit’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

Another bad proof of inerrancy attempts to ride the coattails of a sound doctrine: the “Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” This internal testimony is necessary for us to understand God’s word, for without it His truth would appear as foolishness to our ears (1 Cor. 1:18).  1  It is tempting, then, to make this type of argument:

Just as the bible certifies itself by the letter of scripture, so by the living voice of God the Spirit convinces the hearts of men.

Many even assume the bible is “dead text” until the Spirit speaks to a heart at which time the beneficiary has an experiential basis for accepting inerrancy. What more, could one demand as proof than the voice of God speaking directly into one’s soul?

Nothing more, is the obvious response. Nobody would be foolish enough to reject as inconclusive the very voice of God inwardly announcing to us that the bible His word. At such a point, searching for proof would be superfluous.

Of course, when pressed for details, the proponents of this view will concede that they never actually heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say to them “the Bible is my Word.” Many would even complain that it is impertinent to ask them if they actually heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, even as they continue to claim that the Sprit is talking to them. We politely remind them that we affirm the doctrine of the inward testimony of the spirit as it applies to understanding scripture, just not as it applies to the bible’s inerrancy.

If the Spirit does not testify audibly, the question becomes, how does the Spirit, through inaudible testimony, convey to someone that the bible is inerrant? The answer given is that the Holy Spirit confirms our convictions when we read the bible and intensifies our experience as we meditate on scripture. Once again we agree that such a thing happens, but counter that it still doesn’t prove inerrancy or inspiration. All it means is that a person reads the bible and he is stirred by parts of what he reads. He feels or thinks he feels a spirit other than his own working in his heart. Even if he is sure there is another spirit, he cannot be sure what that spirit is. Furthermore, if it is the Holy Spirit he cannot be sure it isn’t the Spirit telling him that this part of the book he is reading is good, but other parts—well—if you don’t feel the same way don’t you have to believe them.

To summarize we must reject the testimony of the Spirit as a basis for inerrancy. (At the same time, we loudly affirm our belief in the testimony of the Spirit.) The Spirit’s testimony is not audible, it is an intensifying of feelings and enlightening of understanding as we contemplate, but it does prove inerrancy.

3. The Believer’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

It may not be obvious that the first two “bad” proofs—using the bible itself or the testimony of the Spirit as the basis of inerrancy—are rooted in the same error: elevation of the creature above the creator. Indeed, they seem to have a level of piety implying just the opposite. However, accepting, for example, the bible as the word of God just because of its own claim is sheer arbitrariness, regardless of how lofty the intention. By dismissing (often derisively) God’s gift of reason, we become a law unto ourselves, appealing to our own “feelings.”

In our third version of bad arguments for inerrancy, we find an augment that is transparently man centered. The argument is this:

The bible is inspired because it inspires me.

Here we have a “proof” that is purely based on experience. But a proof based on experience can never prove anything to anyone else. In addition, the book that you claim inerrant on the basis of the experience never states that you are justified in your reasoning—it never states that “see, you have come to believe me just like I said you would, by feeling it in your bones.”

No rational person would deny that a Christian will have experiences when reading scripture that are different from when he reads something else, but this is not a basis for inerrancy, it is only a basis for stating that the bible is “moving.” One sign of the unreliability of this proof is that Christians often have similar feelings when reading a biblical commentary, watching a move such as The Passion of the Christ, receiving a well crafted sermon, or listing to a poignant testimony. Yet the same feeling would never be used to claim the inerrancy of those sources.

4. The Church’s Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy

Some, sensing the error in the previous approaches, yield to the temptation of the bosom of the mother church. The (erroneous) idea is that God has promised guidance to the body as a whole that He has not promised to individual believers. In effect, God is entrusting, by means unspecified, the church with the certainty of the inspiration and inerrancy of the bible, and then saying: now you go teach the flock who should require no proof other than your word.

This relies on the authority of the church. And the church does have authority. And from where does the church derive its authority? From the bible! We are back to circular reasoning, although this circle has a larger diameter. The bible is inerrant because the church teaches that it is. To accept this, we must bow to the authority of the church. But the church enjoys this authority because it is granted in the bible, which is inerrant.

We must be straight on this: The church is not the basis of the bible’s authority. The bible is the basis of the church’s authority. Our friends in the Catholic Church, for example, claim papal authority from And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt. 16:18) But to make this claim Rome must first prove the trustworthiness of Matt. 16:18. Only after that is established can the Catholic Church then attempt to use the passage to make her case for papal authority.

1 This is me (not Gerstner) speaking. As an aside, I always found: For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18) to be an underused verse that speaks to assurance. For no matter how much doubt I might be dealing with, I am comforted that I never find scripture to be foolishness.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Outrage Du Jour

Another sign that western civilization is doomed. (If, unlike me, you think that's a good thing, this story will warm the cockles of your heart. )

Berkeley students' "well being" being placed in jeopardy by *gasp* midterm exams.

You can't make this crap up--nobody would believe you.

Same Joke; Always Satisfying

I'm giving a test (right now!) on fluids and waves. As I passed out the test a student asked (it's really inevitable) "Is it hard?" To which I give my canned response: "Well, I'm glad I don't have to take it!" Their reaction is always so gratifying!

I must live up to my teaching motto: Cruel, but fair.

Is Aaron Real?

Not Aaron the High Priest. Did you think I was talking about him? Nah. I'm talking of a fictional Aaron. A character in a movie. (And not even another fictional Aaron, the protagonist of this worst seller.) Which means of course that he wasn't real... but I mean even in the context of the movie was Aaron real?... (no wonder  I can't sell books. I can't write--let me start over.)

Primal Fear was a 1996 courtroom drama staring Richard Gere and Edward Norton. The former is one of my least favorite actors. (His repertoire consists of two expressions. One: a deer in the headlights. Two: a deer in the headlights with a quizzical smirk.) The latter, Norton, is one of my favorites. In this film Norton kills a priest and is defended by Martin Vail, a defense attorney played with his characteristic dynamic range by Gere. Norton’s character is named Aaron. Aaron, of poor white-trash origin, is mild, weak, obsequious, stuttering, helpless, learning disabled, harmless, abused, and out of place in gritty Chicago

There is no doubt Aaron is guilty of killing the perverted (of course) priest. His defense is schizophrenia. It turns out that 99% of the time Aaron is milquetoast Aaron. But 1% of the time he is Roy, a self-assured crafty and violent predator who despises the personality with whom he shares a body.

With a timely and dramatic Aaron-to-Roy personality switch in court he convinces everyone of his mental illness. He is found innocent by reason of insanity. Victory for Aaron, and victory for his lawyer, Martin Vail.

Short lived as it was. After the verdict, back in the holding cell, Aaron makes a slip when talking to the credulous Vail who then realizes, too late, the schizo was all a sham. Aghast but helpless, Vail looks at his client and says: "So there never was a Roy." To which Aaron responds, after slipping at will out of his Aaron skin and into his Roy persona and donning a smirk of his own: "You still don't get it. There never was an Aaron, Counselor."

Ouch. You gotta hate it when that happens.

This is a lead in to a question addressed to liberal Christians. You know the type: My God would not have commanded Joshua to ethnically cleanse the Canaanites. Never happened. My God is all about love your neighbor, including all ‘ites. The beatitudes. All that nice stuff. I don’t believe those Old Testament horror stories.

To liberal Christians, we have this SAT analogy, for anyone old enough to remember when the SAT was a real, gritty test and still used analogy questions (which have been dropped--they must be some form of micro-aggression):

Old Testament God:New Testament God :: Roy:Aaron

So my question is to you Christian liberals is: when deciding what vast portions of scripture to jettison, why are you so certain that there never was a Roy? How do you know it’s not Aaron who is make believe?

Monday, October 09, 2017

A Meaningless Question

This really a dumb question--although I suspect its author finds it to be exceedingly clever. After all, this is the same scholar who published A Manual for Creating Atheists which purports to be "the first-ever guide not for talking people into faith--but for talking them out of it." I took the challenge. I read the book. I didn't de-convert. (I wonder if that means I didn't have enough faith that the book could destroy my faith? ) I suspect that if anything is efficacious as an atheist apologetic, then  simply having Bertrand Russell's Why I am not a Christian on your bookshelf would be more dangerous for the believer than actually reading A Manual for Creating Athiests. They don't make intellectual atheists like they used to. This is also the same author who, with a colleague, tried to imitate the  brilliant Sokal hoax  but did it so clumsily that even many who wanted to champion their attempt to mock postmodern gender studies found their effort to be harmful to the cause.

Anyway, to the question at hand. 

No Christian (including Paul, his hyperbole aside) would give up his faith (and hence his salvation) for a hundred, a thousand, or a million other people. While any of us would willingly give his mortal life for any number of people or reasons, giving up one's salvation is a) too much to ask and b) a form of idolatry--for it demonstrates that one has prioritized the target of one's worship, and at the top of the list is not God.

At least at some level--without further elaboration--the question, as it stands,  is nonsensical-- even as a thought experiment. You cannot abandon your faith so that others retain theirs, because the tradeoff necessitates an understanding that faith is real--in which case you can't abandon it. To abandon faith means you come to view it as misplaced or fake, in which case it ceases to have value for your 100 closest friends. If you abandon your faith, the last thing you'd desire is for them to retain theirs.  Why, you'd be (to no avail) sending them copies of A  Manual for Creating Atheists. You could patch this up Rube-Goldberg style, but ultimately it's hopeless.

A more reasonable "gotcha" question (if such questions are ever reasonable) would have been: Would you curse God to insure that a hundred others retain their faith?  The question, as posed, shows little understanding of the meaning of faith.

Syrian Lepers are People Too!

25But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." (Luke 4:25-27)

Jesus caused an uproar at the beginning of His ministry when He spoke at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. So incensed were the Jews that they forcefully led Jesus to a cliff outside of town for the purpose of murdering Him.

It all started out so promising! When He began to speak at at the synagogue in Nazareth, as recorded earlier in Luke 4, Jesus stated that He had come to fulfill the Messianic prophesy of Isaiah. Luke wrote:

21And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." 22So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:21-22)

This would appear to indicate that when Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and then proceeded to teach, and the Jews were not outraged; indeed they marveled at his eloquence. However when he spoke of Zarephath and Naaman (he should have given a trigger warning!), which to us may same as incidental rabbit trails,  the Jews became filled with wrath and dragged Him from the synagogue.

Why is this?

Let’s take a quick look at one of these Old Testament stories: Naaman the Syrian leper (2 Kings 5:1-19).

Naaman was a sworn enemy of Israel and a commander in the army of the King of Syria, in whom he found great favor. Naaman had taken a Jewish wife; a young woman captured during a raid into Israel.

Naaman was also a leper. His Jewish bride told him of a Samarian prophet who could heal his leprosy. With the king’s blessing, Naaman took letters of introduction and silver, gold, and clothing as gifts and journeyed to Israel. Eventually Naaman met Elisha, who instructed him to wash seven times in the Jordan. Naaman, after some persuasion, did so and was cleansed. He vowed to worship the God of Israel from that day forward. Elisha refused the gifts offered by Naman.

What incited the anger of those listening to Jesus teach? After all this was a well known story to the Jews in the synagogue.

What angered the Jews was the coupling of this story to Jesus’ Messianic proclamation. The message was clear:
  1. He was the Messiah, He came to free the captives (c.f. Luke 4:18-19). 
  2. This salvation would be for the Gentiles and Jews alike, and not for the Jews universally, for there were ‘many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’
  3. Salvation would be by the grace of a Sovereign God, for Naaman’s cleansing was not a reward for anything he had done, but a gift to an unlikely and unworthy recipient. To make it absolutely clear that works were not involved, even Naaman’s offering was refused. (In an interesting twist, some of Naaman’s money and clothing was surreptitiously accepted by Elisha’s servant Gehazi, who ended up getting Naaman’s leprosy as a punishment for his greed. Awesome!)

The Jews didn’t mind hearing Jesus claim that He was the Messiah. They wanted someone, anyone to free them from Roman tyranny. Yet when He taught the He had come not to free a nation from occupation but to free His people, including Gentiles, from their uncleanliness, they wanted to kill him. It is an interesting “mini gospel encapsulation” contained in just a few passages from Luke 4.