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


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

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

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

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? 


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.


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"?

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Ordo Salutis

Shilling Islamist propaganda

Today I listened to Janet Mefferd's interview with James White:

This is the first and only time I've heard Mefferd's show. The first time I ever heard about her was in connection with her famous takedown interview of Mark Driscoll. 

1. Why do I care? I care because Islam is far and away the world's most dangerous religion. Atheism and Islam are the two most dangerous ideologies in the world today. It is therefore imperative that we have moral clarity on this issue. 

Rape jihad

We see no signs!

Remarking on Ps 74:9, one commentator has noted that:

The lament now says, "We do not see signs for us" Kraus suggests that this is a reference to omens or oracles in view of the parallelism. The absence of the signs is clearly related to the dilemma of no longer having a prophet. They were looking for some sign of fulfillment for the prophetic word that had promised them a future and given them hope for deliverance. But there was none; and there was no longer a prophet among them (especially true at the time Jeremiah and Ezekiel had been taken from them) They had no idea how long this silence will continue. A. Ross, A Commentary on The Psalms (Kregel, 2013), 2:590.

What's bitterly ironic about this complaint is that when the (preexilic) Jews had prophets, they scorned their warnings. Now that the predicted calamity has overtaken them, they no longer have prophets to consult in their distress. Having hated God's prophets when they had them, they now lament the absence of God's prophetic word. 

Skeptical Giggles

People often use humor to cover up a weakness. Laugh it off. Make the issue seem less significant than it actually is. Make yourself look more confident than you actually are. Shame your opponents with ridicule. We often see this kind of thing with critics of Christianity who refer to a "talking snake" in Genesis 3, "zombies" in Matthew 27, God as a "sky daddy", etc. You can use humor to make your position look stronger and your opponent's position look weaker than they actually are.

One of the most effective ways to abuse humor is to use it to poison the well, to prevent people from making much of an effort to look into something in the first place. Make a political, scientific, or theological view seem so disreputable from the outset that people won't give it much consideration.

In our trivial culture, humor sways a lot of people a lot more than it should. I doubt there have been many cultures in the history of the world that have overdone humor as much as we have.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Afghan "refugees"

From gay to God

Ratzinger: “Barque of Peter is leaking, on the verge of capsizing”

Barque of Peter is leaking, on the verge of capsizing
In a funeral message yesterday, former pope Joseph Ratzinger suggested that the Roman Catholic Church “has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing”. The message was related at the funeral of Cardinal Meisner, who was one of the dubia cardinals, (asking “Pope Francis” if his statement Amoris Laetitia had actually contradicted “church teaching”).

July 15, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Benedict XVI sent a sobering message at the funeral of Cardinal Joachim Meisner today, saying he was moved at the dubia cardinal's ability to "live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing."

The Church "stands in particularly pressing need of convincing shepherds who can resist the dictatorship of the spirit of the age and who live and think the faith with determination," Pope Benedict said in a message read by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, his personal secretary and head of the papal household. Because of this "pressing need," Meisner "found it difficult to leave his post."

"What moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live out of a deep conviction that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing," the pope emeritus concluded.

Meisner, who was 83, was one of the four cardinals who sent Pope Francis a dubia asking if Amoris Laetitia is aligned with Catholic morality. He died still awaiting the pope's response. Although Pope Francis hasn't answered the dubia, he has given his approval to interpretations of the controversial exhortation that say those living in adulterous unions may receive Holy Communion.

Canon lawyer Kurt Martens said Pope Benedict's message was an "amazing yet diplomatic form of support for [the] dubia Cardinals."

Understanding and winning the current culture wars

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson needs to get the widest possible audience.

"Postmodernism needs to be starved at its sources"

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Surely God is good to Israel

13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.

Although Ps 73 was written three thousand some years ago, the temptation is perennial. When the wicked prosper, and the faithful suffer, it's tempting to join the winning team. If there were no afterlife, the temptation would be overwhelming.

11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

Their impudence is boundless and blasphemous. Yet it seems to be borne out by experience. No thunderbolts strike them down. 

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

Unlike apostates, Asaph had the tact and discretion not to share his misgivings in public unless and until he found an answer. 

17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

This is enigmatic. What happened in the sanctuary to prompt his epiphany? 

Although we might view the Solomonic temple as artistically inspiring, it functioned as a holy abattoir. The blood-spattered floor. Redolent with the stench of burning flesh. Blood and guts all day long. The spectacle of a gilded slaughterhouse isn't all that edifying. 

Perhaps, though, it was the time of evening prayer. Worshippers chanting the Psalter.

Or maybe he received a revelation of the afterlife, suddenly putting this life in perspective. Asaph was a prophet. 

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.

Some commentators think this refers to divine judgment overtaking the wicked in this life. But surely an attentive observer like Asaph was cognizant of the fact that the wicked don't necessarily or even routinely receive their comeuppance in this life. Indeed, that aggravating observation was what triggered his crisis of faith in the first place: 

4 For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

They luxuriate in long, healthy, carefree lives. So it must look ahead to something beyond the grave. 

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Once again, some commentators offer a this-worldly rather than other-worldly interpretation of the affirmation. But that doesn't solve the problem Asaph posed at the outset. This life is the problem. If there is to be a resolution, then that demands a reversal of fortunes in the world to come–where the first shall be last and the last shall be first. A parallel afterlife for the faithful and the faithless. Their paths crisscross in this life, but diverge in the afterlife. 

Prayer unto death

Ps 88 is the bleakest lament in the Psalter. It's striking that this lament is even included in the Psalter. The Psalter is fearless. 

5 like one set loose among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.

To be forgotten even by God is the ultimate abandonment. 

8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a horror to them.

Apparently, his fair-weather friends thought he was bad luck. If they hung around him, they might fall under the same judgment. So they stayed away from the blast zone. 

I am shut in so that I cannot escape;

Life can be a blessing or a curse. For the psalmist, there's no let up. No respite. It's one long lonely day after another. It's an ordeal to get through each day, and he must start all over the next day. His torment is never-ending. Another grim day awaits him on the other side. Like trying to wake up from a dream. He must dread going to bed. Dread waking up each morning, to face another day. 

10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
    Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
    or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
    or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

That might seem to be a denial of the afterlife, but the point is probably that if this is a prayer for deliverance from death, and the prayer goes unanswered, then the dead can't praise God for delivering them from the jaws of death. 

13 But I, O Lord, cry to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
    Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,

His has been a lifelong ordeal. He is never able put it behind him. As far as the eye can see, there's no relief in sight. 

He must dread going to bed at night because he has nothing to look forward to the next day. He must dread opening his eyes in the morning because he has nothing to look forward to. The pain is unrelenting. 

they close in on me together.

He's trapped. Hemmed in on all sides.

18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
darkness has become my companion.

He prays in darkness. Groping for a flicker of light. 

The psalm ends abruptly. Hopeless from start to finish.

In another context, one commentator has said "unbelief does not doubt–faith doubts". There's a profound truth to that. Yet that doesn't quite seem to capture the sentiment here.

In this context, hope is too strong a word. More like a desperate wish. Where despair and prayer merge into one. 

Why does he pray at all, when–in his unremitting experience–prayer is futile? He continues to pray because the alternative is even worse. The alternative is unthinkable. He continues to pray because he has no other fallback. That's it!

He prays unto death. He may well have died praying. His dying breath an unanswered prayer. A final unanswered prayer. Unrequited longing. 

Sometimes life is bad, and it never gets better. It's bad and sad all the time. 

The world is not enough. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Why We're Losing Liberty

The guarantor

Commenting on geocentrism, van Inwagen says:

Why did the medievals believe this? Well, because that's how things felt (the earth beneath our feet feels as if it were not moving) and that's how things looked. Today we know that the astronomical system accepted by the medievals–and by the ancient Greeks from whom the medievals inherited it–is wrong. We know that the medievals, and the Greeks before them, were derived by appearances. We know that while the solid earth beneath our feet may seem to be stationary, it in fact rotates on its axis once every twenty-four hours. (Of course, we also know that it resolves around the sun, but let's consider only its rotation on its axis). Now suppose you were standing on a merry-go-round and were wearing a blindfold. Would you be able to tell whether the merry-go-round was turning or stationary? Certainly you would: passengers on a turning merry-go-round feel vibration and the rush of moving air and, in certain circumstances, a hard-to-describe sort of "pulling." (This last will be very evident to someone who tries to walk toward or away from the center of a turning merry-go-round. These effects provide the "cues," other than visual cues, that we employ in everyday life to tell whether we are undergoing some sort of circular motion. The medievals and the ancient Greeks assumed that because they did not experience these cues when they were standing or walking about on the surface of the earth, the earth was therefore not rotating. Today we can see their mistake. "Passengers" on the earth do not experience vibration because the earth is spinning freely in what is essentially a vacuum. When they move about on the surface of the earth, they do not experience the "pulling" referred to above because this effect, though present, is not sufficiently great to be detectable by the unaided senses. And they do not experience a rush of moving air because the air is carried along with the moving surface of the earth and is thus moving relative to them.  
This example shows that it is sometimes possible to "get behind" the appearances the world presents us with and to discover how things really are: we have discovered that the earth is really rotating, despite the fact that it is apparently stationary….We talk about reality only when there is a misleading appearance to be "got behind" or "seen through". P. van Inwagen, Metaphysics (Westview Press, 4th ed, 2015), 2-3.

1. This raises a number of philosophically and theologically significant issues. To begin with, there are different kinds of realism–or should I say, realisms?

For instance, I might be a metaphysical realist about material reality. I believe there's a material reality that's causing my sensations. Yet I might be an epistemological antirealist if I'm skeptical about what can be known regarding the material reality that's causing my sensations. 

Likewise, I might be a metaphysical realist about immaterial reality. I might believe in mental entities, viz. God, angels, souls, abstract objects. (I classify these as mental entities.) And I might be an epistemological realist about what can be know regarding immaterial reality. That's because, if immaterial reality is knowable, the source of knowledge is different than in the case of material reality. In the case of material reality, the source of knowledge is sensory perception, whereas, in the case of immaterial reality, the source of knowledge is reason and revelation. Inference, intuition, and divine disclosure. 

2. Up to a point, I agree with Inwagen. Metaphysically speaking, it isn't appearances all the way down. Something objective is producing the appearances.

In addition, I agree with Inwagen that there can be cues which indicate that appearances don't tell the whole story. That, however, is different from the claim that we can get behind appearances to discover reality. Epistemologically speaking, it may be appearances all the way down.

For instance, a colored object has a different appearance if I'm color blind. Likewise, creatures have different kinds of color vision.

The same physical object (i.e. organism) will have a different appearance if seen by infrared vision. In that case we're seeing heat signatures.

And that's just on the surface. It will have a different appearance if seen through an MRI or electron microscope.

3. Another complication is that Inwagen is using sensory perception to correct sensory perception. That's unavoidable, but it raises the specter of circularity. What makes one set of sensory perceptions the benchmark for assessing another set of sensory perceptions? One justification might be that some sensory perceptions have more explanatory value. They point to an underlying cause or mechanism. 

4. There is, though, perhaps an even deeper issue. Consider an illustration. I can photograph a tree with a (digital) cellphone camera, then send that image to someone else. I don't know the technicalities, but I assume the image is encoded as electronic information, transmitted in that encoded form, then decoded at the other end. There's built-in software that retranslates the encoded image so that the recipient sees the same image as the sender.

Indeed, you could have two people standing side-by-side. They can directly compare the original image with the transmitted image. And the two images exactly match. 

We might say that's analogous to sensory perception, when our mental representation matches the sensible object. Or is it?

Suppose we approach this from the standpoint of naturalism. How is it possible for a mindless, nonpurposive process to create a coded transmission system in which the output matches the input? That's completely unlike my example, in which a camera is designed to produce as accurate visual reproduction. In which technology is designed to produce a matching image at the receiving end of the transmission. In which designers can compare the original with the output to ensure that the translation software decodes the information to yield a matching image. 

5. A naturalist might counter that if there's a mismatch between input and output, then organisms which depend on sensory perception won't survive. If, say, gazelles misperceive leopards, gazelles will become extinct. There are, however, problems with that explanation:

i) According to Darwinism (e.g. David Raup), 99.9% of species that ever existed have, in fact, become extinct. So that appeal seems to be self-defeating.

ii) Even if survival does depend on that correspondence, and even if survival provides evidence for the success of that correspondence, it doesn't follow that this is explicable on naturalistic grounds.

iii) Does survival depend on that correspondence? Consider an illustration. You produce piano music by depressing certain keys on the piano, simultaneously or in a particular sequence. But the music bears no resemblance to the keyboard. 

Rather, there's a causal correlation between depressing certain keys and producing certain sounds. By the same token, what if sensory perception operates on a similar principle? The mental representation might be very different than what produces the mental representation, but so long as these are systematically aligned in a cause/effect relation, an organism might be successfully responsive to its environment. 

6. Finally, who or what is the guarantor that sensory perception is reliable? Without God, there's no presumption that the input and output can even match up or at least correlate (4-5).

An atheist might say that cuts both ways: how can a theist rule out the Cartesian demon?

However, these are asymmetrical alternatives. On the one hand there's the indemonstrable possibility that God designed sensory perception to deceive us. On the other hand there's the demonstrable impossibility that sensory perception is reliable unless God designed it. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Flood and the Ice Age

The nature of the flood mechanism required to generate Noah's flood depends in part on the scope of the flood. If the flood was worldwide, then that requires a more ambitious flood mechanism. If, however, the flood was regional, then different flood mechanisms might be available. 

One of the challenges for a scientific explanation of the flood is where the extra water came from, and where it went. On old-earth chronology, the flood may have been pre-Holocene. Suppose it took in the late Pleistocene era. According to conventional geology, there were cycles of glaciation and deglaciation. Frozen water is a source of extra water. Ice can both store and release extra water. 

What are sources of flooding? The annual springtime snowmelt is one example. Of course, that's insufficient to produce a regional flood. Some mountains have a year-round snowcap. The springtime thaw only affects a lower portion of the snow cap. 

Above a certain elevation, the temperature is always subfreezing, so the snowcap never melts. Hence, many high mountains have a permanent snowcap or icecap.

If, however, it's a volcanic mountain, and it erupts, the entire snowcap suddenly melts, which creates massive flooding. I assume a similar dynamic could take place in the case of continental glaciers. That would release vast quantities of water.

In addition to fluvial flooding is coastal flooding. Submarine volcanoes can melt frozen seas, which raises the sea level. Although that might not flood the interior, if population centers are located on the coast, it can wipe them out. 

Sometimes the forces combine. Some rivers empty into the sea. A coastal location at the mouth of a river is appealing to humans because it gives them the benefits of a river for fishing and freshwater along with the ocean for fishing. 

Glacial periods cause many species to migrate to warmer latitudes. They are concentrated in a smaller area. That would make it easier for Noah to collect the animals, since the local fauna would be both more representative and more accessible. Likewise, glacial periods expose continental shelves, which facilitate animal migration. Admittedly, that's less of an issue on the local flood interpretation. 

This is all hypothetical. I'm just discussing some neglected explanations. 

The times of ignorance

i) Gen 4-11 is skimpy regarding the postlapsarian history of humanity. To some degree this can be supplemented by Acts 14:16-17 & 17:30:

16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent

As one commentator explains:

[Paul] is not claiming that their ignorance and rebellion were ignored by God and without consequence (cf. 17:30-31 note). Since, in biblical teaching, his involvement in the life of Israel was for blessing and salvation, his abandonment of the nations "to go their own ways" (the plural tais hodois suggests a diversity of options) was a curse and an anticipation of final judgment (cf. Rom 1:18-32; 2:1-11) God did not provide the nations with special revelation, such as he gave to Israel, and did not directly offer them a way of salvation, though Israel was always meant to be a source of blessing to the nations (cf. Gen 12:3).

They belonged to the times of ignorance. God did not approve this ignorance, nor did he suppress it or bring retribution, as he might have. He "overlooked" it (hyperidon, "disregarded"; cf. 14:16 note). We might compare Rom 3:25, where Paul says that in his forbearance, before the coming of Christ, God had "left the sins committed beforehand unpunished". D. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (2009), 410,502.

The basic idea is that God didn't intervene in the history of most people-groups in the same way he did in the case of the Jewish people. Using ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman culture, which is Paul's immediate frame of reference, that alludes to the development of pagan polytheism, idolatry, necromancy, sorcery, astromancy, human sacrifice, &c. And beyond Paul's frame of reference, we might include animism. 

The distinction isn't merely before the new covenant. For even after the new covenant, it takes centuries for that to disseminate. 

ii) This doesn't necessarily mean God never revealed himself to individual gentiles or interceded on their behalf. We have biblical examples of pagans who receive revelatory dreams. There's also the dramatic example of the Magi (Mt 2). 

iii) Admittedly, these are mentioned in cases where the lives of Jews and gentiles intersect. Perhaps God never intervened except in cases where the two groups overlap. Or perhaps God did intervene in other cases, but the only occasion for Scripture to mention divine intervention in the lives of pagans is where their lives impinge on the lives of Jews and Christians. For instance, it would be unintelligible to the original audience for Scripture to refer to Indian tribes in North and South America.  Moreover, that would take the eye off the unique role of the Jewish people in the plan of redemption. 

iv) But even if (ex hypothesi) God sometimes intervened in the lives of individual gentiles, by way of private revelation, miracles, answers to prayer, that's different from public revelation to a people-group, or Exodus-style miracles on behalf of a people-group. 

v) This goes to the question of whether God preserved a continuous remnant between the Fall and the call of Abraham. Perhaps not. Maybe knowledge of the one true God was lost for a time. Maybe God allowed that to lapse. 

vi) However, this also goes to the question of whether peaceful coexistence was possible between pagans and adherents of the true faith. It's my impression that urbanization fostered religious intolerance. By that I mean, city-states typically have an official religion with a priesthood and cultus. The patron god of the city or the kingdom. 

Although that allows for syncretism, where residents are free to practice their folk religion, residents are required to participate in the cultic life of the city-state. I'm thinking, not merely of Egypt and Mesopotamia, but Aztecs, Incas, and Maya. 

It may be that in more pastoral societies, characterized by nomads or hunter-gatherers, there's greater tolerance for religious pluralism. There's not the same pressure to conform to a state religion.