Saturday, July 22, 2017

Prayer, providence, and Dunkirk

Then another thing that has focused attention on the doctrine of providence is what we call 'special providences'. Now special providences are special interventions of God on behalf of individuals or groups of people. For instance, at Dunkirk during the War a kind of mist came down to protect the soldiers while at the same time the sea was unusually calm and smooth, and many people in this country were ready to say that that was a providential act of God. They said that God had intervened in order to save our troops by making it possible for them to be brought back into this country. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible (Crossway, 2012), 141.

Vatican chess: bishops and queens

https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/vatican-appointee-says-gay-sex-can-express-christs-self-gift

Dunkirk

http://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/5-facts-about-the-miracle-of-dunkirk

http://www.michaelmedved.com/movie-review/dunkirk/

Friday, July 21, 2017

“This Land”

Jeff is a dear old friend of mine; I worked for him for several years in the 1980’s (right out of college). This is a magnificent tribute to God and country. Please share this video far and wide.

Manna and mature creation

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you...13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat...31 Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey (Exod 16:4,13-15,31).

7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8 The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil (Num 11:7-8).

To bolster their interpretation of Gen 1, young-earth creationists typically cite other examples of mature creation. The stock example is Jesus turning water into wine. Recently, John Byl mentioned Jonah's shade tree (Jonah 4). 

Manna is a neglected example. There's no natural process by which edible food rains down out of thin air. Presumably, the manna is a case of instantaneous creation. 

Miracles, induction, and retrodiction

According to the principle of induction, we can retroengineer the past from the present. There's a chain of events leading up to the present. Antecedent states produce subsequent states. The same causes produce the same effects. Since that's repeatable, if we're familiar with the process, we can retrace an effect back through intervening stages to the originating cause. 

For instance, when I see an adult human, I know how he got to that point. I can run it backwards from adulthood through adolescence, childhood, gestation, and conception. 

All things being equal, that's a generally reliable inference. However, miracles pose an exception to induction. A classic miracle (in contrast to a coincidence miracle) is causally discontinuous with the past. A miracle isn't uncaused, but it's not the result of a causal chain. Rather, a miracle results from the introduction an anomalous cause outside the ordinary chain of events. It represents a break in the causal continuum. The continuum resumes after the break, taking the miracle as a new starting-point. 

For instance, suppose a person suffers from a naturally irreversible degenerative condition. Suppose he undergoes miraculous healing. That outcome can't be retrodicted from his prior condition. 

In the case of miracles, induction hits a wall. When the subsequent course of events is the result of a miracle, inductive inference can't go further back than the miracle. It can't reconstruct the past before the miracle occurred, because the post-miraculous state is not a product of the pre-miraculous state. Induction can only take you from the present to as far back in time as the precipitating miracle. It can't jump over that to the other side, because the chain of events prior to the miracle is a dead-end. The prior chain of events terminated with the miracle, which represents a new beginning. 

This raises a potential problem regarding past-oriented sciences (e.g. cosmology, historical geology, paleontology, evolution). If miracles occur in the past, are they even detectable? What's the scope of any particular miracle to reset the status quo? That limits our ability to reconstruct the past. 

Reason and authority

Leaving Christ out of view (as if nothing had ever been known of him), it proves, by absolute reasons, the impossibility that any man should be saved without him. Again, in the second book, likewise, as if nothing were known of Christ, it is moreover shown by plain reasoning and fact that human nature was ordained for this purpose, viz., that every man should enjoy a happy immortality, both in body and in soul; and that it was necessary that this design for which man was made should be fulfilled; but that it could not be fulfilled unless God became man, and unless all things were to take place which we hold with regard to Christ. St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo.

There's a subversive quality to Anselm's program. He takes Christian tradition as his starting-point. That supplies him with the materials for his consideration. But his objective is to prove dogma by reason alone. If successful, that subverts ecclesiastical authority. If dogmatic truths can be detached from creeds and councils, if their veracity can be established on grounds independent of ecclesiastical authority, then the role of the church in authorizing dogma becomes superfluous. In that regard, Anselm is more radical than Aquinas. 

Plague of darkness

i) Some scholars attempt to explain the ten plagues of Egypt naturalistically. That has the merit of taking the historicity of the events seriously, but the danger is to secularize the account. 

Some miracles may employ natural mechanisms. Those are coincidence miracles. 

However, the plagues can't be sheerly natural events. One reason is how selective they are. They single out the Egyptians but exempt the Israelites. Natural events aren't that discriminating. Although some natural disasters have disparate impact, the distribution is random. 

The plague of darkness is a striking example. Unlike the other plagues, which are physically destructive, this is more a case of psychological warfare. It happens without warning. The Egyptians go to bed at night, expecting sunrise. Nothing is more elemental and perennial in human experience than the diurnal cycle. Yet imagine waking up in the dark, wondering what time it is. At first they assume they must have awakened in the middle of the night, and go back to sleep. But as the hours wear on, sunrise never happens!

In theory, they could resort to firelight (lamps, torches, bonfires) to create a bit of illumination, but paradoxically, it takes light to make light. You can't make a fire when it's pitch black. You need to be able to see what you're doing to make a fire. And the plague of darkness struck without warning, so they didn't have a chance to make preparations. They couldn't keep a fire burning. 

Moreover, even if they did have a lamp or torch, that's not a flashlight. It doesn't project light any distance. So you'd become hopelessly lost in the dark if you ventured a few yards from home.

In the meantime, the Israelites in Goshen continued to have natural light. Sunlight, starlight, moonlight. 

It's as if thick clouds blanketed the land of Egypt, but there was a hole in the cloud cover just above Goshen. Sometimes, if you're outside during a daytime storm, the sky is blackened by menacing clouds, yet there's a break in the clouds. The ground is dark as night, except for a bright patch, like a spotlight from the sky. Perhaps, in the enveloping darkness, the Egyptians could see Goshen encircled in light. 

ii) There's an interesting relationship between the plague of darkness and the creation account. The plague lasts for three days. The land is plunged in darkness apart from Goshen.

In comparison, you have the paradox of Genesis, where the diurnal cycle seems to preexist sunlight for the first three days. Day and night alternate, yet the sun is not created until the fourth day. Or is it? 

By the same token, Egypt is enshrouded in darkness for three days, except for Goshen, which remains illuminated by shafts of sunlight through an opening in the clouds. (Or something like that.) Then, on the fourth day, sunlight is restored to the land of Egypt. 

Door into heaven

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens…7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture (Jn 10:1-3,9).

7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. 8 I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut (Rev 3:7-8).

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said,“Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (Rev 4:1). 


i) A neglected line of evidence for the common authorship of John's Gospel and Revelation is the door motif. In both documents, Jesus functions as the doorway to heaven.

It might be objected that in Jn 10, Jesus is the door, whereas in Rev 3:8, is distinct from the door. However, the metaphor is flexible. Jn 10 alternates between the door and the doorkeeper. Rev 3:7-8 has the same alternation. To say Jesus is the door or Jesus has the key are variations on the same metaphor. 

ii) A door is a screening device, allowing authorized individuals to enter while disallowing unauthorized individuals from entering. Jesus is the way to salvation. But because Jesus is the only way to salvation, he is simultaneously an entrance and a barrier. A person can only enter through him.  

iii) The image of a door between this world and the world to come is simple yet arresting. In this life, heaven seems far away. We can't see it or touch it. We can't hear the saints and angels on the other side. Yet in reality, it's as if there's an invisible door connecting our world to the world to come. A door that becomes visible at the moment of death. It was there all along. We just don't know where to look. And the door is locked until the moment of death. By passing through the door, we leave this world behind.  

iv) A door demarcates the outside from the inside. In addition, it may be dark outside, but light inside. When the door is open, you walk into the light. Moreover, the light guides you to the door. If it's dark outside, and the door is closed, the door is invisible. If the door is opened, it suddenly becomes visible.

v) In Jn 10 and Rev 3:7-10,20, the door is a metaphor. But in Rev 4:1, the door is a simulation rather than a metaphor. John has a vision of a door, and passes through the visionary door. His experience is a sample of what Jesus promised to the beleaguered Philadelphian Christians. 

Although the door is imaginary or figurative, it's possible, if God so wills, for a dying Christian to experience death as seeing an open door, approaching the door, and passing through the door into the light beyond–just as John did in his vision. The body dies, releasing the soul. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Consuming fire

And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them (Num 11:1-3).

The account doesn't say what kind of fire this was. The pillar of fire is an obvious candidate. I've often remarked that descriptions of the pillar of fire are reminiscent of a fire devil. A mobile column of fire. A flaming tornado.

Of course, a fire devil is a natural phenomenon. I'd classify the pillar of fire as a preternatural phenomenon. Although it resembles a fire devil, it has a degree of stability and directionality unlike a fire devil. 

Imagine how terrifying this would be to the grumbling Israelites. Normally, the pillar of fire guides them and protects them. But if they're faithless, it can turn on them. 

Picturing God's judgment on apostates, Heb 12:29 calls God a "consuming fire". Although that may be metaphorical, it's an allusion to God's literally fiery judgments on the faithless Israelites in the wildness, who are counterparts to new covenant apostates. 

How an Iranian front group infiltrated 41 US universities

https://www.conservativereview.com/articles/how-an-iranian-front-group-infiltrated-41-us-universities#undefined.uxfs

Give us meat that we may eat!

31 Then a wind from the Lord sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. 32 And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague. 34 Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving (Num 11:31-34).

Here's a striking example of a coincidence miracle. That's a type of event which is more than natural, but less than supernatural. Quail naturally migrate. God uses wind (a natural force) to drive the quail off-course and redirect them to the Israelite camp.

What makes it more than natural is how discriminating the outcome is in time and place. It happens at just the right time at just the right place. 

If the "plague" is food poisoning, that would be another coincidence miracle, fulfilling the threatened judgment in vv19-20. That, too, is very timely. So we seem to have two coordinated events. A combination of two coincidence miracles. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

On Fairies and Gardeners

http://www.proginosko.com/2017/07/on-fairies-and-gardeners/

A Response to Cindee Martin Morgan From an Ex-CRI Employee

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHLQVr0eBuw&feature=youtu.be

HT: Perry Robinson

In search of moderate Muslims

 
There are many, many Muslims, but the Muslims that you know must be very different from the Muslims where I lived in the Middle East and many here in the U.S. who deny the right of Muslims to reject Islam, who deny everyone to criticize Muhammad, who defend horrific verses in the Quran which they claim is inerrant and eternal.
I've only known two Muslims who reject the terrible passages of the Quran, who reject Islamic war, who reject the inequality of women, etc. The one I worked with in education, but she was a very liberal nominal Muslim. The other who invited me to her Muslim wedding, and I went, was a new convert to Islam. She married a Muslim from the Middle East, even though she was a feminist.
One Muslim scholar I dialogued with who has a PhD from an American university in Islamic studies seemed tolerant, that is until I told him about the prisoner of conscience I was writing for, a Pakistani mother who criticized Muhammad and now has been in prison for 5 years, sentenced to be executed!!
Then the Islamic scholar became very intolerant, said no one is allowed to criticize Muhammad.
And I do know of the very small Muslim Reform Movement which rejects Islamic war, supports freedom of religion, speech, etc.
Are the Muslims you know in Canada orthodox Muslims?
I keep being told that there are lots of tolerant peacemaking Muslims, but I've not read their works on the Internet, didn't meet them in the Middle East when I lived there, etc.
I've talked with kind, friendly Muslim leaders, BUT even a very warm-hearted Muslim doctor here refuses to condemn HAMAS:-(

 
Thanks for replying. I agree that Islam is "diverse." Read any history of the many different movements within Islam, and ones learns how many of them are very opposed to each other such as Shia versus Sunni and both of them against more recent sects such as Ahmadiyyas and Baha'is (the latter so different it is usually considered a different religion), etc.
But I've learned the hard way--that at least in the Muslim books I've read, and the Muslims I've encountered--that almost all of them DON'T subscribe to freedom of religion!
Nearly all of them don't reject Muhammad's beheading at least 500 Jewish men and selling their women and children into slavery, etc.
I thought Bahai was different until I attended a Bahai study here for months and discovered that these 'moderates' actually believe some of the same horrific views as orthodox Muslims.
And here at the local mosque where I attended lectures, I was appalled to find that the main speaker, a college professor, doesn't believe in freedom of religion!! I spoke with him afterward and went away very depressed.
This Muslim leader is a Canadian Muslim who moved down here to teach at a prestigious California university.
Maybe some where there are very diverse Muslims, but where are they?
Re-read the findings of Pew Research.

The Euthyphro dilemma ricochets

I. A favorite atheist objection to Christianity in general, and the moral argument for God in particular, is the Euthyphro dilemma. For a brief exposition:

i) Is an action right (merely) because God wills it? 

Or

ii) Does God will an action because it is right?

As formulated, if the Christian (or theist) opts for the first horn of the dilemma, then that seems to make morality an arbitrary divine fiat. 

Conversely, if the Christian (or theist) opts for the second horn of the dilemma, then that seems to make morality independent of God by grounding morality in a higher standard, apart from and above God. In that case, God's will is superfluous to ground morality.

II. Now, I've addressed the Euthyphro dilemma on many occasions, so I won't repeat myself here. Instead, I'd like to flip the objection. For it's easy to generate Euthyphro dilemmas for secular ethics. For instance:

1. Evolutionary ethics

Is an action right because we're hardwired to deem it right, or does the rightness of the action determine the rightness of our hardwiring? 

Same conundrum for Neo-Aristotelian naturalism. 

2. Contractarianism

Is an action right because the social contract makes it right, or does the rightness of the action determine the rightness of the social contract?

3. Consequentialism

Is an action right because the consequences make it right, or does the rightness of the action determine the rightness of the consequences? 

III. Finally, atheists object that grounding morality is God is an arbitrary stopping point. But isn't the objection reversible? Why isn't grounding morality in evolutionary psychology, consequences, or the social contract an arbitrary stopping-point? 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Seven lights

In three respects, Gen 1 foreshadows the menorah:

i) The word for "light(s)" on the Fourth Day is repeated in reference to the menorah, viz.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so (Gen 1:14-15).

the lampstand also for the light, with its utensils and its lamps, and the oil for the light (Exod 35:14)

the lampstand of pure gold and its lamps with the lamps set and all its utensils, and the oil for the light (Exod 39:37).

ii) The seven days of creation parallel the sevenfold lampstand. Just as the seven days of creation represent seven units of light, the menorah represents seven units of light:

32 And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it…37 You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it (Exod 25:32,37).

iii) Gen 1 has alternating periods of day and night. Likewise, the menorah was lit at twilight (Exod 30:8), which seems to mean the menorah only burned at night. That makes sense. It provides a nocturnal light source for the tabernacle in the absence of sunlight. In that respect, the menorah mirrors the diurnal cycle.

Just as sunlight periodically illuminates the earth, lamplight periodically illuminates the tabernacle. There's a sense in which the menorah is sacred light. 

Ironic providence

Finally Pharaoh now decides to take action more directly. The Hebrew midwives had not killed Israelite babies at birth, so Pharaoh ordered his own people to kill newborn Israelite males (1:22). (Aaron was three years older than Moses, and would not be among the children affected by the king’s decree; see 7:7.)

Ironically and unknown to Pharaoh, however, his own daughter would undermine his decree out of compassion for a Hebrew baby (2:6-10)—Israel’s future deliverer. God does not always prevent tragedy—but he does ensure his plan for the future of his people and for ultimate justice.


A good example of how divine providence is hard to interpret in the short-term. A human observer couldn't anticipate how Pharaoh's murderous decree will lead to his own daughter unwittingly torpedoing the cult of Pharaoh. A human observer couldn't anticipate how her adoption of Moses will raise up a prophet to humiliate the cult of Pharaoh. One event unexpectedly leads to another. 

It's actually a bit "fatalistic" in the classic sense that an action intended to forestall an undesirable consequence is the unintended means by which the undesirable consequence is eventually realized. We seen the same ironic quality of divine providence in the Joseph Cycle (Gen 37-50).  
  1. God moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform;
    He plants His footsteps in the sea
    And rides upon the storm.
  2. Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never failing skill
    He treasures up His bright designs
    And works His sov’reign will.
  3. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
    The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy and shall break
    In blessings on your head.
  4. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust Him for His grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
    He hides a smiling face.
  5. His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding every hour;
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flow’r.
  6. Blind unbelief is sure to err
    And scan His work in vain;
    God is His own interpreter,
    And He will make it plain.

"Colluding" with Russia

My basic objection to the Trump investigation is that gov't should never embark on a criminal investigation unless there's already prima facie evidence that a law was broken. 

Gov't can abuse a criminal investigation as a pretext to crush investigative reporters and political opponents. Seizing your computers. Reading your emails and text messages. Which, in turn, gives them a chance to read the emails and text messages people sent you. Other stuff is caught in the dragnet. Your medical records, tax records.

You and your friends have to hire lawyers. A ruinous expense. (Not to mention the civil forfeiture racket.) 

Then they have you testify under oath. Even if you didn't commit the crime for which you are questioned, if they can get a grand jury to indict you for perjury, then that becomes the crime. 

There's massive potential for rogue prosecutors to destroy lives and snuff out opposition from political opponents and investigative reporters.

Horse-racing

I've discussed this before, but I'd like to provide a couple of examples to illustrate the principle. Unbelievers allege that Christians succumb to sample-selection bias. When we appeal to miracles or answered prayer or fulfilled prophecy or archeological corroboration, we only count the hits and discount the misses. We conveniently forget the latter.

Now, in fairness, some Christians can be guilty of this. Take Christians who are straining to find God's will. Straining to detect divine signs. Likewise, many answered prayers are ambiguous in the sense that they could be naturally explicable. 

However, hits and misses are evidentially asymmetrical. For instance, consistently losing at the race track requires no special explanation, whereas consistently winning at the race track does require a special explanation. Consistently losing at the casino requires no special explanation whereas consistently winning does. 

So hits can be evidentially significant in a way that misses are not. It's to be expected that gamblers normally lose. There's an element of uncontrollable chance, and the odds are against you. If you consistently beat the odds, if you consistently outperform, that's suspicious. That implies cheating. 

By the same token, lack of evidence isn't equivalent to counterevidence unless there's a reasonable expectation that if something's the case, there should be corroborative evidence. Consider how many things you and I do in the course of an ordinary day for which there were never any records. 

Scientific Experiments On Janet Hodgson's Paranormality

Guy Playfair and Maurice Grosse wrote:

Carrying out fully controlled experiments in somebody else's home is not easy, especially when the home is suffering from poltergeist activity. However, at least one fully instrumented experimental PK [psychokinesis] session was held under the supervision of David Robertson with Grosse as witness. Janet was asked to deform a piece of 'unbendable' eutectic alloy without contact. On separate occasions, a pulse counter and a three-channel chart recorder produced readings that could not be accounted for. The metal sample broke while under observation. (Playfair 1980, ch. 9).

With the cooperation of Professor J. B. Hasted, it was possible to carry out a fully controlled experiment in a laboratory. Janet was taken to Birkbeck College for an experiment in which she was seated on a specially constructed weighing platform and asked to alter her weight. She was one of three subjects out of more than 20 tested who managed to produce anomalous chart readings. (Journal Of The Society For Psychical Research, vol. 55, 1988-9, "Enfield Revisited: The Evaporation Of Positive Evidence", p. 213)

I've already discussed the experiments on Janet's ability to bend metal. Watch here until 19:13. But what about the "fully controlled experiment in a laboratory"?