Friday, February 27, 2015

Totally Depraved

From the December 2011 E-Blokck.


We now begin a series in which we will be answering from certain unnamed quarters varied critiques of our material on TULIP. The source of these objections shall remain unnamed as a rhetorical device, and because they deserve not the credence of being named, but interested readers may query for further information.

One thing we shall say is that this source is of the type that defiantly rejects any scholarship that interferes with their perceived notions of how Christianity is to be defined and ordered. Hence we will see that they often dismiss credible observations by serious scholars as invalid. As well, this personality retains a rather vengeful, childlike mentality which compels them to discover problems where none exist. However, we deemed it well to have an answer ready for any who inquired.

For this entry, we will look at critiques of our material on total depravity. As a reminder, I agreed that this notion is to be found in the Bible, though not in as many passages as some believe. Hereafter, my quotes are in italics; the criticisms follow, paraphrased at times, in bold.

What is the exact meaning of "total depravity"? Here are the points it generally offers, which one will find repeated in various forms throughout works in favor of TULIP:
  • Sin corrupts the whole person -- emotions, will, and intellect.
  • Although this is so, we are not as bad as we could be; we could be worse. We are, as Palmer puts it, not as intensively evil as possible; but we are as extensively evil as possible. [Palm.5P, 9] For example, while we as individuals may lie and cheat, this does not mean that we will go as far as murder.
  • We are incapable of a truly good act of our own selves. Any good deeds we do (outside of Christ) is merely a "relative" good deed. A truly good deed is done for the glory of God; unbelievers are incapable of this.
  • The supreme point following from these three: We are unable of ourselves to turn to Christ to be saved.
Why didn't you just refer to a proponent of Calvinism to define what is meant by total depravity?

I did. This is an example of what I mean by finding problems where none exist. The above is a summation of what, in practical terms, total depravity means, and is derived from a collation of numerous Calvinist authors (Palmer, White, etc.) In reply to this, our critic quotes from a couple of obscure Calvinist authors some highly technical points (e.g., "Sin, however, is not a substance.") many of which are not uniquely Calvinist (do Arminians think sin is a substance?) and none of which have any bearing on my intended reader -- the Christian who wants to know, in practical terms, what total depravity means in terms of their salvation. Other points offered merely repeat what I said above, in more complex terms (saying in 100 words what could have been said in 10).
The critic from this finds it necessary to deem my summary point, "We are unable of ourselves to turn to Christ to be saved," inadequate, for no other reason than that I do not add enough emphasis to suit his piety: E.g., it is not enough for me to say, "we are unable"; to be in accord with the truth, I must rather say, "we are utterly depraved"! Why "unable" is not sufficient to describe this phenomenon is hard to fathom; one can only guess that it does not suit this Calvinist's felt need for dramatic exposition intended to impose guilty feelings on the poor sinner.

have now concluded that all 4 of these points are true according to Scripture -- and therefore, I affirm that the T in TULIP is valid. However, I must qualify by saying that while it is valid, it is not supported by as many Scriptures as some are wont to think. Originally this essay was to explore the doctrine as expressed in the epistalory literature, but since it seems that "T" is clearly affirmed (in the first verse to be examined below) I see no need, at present, to proceed further.

It isn't clear what you mean by this. Why'd you use the word "valid"? 

An argument can be valid but still untrue.
The critic continues in this vein for some time, making much of the use of the word "valid," but they would have saved themselves some trouble by simply consulting a dictionary, and noting a primary meaning of valid, as "sound; just; well-founded." The definition they are assuming I use involves a highly technical and relatively arcane definition of "valid" that reflects the use of the word in formal logic.

It doesn't make sense to say that total depravity is not supported by as much Scripture as some are “wont to think”. If you agree that Scripture teaches total depravity, then why bother with such a qualification?

One must wonder at the blunt insensitivity of a critic who asks such a question. If we appeal to 5 passages for support of doctrine X, but only 3 actually support the doctrine, then there are multiple reasons to shed the other 2 -- not the least of which is the responsible use of Scripture and exegesis; but also because continuing to use the other two contextually invalidated texts leaves open a valid charge of dishonesty. This is, again, the critic creating a problem where none exists.

The next quote from me is extensive:

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

I will begin, therefore, with the verse that clearly does teach total depravity. Palmer [Palm.5P, 16] tells us, "Here is total depravity: man cannot choose Jesus. He cannot even take the first step to go to Jesus, unless the Father draws him." This is indeed total depravity, but there is a factor involved that looks to shift the matter back to individual choice. Jesus goes on to say in John 12:32, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." The Greek word behind "draw" in the two verses is the same. Note the connotation that this word can have:

Acts 16:19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers...

James 2:6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?

This word has the connotation of being brought somewhere by force if needed, and against the wishes of the "draw-ee." This verse does indeed teach the doctrine clearly.

But once John 12:32 is thrown into the mix, something is indicated which may throw the matter back into human hands -- at God's sovereign directive and because of His actions. How are men drawn onto Christ? We know and all agree that the Holy Spirit is the "drawer" on men. But Jesus says that all men will be drawn unto him. So what does this lead to?

A logical syllogism: All men are drawn to Christ. The Holy Spirit works this function in all men. But clearly not all become Christians, and these verses only say that one cannot make the choice without the drawing first.

Even Yarborough, writing in favor of Calvinism in Still Sovereign, admits that this can refer to a "more general attraction that, say, renders persons accountable but not yet regenerate in other" and tries to make "all men" mean "all elect men" [as below] with no justification other than a pre-conceived application of Calvinism.

Therefore, practically speaking, while we absolutely must have God's prodding to come to Him, we are all getting that prodding -- just like you can't decide on a path without information on the path first. Geisler [Geis.CBF, 6], citing Sproul, observes that the question now is whether God gives the ability to come to Him to all men, and we discuss that more here.

I should note one response to this verse, which says that "all men" means "men from all nations" rather than literally "all men." This seems an all too obvious contrivance to save the doctrine of irresistible grace; in the previous verse Jesus speaks of judgment of the kosmos and the prince of the kosmos. It is the burden of the Calvinist to prove that "all men" [in fact, only "all" is actually in the text; "men" is implied] means "men from all nations" or "elect men".

After by some unfathomable means left unexplained getting from the above that I do not accept the approved definition of total depravity, and rambling on about intellectual dishonesty for a few lines, we get to actual objections:

You miss the context of John 12:32. Some Greeks had come seeking Christ. God is about to extend covenant blessings to Gentiles too. You give no reason to think that "all men" should not mean "all kinds" other than bias by Calvinists. That's not a reason.

Yes, actually, is it. The fact that Greeks had come doesn't in any way affect the context such that "all men" becomes "all kinds of men." The Greeks who came would be representative of either of those categories, so this "context" has no bearing whatsoever on the issue. Only presupposed Calvinism lies behind the need to insert "kinds of" between "all" and "men". Those words are not in the Greek. Nor does the "context" warrant their inclusion.

You interpret John 12:32 the way universalists do!

How interesting. And Calvinists and Mormons interpret certain verses the same way, too. This proves what? However "universalists" interpret this verse, or others, it remains that merely being universalists doesn't make their every interpretation of Scripture erroneous. And I do not advocate universalism, which can be wrong while my reading of this verse remains right. In the end, the critic is merely attempting to childishly influence readers by using a scare-word ("universalists").

But if Christ meant all men without exception, how does that work? You admit the Holy Spirit does this, but that requires preaching!

It requires, actually, information that points the way to salvation -- not "preaching" per se. As I have noted in other contexts, I believe every person is given more than adequate information to make a decision for salvation (aside from eg, infants, the mentally disabled, etc). How they get that information is their own business and God's. Perhaps they are given special revelation. Perhaps they go through certain logical steps. Perhaps they are sent a missionary. It doesn't matter, and it isn't our business. Thus the appeal to those who have never heard of Christ is misguided, to say nothing of being obnoxiously presumptive and imperialistic.

At the same time, the critic makes the rather idiotic assumption that my view requires that all men be drawn to Christ at all times. I don't see Jesus saying anything about the "drawing" being 24/7 and have never said that it says such a thing.

In the end, the begged question which allows the critic to turn this into "all kinds of men" is but a vain attempt to resolve other problems of their own making. That said, the critic from here tries to argue that my reading of John 12:32 is too literal (!) based on other passages:

John said that Jesus enlightens all men who come into the world in John 1:9.

Yes, and what of it? This is simply the same message as John 12:32. Jesus gives light to all men -- even though not all may accept it.

Ananias prophesied that Paul would be a witness to all men about the things he had heard and seen in Acts 22:15.

Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the critic "proves" more than he wants to. Whether we take this as "all men" universally, or "all kinds of men" as he wants it to be, Anaias' prophecy would still be wrong. Paul of course did not witness to all men; and he didn't even witness to a fraction of the extant people groups in the world, such that one could hardly say he witnessed to "all kinds of men" either. He didn't witness to any Cherokee Indians, or any Ainu from the Japans, or any aborigines from New Zealand.

So what does that leave us? It leaves us with Acts 22:15 as a sort of legal witness, indicating that Paul's testimony is out there in the public square, so to speak -- and indeed, that is the sort of sense the word "witness" here can carry. In that respect, it is like the modern phrase that the President addresses the whole nation -- even those that are watching Hee Haw instead.

Paul said that we should respect what is right in the sight of all men in Rom. 12:17. Is anything right in the sight of every single man?

No, but all men have a sense of what is right, and this is what Paul commends us to respect -- the critic is naively finding in Paul's words some sense of universal morals. At the same time, if their reading is right, it is no more possible to do what is right in the sight of "all kinds of men," either.

Paul said the Corinthian church was like an epistle, known and read by all men (2 Cor. 3:2).

And as above, the critic has the same problem, since the Corinthians church wasn't seen by any Cherokee or Ainu. However, this is resolved easily as a legal witness, as it is in Acts.

Thus, the critic's attempt to blunt the force of "all men" in John 12:32 fails. His other examples fail, either because they make no more sense read as "all kinds of men," and/or because "all men" makes just as much sense read literally there as in John 12:32.

John 6:65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

I would also note as well that John 6:65, which I previously included in the above, does not say that God enables people to believe -- I think that that is a Calvinist reading of the verse. Indeed the connection between belief and the Father's permission is not specified -- it's just as well to say that the Father has to act as an access-granter because people can and will join the movement under false pretenses that no man can discern, which would make much better sense under the client-patron relationship understanding.

The critic here offers an extended rant exclaiming that patronage has nothing to do with any of this, which is an example, as I noted above, of his disdain for credible scholarship. We are told that Jesus "did not adopt the mindset" of his culture, but amazingly, the result is that Jesus manifested a mindset that happens to match the 21st century, a convenience that speaks for itself.
In any event, my main point -- that no mechanism is specified whereby the Father gives the ability to believe -- is simply ignored with a tautology: It is pointed out that some men do not believe because it is not given to them by the Father. Since this is granted as true by my very explanation, it is hard to see what the point is. There is still no mechanism specified whereby the Father does or does not enable belief and faith (which the critic also assumes an incorrect definition of).

I can honestly interpret Genesis 6:5 under no different principles. This is undoubtedly exaggeration for effect, for of course one cannot literally have thoughts of the heart that are continually evil (for we must all sleep sometime); certainly the hearts of these antediluvians were wicked and depraved, but whether this means that they were depraved to the extent that total depravity requires simply cannot be determined from this verse -- much less can it be said that this automatically applies to all men throughout history, although it offers persuasive evidence that it is so. Nor does this verse say anything either way about whether men were unable to behave otherwise.

You're being inconsistent because you allow for hyperbole here but not in John 12:32.

Unfortunately, the critic is oblivious to a basic literary point concerning the identification of hyperbole: That is, some sort of literal or practical impossibility in what is expressed. What is expressed in Gen. 6:5 is, indeed, literally impossible, for reasons specified. In contrast, God has all the ability and power needed to make John 12:32 a literal and practical reality, which means one needs a good reason to designate it as hyperbolic, or to in some way qualify it. Thus far, no Calvinist, nor this critic, has provided any such reason.

Psalms 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

This verse offers a standard Ancient Near Eastern exaggeration for the purpose of expressing a point: That we're sinners and we express it from even the youngest age; in this case, David expressing the utter depth of his own sin, in light of events with Bathsheba. While I in no way mean to imply that our sin is not serious or extensive, it is no more legitimate for the Calvinist to use this verse as they do than it is for the Skeptics (who make the same arguments using it), and the verse in no way says that we can't make a right choice.

The critic here begins by wondering if I am denying original sin; the answer of course is no (see here), and there is no reason to think so other than wishing to arbitrarily cause problems that do not exist. Beyond this the critic merely reaffirms the Calvinist reading of the passage, though failing to explain how a newborn infant can be a "sinner". (Perhaps this can be understood, under the usual view of original sin; but under ours, it is exposed as a contrivance designed to explain away logical and practical inconsistencies in the doctrines of original sin and total depravity.)

The critic further says that our choices "always contain an element of idolatry and self-worship in one way or another." Really? So our choice of bacon or waffles for breakfast has an element of one of these in it? We are choosing between the gods of Eggo and Hamm? This merely exposes the absurdity and inherent contradiction of this extremist view of depravity -- for by the same token, the critic's own words here, his own exposition of total depravity, itself reflects choices he has made, which by his own reckoning contain an element of idolatry and self-worship. And so, why heed his sin-tainted exposition?

The same sort of response is offered for Jeremiah 17:9; again, it escapes the critic that if indeed the heart is that deceitful, his own exposition is badly tainted. The critic also makes the rather peculiar comment that Jer. 17:9 cannot be proverbial because it is "in the middle of a prophetic utterance." By what rule these two categories became mutually exclusive is not explained.

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Palmer [Palm.5P, 17] points to this verse and argues:

A baby never desires or decides to be born. He never contributes an iota to his own birth. In the whole process from conception through birth, he is completely passive and totally unable to control his birth. In a similar fashion, the unbeliever cannot take one step toward his rebirth.

Though this relates to the "U" aspect of TULIP as well as "T", let's consider it now. I asked here at one point whether Palmer is getting his biological facts straight; I have never understood that a baby is a totally passive bystander in the birth process, but rather, does a little struggling of its own instinctually, which would rather reduce the impact of Palmer's analogy, since no one thinks instincts have anything to do with conversion.

As it turns out, a science-minded reader has told me that, indeed, Palmer is wrong: A baby even determines when it will be born, for it secretes a hormone that induces labor.

But I rather think the analogy Palmer draws is stretched anyway. The metaphor of new birth is appropriate; how else would the idea of a new creation be better expressed? In order for this argument to work, Palmer has to show that there was no better analogy available which would have illustrated both a new creation and a active choice behind the matter. Otherwise, he is simply stretching the analogy for his own purposes -- and we may next ask questions like, "What is conception analogous to?"

Our critic first makes rather a fool of himself mocking the point about a baby and hormones, asking first whether this secretion is an "act of the will." Where I said that it was is far from clear. The point rather was that Palmer's own reckoning of the matter was incomplete; note too that I said determines, not decides, a word which carries among its meanings a causal rather than a determinative sense (though it has that sense as well in other contexts). I did not think it necessary to insult reader intelligence by explaining which sense would be intended of an unborn baby, but I underestimated some such as our critic.

The critic also supposes that our scientific consult is just someone who is "curious about science." I was not at liberty to reveal this at the time, but I may now say, in this context -- much to the embarrassment of the critic --that the reader in question was one of the credentialed scientists at Creation Ministries International (at the time, though, part of Answers in Genesis). I would rate this person well above any local gynecologist our critic uses as a source.

In any event, the critic rails on in this vein a bit longer, having assumed I was arguing that this was an act of will by the baby, which was never said.

Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

Palmer tells us of Lydia, "Only after the Lord opened her heart was (Lydia) able to give heed to what was said by Paul. Until then, her understanding was darkened, to use Paul's description of the Ephesian Gentiles (Eph. 4:18)." [Palm.5P, 15]

Granting this -- for no such description is applied to Lydia at all by Luke -- I can see no reason why this cannot be an example of the paradigm I have outlined above whereby the Holy Spirit, drawing upon all men's hearts, now gives them what they need to make the decision of their own accord. If I may hypothesize a moment, it now appears that we will be leading into another petal off the TULIP doctrine -- that of Irresistible Grace -- and we found that to be lacking here.

Scripture nowhere says that a heart opened for response may offer a negative response.

That's a rather bogus argument, since Scripture nowhere says every heart opened to respond will respond positively, either, which means neither side can simply yell, "Scripture says..." Apart from this, the critic again refers to his prior responses on John 6, and further Calvinist interpretations (which are not found in Scripture, but rather, read into it as the mechanism of faith) of John 10: Jesus says, yes, people do not believe because they are not his sheep, but this hardly establishes to any degree the Calvinist cause-effect mechanism.

After much aimless nattering and braggartry, the critic returns with a complaint that I did not deal with certain Pauline texts. I made it quite clear that since I concluded from what texts I did consider total depravity Biblical, there as no need to address any further texts, whether they supported the doctrine or not. Some may, but some do not clearly do so: 1 Cor. 2:14 for example describes a phenomenon of spiritual insensitivity, but does not specify the cause of this insensitivity as total depravity (though it probably is). Beyond that, since I was not trying to rebut the doctrine of total depravity, it is dishonest for the critic to observe that these Pauline texts are difficult to refute and suggest that this is why I did not deal with them.

The critic concludes with a charge that I have not understood total depravity. This is curious since, as noted, all my definitions came from Calvinist authors. One may rightly ask whether it is rather not the case that Calvinists have not produced a uniformly agreeable definition either -- perhaps because in the end, the mechanics of the doctrine are indeed not in the text, which forces critics like this one to add to the text to make their case.

We will return in the next issue for the critic's treatment of the U petal and our response.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ghosts of End Times Present: Walter Veith

From the December 2011 E-Block.


Perhaps you've seen those billboards warning about the end times which say that not keeping the Sabbath is a sure sign you're on the side of the bad guys. If you ever wondered, Walter Veith is an example of a go-to guy for a book advocating that very stance. As his Truth Matters (TM) reveals, though, it's a bit more complex: Yes, it's an adventist view, but with him at least it is also an anti-Catholic view. Veith's position is that Roman Catholicism fits the bill of the whore of Babylon; anti-Sabbatarianism is the mark of those who follow it, and Adventism (as represented by Ellen G. White, and we presume, not by all who call themselves Adventist) represents safe quarter from all that badness, the "Elijah who was to come".

Not all of TM is quite this far fetched. Veith initially makes an effort to argue that Jesus existed and fulfilled OT prophecy, using McDowell as his guide through secular references to Jesus. Other chapters are no less extraordinary (and no more scholarly). Unfortunately, since I am not equipped to evaluate many of Veith's charges against Catholicism; and since there have already been adequate critiques of White done before, I'll limit myself to checking up on a few of Veith's claims and use those as a microcosm for evaluation.

 If you're looking for any serious or detailed exegesis of passages to validate Veith's eschatology, it won't be found here. Documentation is spotty at best, and a great deal is taken for granted or described in as few words as seemed possible. Veith does offer the standard sleight of hand we have seen from both amateur eschatologists and copycat Christ mythers: Collapsing down descriptions to a lowest common denominator to achieve a match. Thus for example, we are assured that the papacy fits descriptions of Daniel 7's fourth beast (although it is allowed to have been initially pagan Rome!), but the explanations frequently fall short of satisfactory, as for example, where Daniel says the beast "shall devour the whole earth." This, we are assured, happens inasmuch as "[P]apal Rome was to receive the same supremacy it enjoyed in the Middle Ages over the nations of Europe on an international scale at the end of time." A later chapter is then said to prove this in detail, but what Veith calls a "mortal wound" amounts to little more than a boo-boo. In Veith's view, the "mortal wound" to the Papacy was the dethroning in 1798 of Pope Pius VI by Napoleon: The Pope had his papal ring removed, and died in exile; thereafter his successors had to submit to Napoleon, one of them, Pius VII, was also exiled, but returned to power in 1814.

Thereafter, Veith tries to up the ante with yet another papal exile, in 1848, but admits this pope (Pius IX) was restored to power just two years later. In the end, he sums up the "wound" as the papacy having lost political power outside Catholicism between 1798 and 1929.

As with standard dispensationalism, however, Veith does little more than carefully select what he needs to serve his purposes. Why not instead select the advent of the antipopes as the “mortal wound,” or the reign of the so-called “pornographic” popes? Or how about the current controversy over pedophilia and Catholic priests?

Other matches are no more persuasive. We are told that the papal title "Vicar of the Son of God" totals to 666 in Latin; but so for that matter does "Papa Smurf" in English. We are told that the USA is the lamblike beast of Revelation, because it "starts off like a lamb and later speaks like a dragon" -- with reference to the latter, because it "would become more militant over time" and eventually, it is said, will "cause all who dwell on the earth to worship the papal power..." The proof of this is the USA's role as a global policeman. I must have missed the news story where Afghans and Iraqis were being compelled to worship on Sunday and take communion; but apparently, that the US merely has the ability (so Veith says) to enforce papal decrees is enough to suppose that it is only a matter of time before they do. That, and the fact that in 1982, Ronald Reagan had a private meeting with the Pope, an "American Envoy was posted to the Vatican," and (supposedly, according to "Liberty magazine") the Reagan administration altered its foreign aid program to "comply with the Church's teachings on birth control." All that is missing now is the Jesuit lizards driving the black helicopters using a Sasquatch as a co-pilot.

In terms of Sabbatarianism, Veith provides nothing new of substance we have not seen before, and answers nothing we have argued in reply. His major mistake is supposing that Sunday is regarded as a "Christian sabbath." Other than this, it is hard to give Veith much credence as a researcher when he adheres to such absurd notions as that the Christmas tree is derived from pagan practices (a matter we discussed in the E-Block exactly three years ago).

In sum, while truth may matter to Veith, it seems clear that he doesn’t have enough gumption or discipline to ensure exactly what it is.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Evaluating the Evangelists: Luis Palau

From the December 2011 E-Block.

Unlike Billy Graham, Luis Palau has not been called upon to write books telling people what he thinks of public debt. He has, however, been a somewhat less prolific author; although far too many of these books were inaccessible to me (many for example were in non-English). In the end, I was able to secure but three books of his, and one -- a devotional with David -- offered nothing extraordinary beyond typical pastoral anachronisms used to make certain Biblical stories and characters seem more relevant and "like us" than they are or were.

A second book, Changed by Faith, also contained little extraordinary; s may be expected, it is nearly cover to cover personal testimonies, with Jesus cast in the role of personal therapist, and with the assumption made that one of Jesus' roles is to help you figure out "who you are." (In the Bible's agonistic society, such a question would have have even been operable.) To be fair, Palau does engage in some "hard" apologetics -- for about 2 pages, discussing manuscript evidence. But clearly in his world, such apologetics is meant oi stay at the back of the Christian bus and remain seated until called. On the negative side, Palau also defines faith in terms of blind trust (120-1 -- for example, we have faith in a chef when we go to a restaurant, which is an analogy I found ironically galling having had food poisoning just last week), and thinks Young's The Shack is an example of positive Christian influence (187). 

if any book of Palau's was going to be of interest to an apologist, I thought it might be A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian, co-authored between himself and a personal friend of his who is an official in China. Sadly, a subtitle is needed: "That's So Friendly It Doesn't Really Get Anywhere." Palau and his friend seldom pose views functionally at odds, and his friend doesn't seem to be a typical atheist: He generally takes the historical value of Bible for granted, beyond the mention of supernatural elements; and as an example of its reliability, he notes that there is no mention of tea in it, which would be an anachronism. In that respect Palau's friend seems to be an atheist of the Kyle Gerkin type -- someone who would react well to solid apologetics. 

Unfortunately, that is a task Palau wasn't up to. In an all too brief discussion on the problem of evil (47f), Palau makes the outlandish argument that God uses disasters to wake up people from indifference. Later (101-2) Palau indicates acceptance of the myth of the Dark Ages, and somehow manages to put them in the 17th-18th century (!). His atheist friend is under the impression that many scientists were tortured by the Inquisition, including Galileo, Copernicus, and Servetus. However, the Galileo matter is itself surrounded by modern myths; Copernicus was not persecuted for his ideas while he was alive, and Servetus wasn't persecuted for being a scientist, but for advocating heretical views of the Trinity. Both Palau and his friend also make the mistake of thinking Hitler was an atheist (120).

Further on, the atheists asks who created God, and Palau says he has no idea how to answer that, but we'll find out in heaven (110). This one is such a simple question to answer that I couldn't help but wish someone better versed than Palau were around to answer it -- or better, that evangelists like Palau as a whole were better versed.

So, in sum: I found little or nothing special from Palau, which is not surprising -- but is also, as always, disappointing.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Corporal Punishment Update

From the November 2011 E-Block.


Some years ago, we wrote the following in response to a Skeptic (it was Farrell Till, for those interested):

Finally, there is this, focussing on Deut. 25:11-12 --

If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

One critic connects this to the laws regarding crushed testicles in the previous laws; but as we have seen, there is neither social nor linguistic basis for this argument. On the other hand, this is also said:

"Today, if a woman's husband should be attacked, shoe would probably know that a swift way to rescue him would be to administer a quick, hard blow between the attacker's legs, but that's today. back in the Twilight Zone of biblical times, a woman dared not do this unless she wanted to run the risk of being known the rest of her life as Lefty." The Skeptics may not think so, but they do not live in an era when having heirs is particularly important: Ancient people did not have Social Security to keep them afloat, nor did they have government programs; there was no Meals on Wheels to deliver food to the elderly and infirm. If you wanted to survive, you needed heirs; there was no other way.

This law should be understood in the context of what precedes it, for it makes the matter quite clear:

Deut. 25:5-9 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. However, if a man does not want to marry his brother's wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, "My husband's brother refuses to carry on his brother's name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me." Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, "I do not want to marry her," his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line."

Neither a man nor a woman of this period would want to live without heirs. This loss of a hand is hardly to be construed as a severe punishment for someone who kept you from having descendants. It has nothing to do with the rule of Deut. 23:1, since that involved self-inflicted damage with a cultic purpose. It has everything to do with destroying a couple's means of support beyond a time when they could fend for themselves properly.

It is also probable, given the context of the previous verses, that the "brothers" fighting here are actually brothers in a physical sense, and are fighting over the very issue of Deut. 7-10. If this is the case, then the wife's actions are even more in sense with the context, and that would mean that this is not just any old fight -- and, it is probable in that case that a rescue attempt is not forbidden in principle where a continuation of heirs is not at stake.

And thus is it appropos that a hand be lost -- for it matches equally the loss of ability to provide descendants to be one's "hands" in old age. That it is thought of as equitable under the "eye for an eye" rubric is demonstrated by the fact that the phrase "your eye shall have no pity" also introduces the lex talionis laws in Deut. 19:21.

Furthermore, if our critic still thinks this rule unreasonable, he should compare it to this Middle Assyrian parallel: "If a woman has crushed a man's testicle in an affray, one of her fingers shall be cut off." That's just for one testicle. There's a second rule if both testicles are crushed, and the punishment is that "both" of something of the woman's will be cut off -- we don't know what, since the text is damaged, but you can take a guess if you want. - Crai.Dt, 315.

We should point out, too, that the Assyrians apparently didn't differentiate between a "rescue" situation for the husband and a woman fighting a man that is beating up on her. If the Israelite law were truly "anti-woman" it would prescribe the punishment under any circumstances. As it is, it seems clear that a kick to the gonads was NOT forbidden when, say, a man attacked and raped a woman.

Our article today will be an update on the above, as derived from William Webb's excellent Corporal Punishment in the Bible. I am pleased to have noted that Webb's own explanation for this passage is the same as my own. However, he also adds some very helpful comparisons to other ANE laws showing that by comparison, the OT is a significant advance on other ANE codes with respect to bodily mutilation as a punishment. Here we will present a summary of Webb's findings and our own commentary.

Sumeria. Only two laws prescribe mutilation, but this may be because we lack a great deal of evidence; we have failed to recover an indeterminate amount of legal material from Sumer. The two laws however are bad enough as is: a peg driven through the mouth for real estate theft, and a woman's teeth being smashed with bricks for making an offensive comment to a man.

Compared to the above, there is little or no sense of equitibility in these punishments. In the first case, there isn't even a clear relationship between the body part affected and the crime. One might also wonder if there is gender inequality in the second -- does a man who makes an offensive comment to a woman get a brick mouth? Perhaps not; though the same charge might be raised against Deuteronomy: What of a man who hits a woman in her "reproductive zone"? There may be an equitable punishment, assumed to be an extension of the didactic expression of the code. Or, it may be that there is no expectation of a woman being in a comparable situation (eg, a fight); or, it may just be expected that the man can produce heirs through some other means (eg, polygamy).

Egypt. Here, there was no effort made to connect the bodily part to the offense either; losing nose and ears was a standard for several crimes ranging from "encroaching on field boundaries" to "repeated offense of libel." Sometimes added was "50 open wounds" as well, with no location specified (though with that many, you could probably cover the whole gamut).

Babylon. These guys had more variety, but there was again often no connection between the body part and the offense. In some cases there seems to be a connection, especially where the hand was involved in some action. But the offenses were often quite trivial, even in the ANE:
  • If an adopted child disowns their parents, his tongue was cut out. The same child who ran away would lose an eye.
  • A slave who hits a free person loses their hand. So does a physician whose patient in surgery either dies or goes blind.
  • Did you break a contract? Expect to lose your nose -- and as a bonus, you get half your head shaved and parade around the city with your arms outstretched.
Assyria. More of the same -- some. There are also a few that do at least make the direct body-offense connection. Samples:
  • If a man touches a woman in a sexual advance, he loses one of his fingers -- plus his lower lip if he stole a kiss.
  • A prostitute who wears a veil in public gets 50 blows and a hot tar shower.
  • Did you steal a sheep? Expect 100 blows, your hair torn out, and a month in the king's service. And you have to replace the sheep.
  • A eunuch or palace attendant who eavesdrops on a palace woman loses his ears.
It doesn't take much to see that compared to these codes, the OT makes virtually no use of mutilation as a punishment -- and the single example ties the act of mutilation directly to the nature of the crime. (I should note that this takes for granted that the passage is rightly interpreted; there is also a minority reading that understands it to refer metaphorically to shaving of the pubic area -- a shameful punishment, not a physical one.) Webb notes that in proportion to other codes, we'd expect at least 20 OT laws prescribing mutilation as a punishment -- yet we have only one. The superiority of the OT law in this context -- that of the world in which it was written -- is manifest.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Suffiency and the Bible

From the November 2011 E-Block.

There is a doctrine called the sufficiency of Scripture (SoS) that is generally formulated as saying that in the Bible, God has given a revelation that gives mankind everything that is necessary to live a godly life. In one sense this is certainly true, but there is an abusive form of this doctrine that mirrors the abuse of sola scriptura, and the doctrine of perspicuity: namely, an abuse in which external defining contexts -- things which help us interpret and understand Scripture and what it means -- are excluded under the premise that Scripture is "sufficient" as is to relate the truths that we need. 

The refutation of this abusive form of SoS is as straightforward as it is for the abuses of the other doctrines: Namely, Scripture is written in certain languages (initially, Hebrew and Greek); Scripture itself does not teach us these languages; hence, Scripture cannot ever be regarded as "sufficient" in the overarching way the abusers of the doctrine proclaim. Indeed not even a KJV Onlyist can escape this conundrum; the Scriptures also do not teach us English! The moment this one exception to sufficiency is engaged, the floodgates open to any and all valid defining contexts external to Scripture, and it becomes utterly impossible to declare that Scripture is self-attesting and self-authenticating to this extreme extent. 

A related abuse may be expressed as follows: God’s holy and perfect word can never be scrutinized for accuracy and truthfulness by corrupt, wicked men. In other words, man cannot criticize the Bible and put God "in the dock." But how is this the case, practically speaking? First of all, if men recopied Scripture, changing only a few words and replacing them with synonyms so that it became their own production, it is a product of men; how is it that the derivative work can be scrutinized, but the former cannot be? Moreover, many of the claims of Scripture are far from transcendent: If Scripture says that a certain city was beside the Jordan River, and neither archaeological evidence nor literary evidence testified to this, but testified that this city was on the coast of the Mediterranean, then what in "corrupt, wicked man" is causing this reputed truth to be missed? Are they simply not able to read maps or find pottery because they are too evil? It is manifest that such claims as that, "man is too evil to judge the accuracy of Scripture" result in either absurdity or else contrivance (e.g., no evidence is found for the city because it just so happened that all the evidence washed away; or every other piece of literature promulgated the same error putting the city elsewhere). Such a viewpoint is simply not honest, and endangers faith needlessly. (It will do no good to further suggest that doubters are themselves wicked for not accepting the truth of the city's location as revealed by the Bible; such merely sets the contrivance one step further away.) 

A related rationalization is that Scripture nowhere calls upon men to test it for truth, so we have no right to do so. This is plainly false. While there is no direct statement that says, "test Scripture," the Deuteronomic prophet test clearly invites an evaluation of ALL prophetic productions to ascertain which is true and which is not. From this it is apparent that even true prophetic oracles were expected to be judged against the evidence to see if they were true. At the same time, it is invalid to argue that Scripture must speak explicitly to an issue for us to make a decision. This reasoning is the sort used by the Church of Christ to exclude musical instruments, on the grounds that Scripture nowhere explicitly states they may be used. It is also clearly a case of modern, low context readers assuming that Scripture is itself a low context document; when in fact, Scripture was written in a high context setting, in which much is related not explicitly, but is taken for granted. The only alternative is to contrive the convenience that Scripture just happened to be a low context, explicit production isolated in a world in which is was surrounded by high context persons and documents -- and this is too obviously a case of presuming modern values imperialistically, remaking God's Word in our image. 

In contrast, there is a more reasonable form of SoS that declares that Scripture is deemed sufficient only in certain specific aspects -- for example, how to live life, and how to be godly. Such a view will readily admit that categories such as language involve things beyond which Scripture speaks, and will also admit (if consistently held!) other defining contexts. The unreasonable version of SoS, however, will put the matter in stark, combative terms: Either you think Scripture is sufficient for ALL areas, or you place yourself in a position of judging God and usurping His authority. It is hard to take this seriously as anything more than a vain threat intended to polarize and avoid the issues rather than engage them head on. 

Now what is SoS in relation to apologetics? The SoS extremist will say that Scripture is sufficient to persuade men of the truthfulness of the gospel, and thereby deny the value of evidential treatments. Here as well will be added in the loaded language of, "men are too depraved to know the truth," and "appeal to evidence gives men autonomy that belongs to God," points dealt with above. Beyond this, however, it is evident that while Scripture may be sufficient in broad outlines in this respect -- as what we might call the "final answer" after a long line of argumentation and reasoning -- it cannot be regarded as sufficient in addressing details and variations. Scripture affirms that Jesus existed, and that is the end of the argument; but it will not give us any reason to suppose that Annals 15.44 is not a forgery. 

There is then an argument of SoS extremists that is essentially ad hominem: Those who seek to use reason and arguments to convince others of the truth of Christianity are seeking to take credit for what they do and are showing a lack of trust in God. Such arguments may approach the matter from a strong Calvinist perspective and will involve some of the same interpretive assumptions as Calvinism. As such, we will leave them aside for the time being when we will do further study on Calvinism; suffice to say for now that my earlier studies found insufficient grounds for such interpretations, and that ad hominem renditions which accuse others of pride or lack of trust have no place in serious discourse. Such accusations are just as readily turned around -- and are just as readily provable. 

In the end, again, the idea that with SoS as expressed in the extreme, we are "contributing" something to God's Word -- which should need nothing contributed to it -- fails at the simplest level: God's Word is given to us in languages used by humans. To that extent, how did humans not "contribute" to God's Word being relayed to men? Unless one is prepared to argue that the Hebrew and Greek languages were somehow designed by God --an outlandish proposition unsubstantiated by any evidence -- then the SoS extremist is trapped. They will say everything human is tainted by sin; well, Hebrew and Greek, then, are tainted by sin. The fall has distorted human nature and intellect beyond the ability to receive God's will; well, human intellect designed the Hebrew and Greek languages. As with similar arguments with sola scriptura and perspicuity, extreme SoS collapses under the weight of a most fundamental contradiction.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Is To Be Done?

Today we have a guest post by Tekton reader and voice actor "DLAbaoaqu".


After the announcement of the 2015 Razzies, I was noticing that the Nicholas Cage version of Left Behind (espousing an eschatology that I haven’t subscribed to in years, and I will it not discuss it beyond this point) and Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas had been nominated for a good chunk of awards. While I have no qualms about the choice of either making the list (they both stink), the latter makes me think: “Why do people only pay attention to Christianity when those allegedly subscribing to it do stupid stuff?”

In the case of Cameron movie, the greater of the two evils, I feel the man is unwittingly furthering token portrayals of our people. As one can predict, when someone who identifies as Christians — the pieux — does something outrageously stupid (like Comfort’s banana speech and the like) it serves to give the fundy atheists — the athée — ammunition to portray us as inferiors.

You know what I’m talking about: “Sky Daddy” this, “Bronze Age” that.

So I went browsing through the IMDB message boards for Cameron’s insipid opus for terrible events to describe. Naturally, I found them.

Rather than destroying the arguments of the athée, as Cameron claimed, the film merely gave said group something to laugh about (“If you don’t get the biggest tree or the richest butter, you aren’t honoring Christ,” seriously!?). It is little more than adding fuel to the fire, giving the fundy atheists more to “enjoy” and reasons for painting religious types as stupefied masses while they are the chosen ones.

Rather than abandoning their position and letting the pieux make their voices heard in an intellectual argument, the athée will continue to exploit beliefs long held dear as superstition and fairy tales.

On that same subject, in academic discussions, the stances of the pieux are seldom welcomed. To the world at large, Christianity is seen primarily as a spiritual or moral position, never an intellectual one. 

In discussions of the Bible and its history, the minds of the intelligentsia are inclined toward hearing the skeptical side and their side only. Jackson J. Spielvogel, in his textbook Western Civilization, Vol. I: To 1715, says:

Many scholars today doubt that the early books of the Hebrew Bible reflect the true history of the early Israelites. They argue that the early books of the Bible, written centuries after the events described, preserve only what the Israelites came to believe about themselves and that recent archaeological evidence often contradicts the details of the biblical account.

This is no mistake. Academia, in general, tends to be biased toward ideas such as these. When discussing the conquest of Canaan, particularly Jericho, you are not likely to hear the athée discuss anything beyond Kathleen Kenyon.

Spielvogel goes on to say that the Israelites were probably indigenous people living in the region. This is a stance the FAs would most likely agree with. As far as they are concerned, there is no evidence whatsoever for the forty-year exodus through the wilderness or that the Jews were ever in Egypt. Of course, they willingly ignore the Scythians of Russia — a nomadic people who were around for much longer and left next to nothing. They also neglect the Egyptians’ habit of trying to hide the things they were embarrassed about, like Hatshepsut and Akhenaten.

The idea of how to interpret the first chapters of Genesis, though, is not settled. Even as far back as the Church Fathers, there was debate on the subject.

This kind of stuff even spills over into New Testament studies, with men like Ehrman attempting to discredit the authenticity of the text we have at present. You have the Jesus Seminar and their pipe dream, Q. The only good thing I can say about this state of affairs is that at least the Christ Myth/Pagan Copycat Thesis is still considered an idea only accepted in Bedlam. You would never even know that the date of Herod the Great’s death is being debated.

Why does it seem like the pieux is not allowed to speak their part on such matters, or at least ignored? You can argue that they can get their voices heard, but men like Plantinga, Strobel, Collins, Miller, Wood, Craig, Witherington, Habermas, Wright, etc. are not as out in the open as the popularizing skeptic. Instead of those figures, the most commonly heard names among the pieux are Osteen, Hinn, and Meyer, among others; people advancing the stupefaction of the common Christian by way of bizarre teachings and fluff instead of realism and hard information.

On the subject of the New Atheist movement, I only have one thing to say: Dawkins discovered the meme. Since the advent of the internet, the athée have lapped up what their “high priests” have regurgitated for them. The athée loves to toss terms like “rational”, “reason”, and “logic” around like a Frisbee. In reality, they are just words written on the wall. You don’t really have to practice it!

Because of the underrepresentation of the pieux in intellectual circles, they are often stereotyped as angry, stupid, Bible-thumpers with ramrods up their spines. You know it’s true. When was the last time Christianity was depicted as a positive thing on TV, in the movies, and online? It is because of this lack of assertiveness.

The pieux have the capacity to prove themselves to be a formidable position in philosophy and academia. They just need to be assertive. The athée will not stand idly by and just let them make their cases. The faithful needs to stand up for themselves.

The global pieux needs to abandon ineffectual things such as televangelism — a haven for heresy and scammers — and focus more on apologetics. They will not make their case with a testimony or devotional. The first members of the Christian church did not rely on those two methods; we must not either.

On the internet, the athée upload videos attacking the pieux and what they stand for. The only goal of the athée is to dominate the pieux. They want to do this in the form of humiliation and slander. The pieux, in the past, took “turn the other cheek” to mean do nothing about this; in reality, the usage familial language relegates that teaching to bickering with other pieux. Sadly, this gave the athée the ability to walk all over them with little to no repercussions.

In this case, I have one thing to say: “Eye for an eye”; if the FAs can pillory Christians for beliefs they have held for ages, the faithful has every right to retaliate with as much mockery as they can muster. On his movie, The Producers, Mel Brooks said that the most effective way to destroy the legacy of Hitler was through satire. The same can be applied to radical internet atheism.

If the pieux can show some backbone and stand up for themselves, they can earn their voice and make their stances known on a broader level.

When the athée retweet stuff from Tyson or Maher in order to look cool and logical, they neglect to realize that such “saints” as those two have gone onto propose that unhackable computers are possible and that germ theory is a crock, respectively. Make people like them live up to their own standards.

Only when the pieux can fight back for what they believe in can the billboards fall and the online memes shatter. Otherwise, it will be business as usual: neglect, stereotypes, and continued exploitation.

What will be their choice?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Bigger Barns Update

In the interest of fairness I'm going to devote today's post to an update on a prior post here.

Here's what I wrote back in August:

This is a story of three buildings.
The first one is on a corner lot less than a mile from my home. It’s an unfinished concrete-block structure, surrounded by weeds, and it’s been that way for a while – a year or more. 
It started out as just an empty lot, and one day a sign popped up: “GOD DID IT!” For a while we weren’t sure what it was God had done (Mowed the weeds? Fertilized them? Picked up the trash?), until another sign popped up indicating that a local church was growing an expected to expand there soon. OK, I figured, that’s nice.
The lot stayed that way for a year or more, longer. 
Then someone started doing some construction. Concrete blocks began to pile up in the shape of a building. A new sign appeared naming a pastor.
Then it all stopped. And it’s been stuck at “bare concrete block” stage for more than a year now. The sign naming the pastor disappeared. A new one naming a different pastor popped up. And that’s where it stands as of today.
Well, in the last month or two, some things have changed on this. They've made significant progress on this building; it's now to the point where they've painted the outside. They also had a revival meeting on the grounds.

I'm not saying this changes my basic point in the post, especially since the other two projects mentioned remain with little or no progress. But I do feel I should be fair and let everyone know that this particular one, at least, is getting closer to completion.