Saturday, March 12, 2016
Bart EhrmanThis is obviously a very difficult issue to address in 300 words or less!!! I have devoted a book to the question, God’s Problem (HarperOne, 2008), and even that is very much only barely scratching the surface.
So, let me give just a brief background. When I was teaching at Rutgers in the mid-1980s, I was asked to teach a class on the problem of suffering as presented in different parts of the Bible. That was a revolutionary experience for me, as I realized in teaching the class just how many explanations for human suffering can be found in the Bible. Some of them are at odds with one another. I explain all that in my book.
When I taught the class, I was a deeply committed Christian. And I continued to be for years afterward. But I began to wrestle deeply with the problem of suffering. There are some kinds of suffering that make sense (to me): humans do wicked things to one another, involving such awful experiences as incest, rape, torture, mutilation, killing, war, and so on. Those things one can explain on the basis of free will. If we weren’t free to do such things, we would not be fully human (I think that explanation is problematic, as I detail in my book, but it would take too long to explain why here).
I couldn’t believe that there was a God who cared about his people and was active in the world and intervened on behalf of those in need and answered prayer, when there is an innocent child who starves to death every five seconds.Other things are less explicable: famine, drought, hurricanes, tsunamis, birth defects, and so on — all leading to horrible, unimaginable suffering. How do we explain these things? I used to have explanations (based on what I had read in biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers, and so on). But I got to a point where I just didn’t think it made sense any more. I couldn’t believe that there was a God who cared about his people and was active in the world and intervened on behalf of those in need and answered prayer, when there is an innocent child who starves to death every five seconds.
I certainly don’t buy the Augustine view. It’s all well and good to say that suffering makes us better, makes us more noble, brings a greater good. But what about that poor three-year-old child who starved to death since you started reading this paragraph? She had to experience such gut-wrenching agony to make my life, or anyone’s life, the world’s life better? And that’s true of all the children who have starved to death — millions of them, just over the past few years (not to mention all the years since Augustine was writing). I came to a point where I just didn’t believe it.
Friday, March 11, 2016
Some Cruz fans wrote in, “the fact that these people don’t like him makes me like him more!”
Third, should we arrive at a contested convention, it is also important to recognize how delegates could differentiate from Republican primary voters. In many ways, they will be very similar. Three-quarters of both will be conservative. The median age for each is about 54. And the gender split is similar. But over 80% of convention delegates will have a college degree, whereas, 52% of Republican primary voters in 2016 have graduated college. Exit polling has shown that Trump has an Education Gap, where 42% of non-college Republicans backed him while only 30% with degrees have voted for him. This may not be a harbinger for Trump’s doom, but should we go multiple ballots into the convention, it will require support from a more upscale electorate than the broader GOP electorate.
Unbelievers, as well as certain apologetic schools, say it's question-begging to cite the Bible as evidence for God's existence. Here's a book by two philosophers challenging that widespread assumption:
The Agnostic Inquirer: Revelation from a Philosophical Standpoint by Sandra Menssen and Thomas D. Sullivan. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.
Sandra Menssen and Thomas D. Sullivan provide a straight- forward defense of using revelation to defend belief in God’s existence...Menssen and Sullivan specifically target what they call the “tacit assumption” of philosophy, namely, that one must show that God exists before one can ask whether God has revealed.
The tacit assumption is that a claim to have received a revelation can be evaluated only after the existence of God has been proved. In opposition to the tacit assumption, they make the following claim: If it is not highly unlikely that God exists, then it is reasonable to examine particular claims to revelation from God as evidence for God’s existence. It is not highly unlikely that God exists; therefore, it is reasonable to examine particular revelation claims as evidence for God’s existence. More boldly, they contend that if the existence of God is not highly unlikely, then a reasonable inquirer must actually examine a number of revelation claims before a judgment can be made that God does not exist.
Consider, they say, the proposal that a single person named Homer was responsible for the Iliad. In the course of history, many have rejected that possibility because it was believed that no preliterate person, such as Homer, could have composed such a work. Given the complexity and length of the poem, the argument reasoned, a single individual could have produced it only if that person had the capacity to write. If it were impossible for a preliterate person to produce the poem, no amount of contrary evidence internal to the poem would raise the likelihood that a single person produced it. In other words, the probability of an impossibility is zero and any evidence added to an impossibility does not improve the odds.
Suppose, however, that it were possible for a single individual, in a preliterate context, to produce such a long and complex poem. The probabilities change, and evidence for authorship does matter. Once such a possibility is recognized, then internal evidence derived from the content of the poem itself becomes relevant for judgments about authorship.
Menssen and Sullivan take revelation claims to be closely analogous to arguments about the production of the Iliad. If the possibility of God’s existence were nil, or next to nil, then no appeal to the internal content of revelation could support belief in the existence of God. On the other hand, if it is not highly unlikely that God exists, then just as it is relevant to look at the content of the Iliad to determine authorship, so is it reasonable to look at revelation claims for evidence of God’s existence.
It is a well-known account. Sister Marie Bernarde (Bernadette) Soubirous is in the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers, it is 1870, war is raging throughout northern France as the Prussian-led German armies march towards Paris. The first printed version of the account,* published while she was still living, is the following. A visitor came to Bernadette at that time and made her the following questions:
- Did you receive, in the grotto of Lourdes, or after then, any revelations related to the future and fate of France? Did not the Blessed Virgin deliver any warning for France, any threats?The true enemies of the Church, those who can cause Catholics great harm and peril of damnation, are instead those who are within, the “bad Catholics” [emphasis in original] Saint Bernadette feared so much. And they are more dangerous the more powerful they are and the more empowered they feel, their fury, deception and bold vulgarity unleashed.
- The Prussians are at our gates; does that not cause you any fear?
- There is thus nothing to fear?
- I only fear bad Catholics.
- You do not fear anything else?
- No, nothing else...
I got into an impromptu debate over banning guns in light of pro-gun advocate Jamie Gilt accidentally getting shot in the back by her 4 year old son while she was driving.
I'll post my side of the debate. I won't post people's names or the link to the thread itself since it may not be ideal to do so (e.g. some people may wish to protect their privacy which I'll honor here).
I've slightly edited some of it mostly for the sake of clarity as well as privacy. I've added a couple of arguments and evidences here and there. Nothing novel or new to what I've already said, I don't think, but mostly meant to better support what I've already said.
However, I did have to make one significant correction with the number of firearms in the US in the 1990s vs. 2010s. Originally I had said 80 million vs. 350 million, but I now think it's closer, though the difference still seems significant i.e. 200 million vs. 300 million. At any rate, those in the know seem to agree gun ownership is at a high today. Higher than in the 1990s.
Finally, the debate isn't in chronological order. Instead, I'll arrange it by topic and interlocutor.
Here it is:
Thursday, March 10, 2016
I never argue that the empty tomb and the appearances somehow are incompatible and cancel each other out, or that they are in any way incompatible. My view instead is simply that they are two different traditions and it’s important to recognize their differences. It has long been noted that the apostle Paul speaks of Jesus’s appearances, but never mentions the story about the women going to the tomb and finding it empty. Strikingly, the Gospel of Mark tells the story about the women going to the tomb to find it empty, but never mentions any stories about Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances.
In the Gospels (and Acts), the empty tomb functions to show that Jesus really was physically raised from the dead. But, strikingly, it never leads anyone to believe. (And why would it? If a body was buried in a tomb and later it was not there, would someone immediately say: “He has been raised from the dead?” Of course not. They would say: “Grave robbers!” Or, “Hey, I’m at the wrong tomb!”)
On the other hand, the resurrection appearances function to show that Jesus really did come back to life. And it is these appearances, and only these appearances, that cause people to believe.
The book is about how we go about the incredibly difficult process of knowing what the authors of the NT wrote, given the circumstance that we don’t have their original writings, or copies of those originals, or copies of the copies of those originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of those originals.
That book was less about how specialists reconstruct the NT text (the theme of the Metzger book) than it was about the enormity of the textual problem (as presupposed in the Metzger book). Yes, we have abundant evidence for the text of the NT. But very little of that evidence is early, and much of it is highly problematic.
I have long been struck by the fact (which historians generally take to be a fact) that Jesus died around the year 30 CE, but the first surviving account of his life was not written until around 70 CE (the Gospel of Mark; Matthew and Luke were maybe 10–15 years later than that, and John may another 10–15 years after even that).
So, where did the Gospel writers get their stories of Jesus from? There are compelling reasons for thinking that the authors of our Gospels were not eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life (none of them claims to be). They were living in different countries, in different communities, speaking different languages, decades later. And so how did they get their stories?
For nearly a century now, scholars have argued that they got their stories from the “oral tradition.” That is, people told and retold the stories, until the Gospel writers heard them and wrote them down.
The reason there are so many differences (and similarities!) in the Gospels is that the stories they narrate were being told by word of mouth, year after year, decade after decade, after the disciples had come to believe that Jesus had been raised. What happens to stories that get circulated this way? They change. People forget things. They misremember things. They invent things. Happens all the time. It happened to the stories of Jesus.
It is true to say that many parts of the New Testament show knowledge of first-century geography, religion, and culture. But how could it not show this knowledge? It was written by first-century authors! Presumably, they knew about the geography, religion, and culture of the first century! But that doesn’t mean that what they say is historically accurate or not. Suppose I were to write a novel, or even a biography, about someone who lived in my home town of Lawrence, Kansas. Presumably, I would know about the main street (Massachusetts), the location of the university (on the hill), the basic size of the place (middlin’), the industries in the area (e.g., the Lawrence Paper Company), and so on. Would that make the stories I told about my protagonist true? Of course not. I could simply be making stuff up. If in 2,000 years an archaeologist digs up Lawrence in order to see if my novel is “true,” well, the location of the university on a hill would have no bearing on whether my stories about a professor who taught at the university are true or not.
So, about five years ago it occurred to me that scholars of the Gospels would be well served to learn more about what we know about oral cultures, and about story-telling practices, and more broadly about memory. How do we learn things? And remember them? And reimagine them? And forget them? And invent them? And retell them? And then the person we tell a story to: how do they learn, remember, reimagine, forget, invent, and retell them? And the person they tell a story to: how do they…? And so on.
The view is that even if miracles did happen in the past — let’s simply grant that they happened — there is no way to establish that they happened using the historical disciplines (i.e., to show they are, using your term from earlier, “objective historical truth”). Again, that’s not a result of atheist, anti-supernaturalist presuppositions. It is the result of historical method. Historians simply have no access to supernatural activities involving the actions of God. Only theologians (among the scholars) have access to God. Theologians can certainly affirm that God has done miracles, but they are affirming this on theological grounds, not historical grounds.
The past is everything that happened before now. History is what we can establish as having happened before now. Miracles may be in the past. But they cannot be established as having happened. Big difference.
Historians, by the nature of their craft, have no access to any activities of God. That is the purview of theologians. Historians do not have tools to access the supernatural. That’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is. Historians also have no way of establishing if a poem is beautiful, if I love my wife, if there is dark matter, if the Pythagorean theorem is true, or anything else outside the realm of “history” (please remember, “the past” is not synonymous with history). To believe in the resurrection of Jesus is a religious commitment. It is a belief. It is no more susceptible of historical “proof” than is the claim that there is only one God (or that there are two; or 24).
What we want to do is to contrast the order of nature with a possible divine or supernatural intervention. The laws of nature, we must say, describe the ways in which the world–including, of course, human beings–works when left to itself, when not interfered with. A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself, when something distinct from the natural order as a whole intrudes into it.
Even in the natural world we have a clear understanding of how there can be for a time a closed system, in which everything that happens results from factors within that system in accordance with its laws of working, but how then something may intrude from outside it, bringing about changes that the system would not have produced of its own accord, so that things go on after this intrusion differently from how they would have gone on if the system had remained closed. All we need do, then, is to regard the whole natural world as a being, for most of the time, such a closed system; we can then think of a supernatural intervention as something that intrudes into that system from outside the natural world as a whole.
However, the full concept of a miracle requires that the intrusion should be purposive, that it should fulfill the intention of a god or other supernatural being…It presupposes a power to fulfill intentions directly without physical means. The Miracle of Theism (Oxford 1982), 19-22.
I’m just going to say that miracles are so highly improbable that they’re the least possible occurrence in any given instance. They violate the way nature naturally works. They are so highly improbable, their probability is infinitesimally remote, that we call them miracles. No one on the face of this Earth can walk on lukewarm water. What are the chances that one of us could do it? Well, none of us can, so let’s say the chances are one in ten billion. Well, suppose somebody can. Well, given the chances are one in ten billion, but, in fact, none of us can.
What about the resurrection of Jesus? I’m not saying it didn’t happen; but if it did happen, it would be a miracle. The resurrection claims are claims that not only that Jesus’ body came back alive; it came back alive never to die again. That’s a violation of what naturally happens, every day, time after time, millions of times a year. What are the chances of that happening? Well, it’d be a miracle. In other words, it’d be so highly improbable that we can’t account for it by natural means. A theologian may claim that it’s true, and to argue with the theologian we’d have to argue on theological grounds because there are no historical grounds to argue on. Historians can only establish what probably happened in the past, and by definition a miracle is the least probable occurrence. And so, by the very nature of the canons of historical research, we can’t claim historically that a miracle probably happened. By definition, it probably didn’t. And history can only establish what probably did.
I wish we could establish miracles, but we can’t. It’s no one’s fault. It’s simply that the canons of historical research do not allow for the possibility of establishing as probable the least probable of all occurrences. For that reason, Bill’s four pieces of evidence are completely irrelevant. There cannot be historical probability for an event that defies probability, even if the event did happen. The resurrection has to be taken on faith, not on the basis of proof.
Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-there-historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-the-craig-ehrman#ixzz42WR9XuNR
Wednesday, March 09, 2016
This year you can get delegate counts any time you want by going on RealClearPolitics.com, FiveThirtyEight.com or any number of other websites. You can bet that all the candidates have the cellphone numbers and email addresses of every delegate, and will be in touch (or are already) with those who are currently not committed to them but could, initially or on a second ballot, vote for them. They probably know which magazines they subscribe to and which websites they favor (hint: check them out on Facebook). Campaigns won't wait till July in Cleveland to get in touch. And when a campaign has enough commitments to get 1,237 votes, it will let the media know, even as the media try to figure out who's getting close.
Küng notes, “I have spared no effort to collect the relevant texts, order them factually and chronologically according to the various phases of the altercation and elucidate them by putting them in a biographical context for Volume 5 of my complete works.” Much of what I took from this link was from Küng’s “Infallible? An Inquiry”.
“Receive this comprehensive documentation and allow a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion in our church of the all the unresolved and suppressed questions connected with the infallibility dogma. In this way, the problematic Vatican heritage of the past 150 years could be come to terms with honestly and adjusted in accordance with holy Scripture and ecumenical tradition. It is not a case of trivial relativism that undermines the ethical foundation of church and society. But it is also not about an unmerciful, mind-numbing dogmatism, which swears by the letter, prevents thorough renewal of the church’s life and teaching, and obstructs serious progress in ecumenism. It is certainly not the case of me personally wanting to be right. The well-being of the church and of ecumenism is at stake.
“I am very well aware of the fact that my appeal to you, who ‘lives among wolves,’ as a good Vatican connoisseur recently remarked, may possibly not be opportune. In your Christmas address of Dec. 21, 2015, however, confronted with curial ailments and even scandals, you confirmed your will for reform: ‘It seems necessary to state what has been — and ever shall be — the object of sincere reflection and decisive provisions. The reform will move forward with determination, clarity and firm resolve, since Ecclesia semper reformanda.’
“I would not like to raise the hopes of many in our church unrealistically. The question of infallibility cannot be solved overnight in our church. Fortunately, you (Pope Francis) are almost 10 years younger than I am and will hopefully survive me. You will, moreover, surely understand that as a theologian at the end of his days, buoyed by deep affection for you and your pastoral work, I wanted to convey this request to you in time for a free and serious discussion of infallibility that is well-substantiated in the volume at hand: non in destructionem, sed in aedificationem ecclesiae, ‘not in order to destroy but to build up the church.’ For me personally, this would be the fulfillment of a hope I have never given up.”
It will be interesting to see how he expands on what he has already written about “Papal Infallibility”. Küng says he is not writing to destroy, but if ever there was a need for destruction, it is here. Wrong-headed from the start, both “papal infallibility” and “the papacy” both need to be headed toward “the ash-heap of history”. If anyone can muddy the waters right now (further than they have been muddied), it will be “Pope Francis”.
I should note that much of what Küng says is for the purpose of admitting things that Reformed believers would never admit to. On the other hand, Küng is someone of whom Steve has said, “knows where all the bodies are buried”. And of course, “Pope Francis” and Hans Küng are not far apart in many respects. Note the respect that “Pope Francis” has for Küng’s former assistant, Walter Cardinal Kasper, who today has most recently been instigating for a “pastoral” way to re-admit divorced-and-remarried Roman Catholics to communion.
This instigation for a new discussion of “Papal ‘Infallibility’” should prove interesting to say the least.
“I would have had to be there at the time to tell you, to give you a proper answer,” he said during a recent interview in his office in New York City. “I certainly hate the concept of it. But I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer.”
Tuesday, March 08, 2016
Chapter 2 concerns "The Spies of Trinity" (College, Cambridge). Mr Cornish opens by pressing a question never previously asked: "What is the explanation for the fact that Wittgenstein was in 1935 offered the Chair of Philosophy in the University of Kazan?" An explanation is needed since Wittgenstein was very far from being a Marxist philosopher. And the Great Terror, which had been signalled by the assassination of S.M. Kirov in late 1934, was during 1935 in full swing. Mr Cornish contends that the reason why the government of the USSR treated Wittgenstein with such peculiar generosity was that he had been the recruiter of all the Cambridge spies.
The question whether or not this hypothesis is true or false can be definitively settled only if and when the relevant Soviet archives are examined. But I am myself as confident as without such knock-down decisive verification it is possible to be that Mr Cornish is right. For people who during the crucial years between Wittgenstein's return to Cambridge in 1929 and that 1935 offer were attending his classes and/or enjoying other personal contacts with him have given me accounts both of the extraordinary and overwhelming force of Wittgenstein's personality and of the absoluteness in those years of his Stalinist commitment.
Imagine a young man bringing his fiancé home to meet his parents for the very first time. He is very proud and tells his parents all of the wonderful things about her. She volunteers for two charitable organizations, is a great cook, plays the piano at church, has her degree in nursing and she is just an all - around great catch! But there's one small problem: For 11 days each year (only 3% yearly!), she insists on going to Las Vegas for sexual liaisons with strange men. She has no intention of curtailing these liasons while married. The parents are astonished, not only at the young woman's demands, but their son's defense of her behavior. “BUT SHE DOES SO MANY OTHER WONDERFUL THINGS!"
What we have here is a deal killer. No one in his right mind would marry under these terms. Why, then, would anyone with true pro-life credentials tout Planned Parenthood's good deeds when it's bad ones are legion? Providing a free breast exams does not make up for ripping faces off unborn human beings. Good deeds do not atone for bad ones.
Trump is ignoring the severity of abortion. Abortion is wrong because it intentionally destroys an innocent human being in the most inhumane way imaginable. Planned Parenthood performs over 300,000 abortions every year. Of course, PP claims only 3% of its activity is abortion-related. Fine. Then stop the 3% and the controversy ends! Planned Parenthood can enjoy near-unlimited funding from Congress. Of course, Planned Parenthood has zero interest in stopping abortion. For Donald Trump to highlight PP's alleged virtues while ignoring its known evil is tantamount to justifying spousal infidelity because you still have a majority interest in your adulterous wife's activity calendar!
In short, only by assuming that the unborn are not human can a person justify Planned Parenthood's alleged virtues. Would Trump or anyone else defend an organization which killed 2-year-olds but provided free pap smears to their mothers? Never in a million years--unless, of course, they assume toddlers aren't human!
Trump wants it both ways. He wants the pro-life vote, but he wants Planned Parenthood's services. God help us. A nation willing to live with that tension has aborted its conscience as well as its children.