December 2004 Archives

As part of his ongoing series on Charles Dickens and Christmas, Mark Roberts has an excellent post on why we should celebrate New Years despite the suffering in parts of Asia. His arguments are fairly straightforward. As I see it, there are two arguments along these lines. One is that it's wrong to celebrate when people are suffering (or perhaps when you're aware of suffering). The other is that it's wrong to use your resources for your own benefit when others who are suffering could benefit from them in more basic ways. Mark spends most of his time on the first argument, but I've seen the other argument offered a lot in the last few days. Both arguments ignore some extremely important things, though there's at least something to both of them.

[Note from Jeremy (29 March 2006): I just noticed some of these links were dead and fixed them.]

[Note: the followup to this post, Penal Union, is now up.]

As I may have mentioned, I think that Penal Substitution is wrong. I've done the best I can to define what I mean by Penal Substitution in this post. I'd wait for more comments in that thread, but I just kinda want to get this written, and I don't feel like waiting forever.

Most of the critics of Penal Substitution (that I'm aware of) primarily attack the Penal part of the model. They also attack the Substitution aspect, but largely because they feel that seeing Atonement in a substitutionary light biases you into thinking about the Atonement in Penal terms.

This is one way that I differ from the average critics of Penal Substitution--I believe that the Penal aspects of PS are correct. I just feel that Substitution language is not called for to describe it.

Going back to my definitional post, that means that I agree with J1-J5. I also agree with S1-S3. After that things get shaky. I outright disagree with S4-S5, and would want to rephrase R1-R5 as a result. (As a by the way, I do believe C1.)

Adrian has asked the critics of Penal Substitution to give biblical arguments for why PS is wrong. I'm happy to oblige. I'll dispense with the logical and rational arguments against PS, as those were not called for and they are not nearly as authoritative as biblical arguments. As I noted above, I don't question the Penal part of PS, just the Substitution part of it. Biblically, I question Substitution from two fronts. 1) I don't see biblical language that demands Penal Substitution. What language that does suggest substitution actually lends itself more readily to language of union/identification. (more on union/identification in my next post.) 2) Penal Substitution, as I see it, does not require the Resurrection.

New Holy Observer

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The latest edition of The Holy Observer came out on Christmas. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. My favorite story of the current issue is Pentecostal Man's Glossolalia Echos [sic] NBA Rosters. I actually know someone who deliberately faked tongues to get some glossolalia evangelists off his back. Also, check out the Demons and Deacons advertisement on the main page.

I first want to lay out what I believe Penal Substitution to be. This is what I've been taught growing up and is what is currently being taught at my (evangelical) seminary. As far as I can tell, this is the standard version of Penal Substitution. [However, I've heard that some in the Reformed camp see it significantly differently. I have yet to confirm this.] Once we have established what Penal Substitution is, I'll write a post on why I think it is wrong. Then I'll write a post on what I think the biblical alternative is.

The following is a list of the basic tenets of Penal Substitution (as I see them). Please let me know if anything is 1) missing, 2) incorrect, or 3) unnecessary. [I will update this post as appropriate comments come in.]

Not a Neo-Liberal

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Adrian has clarified what he means by the term "Neo-Liberal". He says:

The concise Oxford Dictionary states theological liberalism is "regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change". Since neo-liberalism indeed does just that but with post-modern thought and does indeed dispense with classical evangelical beliefs then surely this is a good word to coin?

He goes on to say:

Liberal theology is defined on one website as "The intentional adaptation of Christianity to modernity using insights from the new social sciences to redefine religious authority." I would define neo-liberalism as the intentional adaptation of Christianity to post-modernity.

That seems to me a pretty good definition as it makes very clear why he has chosen those terms. It seems to me that the term as defined is quite appropriate.

That being said, it looks like I am not a Neo-Liberal after all. My intentions have never been to adapt Christianity at all, to post-modernism nor to any other paradigm. My intentions have ever been to take a hard look at the doctrines that I have inherited and test them against Scripture. Many of those doctrines have passed the test with flying colors (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity), but with others, the doctrines have required considerable modification (e.g. the doctrine of Penal Substitution). If those modifications happen to be more in the spirit of post-modernism than the traditional doctrine, that is purely by happenstance.

What worries me about Adrian's position is that there seems to be no recognition of people like me in his classification scheme. He says that "Neo-liberals need to realize that there are evangelicals who will [reexamine] their beliefs and practices in the light of current culture, then examine these in the light of the bible and conclude that the "old old story" need not be changed." That's true enough, but Adrian's statement leaves little room for the idea that the "old old story" might actually be incorrect (by "old old story" I am here referring to our inherited doctrines, not the Scriptures themselves). What Adrian and others like him (paleo-conservatives?) need to realize is that there are evangelicals who will reexamine their beliefs and practices in the light of Scripture and conclude that our beliefs and practices are wrong and do need to be changed. Church tradition is not always correct; surely any member of the Protestant church must acknowledge that.

Does Adrian have a name for people like me? Does he have a way of distinguishing us from the Neo-Liberals and the [whatever-he-wants-to-call-his-own-group]?

Comment Spam Issue

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I've been getting lots of comment spam with no content. It's just gobbledygook, with links that don't reappear and with no consistent IP, so I can't block it with IP banning or with MT-Blacklist. I've decided to close off comments on any entries that seem to be getting this problem, since it seems to be targeted to specific entries. I had to delete hundreds of comments among the three Ektopos blogs a couple days ago. The problem resumed this morning, and I caught it before it got bad, but I've had to close more comments threads. Most of them are posts with no comments and no expected comments, but if it turns out an old post has closed comments and you'd like to commnt, let me know, and I'll open it again to allow you to comment and then close it again if it turns out the gobbledygook bots are still targeting it. I can't think of any better solution. I refuse to close off comments to all old posts, and I'm not happy about screening comments before they get posted, if I can even do that with MT (I don't know how to do it if it's possible).

Pinnock on Inerrancy

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In the last post, Wink refers to the inerrancy trial at the Evangelical Theological Society for Clark Pinnock. See my comment there and the link to their final report dropping the charges for the context for this post. What I want to look at now is whether Pinnock really does accept inerrancy, based on his actual statements. I'm going to look at some very specific statements about inerrancy from him, collected by Norman Geisler. Geisler frames these under headings that don't all seem to me to be derived from Pinnock's statements, and he adds words in brackets to some of the quotes that he believes the context makes clear, but we don't have the context, so I can't evaluate those. I'm going only by what words of Pinnock I can see in his quotations and without their context. Even with that limitation, it does seem to me that some of the quotations, not nearly as many as Geisler seems to think, raise questions about whether Pinnock holds to inerrancy.

Neo-Liberals?

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Adrian Warnock has taken to calling a certain movement within the church "Neo-Liberals". I might possibly be a part of this group. He considers the movement's primary purpose to be to "make the church somehow more acceptable to today's culture", and it has attempted to do so by jettisoning various objectionable doctrines and replacing them with more acceptable ones, e.g. "disposing of a sovereign all-knowing God replacing it with so-called 'open theism', replacing the atonement with what I am still not sure or replacing punishment in hell with annihilationism".

As far as I can tell, Adrian has fixed upon the term "Neo-Liberal" in order to draw a parallel between the "Neo-Liberals" and the liberal church. The two features of the liberal church that he is focused on is 1) the liberal church's focus on acceptance by the rest of the world, and 2) a low regard for the Bible. The first is made evident by his claim that the goal of Neo-Liberals is to "make the church somehow more acceptable to today's culture". The second is made clear when he says "I don't have the luxury of chucking out portions of the bible like [Neo-Liberals do] as I do believe it is the word of God".

David Velleman has another post at Left2Right on homosexuality, this time focusing in on how people abuse what he calls anti-epithets like 'racist', 'anti-semite', and 'homophobe', especially the last. As with past posts by him on the topic, I pretty much agree with his whole analysis and find it strikingly friendly to things I've myself tried to argue. He thinks such words have been abused so much against people they shouldn't be used against that they lessen the force of the terms, leaving nothing left for the real extremists.

The Divine Watch-Setter

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Those coming from a theistic perspective a likely to view this event pretty differently from those coming from a naturalistic perspective. As the sermon was approaching its end last Sunday, an alarm went off. After the guy next to me checked his watch and it wasn't his, I realized it was mine. I promptly hit something on it to stop it. I forgot to check it later to see what had happened, because I usually don't have the alarm turned on or set for any time in particular. Apparently some buttons had gotten pressed while it was occupying space in my pocket along with the four pens (of different colors) and a mechanical pencil that make their home there. Well, on Thursday as I was doing a walk-through to make sure we'd gotten all we needed packed into our van for our time in NH and NYC, I was about to head downstairs, thinking we were good, and I heard my alarm go off on my office desk. I went in and got my watch and the four or five other items I have left there to be put into my pocket before we left. The alarm had been set for 11:49 am. There's no way that was a time I'd set if for, so both the time itself and the fact that the alarm were turned on would seem to be accidentally caused.

Naturalists just leave it at that. Theists who believe a purposive mind orders what appear to be mindless processes read this sort of situation very differently, particularly those who believe that this mind has purposes that involve human beings, even ones in favor of good outcomes for human beings. According to the theistic worldview, my alarm may well have been set for 11:49 am and turned on, both my processes outside the direct control of any human being, so that my alarm would go off just as I was about to leave, prompting me to remember that it was there and not leave it at home for five days.

I don't normally get to read the New York Daily News, but my father-in-law gets it (he won't get the New York Times because he doesn't think it's worth buying a paper you can't read cover to cover), and it was the nearest reading material when I was eating dinner last night. There's a very interesting piece in yesterday's paper that gives what seems to me to be a very strange argument from Mayor Bloomberg. He thinks the U.S. government owes New York City more use of tax services because New York City pays a higher percentage of the tax pool than other places compared to the amount of money it receives in services.

When I first read this, I thought two things. First, the author of the piece sounds to me like the inverse of Senator Al D'Amato when he ran for the last time and got beaten by Chuck Schumer. D'Amato collected some quotes and sound clips Schumer had made as a Representative in Congress of a Brooklyn district about how he would bring home the bacon for Brooklyn, his district (although to be fair to D'Amato, some of the quotes were from Schumer's campaign for the Senate but given in Brooklyn). Then he aired them on TV and radio programs throughout the state outside the city. The tagline was "There's more to New York than just Brooklyn" or "There's more to New York than New York City". Either line played to the sense of the average New Yorker who isn't a NYC dweller that the city overshadows everything else to the point where living in New York just means living in NYC to many people. It captures some of the agony of having NYC not just diverting things from the rest of the state but actually controlling the state because of its huge size and influence. New York is a predominantly red state, with most of its area occupied by people whose culture is more like that of northern NH or even the deep South than it is like the city dwellers down near NJ. It's just that NYC has so many people that all the red counties have basically no vote in national or statewide elections.

AP Dishonesty

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Usually when anything at Powerline has any decent criticism, there's a whole raft of trackbacks from critics, but as I write this there are none on this post. The Associated Press reported Donald Rumsfeld as cutting off questions of soldiers about armor with the line "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have." That's just completely dishonest, and a quick skim of the transcript makes that fairly obvious. Rumsfeld answered the question, and as far as I can tell he answered it adequately. He said it wasn't a matter of not funding anything enough. It's just logistics. You can only do so much when you start with the military you start with. Production and capability can only go so fast. As the transcript punctuates it, there are eight more sentences following the line the AP claimed he brusquely used to cut off complaints, and on both sides of that statement were answers to the question. He said he didn't hear the question and asked the soldier to repeat it. He let the solder repeat the whole thing. That's one way to cut off a complaint. Then he gave a lengthy statement addressing all the soldier's complaints. That's a way to cut off complaints brusquely. By framing this as a one-liner and making it sound as if he moved on immediately without answering the question, whoever wrote this AP piece demonstrated true incompetence in reporting the news and true excellence in biased manipulation of the information at hand to try to get a false impression across. I can't understand why any news organization continues to rely on the AP given their track record for this sort of thing.

Christian Carnival L Plug

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The 50th Christian Carnival is almost upon us, and it just happens that it's also the last one of 2004. Media Soul will be hosting.

To enter is simple. First, you post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Second, please send only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday). The host would like you to consider writing about one of the following themes:

A) Most wonderful gifts (in light of Christmas)
B) From Passion to Action (for those of us who have to engage the culture for Christ)
C) Thoughts on the New Year or from this year

You're welcome to write on other things, of course, but the host is calling for posts on these themes to fit with the end of the year Carnival. Then, to submit your post do the following:

Christian Carnival XLIX

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The 49th Christian Carnival is up at Patriot Paradox. We've got three special things about this Christian Carnival edition:

1. This is the Christmas edition.
2. It's the first time for the Carnival to return to the founder in 17 weeks (since early August).
3. 49 is 7 squared.

My Exaggerations & Dysphemisms, Left & Right and Sam's Pagan roots of Christmas both find their place among the posts that are actually related to Christmas. There are a number of others, a few of which are highlighted below. I've chosen eight posts to highlight this time, and I've spent more time on three of them than I normally do simply because I have a lot to say about them. For that reason, those three are last in the list, so the quicker ones can go by more quickly first.

Endorsing Myths

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In commenting on this Pseudo-Polymath post, it occurred to me that, even though it's stupid to call this sort of thing persecution (as Mark does not) and probably false to conclude that it means Christians and those of Christian influence don't have much of a voice (as Mark does), it's pretty dumb to say that singing Christmas carols in a public school or putting a manger scene on government property is somehow an endorsement of religion. Why? Well, is an image of Santa Claus an endorsement of the Santa Claus myth? Is it an endorsement of the Holy Grail myth to show Raiders of the Lost Ark in school or an endorsement of the Robin Hood stories to have a play about Robin Hood? How, then, is it an endorsement of any Christian doctrine or practice to have a play about the story of Jesus' birth, to display a scene of that birth, or to sing Christmas songs about that birth, if the purpose is simply to relate the significance Christmas has to many people? That doesn't mean the people running the show agree with all that.

Not too long ago I witnessed five people enthusiastically singing classic Christmas hymns. As far as I know, not one of them believed a word of what they were saying. One of them was the chair of my department. I know nothing of his religious views, if he even has any. Another was a professor I once worked for and her husband. They're Unitarian Universalists. I didn't know the other two. They obviously weren't endorsing anything about the message of Jesus, the doctrines people might hold about him that these songs expressed, or the moral views such doctrines entail. A publicly-funded chorus singing Handel's The Messiah does not endorse the content of what they sing. They merely sing it. This is just something I don't understand about the secularists' complaints here.

Even people on the right lie about Bush more than Bush lies. World Net Daily has a piece up about how Bush has taken Christ out of Christmas, and they state a flat-out falsehood to make their point. They say there are no mentions of Jesus on the White House website. There are 51. Hat Tip: Pandagon.

Theists Oppose Wetlands

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via Scrappleface: The ACLU has filed suit on behalf of monotheists against federal regulation of wetlands on the ground that wetlands "visually portray the 'primordial soup' where some believe life began and from which humanity evolved .... philosophical naturalism is a de facto religion that includes a dramatic, if fanciful, story of the origins of humanity which scholars call creation ex nihilo via nihilo (out of nothing by means of nothing)." Since private displays or religious dogma are deemed constitutional, privately-owned wetlands are not threatened. Any government ownership or regulation of such lands is in question now until this lawsuit is resolved.

At Prosthesis: If there's no Santa Claus, we seem presented with two options. Either the universe assembled all the presents everyone wanted by random chance, or one intelligent mind is behind it all.

If we realize the fallacy involved here, then we know the most reasonable view is that many intelligent designers who coordinate their efforts are responsible for this, and not one of them has any superhuman or magical methods in achieving the goal. If we then apply the same response to ID arguments about human life on earth, we'll conclude that a whole slew of intelligent minds were involved in creating life on earth. The alien origins story will then seem much more plausible. Maybe that was the point, since Prosthesis' post started off with The X-Files. It may not have been Prosthesis' point, but it might have been the point of the team of intelligent designers behind Prosthesis' actions.

For those who are interested in ethical theory but don't regularly read OrangePhilosophy, I've posted my thoughts on act-based vs. rule-based ethical theories. My conclusion is that the distinction doesn't help with what it's supposed to help with.

Jollyblogger presents us with the second Carnival of the Reformation. The first five Carnivals of the Reformation will be covering what are often called the five solas of the Reformation, and this one is on Solus Christus. My Romans 10, Inclusivism, and Universalism is part of the festivities. The first one overwhelmed me with lots of stuff, and this one seems much smaller in comparison, but the overall sense of quality is perhaps a little higher as a result. I'm selecting two posts to highlight, only because these two stood out as saying things I would emphasize myself. This is more of a reflection of my own pet issues than it is of the value and quality of the other posts, so please go read the Carnival itself to see what else is there. Much of it is very good, and Jollyblogger gives more detailed and helpful comments on most of the entries than most carnivals ever do.

Wittenberg Gate explains why Solus Christus is more fundamental than Sola Fides. Without Solus Christus. Sola Fides turns out to emphasize our work of faith, which is what the reformers were trying to move away from. We are fundamentally saved by the work of Christ and not by any work or ours, including our faith. That's why, even though Paul sometimes says we're saved or justified by faith, he sometimes more carefully puts it that we're saved by grace and only through faith. Ultimately we're saved by Christ and what he has done. I've seen people of the Reformed persuasion so emphasize Sola Fides that they leave this out and thus themselves fall victim to de-emphasizing Solus Christus, which is where the New Testament places far more emphasis.

Diane at Crossroads points out that much of evangelicalism is in danger of rejecting Solus Christus in a very different way. This rejection is not in word but in deed, particularly in the seeker-sensitive churches. She gives examples of people who think they're preaching the gospel but give no content, which means people listening to them don't even know what they're responding to. What does "accept Christ" (not a biblical formulation to begin with) even mean to someone who doesn't know what it is about Christ that they're supposed to accept, and why should we think a response to such an empty call has anything to do with genuine faith?

Why Bush Kept Rumsfeld

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Power Line explains why Bush had to keep Rumsfeld. I think I agree with almost every statement. The only thing I hesitate to endorse is the suggestion that the left as a whole wants us to fail in Iraq. I do think a large number of left-thinking people secretly want that but would never admit it even to themselves. I think that even drives their criticisms in ways they don't see. The way the claim is put, though, makes it sound as if this is true of every opponent of the war and a complete part of their explicit thinking, which just seems laughable to me.

The thing that seems most clearly true that many people are ignoring is that because Bush really doesn't believe this whole effort was a mistake (and I still agree with him on that) it would be lying to fire Rumsfeld now, because that would send a message that he has accepted the arguments of his opponents that the whole shebang was a mistake. Since he considers these to be bad arguments (and I agree with him), he can't fire Rumsfeld because of the message it would send. That's a side of politics that I consider very unfortunate, because I can think of plenty of reasons he might want to ask Rumsfeld to resign that don't involve admitting failure in Iraq, but the perception will be that he's admitting exactly that. Because he doesn't want to stain what he sees as a truly good effort, he won't do it. I can understand that, even if I don't like the political realities that make it that way.

Best of Me Symphony LV

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The 55th Best of Me Symphony is up at The Owner's Manual. My Theistic Explanations is there. In it I explain why it's fallacious to conclude that God's existence can't in principle be the conclusion of an inference to the best explanation. Some people say that since God's existence isn't already proved, you can't use it as an explanation for other things, which misunderstands the whole form of argument involved. Others say that since God is mysterious, we've just moved the mystery back and not really explained anything. If so, then the whole business of explanation is pointless, because that's what all scientific explanation is like.

Highly recommended is Miss O'Hara's Modesty (the host mistitled her). The thing I like most about Miss O'Hara's post, along with the two by Hugo Schwyzer that she links to, is that we get to see feminist arguments, or at least arguments consistent with one important version of feminism, in favor of the virtue of modesty, something many feminists will not accept as a virtue. [Update: this is modesty in dress, not modesty about one's accomplishments, which is either a different virtue entirely from what these posts are about, namely humility, or not a virtue at all, i.e. false modesty which is really a form of pride in the bad sense.]

A View From the Pew has some thoughts on how we, in the words of the BoMS host, outsource blame to God, just as the disciples did before Jesus calmed the storm.

Kevin Drum complains that Christians have so successfully spread the stupid claim that saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" is somehow offensive to some degree worthy of being called persecution. I think it's dumb that someone who isn't Christian would be offended by someone saying "Merry Christmas" given that Christmas is not a Christian holiday as generally practiced in the United States. It's a secular holiday, and anyone who considers is persecution to be told "Merry Christmas" needs to grow up. At the same time, those who consider it persecution to be told "Happy Holidays" is even more immature. In that I agree with Kevin. I think he goes too far in talking as if Christians are comparing this to the Holocaust. I've never seen anyone do that. They do call it persecution, though. Rush Limbaugh's brother David has a whole book claiming that, and it's just silly. This kind of victimology is just plain insulting to the Christians who are genuinely persecuted around the world today and to those who have been persecuted throughout the history of the church.

What's really funny, though, is the first comment on the post, who says: The moniker "Christian Taliban" is becoming more apt by the moment. Isn't it ironic that a post complaining about exactly this kind of absolutely ridiculous exaggeration and dysphemism receives as its first comment someone pretending to agree while doing exactly the same thing!

Christian Carnival XLIX Plug

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The 49th Christian Carnival will be at Patriot Paradox. This is the Christmas Edition, so entries related to Christmas are encouraged. I know we already had a few last week. You can go ahead send your favorite post of the week either way. There's no restriction on content just because of the Christmas theme.

To enter is simple. First, you post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Second, please send only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday). Then, do the following:

A nother logic puzzle

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Wink just posted his puzzle about Enoch's death (or lack thereof) and the biblical statements that all have sinned and that all who sin die. I've got a similar puzzle that I've been thinking about for over ten years now without coming to a sure conclusion about what I think the best solution is. This one is about hell as separation from God and God's omnipresence.

For the philosophers reading this, I'll register my uncertainty in calling these logic puzzles. They're sets of inconsistent (or perhaps paradoxical) triads, and logic shows that they can't all be held simultaneously without modifying one of them from its pure logical form, so it uses logic both to show the problem and to get out of it. When I think of a logical puzzle, I think of something involving the mere form and not the content, but I'll use his term just to continue in the same spirit with a similar title (and because it refers to an inside joke that Wink will get). Some philosophers may not approve, but momentum is hard to resist.

This puzzle is as follows:

1. God is omnipresent and is therefore everywhere.
2. Hell is complete, eternal separation from God.
3. If God is somewhere, then anyone there is not completely separated from God.

I'll admit first off that these are philosophical and theological definitions and not derived from biblical formulations, so some might just question the definitions. If so, how and why?

Now universalists deny that anyone will ever be in hell as I've defined it in 2. But presumably even universalists don't think it's in principle impossible for someone to be in hell, and that's what follows from accepting these three propositions. I haven't arranged it as a true inconsistent triad, but the consequence of accepting all three is, as far as I can tell, unacceptable to virtually all theists. I have a sense of a few possible solutions, but I want to see what others think first.

A logic puzzle

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A couple of years ago I was taking an OT survey class. We were discussing Enoch and the fact that he didn't die. I asked if it might be possible to inferr that Enoch was sinless. The rest of the class looked at me like I was an alien. I explained that if the penalty of sin was death, and Enoch didn't die...then maybe he didn't sin. One classmate looked at me like I was a moron and quoted "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." I said "No exceptions?" His response: "None." Before I could open my mouth again, the prof moved us on to other subjects.

I was bummed because I had a lot more I wanted to discuss there. I'm certainly familiar with Rom 3:23. But I'm also aware that the Bible is not shy when it comes to hyperbole and was wondering if it might be possible that this might be a case of it. Perhaps there are one or two or three exceptions? Like perhaps Christ?

So there are three statements that Evangelicals tend to believe without question. But taken together they are mutually contradictory:

1) All humans have sinned. No Exceptions.
2) Jesus was fully human.
3) Jesus did not sin.

To really affirm (1), you have to deny either the humanity of Christ or the sinlessness of Christ. I'd rather say that (1) has some element of hyperbole involved. But to do so raises the possibility that others were sinless as well, like perhaps Enoch.

How do you guys solve this logic puzzle?

The Birth of Jesus

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I want to recommend another series by Mark Roberts, this time on the birth narratives of Jesus, particularly dealing with their historicity. I like to wait until Mark is done with a series before I read it, so I can get the whole thing at once. He usually sends an email to his mailing list announcing when a series is done, and he hasn't sent that with this series, but it looks like it might be done. If not, it's at a good enough stopping point that reading it now will feel complete enough. Mark does a lot of stuff well, but this is the kind of thing he's best at. He interacts with much of modern scholarship, both at the academic level and in popular publications like the recent Time and Newsweek pieces. I'm looking forward to reading it more thoroughly when I finish this volley of grading, which needs to be done by noon tomorrow. Maybe I'll update this post if I have any further thoughts after reading it.

Best of Me Symphony LV Plug

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The 55th Best of Me Symphony is coming up. It's going to have a Bertrand Russell theme, so I as a philosopher cannot resist contributing a post. For those unfamiliar with this particular blog carnival, the submissions information is at the bottom of Best of Me Symphony LIV. Posts must be at least 60 days old and should be what you consider to be among the best posts of the blog in question. Submissions need to be in Sunday before midnight (no time zone listed, so get it in early to be sure).

One of the most common questions I've heard from Christian undergraduates is whether people who have not heard the gospel could be saved and whether people who are genuine followers of the truth within another religion might be saved. There are two separate questions in here, and I want to separate them out and then look at how Romans 10 gives an answer to both questions that's really hard to resist without simply denying what Paul is saying.

First I want to distinquish between the two views. Universalism is the view that everyone will be saved. Universalists may think everyone will be saved on the basis of their religion's own merits. This is the position of many Unitarian Universalists. Some call it pluralism, and others call it inclusivism, though both words have also been used to describe other views. I'll henceforth call it inclusivism. Those who call themselves Christian universalists generally think everyone will be saved on the basis of Christ's death. That's what's Christian about it. The inclusivist view considers each religion's own basis for salvation as the basis for its members' salvation. Such a view is really unworkable without a radical relativism about religious truth, which is itself philosophically unworkable, for reasons I'm not going to bother dealing with in this post. I just consider that to be the assumption behind any reasonable discussion about religion. On those grounds alone I think the view is a dead end. Still, the passage I'm about to consider resists this view quite plainly, so I'll resist the urge to explain philosophically why inclusivism makes no sense. My main concern in this post is with how Paul's line of thought in Romans 10 resists both inclusivism and Christian universalism, which is generally exclusivist on that issue. I think most non-universalists have never encountered an exclusivist unviersalist, so I'm going to spend a little time explaining what the view is and why most passages used to argue against universalism don't really say anything about universalism at all but just conflict with inclusivism. Then I'll move into Romans 10 to show why both inclusivism and exclusivist universalism are at odds with what Paul says there.

In my Ignorance and Democracy post and in Pseudo-Polymath's responses here and here, it's come to my attention that I need to make clear my views on rights and responsibilities and how they relate to God. Most of this comes right out of the comments on Pseudo-Polymath's second post. He's been saying that because I have a responsibility to raise my children well I must therefore have a right to raise them in the way I choose. I initially responded that I don't have a right to raise them however I want, because I have an obligation to do it well. He seems to have clarified his position to say that he doesn't have a right to raise them however he wants, but he has a right to raise them in a godly way. I'm not quite sure if this is what he means, but that's what he seems to me to be saying. My response is just that it sounds funny to say that I have a right to love my neighbor or to pay my debts. I have a responsibility and obligation to do those things. A right is usually something I'm owed by others, derived from my own status and not theirs.

I think many people see rights as fundamental and responsibilities as derivative. I have a right to life, and therefore the government has a responsibility to protect me. I think the biblical view is the reverse, at least with many things we in the United States will end up calling rights. I think I have philosophical reasons for this, too, but I don't have the time today with all the grading I have to finish by Monday to give those reasons. I more just want to state what my view is to make sure we're not talking past each other.

Iraqi Poll on Elections

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Powerline posts the results of a poll in Iraq about the elections, showing that they overwhelmingly support them. There are a couple false statements, one showing great ignorance to the effect that Israel is the only country Arabs have voted in (which ignores at least 3-4 countries in the Middle East, not to mention all the countries in Europe, North America, and probably elsewhere in which Arabs are citizens who vote all the time!) Still, the poll itself is an interesting set of information. I'm sure there could be reasons to suspect the sample or the polling methods and all that, but if you listen to some people you'll get the impression that Iraqis don't themselves feel ready for or welcoming of the democratic process. Even if the poll is somewhat suspect, the numbers are so strong in favor of the elections that all that a priori reasoning about what Iraqi views must be just can't be right.

Ignorance and Democracy

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Two posts at Left2Right have been considering the fact that most voters don't have a clue what they're voting about. The amount of ignorance about basic matters really is staggering. Don Herzog points out the data and seeks to figure out how to remedy the situation through better media reporting, which I don't think would have a huge effect but might help. In the comments, some people suggested that we just prevent ignorant people from voting. David Estlund then compares the situation with the ignorance of most parents about effective child-rearing. He thinks it's obvious that we shouldn't prevent them from parenting, so we shouldn't prevent people from voting if they don't know that Bush never had any intention of instituting a draft or that Saddam Hussein didn't have any direct connection with the terrorist attacks on 9-11.

Maybe I just share too many assumptions with Plato's Republic. Maybe I just have a minimal view of what rights we might have. Conservatives and libertarians frequently talk about parents' rights. What gives parents the right to raise children they way they want? I'm just not sure I have such a moral right to choose how I want to raise my children. At the same time, I don't think the government has the right to tell me how to do it or to force me to do it the way they might deem best, but that doesn't mean I have any moral right to choose how to raise my children. I have no right to be doing what I'm doing if it involves raising my children immorally. That just doesn't seem to me to be the right way to think about this. Anyway, it's a fascinating discussion, one in which people's views probably won't line up along left-right lines.

Update: Pseudo-Polymath responds to a view that I don't ever remember endorsing, so let me try to clarify my point. I think parents have a responsibility to raise their children well. Therefore, they don't have the right to do whatever they feel like doing with their children. That doesn't mean the government has a right to interfere, but when we're talking about rights we don't have to be talking about legal rights. I don't think I have a moral right to raise my children in a bad way, so moral rights to raise children can't be the ground of the claim that the government shouldn't interfere with childraising. We need to ground that in some other way.

I'm Batman

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Which member of the JLA are you?

Batman

Losing his parents to a tragic mugging, Bruce Wayne took a vow to wage a one man war on crime. Using the image of the bat to strike fear into criminals, he dons the guise of the Dark Knight after the sun sets. A genius detective and scientist he is a valuable member to the League even without powers

Personality Test Results

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Hat tip: Jollyblogger

Post Tenebras Lux II Plug

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The second Carnival of the Reformation is coming up. The theme is Solus Christus. The submissions deadline is this coming Saturday. See Jollyblogger's official announcement for more.

Welcome to the 48th Christian Carnival. I'm going to do something a little different this time around and tie each post to something from the world of science fiction. I hope some of the connections aren't too much of a stretch (because I know some of them definitely are at least somewhat of a stretch). Yes, this is the official Geek Edition of the Christian Carnival. I should note that I've spent a little bit more time discussing a couple of the entries than some hosts will do, but I've tried not to go as long with it as I would if I put it in its own post. I've also tried to keep the discussions of the scifi stuff a short as possible, but sometimes it was hard to resist expounding on the virtues or themes of a particular selection. Also, I've decided to save myself a little effort on the late entries (anything I received after 9pm last night) and just include things totally unrelated to round out my favorite scifi shows the way I'd like. On to the Carnival...

Update: I forgot to mention (for those not on the Christian Carnival update email list) that someone has put together a Christian Carnival blog that links to all the Christian Carnivals of the past. Check it out.

Giving Up On Christmas

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Joe Carter says to give the secularists Christmas. It's the best way to show Christ in such a situation.

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. [Matthew 5:38-42, ESV]

Justice Miscarries

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I've been ignoring the Scott Peterson trial as much as possible. How many hundreds of cases like this occur all the time? Why do they pick this one out and analyze it to death as if we should care about it more than any other? Of course they did it so much that many people turned out to care, but the entertainment circus over this thing has been really sad. Still, it was hard not to catch most of what was said. They repeated it so often, at least once an hour most days. What struck me as so obvious in this case was that they had absolutely nothing on the guy except some relatively suspicious circumstantial evidence and clear proof that he's just a total jerk. I don't know how any of that should be enough to alleviate a reasonable doubt that he killed them. I was never able to be convinced that he did it from what I've heard all along. I wouldn't put it past him. He's completely amoral. Still, that's no proof, not to the level of removing a reasonable doubt. Unless there's something that's been buried by the media, he should never have been convicted.

The fact that they're giving him the death penalty is now going to stand as evidence of how easy it is to get the death penalty, which will support those who want to remove it entirely. The use of such an argument is a baby-bathwater situation, of course, because one decent enough solution to trigger-happy juries is to raise the standards again for applying the death penalty, or rather enforcing them where they're supposed to be. That was supposed to have happened after the Supreme Court temporarily banned capital punishment in the 1970s because of its unequal standards in application, and those were supposed to have been greatly improved by the time they allowed its reinstitution. Compare the O.J. case, though, and it's easy to see that there's still great inequity, at least in the high-profile cases. He got off because he was a famous football player. Peterson didn't because his jury voted with their entrails and not their minds. We also know that the race of the victim affects juries' decisions on whether to institute a capital sentence. With white victims, the chance is much greater (regardless of the race of the convict, which turns out to have little effect either way overall, though some parts of the country lean one way and some lean the other, presumably because of residual racism in some places and P.C. restraint in others).

This is the biggest problem with the American system of peer juries. It's the same problem with Democracy in general. One impartial judge is always preferable to a whole bunch of jurors untrained in how to evaluate evidence or how to recognize bad arguments and appeals to emotion. Christians, of course, believe that there is that one impartial judge, and all will be set right in the end. Unfortunately for us at the moment, we'll have to wait until we die for that. Until then, we'll just have to observe the government wielding its God-ordained sword imperfectly.

Christian Carnival XLVII

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The 47th Christian Carnival is at The God Blog. I submitted Christian Conviction, the Law, and Real Virtue. Read on for some highlights.

Ethics of Torture

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A while back, Joe Carter wrote about the vile practice of hazing, i.e. torturing one's own soldiers for the sake of combat readiness. One thing he wants to say is that this doesn't just violate principles deontological ethicists will emphasize (though it does). It also goes against a very different strain of ethical thought, virtue ethics. For those unfamiliar with ethical theory (or lack thereof, in the case of the latter view), deontological views focus on duty, moral obligation, and commands, which sounds very military. Virtue ethics focuses not so much on the action to be done and the obligation to do it but on the character of the person and the character traits worthy of developing as part of what a good person should be like. Joe says this sort of thing is a good example of what sorts of character traits a military formed on the basis of concerns of justice should not seek to inclulcate in their recruits, since it shapes their character negatively by providing bad role models from the outset. I agree. This set me off toward thinking about a number of other issues related to torture and ethical theory.

What Joe didn't say that I think should be added is that torture of any sort might have similar features, and officers and NCOs ordering torture may well fall short in the same sort of way, not by condoning it through modeling it but by explicitly telling someone to do it. Which is worse? Living it so others may see it and do likewise, or actually telling someone to do it (in a military context in which orders are to be followed)? I wonder if some of the commenters were suggesting this. Unfortunately, almost all the commenters who mentioned torture in general made some fallacious step in moral reasoning or simply weren't addressing the question at hand.

Antony Flew Update

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The former atheist philosopher who has lost his atheism is now talking about it. ABC news has covered it, and you can see it from the horse's mouth here in an interview in a forthcoming issue of Philosophia Christi. I haven't read it yet. I'm waiting for my hard copy to come in the mail, and I haven't had the time to do much online reading, which is good because I still have a long list of things to blog about, some from well over a week ago.

Joe Carter and Donald Sensing have been discussing this also, along with many others. I mention these two because they're higher profile and because both had commenters citing this 2001 quote from him as if it shows this all to be bunk. I'm not sure how a 2001 quote from him that he's still an atheist shows that his own words in 2004 that he isn't to be bunk.

Update: There's more at GetReligion as well.

The 48th Christian Carnival is going to be held right here at Parableman. I'm looking forward to doing something other than intensive grading early next week, so go ahead and send in your entries. In case you're new to the Christian Carnival, it's a weekly collection of blog posts from Christian blogs to give people a way to get their best post read by a wider audience among those who read Christian blogs. So if you have a blog, this will be a great way to highlight your favorite post from the past week and, possibly even, to pick up more permanent readers.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Second, please send only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. starting with posts from this past Wednesday). Then, do the following:

Asthmatic Bronchitis

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I was planning my 850th post to coincide with the seventh anniversary of my brother Joel's death. I've talked about him before here, here, and here. I had just enough posts left to do 2-4 posts a day and then have this one be on Thursday. Then I got really, really sick (no, not with asthmatic bronchitis -- keep reading for that). It took nearly two days to get whatever vile offense was in my system out. Then within six hours after I had literally solid evidence of my improvement I was struck again (yes, that was awful, and yes, it was intended), this time in an even more incapacitating manner but with such intensity that it didn't last as long. I was better by the middle of the next day. Of course that was Friday. Doh! I've finally gotten around to the 850th post, and we're three days beyond the anniversary of when my brother died. I'm also exhausted from grading like a monster for well over a week, putting in a few days of over twelve hours (the two longest days were during the time I was sick as a dog, one I think a full 18 hours). I just don't want to spend the time writing up what I wanted to write. I also have only a short window of a weekend to relax for a bit before I have a week to get my grades for one class in, amidst hosting the Christian Carnival next week. I should easily have time for both, but I might have some more long days if I don't want some long nights next weekend.

The main reason I'm not doing what I wanted to do, aside from the time it would take to reflect on the things I wanted to watch (the memorial service at his college that I couldn't make and still haven't seen, a concert of the one band he was in during high school that I wasn't part of, which I haven't seen for a while, and news footage from when he died, most of which I haven't seen at all), is that such reflection just takes a tremendous amount of work. There are three things that it's just pointless to ask me to try to do when I'm in this condition -- physical work, thinking about important decisions, and reflecting on my inner life. I can read a detailed commentary with all the little Greek details or pick up some technical philosophical article with all its complex logical symbols, and I might even have something to say about it. This is exactly what I prefer to do when I'm exhausted, and I enjoy it as a way to slow down at the end of a long day or week. When it comes to reflecting on what's going on within my own inner workings, that takes being in the best condition, both physically and emotionally. I just simply can't do it very effectively otherwise, and I certainly won't want to. Now when it comes to what's gone on inside me for the past seven years, I think you can see why I don't want to venture into that realm in my current state. This is partly because of the way God made me. Joel was always the exact opposite. The lyrics below make that clear. (Myers-Briggs results: me, ISTJ; Joel, ENFP). I did want to do some sort of recognition of his life, but since I can't force myself to reflect for any more than this introduction required, I've decided just to post the lyrics to my favorite song by him, called Asthmatic Bronchitis:

The head psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Medical Center has argued against their former practice of surgery altering the sex organs both of those who identify themselves as transsexuals (who consider themselves trapped in the body of the opposite sex) and of genuinely biological intersexuals (who are biologically indeterminate in some sense between male and female). I call it a former practice because his research has led them no longer to do this kind of surgery, and I think they were one of the leaders in the field. They'd encouraged and even pushed people into having these surgeries for years, and now he thinks that was the worst thing they could have recommended. They've led the way among a growing group of hospitals no longer doing them. I was going to comment more on this one, but I've got too long a list of things I want to focus my blogging time on, and it's such an interesting article that I'll just let you read it yourself without trying to guide that process too much. I will say one thing more. What was most interesting to me (of the meta-questions anyway) was that absolutely none of this guy's reasoning is religious in any way or even related to the typical arguments you'll find among social conservatives, even though it's published in First Things. As far as his reasoning goes, the guy might be a politically liberal atheist.

Hand Pulls Groin

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Some headlines, upon immediate viewing, reveal that one of the following was true. The writer was either being intentionally funny or not paying close attention to what the headline actually says. I have no idea which one this was. Hat tip: Texan Tattler.

Bigotry

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I'm surprised I didn't touch off a firestorm for calling Gene Robinson a bigot. I've done it before with Matthew Yglesias and Andrew Sullivan. I just discovered that in the comments on this post, someone has been calling PseudoPolymath a bigot for wanting to retain marriage between a man and a woman on religious grounds. Meanwhile, this is someone who is casting all people who have religious reasoning for any reason that has any bearing on the moral issues related to homosexuality as bigots. I think that very action is bigoted, and that's exactly what my problem with Robinson was (he was more general in his terms, but the context showed he was talking about this very issue).

I just did a Google search for 'bigot' and discovered that a lot of bigots have Google-bombed James Dobson's bio with the term 'bigot' so that he comes up as the second Google entry. This strikes me as one of the lowest things a human being can do. Have people lost touch entirely with what the word 'bigot' means? A quick scan of the OED entries on words from this root makes it clear that the word once had to do with someone being obstinately and unreasonably committed to a view. In other words, it was once a synonym of what 'partisan' used to mean before it has now come to mean "someone with a view". Nowadays, though, that's not what the word means at all, and if it were it would certainly include most of the people calling Dobson a bigot. After all, they don't understand him and therefore must not be basing any of this on reason.

Merriam-Webster gives a much more up-to-date definition: "a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices". This isn't quite far enough, but include intolerance and prejudices helps. As I've seen the word used in ordinary contexts, it always has to do with unfairly viewing a group as something they're not and then treating them as morally lower because of it. Still, Merriam-Webster is on to something. The notion of being obstinate or intolerant is crucial to how the word is used now. Someone's simply not having an argument is no longer sufficient for their being truly called a bigot. They must be obstinate or intolerant, and it just doesn't seem to me that Dobson is either. Anyone who has ever listened to him on the radio should know that, and I grew up listening to him every day. My parents thought his stuff on raising children, which has always been his primary concern, was excellent, and as far as I can tell it really is. So why is it that I don't think Dobson, Pseudo-Polymath, and many on the religious right simply do not count as bigoted, while I do think those who call them bigoted are being bigoted by calling them bigots?

Carnival of the Vanities CVI

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The 116th Carnival of the Vanities is at The Big Picture. It includes my Gonzales and La Raza.

Let's Try Freedom has an excellent seven-part series on gay marriage. I agree in large measure. He's Catholic and coming from a slightly different framework on some issues, but I think I agree with all his conclusions.

The Electric Commentary gives a good example of a racist misuse of the term 'racism'. A few bars are turning people away because of how they're dressed. People are crying anti-black racism because the way of dressing that's being discriminated against is somehow Dressing While Black (when it just looks more of a Dressing as a Sports Fan look to me). While the author cites a downright awful dictionary definition that doesn't even come close to what the heart of racism is (for more on that, see here), he's right to point out that the assumption behind the charge of racism here is much closer to racism than the actual policy they're protesting as racist. Isn't it more racist to assume certain ways of dressing are black than it is to exclude people on the basis of clothing because you don't want people looking like they're coming from a baseball game?

Coyote Blog looks at some really strange criteria the NEA uses to measure school quality, e.g. teachers' salaries (not adjusted for standard of living), number of students in a state, how good a school is at getting money from the federal government, and quality of education. That's what you get when the employee union for teachers evaluates schools. They care more about teachers' salaries than students' learning.

I guess I'm starting to live up to my name and might have to change my tagline at the top of the blog with these parables. I stole this example from Pat Buchanan on CSPAN's Booknotes (which I watched on December 4, but it may have been originally aired earlier). I've changed things in a number of ways to make it a better parable, but I'll discuss that at the end.

In 1820, the American government was invaded by the British and a small coalition. France and Prussia notably refrained. The threats of President Monroe against England for its being the Great Satan were getting too much to ignore, especially given Ben Franklin's claim to have invented a weapon to wipe out hundreds at a time, mass produced with the techniques of the industrial revolution to destroy centers of cities, synchronized all to happen at the same time so no city could warn another. British spies all had evidence of these weapons (though that intelligence turned out not reliable). Some of the weapons had been used on Indians in the past, and the abuses of the American government against the Indians were quite obvious to anyone in England (not that the English were perfect in their treatment of others, but they had progressed beyond taking whole people-groups and transplanting them to a new land against their will long before the U.S. had -- is 1820 too early for this? then make it a bit later).

Yesterday, NPR aired the Terry Gross interview of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly practicing gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. I didn't get to hear it when it was on earlier in the day, but Sam had it on as she was going to sleep and I was in the bathroom experiencing literally gut-wrenching sensations (yes, she said yesterday that I was getting better, and I very much was, but somehow what I took two days getting out of my system got right back in and left me with a more intense case of Losing My Nutrition than before).

Anyway, what Robinson said right before I turned it off partly in disgust and partly because I wouldn't be able to sleep with it on was that the religious right has taken on the gay issue because the Cold War is over, and they needed some new scapegoat without communists around. I was dumbstruck. This is wrong for so many reasons, but let me list a few.

Rat Brain Flies Jet

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Well, they finally did it. This is the kind of scifi that people have always found too fiction and not enough science, but it's left that realm entirely. Scientists have now grown a rat brain in a petri dish, starting just from some embryonic cells. Then they taught it how to fly a flight simulator. They plan to build computers with organic components. When John Searle said you couldn't get a machine that thinks without modeling it exactly on the causal structure of the human brain, I don't think this is what he had in mind. For some reason this strikes me as less creepy than growing rats' bodies without brains to harvest organs, but the moral implications of brains without bodies have got to be more serious.

Return of the King Trailer

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For those who haven't seen it yet, there's a long trailer for the extended edition of The Return of the King at the Quicktime site. It looks good. 50 minutes of new stuff: Saruman meets his revisionist end, the Mouth of Sauron, the Houses of Healing, more on Aragorn, the Army of the Dead, and the Corsairs of Pelargir, and lots more character development and new CGI stuff.

Update: I was going to say one more thing, that I hope they've fixed the pacing and timing problems with the battle of Minas Tirith. As I was typing that, I decided I should link to my review of the problems in Peter Jackson's portrayal of these books, and I discovered Syracuse Unversity had taken my old website down. Apparently it's now fixed, and it wasn't just my site but a number of others too, but that led me to post my whole review in the blog post that had originally linked to it. So there we are. The pacing problems are just one of many issues I had with Jackson's take on Tolkien's story, but that may be something they could have fixed in this (but probably didn't).

This week's Christian Carnival is at The God Blog.

If you have a blog, this will be a great way to get read and possibly pick up readers in the process or highlight your favorite post from the past week.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Second, please send only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival. Then, do the following:

Christian Carnival XLVI

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The 46th Christian Carnival is at A Physicist's Perspective. My Christ's Divinity in Romans 9:5 is right below the editor's choice, which really means nothing other than that I sent my entry in earlier than most. Sam's Great is Artemis and Allah akhbar is also present.

My last post somewhat obliquely considered an objection to President Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general. That objection relies on some expectation that he would be unable to carry out his duties enforcing the law on the issue of immigration, and the support for this is primarily from the fact that he wants to change immigration law. My argument is that this line of reasoning almost exactly parallels the Democrats' arguments against confirming John Ashcroft to the same position four years ago. It was a bad argument then, and it's bad now. What I want to assess now are all the foaming-at-the-mouth claims about Gonzales that go beyond the more reasonable (but still indefensible) argument I already dealt with.

Around the internet it's not too hard to find conservatives, I'm sure many of them racist themselves, claiming that Gonzales belongs to La Raza (NCLR), a group they say is un-American and insisting upon racist policies. They've been claiming Gonzales is a racist Hispanic supremacist who wants the southwest to become its own country. They say La Raza is a Mexican version of the KKK, which somehow is supposed to be supported by the fact that the term means 'the race' in Spanish. How is that racist? Maybe they have deeper views that they don't admit to, as the KKK actually does (look at the KKK website for all they'll admit to publicly). I haven't seen anything showing that they agree with the one seemingly racist quote I've seen that they supposedly say in private (though even that apparently doesn't necessarily mean what's it's being said to mean). It even goes so far as taking a quote as a declaration of war that obviously just means that Mexican citizens in the U.S. are still technically part of Mexico. Two things make me suspicious of all these claims, besides the fact that some of them are just outrageous. One is that these things seem to be originating from sources where white racists are clearly present (who think George P. Bush is a sign of Mexican invasion of the U.S.) who are at least adding fuel to the fire but are possibly actually originating much misinformation in the process. The other is that I always give someone the benefit of the doubt when I know little about them. I haven't seen enough to justify what people are saying here. Given that Latinopundit, whom I consider a political moderate, defends the outgoing president of La Raza, I just can't believe much of what I've been seeing.

Joe Blow believes we shouldn't Grok. Right now the law requires us not to do anything to people who Grok. In fact, the Supreme Court has granted Grokking as a constitutional right even though it's not in the Constitution. Now someone is going to be appointed attorney general who believes Grokking to be morally wrong in every case, even though most Americans think it's ok in at least some cases and many think it's fine in many cases. What do we do? We have senators try to prevent the man's nomination on the grounds that he can't enforce a law he doesn't agree with. The appointee's party gets really mad and insists that it's an attorney general's job to enforce the law, not to write it, so why worry about the fact that he'd have different laws if he were a legislator? He insists that he will enforce the law as it stands even though he disagrees with it, but only eight of the opposing party's senators are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he said those things. A certain Master of Parables cheers them on as the only honorable senators of their party at that moment.

Four years later, Joe Blow resigns, and the president decides to appoint a new attorney general. He picks Clark Kent. Currently Korging has many requirements if it's to be done legally. Some people do it anyway. Kent wants to see some of those requirements removed, and he wants some of the penalties lowered for those who Korg illegally. Well, it's not clear actually that he thinks this. He belongs to a group that probably has some diversity of opinion but that as a whole generally supports the viewpoint I just ascribed to him. Some of his own party now get really mad. They think it's awful to put someone into a position of enforcing the law when he advocates lowering the penalties for that law, even though it's the legislatures job to set the level of penalties a crime can carry and the judiciary's job to set the actual penalty in a real case (sometimes with the jury carrying out the actual choice of sentence).

Here's the question: should those who complained about the opposition party Borking Joe Blow over Grokking be able to do the same thing with Clark Kent over Korging? Both are being nominated for the attorney general position. Both are being accused of holding views that disagree with the law and are therefore expected not to be able to enforce the law. Both cases involved accusations and charges before the man was even able to say anything. The difference is that with Joe Blow it was the opposing party, with only two honorable men standing up against their under-the-belt party members. Now it's his own party doing this. The above-mentioned Master of Parables considered his position on the matter and realized that such vicious opposition to this nominee really isn't much different from what the opposing party did to Joe Blow. Thus the Master of Parables cannot endorse the attitude he keeps seeing directed against Clark Kent.

The Lame Shall Walk

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A 37-year-old South Korean woman who had been paralyzed from the waist down for 19 years is now walking. How? They implanted stem cells into her spine, and they were able to take over for the no-longer-working cells that were failing to do their job. They'd previously tried by injecting stem cells into the spinal fluid, but it didn't work. This did.

So does this vindicate the Kerry-Edwards proposal to expand government funding for embryonic stem cell research, which California has already now done with their own state funding? Well, look at the fine print. It turns out this wasn't from embryonic stem cells at all. These are cord blood stem cells. The only people who will have moral objections to using those are Jehovah's Witnesses, who think taking something from someone else's blood into your own goes against the Torah command not to eat blood (I wonder if they eat kosher, because to be consistent they need to). This is actually an important discovery for the pro-life argument against needing embryonic stem cells for this kind of thing. There's still greater potential for embryonic cells if the overcome the biggest obstacle to using them at all, which there's been no progress on, but cord blood stem cells do in fact work for this sort of thing, so I don't know how embryonic stem cell advocates can see this as anything more than a mixed result for them.

Pseudo-Polymath has unintentionally helped me see a distinction I had missed before about the relation between Christian conviction and a justification for laws encouraging or restricting certain actions. He gives a reason for not requiring charity or even building into law encouragements for charity. I had originally thought that reason also worked against laws restricting gay marriage. Now I'm not so sure. [Note: the formulation that made me think of it was in this more recent post, but it got me thinking enough to go back and write this post with specific reference to the earlier one that I linked above.]

Depending on how you count, I've been blogging for a year. I originally created my first location for this blog in September, and my actual first post was pretty lame. Three months later to the day, when I discovered that Sam had started her own blog, I was spurred on to start posting content, beginning with a criticism of the common statement from Calvinists that if you hold to any of the five points of Calvinism you must hold them all. Her bloggiversary was yesterday. [I think the double-G comes from her British-influenced spelling. I checked Google, and the single-G spelling got 16,000 hits with the double-G spelling getting only 600 or so.] My blogiversary, since I started the day after she did (not counting the officially first post), is therefore today.

Update 1:28 pm: I've changed the title. See the comments for some of the discussion leading up to that.

Blomberg on McLaren

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A number of evangelicals have been critical of Brian McLaren. I've never read anything by the guy, and he doesn't strike me as a very careful thinker or writer from the snippets I've seen, but he does seem to me to have many good things to say behind why he takes his controversial views. Tim Challies has been notable in his criticism of McLaren, and Jollyblogger has taken a more mixed position but still more critical than not in my opinion. Search their sites for "McLaren if you want more details. They've both written enough on him that I can't single out specific posts. I respect Craig Blomberg greatly, and he's now defending McLaren admist some smaller criticism. Having never read McLaren, I don't know how to evaluate this, but if Blomberg is right then a lot of the problems people have with McLaren could be from the combination of their not understanding him and his inability to state clearly what he really thinks, keeping it to cryptic comments in footnotes. I'd like to see what McLaren critics think of Blomberg's review of this book, because if Blomberg is right then the level of criticism I keep seeing of McLaren are really dangerous.

Matthew Yglesias and Andrew Sullivan are up in arms over David Brooks's selection of John Stott as more representative of evangelicalism than people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, whom most evangelicals consider to be of the quality most conservatives would assign to Al Sharpton or Michael Moore. They consider them court jesters and opportunistic hustlers. Stott, on the other hand, is a calm, reasonable fellow who holds to solidly evangelical views (on occasion bucking the trend, but he has biblical arguments for his unusual views such as annihilationism rather than lame philosophical ones that contradict scripture that you get from people like Clark Pinnock). He is no political activist in the way Falwell and Robertson are. He spent most of his life pastoring a flock rather than being in the public light in any way besides his books and speaking ministry, which are pretty much exclusively related to simply teaching the word. So there's a huge difference between them that anyone should immediately recognize.

So why is it that people like Yglesias are foaming at the mouth about Stott as if he's no different? It's because they don't recognize his right to hold certain views and still be considered a decent man. Matt's post shows that he considers Stott just as dangerous as Falwell and Robertson merely because Stott believes homosexuality is not a legitimate lifestyle. In other words, anyone who takes the Bible seriously in what it says about the context of sex is for that reason and that reason alone incredibly dangerous, regardless of how their political views influence whether they think that should affect laws, regardless of how their moral views affect how they interact with people whose sexual views or practices are different. I have friends who have been part of Stott's church, and I know for a fact that the church is open and accepting of those who are not viewed by Christians as living a lifestyle that's pleasing to God. Stott did say that he would leave the Church of England if they ever contradicted the Bible's teaching by saying that homosexuality is not a sin (yes, I know that's actually not what the Bible says, but people speak uncarefully when they speak succinctly, and even really smart people like Stott have to do that to avoid ridiculously long sentences). That's not a political issue, though. It's an issue of governing the church of Jesus Christ in a way that holds the Bible's authority as more important than the prevailing political wind.

Yglesias's reasoning is just ridiculous. Having the view that being in a gay relationship and/or having gay sex is wrong does not necessitate doing anything that Yglesias should consider politically dangerous. It's just intellectual dishonesty not to see the difference in views and policies between people like Stott and people like Falwell and Robertson. That purely anti-Bible bias is even more obvious in Noam Scheiber's post at TNR.

Stott

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I took a break from the internet from a few days (and should, in theory still be on said break), and when I surfed the liberal blogs this evening they were awash with invective regarding John Stott. Clearly I missed something because I have no idea what brought that on. What did I miss?

Supreme Court Term Limits

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Josh Claybourn links to a proposal in the Virginia Law Review to give Supreme Court justices 18-year term limits and stagger them so that each president would appoint a new justice every two years. This is supposed to address a few problems that arise from the current system. I found it interesting enough reading that I figured I'd link to it and say a little about it, given that I don't have much time to write anything more substantial while I've still got piles of grading to work through, a good number a papers still to finish by Friday and then two whole sets of exams to finish by Monday and Tuesday.

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