December 2006 Archives

Christian Carnival CLV Plug

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The 155th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Wittenberg Gate. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

Doublespeak and Abortion

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I've been catching up on some really old posts at Language Log, and I noticed one by Bill Poser that I really think misses the boat on a few points. The post is about a general phenomenon of using nicer-sounding words that convey more positive connotations in the place of words that would cast a more negative light. Some of the examples he gives are clear euphemisms that might rightly be called doublespeak. When he comes to the use of language for the abortion issue, however, I think he gets several things wrong. I'll quote the entirety of what he says about abortion rather than summarizing it, because I think in this case the particulars of what he says are important:

It may be true that abortion rights advocates prefer to avoid the term "abortion", but I think there's more to it than that. Describing one's movement as "pro-abortion" suggests that one actually favors abortion, that is, considers that abortions are a fine thing. Few if any advocates of abortion rights take such a position. Their position is, rather, that women should have the right to have an abortion if they consider it the best choice: "pro-choice" really is a more accurate description than "pro-abortion". In the abortion debate if one wants an example of the use of propagandistic use of language, it is the use of the self-designation "pro-life" by opponents of abortion rights. Opponents of abortion rights are not in general advocates of a "pro-life" stance: many of them are quite sympathetic to military activity and favor the death penalty, both of which are considered by many others to be "anti-life" stances. And those who oppose abortion under any circumstances, even when the life of the mother is threatened, are not "pro-life" even in this narrow context. Rather, they take a position that values the life of the foetus over that of the mother. So "anti-abortion" is a much more accurate term than "pro-life".

Real Theocracy

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I've said many times before that I think anyone who is seriously worried about theocracy in the United States in the near future is basically paranoid and ignorant. This view requires being paranoid about the likelihood of theocratic extremists getting a hold even on evangelicalism, never mind of the government. It relies on gross ignorance of what evangelicals actually believe and of how remote from the center of evangelicalism the radical extremists called dominionists really are. The people holding this ridiculous view aren't really complaining about theocracy to begin with, when it really comes down to it. It's more a complaint about people who think undefended moral views can be a basis for favoring a particular public policy. Since virtually everyone thinks that, at least in practice, it's pretty silly to complain about others who do it simply because their undefended moral views are also undefended religious views.

But there is a movement in another country right now toward something that literally would be theocracy. 48 members of the Polish Parliament want to name Jesus Christ as the King of Poland. This one is also extremely unlikely to happen, but it is technically theocracy in a very grossly literalistic way. Their proposal wouldn't make Poland a theocracy in practice, just in theory, the way the United Kingdom isn't really a monarchy in practice, just in theory. But it would, technically, be theocracy, at least given the premise that Jesus Christ is indeed God, as these Polish members of Parliament surely think.

For the record, Eugene Volokh's speculation (in the above-linked post) as to the reasons why the Roman Catholic Church opposes this move is wrong. At present Roman Catholicism officially believes the historic position of Christianity that most Protestants also believe (at least in theory), which is that the church is not a political entity but a spiritual entity. It has no earthly domain, and where the medieval view went wrong was in thinking that Christianity could control certain territory to begin with. In a sense he's right that this move would serve to downgrade Jesus' authority, but it's not for the reasons he gives. It's because political authority is already all under God's sovereignty, and making Jesus just like an earthly king, even one with absolute power within a certain domain, is to downgrade someone who has in his death and resurrection been declared the king of all creation and has just yet not returned to claim that and to overthrow all realms who would oppose his reign. This move both denies the futurity of his reign and affirms a more limited, superficial kind of reign now.

Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, gives an account of why he thinks The Nativity Story bombed. Key quote:

No intrigue about the artistic vision, combined with no intrigue about the subject matter, leaves a movie with very little to stand on except, "Hey Christians! Please come see our movie about your savior! We made it just for you!" And that pitch, as Hollywood is about to learn, will only get you so far.

In some ways, this is another example of what we regularly see in politics. The leadership of the GOP is much better at coming up with policy proposals that evangelicals will accept. There's also such a clear sense of a lack of genuineness coming from many on the left who try to come off as religiously sensitive but just end up appearing religiously ignorant. Howard Dean and John Kerry don't come across as a genuine Christian to most evangelicals, but neither should Newt Gingrich or Rudy Giuliani. Most importantly, there's always the worry that evangelicals' concerns aren't at the heart of any candidate's views, and attempts to satisfy evangelicals will then just amount to vote-grabbing with no real concern for those issues.

Christian Carnival CLIV

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The 154th Christian Carnival is at From the Anchor Hold.

This is the the thirty-fifth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I continued a series within the series on philosophical theology, looking at a thorny problem about divine omniscience with respect to time. This post moves on to questions about omniscience with respect to human freedom.

A second puzzle related to omniscience is how an omniscient being could know the future given human free will. While the first omniscience puzzle is largely a problem for an atemporal God, this puzzle is primarily for a temporal God, although we will see that God’s being atemporal is not going to be enough for a complete answer for many theists. The problem is basically as follows:

If God knows that I will do something tomorrow, then it necessarily follows that I will do it. That seems to imply that I will not be able to do otherwise. How, then, is divine foreknowledge compatible with human freedom? If God knows the future, it seems that we are not free.

Christmas Grading

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Grades are due in two days, and I still have about fifty 3-5 page dialogue papers and about fifty 1-2 page papers to grade. You know it's bad when I end up spending several hours grading on Christmas. I did manage to finish grading the exam I've been trying to finish up for the last several days (each day thinking I'd be done by the end of the day), and just getting that out of the way is enough of a relief that it felt restful to be grading.

I'm also relying on battery power until Wednesday when Dell gets me my new motherboard, although I'm grateful that we have an old computer that won't boot up but can still charge a battery that fits my battery. I still have to spend twice as much time waiting for my battery to charge as I do actually using the battery, but it's nice to get a recharge when the wait for next-day service turns out to be five days because of Christmas.

Combine that with everything that's going on for Christmas, and I'm not getting much time to put any decent posts together. More serious blogging will have to wait until Wednesday to resume, I'm afraid, after I get my new motherboard and hand in my grades.

Update (Dec 26, 1:55 pm): I guess the Dell service company that's been assigned to my computer is working today after all. The technical support guy on the phone said they almost certainly wouldn't be. So I've got my new motherboard in already, but it's got a gimpy wireless receiver. I can connect to the wireless in the room where the transmitter is (but I can also plug in directly in there). If I'm downstairs I have to plug in a wireless card to get a signal. But at least I have power now, and I can use the wireless with Sam's old Cisco adapter in rooms where the internal one doesn't work. So I'm back up and running enough to work and just need to get through 38 more papers before I'm done grading. Grading has also been going more quickly today than I'd expect, so normal blogging may return a little sooner than I'd predicted.

Christian Carnival CLIV Plug

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The 154th Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at From the Anchor Hold. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

Christian Carnival CLIII

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The 153rd Christian Carnival is up at Lux Venit.

400,000th Visitor

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Visitor #400,000 in Greensboro, NC arrived about two hours ago and viewed Rick Warren: Heretic or Christian Brother?, a post that usually generates a lot of search engine traffic from people searching for keywords like "Rick Warren heretic". (I'm sure most such visitors aren't happy with what they find.) Sitemeter didn't give any referral information on this partiular visit, so I don't know where the person came from.

Searches

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Tell me why their is nothing wrong with interracial marriages
When there are no remotely plausible arguments against something, the burden of proof lies with those who think it's wrong, not with those who do not. Asking such a question is like asking someone to explain why there's nothing wrong with cutting your toenails

is it rape if he's 18 and im 16
No, there needs to be some sexual conduct for it to be rape. Merely being certain ages wouldn't do it. [It also depends on the state. Some states allow sex between someone who is 18 and someone who is 16. Also, if you're married (to each other) that counts as an exemption.]

ESV finally a bible in my language
Is there anyone still around old enough to have grown up long enough ago to consider inverted negatives to be their own language?

What was adam's wife on December 24
Christmas Eve Eve?

does the bible say it,s wrong to do genealogy
Wow, I get some pretty biblically illiterate searches coming to my site, but this one takes the cake. You have to stop reading the Bible before Genesis chapter 5 if you want to avoid seeing any extended geneaologies (and there are even short ones before ch.5). You can't get very far into the two longest gospels (Matthew and Luke) before you see them as well. One book even begins with nine whole chapters of geneaologies (Chronicles), and they have special prominence in Numbers, Ruth, and Ezra-Nehemiah as well.

Where can I submit my paper to find out if i plagiarized?
So did you lose your memory of the period during which you wrote the paper, and you can't remember if you stole someone else's words, intending to pass them off as your own?

Adrian Warnock has been presenting an interview with Wayne Grudem in several parts. In part 7, Grudem presents an argument against the position my congregation takes on baptism, and I don't think the argument should ultimately be convincing, so I wanted to respond to it here.

Paedobaptists baptize their children as infants. They do this as an indication that they place their children in God's hands while dedicating themselves to raising this child to understand the Christian gospel and to train the child in godliness. Credobaptists think children should wait until they can express their commitment to Christ before being baptized, since baptism should be something only a conscious believer should undergo. I didn't know this, but Grudem says the Evangelical Free Church has been allowing people to do either, according to whichever view they agree with. (Peter Kirk notes in the comments that the Church of England allows both as well. Matthew Sims says the Free Presbyterian Church does as well, and PamBG says the British Methodists also do. I didn't know that for any of them.) Grudem has welcomed this position and encouraged others to take it. It turns out to be the same position my congregation has had since the late 70s, when they first formed. But Grudem now worries that the position cannot hold up and will ultimately implode because of its attempt to reconcile two views that cannot be reconciled. I disagree.

The Unsuggestor

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Brian Weatherson links to the Unsuggestor, which uses Amazon personal profiles to match up books people have with books they're not likely to have. It's sort of the inverse of Amazon's engine for recommending books based on what other people who bought what you bought have bought. I tried a few books I've got, and I discovered some disturbing things. Consider the following sets of unrecommendations:

They have the second Harry Potter book opposed to The Gospel According to John, by Leon Morris, a fairly respected evangelical commentary on the fourth gospel. I have both books and like them both very much. Most of the Harry Potter books have several John Piper books turning up in the top five, mostly some of his newer books (which I don't have), but his earlier Desiring God turned up with some of novels by Terry Brooks, one of my favorite fantasy authors. This would again be a case of two books I pretty much like (even if I criticize Piper on a few issues here and there). Some books in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series are put up against John Piper, Josh Harris, Wayne Grudem, A.W. Tozer, J.I. Packer, and other books by evangelicals, including several books I've got or have at least spent time looking through. Pratchett's Reaper Man isn't my favorite of the Discworld series, but a lot of it is funny. Its opposite is Doug Stuart and Gordon Fee's How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, one of the best popular introductions to biblical interpretation ever written. Pratchett's much better Lords and Ladies is opposed to Knowing God by J.I. Packer, one of the most important popular introductions to theology in print. While I don't think Grudem's Systematic Theology is well-argued on the level of detailed exegesis (as in the classic tradition of Reformed systematic theologies like Hodge's), it's an excellent reference work, and I think his positions are largely correct on most issues. It's opposed to Pratchett's Pyramids, a Discworld book I very much loved. D.A. Carson's guide to New Testament commentaries, something I use all the time, lists Harry Potter book 6 as its opposite, a book that is next on my list to read. Carson's How Long, O Lord?, the best book I've seen on the problem of evil, also lists Potter book 6 as its first unsuggestion.

I Peter Commentaries

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This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post.

I have a hard time deciding between Thomas Schreiner's NAC (2003) and Karen Jobes's BECNT (2005) as my first choice on I Peter. I think Schreiner's is the best NT volume in the NAC series. Jobes has a good deal more space in her commentary, and it's a little more recent and thus has an edge in terms of having more scholarship to interact with. Schreiner includes II Peter and Jude and thus is more limited in scope in his I Peter portion. Both seem to me to be excellent both in exegesis and in sorting through the contemporary scholarship, but Jobes has more space to interact with other scholars. Both are well-written and easy to read, although Schreiner will be slightly more easy-going for those without Greek. Jobes comments directly on the Greek text, although she transliterates and translates every time she gives an expression in the Greek. Schreiner works in transliteration and translation entirely.

Both come from a theologically Reformed background, but Schreiner presses those issues a little more firmly (not a bad thing, as far as I'm concerned, and I don't think he goes overboard as some do). He connects his comments up with broader, systematic theology categories. I count both as theological conservatives, even on less central matters such as gender issues (both are complementarians, although Jobes doesn't think I Peter itself deals with the general issue of male headship in marriage, as she thinks Ephesians and Colossians do, but rather just deals with women submitting to unbelieving husbands for the sake of evangelism).

When I let a friend borrow some of my commentaries for a sermon on I Peter, he told me Schreiner's was the most useful of the bunch and an enjoyable commentary to read, although several others were helpful to him. He didn't get to read Jobes, however, so I'm not sure how he'd compare the two. On Schreiner, see also Craig Blomberg's review. Surprisingly to me (given how much I like Blomberg), I think I agree with Schreiner in most of the places Blomberg takes issue with him.

Jobes contributes three things in her work that are worth mentioning. First, her treatment of the Old Testament in this letter spends a good more time than usual in looking at how the fact that OT quotations are from the LXX should affect how we interpret their use here. This is a welcome feature that I think will affect future I Peter scholarship will have to take into account.

The 153rd Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Lux Venit. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

This is the the thirty-fourth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I started a series within the series on philosophical theology, beginning with omnipotence and possibility. Now we turn to the first of two posts related to omniscience.

We might define omniscience in a similar way to how we initially defined omnipotence. We could say that it means knowing everything. That will not do, because omniscience cannot mean knowing things that are false. Omniscient beings could only know what is true. But maybe omniscience means knowing every truth. Some will want to retain that definition, while others will modify it further. One issue that will affect this is as follows.

Does God know what time it is? If God is in time, then hardly anyone thinks there will be a problem with thinking God knows what time it is. But some people think of God as outside time. In the next post on omniscience and freedom I'll look at one reason some people are attracted to that ideal (some think it solves problems about how God knows what's future to us). Another reason reason is that some simply view temporality as a limitation that a perfect being would not have. A third reason sometimes comes up in relation the cosmological argument, although it wasn't important to the version of that argument that I discussed earlier in this series of posts. Some people think there could not have been an infinite past, because an actual infinite is impossible. We could never have reached the present, because that would have involved having counted to infinity, which is impossible. Not everyone agrees with this line of argument, but those who do had better not think of God as experiencing time the way we do. If they did, then God would have had to have existed for an actual infinite length of time. Whatever reasons some might have, it is by far the dominant view within theism historically speaking, even if most contemporary theistic philosophers have abandoned it.

So can an atemporal God know what time it is? If not, is that a problem for omniscience?

Update: I hadn't read the article very carefully and was taking the ESV blog's tying together of the Tickle quote with the issue the post was raising, which was functional equivalence. My brother pointed this out to me, and I looked again at the article itself, and he's right. The ESV blog (they don't indicate who is responsible for the post in question) has tied Tickle's quote to something that it's not even close to being about. [Update: They have now added some clarificatory words, and some of my criticism here no longer applies. I have removed some of it.] This post has now been edited several times to correct several errors and to focus on the main issue rather than the original portrayal of Tickle's words. The comment thread may not be as understandable now, but I want the post itself to represent the argument I had originally intended to give, without distractions from things that turned out to be mistakes that aren't really relevant to begin with.

The ESV Blog points to an article by Daniel Radosh in The New Yorker that discusses Bible translations. The ESV blogger's presentation of the quotes from the article was originally confusing. They quoted an argument from Phyllis Tickle against adding all sorts of commercialized nonsense to Bibles to attract younger readers but placed it in a context about functional equivalence that seemed to indicate that Tickle was against functional equivalence translations. They have since partially fixed that problem (but not good enough for me), so I will focus mostly on the post's argument and not that other issue in what follows. The rest of this post is therefore an argument why I think functional equivalence translations can be very good (even if there are plenty of circumstances in which I would rather have a formally equivalent translation, of which the ESV is the one I use the most, for the record).

Searches Again

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I had three things today that were not part of my normal schedule, leaving me with about a couple hours at home today in between (and not even all at once). I just got home. At this point I'm again not even going to take the time to edit my class notes into another Theories of Knowledge and Reality post, so here are some more searches, which I just have to copy and paste from the file I'm collecting them from.

real life hobbit philippians
Wow. Any ideas what that's supposed to be about? I thought they might have meant Philippines, but even that would have been way wrong for the people who were being described as like Hobbits. I think that was in or near Indonesia.

gay people are abominations
Now that is exactly what the Torah doesn't say.

How come more churches are not talking about The Gospel of Judas
I would guess that it's because the Gospel of Judas is an extremely insignificant Gnostic writing from a time much later than the New Testament that was immorally hyped as something it is not from those who had a vested financial interest in people's being drawn to it (and by those who were willing to sacrifice their scholarly credentials for the sake of undermining the Bible in any way they can).

are small cell groups in evangelical church heresy
I didn't know they were a doctrine to begin with.

can a person come to be president through the line of succession if they are not
No, you kind of have to be to be president. I don't think we're going to be elevating anyone who doesn't exist to that office, and if they did it wouldn't exactly be legally valid.

Why are there more blacks in prison than in college?
Why is the Pope French?

Premarital Sex in the Bible

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I regularly get searches coming to this site like the following one:

premarital sex is ok in the bible

This sort of thing is thrown around so often that I think a lot of people must think it's at least close to the truth. I even thought it was almost true for a while. It's actually not close to the truth, not in the slightest. Premarital sex was extremely uncommon in ancient Israel compared to today, and it thus doesn't come out anywhere near as explicitly in the more emphatic commands, but there's enough reason to think the laws of Israel condemned it very strongly in the few kinds of circumstances when it did have something to say about it. Since the new covenant commands against sexual immorality would have been assumed to rely on the Torah for what constitutes sexual immorality, Christians who follow the New Testament therefore ought to see sexual immorality as including premarital sex.

If it were viewed as perfectly ok, why is there a requirement that someone who sleeps with an unmarried woman would have to compensate her with a bride-price, whether her father consents to let him marry her or not? (Exodus 22:16-17) While some of the requirements for Levites serving in the tabernacle and temple were elevated beyond other Israelites (e.g. no deformities), the command to marry a virgin is grounded in the principle that he not profane his children (Leviticus 21:13-15), which suggests there's at least something less than perfect about such a marriage. Deuteronomy 22 treats premarital sex as tantamount to prostitution, and though the law only has a penalty for the woman that's likely because women can establish virginity in ways that men can't. (Besides, going to a prostitute is a sin just as much as being a prostitute is, and if it's prostitution then he's guilty and not just her.)

Now people are free to reject biblical teachings as a guide for how we ought to live. By and large contemporary Western society has done that. But I don't think those who accept the Bible as authoritative can get away with the sort of claim this person was searching for. The Bible doesn't always cooperate with our attempts to make it say what we want it to say. There may be some complex hermeneutical gymnastics someone could come up with to get around this, but it's not something that should come very obviously, and it seems to me that sort of thing will largely be driven by what someone would want the Bible to say rather than by what the biblical text should lead people to conclude.

Here's the latest version with a couple additions (Hunter, Thompson) and some subtractions (Frist, Allen). For some reason they left out Michael Smith, who with Duncan Hunter is one of the only two who has declared a candidacy. They also removed George Allen, who hasn't yet officially bowed out, and they haven't added Jim Gilmore and Frank Keating, two former governors who have indicated serious interest in running (and the nominee is almost always a governor when at least one governor is running).

Cranky Responses to Searches

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Yet again, I've had so little time for blogging that I can't even get enough time to convert already-written notes into a post for my next Theories of Knowledge and Reality post. I expect to get to that tomorrow, though. So we'll go with some more searches again.

Are evangelicals stupid?
Well, two can play at that game. Are people who Google "Are evangelicals stupid?" stupid?

God made the earth for humans, and it belongs to us. We were given dominion over the earth and were told to subdue it, so the earth is ours to do with as we please
Now that doesn't follow at all. Haven't you read the parable of the talents? If someone tells you that you can stay in their house for a year as a caretaker, what do you think they're going to do if they return at the end of the year to discover that you've turned it into a frathouse?

Differences between christianism catholic and protestant
Now it would seem to me that it would make more sense to ask about the differences between Christians who are Catholic or Protestant or differences between segments of Christianity, Protestant and Catholic. It's true that until Andrew Sullivan concocted his mythical narrative of Christianism in the U.S., the word 'Christianism' was just an archaic way of referring to Christianity, but those days are now gone. Now it just refers to a fiction. I'm not sure there are many differences between Catholics and Protestants in Sullivan's fictional narrative, because his conflation of dominionism with religious motivation for political activism seems to tar any religious motivation, whether Catholic or Protestant. In reality, there are plenty of differences, but it's hard to talk about reality if that word is involved, since its very meaning assumes so many false things.

why do blacks talk the way use slang
Why do whites talk the way they use slang? Seriously. Who doesn't use slang? And what sense does it make to ask why a particular regionally or ethnically associated accent or dialect speaks the way it does? Are you asking what causal factors led to particular sounds occurring in particular patterns? I suspect not, because it sounds morally loaded, as if somehow it's inferior to talk a certain way. I suggest rather that what's inferior is the making of such assumptions.

how an ethical subjectivist view gay marriage
however they want to

Christian Carnival CLII Plug

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The 152nd Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at The Buzz Blog. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

More on Dawkins

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I've seen several reviews of Richard Dawkins' latest infantile rant book The God Delusion, most of them by his fellow atheists. Some of them have tried to say something positive but have gone on to distance themselves from some of his rhetoric, some of his arguments, and some of his views. Others have been more critical. Most of what I've seen hasn't been overwhelmingly positive. Even some of the more favorable ones register what seem to me the kind of criticism I find myself writing on first-year philosophy papers, not the sort of thing you should expect of a serious academic, even one so far outside his field as Dawkins is when it comes to religion.

For examples, see reviews by Jim Holt in the New York Times, philosopher Thomas Nagel in The New Republic (unfortunately subscription only), Marilynne Robinson in Harper's Magazine, Terry Eagleton in the London Review of Books, Kenan Malik in the Telegraph, and Gregg Easterbrook at Beliefnet. While I'm at it, there's also my post in response to one of his points and Brandon's post criticizing him on several other issues.

Add to those a new one from Shannon Love, which I very much enjoyed reading, enough to want to post several excerpts that I thought were very much worth highlighting. [hat tip: Mark Olson]

Christian Carnival CLI

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The 151st Christian Carnival is up at Nerd Family.

Omnipotence and Possibility

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This is the the thirty-third post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I finished up the final post on the problem of evil. This post begins what I expect to be a four-part series on philosophical theology.

[Note: The next few posts on philosophical theology are derived in part from discussions in Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God (2004) InterVarsity Press.]

Philosophical theology is just philosopher-speak for thinking about what God might be like if God exists. Three philosophically important features traditionally have been omnipotence, omniscience, and complete goodness, and some interesting issues come up in the Ganssle book related to these three. The issue I'm dealing with in this post has come up before in relation to the problem of evil, but I thought it was worth a more extended discussion in light of its relevance for the issues that I think are much more interesting that will come in the next few posts.

The puzzle is sometimes given about whether God could make a rock so big that God could not move it. If omnipotence is the ability to do anything, then it seems God could. But then there would be a rock that God could not move, and that could never be true if God is omnipotent. So God must be unable to make such a rock. But then there is a limit to God’s ability, and does that mean God is not omnipotent? So either way God is not omnipotent. If God can make the rock, then God is not omnipotent. If God cannot make the rock, then God is not omnipotent.

News Bias?

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Last night I was listening to what I think must have been the BBC news feed on the local NPR station. (At first I was remembering it as the Canadian show "As It Happens", which is on just before it, but I just listened to the end of their show online, and it's not there. So it must have been the beginning of the BBC news.) They were reporting what they seemed to consider Secretary of Defense nominee pulling a fast one on President Bush. They reported him as having said that we are not winning in Iraq in response to a question from a senator on the Armed Services Committee. I remember wondering if that amounted to an admission that we were losing, because I thought someone could think exactly that without thinking that we were losing. In fact that seems to me to be the most honest view of the situation at the moment. But they immediately changed the subject without addressing the issue. (It also struck me as a rather gleeful announcement of something that can't by any morally healthy person be judged as a good thing.)

This morning NPR was reporting on the same event. They reported it a little differently, however. They said the same thing, pretty much, but then they added something that I think is pretty crucial to honest reporting (given what I now know because of the NPR report). Without pausing, the reporter followed with something like "but immediately added that he did not think we were losing either". I mentioned this to Sam, and she said the BBC feed that NPR was playing last night had at least three times repeated that clip about not winning without even bothering to mention that Gates didn't think we weren't losing either. This is three times repeated in just an hour-long broadcast. This is also despite their obviously being aware of his full statement, since they have it on their website.

But then I guess this is just the more balanced news media that you get outside the U.S. where the media aren't beholden to the Bush Administration the way a lot of the lefty blogs are telling us the U.S. media are. I guess if you're not beholden to the Bush Administration, you can ignore any facts that are inconvenient to report. I'm having trouble thinking of any excusable reason, never mind a justifiable one, not to report such an important qualification by the nominee. It strikes me pretty obvious evidence of an agenda in news reporting. It was just this kind of thing on CNN (as compared with MSNBC and Fox News) during the original Iraq invasion that led me to stop watching that network. They would report American soldiers shooting on civilians without reporting that most of those disguised as civilians at roadblocks were getting up to the roadblock and then blowing up their vehicles. They so clearly wanted to show anything bad about the war and refused to report facts that both the other networks were including that would mitigate the negative appearance.

Some More Searches

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I had to use my limited blogging time today to put together some scattered pieces of my dissertation for the commentator at a dissertation workshop some of the junior faculty in my department have set up for me next week, so we'll go with some more searches today.

list of greek plays that involves greek women withholding sex from their spouses as part of a war protest?
Huh. I'm guessing that there might actually be one such play, or you probably wouldn't have come up with such an unusual search on such a specific topic, but I very much doubt there's a long list to be found.

priest are suppose to tithe not congregation according malachi ch 3:1-10
Never heard that one before. Even if the passage is directed to priests, how is that supposed to show that other people aren't also supposed to tithe? It's pretty clear in the Torah that the congregation's tithe supported the Levites, the Levites' tithe supported the priests, and the priests' tithe supported the temple. So even if the priests were being called to the carpet for not tithing, how is that supposed to show that the congregation isn't supposed to tithe?

What happened to the Tabernacle when the Temple was built?
Actually, the tabernacle seems to have been gone long before the Solomonic temple was built. They seemed to have had a structure built during the time Samuel was serving under Eli in the early chapters of I Samuel, and some of the psalms attributed to David's early period speak of being in God's temple. They did have another tentlike structure for a while after David moved the ark to Jerusalem and before Solomon's temple, but I wouldn't assume it was the same tent.

Jesus doesn't believe in forced charity
What about "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's"? Surely tax money amounts to forced charity. Your money is being taken and used for the good of others. It wouldn't be taxation but forced investment if your exact amount had to be used just for your own good. No system of taxation has ever tried to replace forced charity with forced investment.

is smoking bad for someone with gall bladder problem
What, is having a gall bladder problem supposed to protect you from the harms of smoking?

This is the the thirty-second post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at a vagueness problem that comes up in some of the questions people might ask as part of the evidential problem of evil. In this last post of the problem of evil, I respond to the last of five questions I originally asked in presenting the evidential problem of evil.

E. Even if these questions can all be answered somewhat satisfactorily, we do not have a complete explanation of evil. Isn’t that still evidence against God, if we can’t come up with a complete explanation of the amount of evil, the kinds of evil, the distribution of evil, the depths of evil, the length of time evil occurs, and so on? Explaining some evil helps resist seeing that evil as evidence against God, since it explains why God would allow that evil. But how can that remove all the evidence that the total sum of evil presents against God?

The case William Rowe presents is a deer who suffers and then dies in a forest fire, and no one ever even finds out about it. This seems to be completely meaningless. It does not help the deer. It does not help anyone else. Could God have a reason for such suffering?

The 151st Christian Carnival will be taking place this week at Nerd Family. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

This is the the thirty-first post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I continued looking at responses to a set of questions about particular kinds of evil or ways of evil that come up in the evidential problem of evil. This post contains a detour on one general problem with questions of this sort, before we return to the final question in the next post (which I had originally intended to treat here as well, but I thought each discussion was long enough to deserve separate posts).

Several of the questions I've been looking at have problems with vagueness. I don't mean that the questions are not stated clearly. I mean that they are talking about phenomena that admit of degrees, and the nature of vagueness in our ability to speak about such phenomena precisely will sometimes lead to problems when we ask moral questions about these matters. It will help to restate the general sort of problem, and then I'll identify where the difficulty can sometimes lie.

So it might well be that God has a plan for dealing with evil, and that plan requires things to take a form much more like what we have than would be the case with a shorter period of evil in the world, with much less evil, manifesting itself in much less serious ways. If so, then we have a potential explanation for something more like the kinds of evil in the ways that it does appear. But could God have achieved these purposes without allowing it to be quite so bad? Could the lessons of the Holocaust have been learned without so many people dying or suffering? Could the world have learned what it needs to learn with one fewer instance of genocide? Could the recent tsunami in Asia have achieved whatever good it was supposed to have achieved without quite so many people?

Homosexuality in the Bible

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Kenny Pearce has an excellent post about some of the biblical passages dealing with issues related to homosexuality. He also deals with political relevance as well, but it's his careful treatment of what the biblical passages actually say that I thought made it worth a link.

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