Apologetics: August 2006 Archives

One of the bigger difficulties of an old-earth view of the early chapters of Genesis is how to deal with what seems to to be the biblical teaching that death came into the world through sin, since old-earth views usually involve lots of animals dying, eating each other, and even extinction of species long before humans even existed, never mind sinned. David Heddle has some very interesting thoughts on what old-earthers can say about death, some of them entirely new to me.

The most important suggestion is perhaps that death was already around before the human fall because of the earlier angelic fall, but this was not death for humans. That's what made Eden special. What separates Eden from the rest of the world on the young-earth view? If there's no good answer to that (and there are some answers in the comments, but nothing as huge as death), then this problem, originally against old-earth views, one of the few that I consider serious enough to worry about) actually favors old-earth views on one score rather than undermining them.

Henry Imler posts some arguments from N.T. Wright in favor of the historicity of the virgin birth accounts. I don't think I've seen these arguments before. He lists three. The first is more an argument against arguments against the virginal conception. The other two actually support the historicity of the virgin birth passages in Matthew and Luke, and those are what caught my interest:

2. Isaiah 7 was never part of any pre-Christian Jewish view of the Messiah being born of someone who was still a virgin by the time of the conception. Everyone who read the passage took it in the way that an ordinary person would. It says that a virgin would engage in sexual relations, conceive, and then give birth. In its immediate context about the children whose names are mentioned in that very passage, it had to mean exactly that. So no one thought of this as a messianic passage about someone who would conceive and then give birth, all while remaining a virgin. But what that means is that it's extremely unlikely that someone would concoct this legend about Jesus being born of a virgin to fit a prophecy that no one interpreted that way. When people invent circumstances to fit a prophecy, they don't usually recast an already existing prophecy in a way that no one interpreted it. It would be one thing to look back on Isaiah 7 if a virginal conception happened. It would be quite another thing to interpret it anew without any such an event. Why insist on taking a passage in a way no one had before if it's not to explain an event that makes much more sense with the newfangled interpretation?

2. Matthew and Luke record two very different sets of traditions about the birth of Jesus. If they were importing a pagan myth because of some theological value, it would be surprising to find no theological hay made of it in either of the two very different literary traditions. But yet that's what we have. Even if the authors of the two accounts didn't think it was a pagan importation but believed it, it would be strange that this was done earlier for theological purposes and yet neither account would actually include such reasons or any sign that there ever were any. What would be more likely is that they didn't believe it because of its theological significance but believed it simply because it had its basis in actual events.

This is part three of what I was expecting to be a four-part review of Mary Kassian's The Feminist Mistake. I have decided to post what I've written of part three and then not continue, primarily because I have not been reading any more of this book for quite some time, and I need to limit my reading list down to something much more manageable given that I would like to finish my dissertation by the end of next summer. So I've decided not to finish this book in the foreseeable future. Here, then, is the last part of my series of reviews on this book, covering a few chapters into the third section.

Uncertainty about what the original autographs said is no argument against inerrantism about what the original autographs said, not just because whether the original has errors is independent of whether we know what the original said. Kenny Pearce offers some Bayesian probabilistic reasons for concluding that a doctrine of inerrancy might still make a difference epistemically about particularly propositions despite uncertainty about whether the original autographs teach those propositions. He applies this to doctrinal issues that inerrantists who accept some principle of sola scriptura might nevertheless dispute, and then he applies it to science and evolution. I don't really know any Bayesian probability, so I can't really evaluate this in those terms, but what he's saying seems right to me in general.

I've cross-posted this at Prosblogion, so you might want to check the comments there to see if it generates a good, higher-end philosophical discussion.

A friend of mine works as the Baptist Campus Minister at my university. He occasionally takes part in interfaith dialogues, and he tells me about his interactions from time to time. One such instance struck me as being apologetically significant and worth blogging about (with his permission). The conversation started out with what the Qur'an says about Jesus, and it ended up moving to what the Bible says about Muhammad. You might be wondering what the Bible could possibly say about Muhammad, since he was around long afterward, but you can't rule something like that out if you're open to predictive prophecy. Why couldn't a divine revelation have something to say about someone who hasn't come around yet? Christians believe the Hebrews scriptures point to Jesus, after all. It doesn't do to insist on that when you like it and then rule it out when you don't like it.

But the particular example many Muslims give of Jesus in the Bible makes no sense. They say that Deuteronomy 18's future prophet like Moses is Muhammad. Many Christians take this prophet to be Jesus. The first-century Christians certainly did, including the book of Acts. But there's one reason even within Deuteronomy that makes it very unlikely that this passage could be referring to Muhammad. Deuteronomy 18 speaks of this prophet as "one of your brothers". That means the prophet like Moses will be Jewish.

Muslim apologists take "one of your brothers" to mean that the prophet will come out of an ethnic group that is a brother group to the people of Israel. Since they take Arabs to be descended from Ishmael, they can happily say that Muhammad is thus one of the brothers of Israel. There's only one problem with this. My friend noticed this immediately, because the day before he'd just been reading the previous chapter, Deuteronomy 17. That chapter uses the same Hebrew expression for "one of your brothers" in its requirements for kingship. It isn't saying that the king ought to come not from Israel itself but from one of its brother peoples. The requirement simply restricts the kingship to Israelites. So why should we think the exact same expression one chapter later would mean something very different? The prophet would come out of Israel, not some related people group.

Author of Sin

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Rebecca Stark looks at the expression 'author of sin', finding that many who use it don't really have a clear idea what they mean, and once they clarify it what they're saying may not follow. I think she's expressing thoughts I've had for a long time but haven't really been able to express well. One line struck me:

Somehow, for those who argue that it's the purposeful nature of God's permission of sin that makes him the author of sin, a supreme being who permits sin for no reason is better than one who permits it for a reason. When it comes to the permission of sin, in their view, arbitrary is better than purposeful.

This is something that has always seemed strange to me about certain Arminian/libertarian responses to the problem of evil (especially in their open theistic form but sometimes even in more standard libertarian views that don't necessarily imply open theism, e.g. some of Peter van Inwagen's work). I can't understand how having no reason for something is supposed to be better than having a really good reason for doing or allowing it. But this is commonly trotted out as a better defense of how God would allow evil than the traditional view that God really does have good reasons for allowing evil

Joe Carter seems to have gotten a little weary of people who constantly accuse ID defenders of committing the No True Scotsman fallacy every time they try to point out a straw man argument. So he turns it against some of the ID opposition.

I do think this gets to a real inconsistency of labeling among a certain kind of ID opponent. It's the No True Scotsman fallacy when ID proponents want to call an anti-ID argument a straw man. That's supposed to stop debate about what most ID arguments actually involve and therefore allow the dysphemistic labeling the anti-ID crowd wants to use. But then it's not the No True Scotsman fallacy when someone offers a parochial and positivistic account of what can fall under the heading of scientific reasoning, tailor-made to rule out anything remotely like ID.

It's noteworthy that such definitions also rule out any other kinds of scientific reasoning that only logical positivism would count as not science (because it's metaphysics, a dirty word for positivists) but most scientists would easily call science. See here and here for more on that. I think that's an inconsistency in science about what counts as scientific reasoning. But the more poignant issue here is that those who insist that there's no true Christianity becaue of different conceptions of Christianity and no true intelligent design argument because there are different versions of ID will then insist that there are those who occupy the scientific profession but aren't true scientists. That's an inconsistency on the popular level of those who criticize ID proponents' defenses for doing something they themselves regularly do. That hadn't occurred to me until I read Joe's post, but I think he's right.

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