Apologetics: April 2007 Archives

D.A. Carson has reviewed N.T. Wright's new book on evil and God's justice. You can read the review here. Carson has authored what is hands-down my favorite book on evil from a biblical (as opposed to philosophical) perspective. I'm currently reading through the second edition of that book, but you can read my review of the first edition here. I have read his review of Wright, and it's definitely worth reading whether you've looked at Wright on this issue or not. Beware that it's ten pages long, so reserve some time for it.

For more discussion of Wright, who has been getting some play in the Christian blogosphere lately, see

  • Jollyblogger's post on the penal substitution discussion in the UK (where it's clear that Wright affirms penal substitution and denounces some who are denying it, from Wright's quotes in this article).
  • Adrian Warnock's discussion of Wright's critique of both sides in the UK debate
  • Justin Taylor's post on the Carson review
  • Jollyblogger's followup on Wright and penal substitution
  • Justin Taylor's discussion of Wright's defense of Steve Chalke, whom he amazingly doesn't think denies penal substitution
  • But perhaps the best thing to do is to read what Wright has to say about the penal substitution debate and then to examine the other posts in the light of Wright's own carefully prepared thoughts.
  • Update: Justin Taylor has some choice quotes from Wright very clearly defending something that most people would count as penal substitution (and that Wright himself clearly does count as penal substitution, given some of his above-mentioned quotes against those he does believe to deny it). Perhaps Wink would quibble here on whether Wright's view is truly substitutionary. I suspect Wright would accept substitution and union on that issue. But it's very clearly penal, and that's the main issue under debate here.
  • Update 2: Alastair Roberts has some helpful distinctions between different models of the atonement. One position worth considering is that none of them is wrong, but what would be wrong would be denying any of them. (Or perhaps most of them are correct, and it would be wrong to deny any of those number.) Heresy, of course, is another matter. Being wrong does not always line up with being heretical, and I'm not sure I've thought about this long enough to have a sure view on that.

Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy has some interesting observations about interracial dating. It turns out that there's more resistance to interracial dating even when it comes to online dating, which means it doesn't just have to do with who you associate with in daily life within your local community (although that's got to be a factor, because groups who tend to live in areas where they are the majority are less likely to take part in interracial dating than groups that typically find themselves in the majority wherever they live).

One factor that he includes that I hadn't connected with this is that people with higher or more specific standards in non-racial ways might be more open to interracial dating simply because their pool is already much smaller than other people's. He includes religious standards such as refusal to date someone of another religion. This may well be one explanation why, in my own observation, evangelical Christians (at least in the circles I run in) are far more open to interracial dating than most any other group I can think of. It may well be partly because evangelicals have a smaller pool to pick from because many evangelicals will date only other evangelicals, and being open to interracial dating helps widen the pool from what it would be if they looked only at people within their own racial group.

Nonetheless, I don't think such an explanation undermines what I've long thought to be the explanation for evangelicals' greater openness to interracial dating. I've generally taken it to be because evangelicals have a heightened sense of the oneness of all genuine followers of Jesus, who evangelicals typically see as including mainly those who have put their allegiance to Christ above all other allegiances. Identity in Christ is primary, and other sources of identity are at best secondary. Thus when I think about who I'm most closely aligned with, I'm going to think of black evangelicals as much closer to the heart of my identity than I will white non-believers.

This isn't just not in conflict with Somin's point, as if they are two compatible explanations. It's actually the same fact under two different descriptions. On the one hand, evangelicals who have this restriction do indeed have a smaller pool to pick from, and they are thus more likely to be willing to include others in the pool than just those of their own race. But the philosophical justification for restricting the pool to like-minded believers is the same justification for expanding it to include like-minded believers regardless of race. After all, it's the sense of closer identity with fellow believers that leads both to the restriction to only believers and to openness to believers of other races.

Joe Carter has a (perhaps unintentionally, I'm not sure) rather hilarious post about God, vampires, and the anthropic principle. Somehow Joe managed to find an academic paper on this: "Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies: Cinema Fiction vs Physics Reality" by Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi. 

If these physicists are right, we can reasonably infer from the feeding habits of vampires in vampire literature, together with the continuing population of non-vampire human beings, that there are at most 512 vampires in the world, assuming there are vampire-slayers. Without vampire-slayers, it seems there just couldn't be vampires at all, according to these numbers.

Now I'm not going to examine the connection with the anthropic principle that Joe is emphasizing, other than to observe that both just seem to be simple cases of inferences to the best explanation, but I do have one philosophical point to make. The argument against vampires leaves out a crucial step. One scenario ought to be considered more carefully before ruling out the possibility of vampires given our evidence. The argument takes the continuing population of humans as a piece of starting evidence. But should we be so sure that the population really is continuing in the way that we think it is? Isn't it possible that the population is just a growing numbers of vampires, and only relatively few of the people who remain are still real humans, with a huge vampire conspiracy going on pretending that humans are still around in large numbers? If the vampires have enough technology to clone humans to provide "offspring" for the vampires masquerading as human couples and a continued food source, then I can't see how this assumption can be ruled out as easily as is being done.

The paper makes some funny points about ghosts and zombies also, but I thought this was just a good example of physicists trying to pass philosophical arguments off as science, which is usually complained about when it's intelligent design but apparently just good science when it's skeptical. Well, it turns out a philosopher might have been able to point out how they're not being skeptical enough. A good skeptic wouldn't rule out the skeptical scenario I proposed without some more careful argumentation.

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