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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 45

John 7:5, "For neither did his brethren believe in him." If his own brothers, men of the same flesh and blood, and the nearest judges of the powers attributed to him, felt no inducement to admit his pretensions; surely we Jews may be excused for discrediting what his own contemporaries and brothers rejected as incredible. 
 I have dealt with this objection earlier. The mother and brothers of Jesus did have their doubts about him. As Troki points out, this information is embarrassing to those who preached the name of Jesus, since opponents of the movement undoubtedly used this fact to argue against them. This gives us even more reason to believe that such information was not invented by the followers of Jesus, but is historically accurate.

James, who was Jesus' own brother, did not believe until after the resurrection, until Jesus appeared to him. The church marks James the brother of Jesus as the early bishop of Jerusalem, and his death during a lapse in the Roman government is corroborated by the writings of Josephus. James went to his death proclaiming the supremacy of his own brother as God incarnate. Many of us have brothers. What kind of evidence would it take for you to believe that your own brother is God in the flesh? That is the kind of evidence that James and Paul received.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Evolution Before Darwin

Common knowledge tells us that creationism was the universally accepted belief before Charles Darwin came along and set the record straight. In fact, theories of evolution have been around since the very ancient world, and were part of pantheistic religions like that of ancient India.

Arguments for modern evolutionary theory trade on an equivocation: the fact that species change over time has never been disputed. Children are not identical to their parents. Yet, evolution, as described by people like Kenneth Miller, Richard Dawkins, Michael Ruse, and others is a process where nature brought about the complete diversity of life through the process of change over time. The strength of this hypothesis depends on whether you are open to supernatural explanations for the diversity of life or not. If not (and the theistic evolution movement is not), then modern evolutionary theory follows trivially. If you are open to such explanations, then modern evolution has very little going for it.

The push for acceptance of evolutionary biology is a political one. The acceptance of evolutionary biology, or even the existence of an old earth, is irrelevant to 99% of occupations. You generally don't care whether your auto mechanic believes in a 6,000 year old earth or a 4 billion year old earth. Proponents know that if they can establish modern evolutionary biology, it undermines our confidence in human uniqueness and in doctrines such as the inerrancy of the Bible, and in sex as a divinely designed activity. Acceptance of modern evolutionary biology increases society's acceptance that sex, marriage, and procreation can be separated into separate decisions, a goal of the sexual revolution movement. This is why evolution is so ardently pushed into public schools and to information storehouses such as Wikipedia. Do a search for Susan Gerbic to discover how secularists manipulate Wikipedia to serve their political ends.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 44

John 6:38, "For I [viz., Jesus], came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me."

If Jesus alludes here to the descent of his soul to the earth, in order to inhabit the body, then he has pronounced a common-place doctrine, for every human body is possessed of a soul; but if he meant that he descended from heaven in flesh, then the assertion is at variance with the other accounts, according to which he was born of a woman in Bethlehem, in a manger. See Luke 2:7. Moreover, we see here an acknowledgment of the all-important fact of his non-identity with the Godhead, as he professed to be only the agent of Him who sent him. 
This is another objection that is hard to understand. John is referring to the idea of Jesus becoming incarnate, just as Paul states in Philippians 2.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 ) 
 Ancient Israel spoke about cosmology in terms of a layered system. At the bottom, was the depths of hell. Above it is the world where we live. Above that is the first heaven, also known as the sky or the atmosphere. Above that is the second heaven, or outer space. Above that is the throne of God.

This is what John means by descent. Jesus, who was in the form of God, did not consider his equality with the Father as something to be grasped, or to be held onto at all costs. Instead, he gave up this glorious position by taking on the form of a servant. He came down from the throne of heaven and became incarnate. While in this state Jesus was dependent on the Father in order to know what to do. The Father was in a better position in heaven than Jesus was on earth, given his self-limited knowledge.

This, like many of Troki's objections, requires that one not understand the models of the divine trinity or of the incarnation of Jesus. Once those are understood, many of Troki's objections evaporate.

In fact, Maimonedes gave support to the coherence of trinitarian monotheism when he responded to Hippocrates' claim that we have three souls.
Know that the human soul is one, but that it has many diversified activities. Some of these activities have, indeed, been called souls, which has given rise to the opinion that man has many souls, as was the belief of the physicians, with the result that the most distinguished of them states in the introduction of his book that there are three souls, the physical, the vital, and the psychical. These activities are called faculties and parts, so that the phrase “parts of the soul,” frequently employed by philosophers, is commonly used. By the word “parts”, however, they do not intend to imply that the soul is divided into parts as are bodies, but they merely enumerate the different activities of the soul as being parts of a whole, the union of which makes up the soul. (from Shmoneh Parkim)
 Maimonedes is arguing that the soul has different activities, and through those activities has a complex unity.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 43

John 2:18-20, "Then answered the Jews, and said unto him [viz., to Jesus], What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?"

Could Jesus prove his divine character by thus advising the Jews to lay a sacrilegious hand on the sacred edifice? And, moreover, it was most unreasonable to ask that the Jews, who did not believe in his divine power, should commit an action that should consign the temple to everlasting destruction, merely for the sake of testing the reality of his character. 
Troki quotes John 2, but does not quote the whole passage. As John narrates
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
(John 2:18-22) 
John has a habit of rewriting all the dialogue in the style of his own narration, so little in the book of John is a direct quotation of anyone. John is filled with figurative language, telling Nicodemus to be born again, calling himself the door, telling a Samaritan woman that his living water will permanently quench thirst, and telling the crowds to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  People mistook him, and Jesus did not correct them.

The timing of the temple has also been the subject of controversy. Josephus claims that the temple took 8 years to rebuild, or 1.5 years, depending on whether you use book 15 or book 16 of Antiquities as your source. This only refers to the inner cloisters of the temple. Josephus tells us later that the temple was finished in the year 64 under Albinus. According to the Jewish War by Josephus, the renovations began around the year 20 B.C.E. meaning that Jesus gave this statement approximately in the year 26.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

David Wood's Testimony

This is one of the most disturbing testimonies that I have ever heard. David Wood is a sociopath, incapable of feeling empathy toward anyone, and using his atheism to justify his behavior. In this story, Wood explains not only how he came to belief in God, but why he came to belief in Jesus as well.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why Empiricism is Bankrupt

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with how we know things. Two rival schools in the field of epistemology are rationalism and empiricism. The former states that we have certain ideas hard-wired into us wholly apart from our sense experience. The latter states that there is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses. Modern psychology, especially infant studies, provides very strong support for the position that some of our ideas are hard-wired into us, since infants in those studies have knowledge of things they could not possibly have obtained through sense experience. I may discuss these in another post. For now, let's stick to purely philosophical arguments.

Greg Bahnsen has already showed that atheistic empiricism cannot account for most of what we consider knowledge, and I covered his argument pretty well in Atheism and the Problem of Knowledge. Edward John Carnell has a series of arguments against theistic empiricism.

Innate Knowledge
Empiricist theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and Maimonedes argued that we do not have innate knowledge. Everything that we know begins in sense experience. The empiricist cannot know that knowledge of the past gives us knowledge about the future. The theistic empiricist has that difficulty plus the problem of how we can possibly have knowledge of God, who is not perceived by the senses.

To an empiricist, all concepts must come from experience, but all that experience tells us is what is not God. If we do not have innate knowledge of God, then we cannot know the essence of God.

Problem of Predication
When we take a look at what sense perception delivers to us, the problem gets worse. All concepts are useless when applied to God, for God occupies a different realm of being than the world of sense experience. On empiricism, our concepts cannot apply univocally to God.

This would lead us to conclude that a proposition about a creature necessarily loses all meaning when applied to God. It follows from such a principle that if we take our starting point from the world of sense experience, we can know nothing of God nor prove anything concerning him without continual equivocations.

Negative Theology
Might we not come to God by way of negation? Can we build a theology using only negations such as "God is not ignorant" and "God is not mortal"? Such an endeavor cannot be sufficient to know anything about God. We must know God to be able to say that he is not this or that. How could we tell him from this or that if we did not first know him? To say that a piano is not a banana is to give us no clues as to what a piano has which separates it from all other things which are also not bananas.

For example, we know that a piano is not a banana, but that does not distinguish it from a yacht, which is also not a banana. We need more than negation to help us. Negative theology alone leads to skepticism and agnosticism.

Analogical Theology 
Aquinas admitted that from the knowledge of sensible things the whole power of God cannot be known. Still, because creation is an effect with God as the cause, we can be led from creation to the creator. Remember that a term can be used in three ways: with the same meaning (univocally), with a different meaning (equivocally), and with a meaning that is partially the same and partially different.

The term "animal" can be predicated univocally of a cat, a dog, and a horse. The term "Greek" is predicated equivocally when we apply it to the language and then to the philosopher Socrates. The term "loud" is analogical when we apply it to both sound and to the color of one's shirt.

Analogy is based on a comparison which can only be obtained when there is neither complete agreement nor complete disagreement between two things. There are two glaring fallacies in analogy when prevents it from being a way that the empiricist can know about God based on experience.

First, it is built on a contradiction. Aquinas says there is no univocal element in the terms that we apply both to the world and to God, yet he affirms that we understand God through analogy. The one and only thing that separates analogy from equivocation is its univocal element. When we say that the mind is to the soul as the eye is to the body, the univocal element is "light" or "guide." When we say "the foundation is to the house as the heart is to the organism," the univocal element is "sustaining basis." The success of any analogy is non-analogical. IF there is no univocal element, it is just like comparing two unrelated things, and this is equivocation. No meaning is conveyed. Without meaning, there is no truth, for truth is properly construed meaning.

If there are no terms which apply univocally to God, then there can be no element from which we can draw analogies. Hence, we are no better off than verificationists. Where, in the whole gamut of our sensory experience, can we find that univocal element which a successful analogy requires, that we may use it in making a comparison between God and man? How can the non-spatial be abstracted from the spatial, the spiritual from the material, the eternal from the temporal, the changeless form the flux? The intellect may be active ,but cannot take from sensory experience what is not there.

There is one way to complete an abstraction from nature: bu setting aside the differentiating aspects of each item and retaining the aspects which are common. For example, if I examine all animals, such as cats, cows, worms, and sardines, as long as I examine vertebrates, I can arrive at the abstract idea of vertebrates. When I take in worms, I then have to take a more abstract concept. When I add plants to the list, I need the further abstract notion of a living being. As long as animation is common to all of the items examined, I cannot discard it.

If I know all of being by way of sensible beings, I can never discard from my final abstract ideas the element of sensible being, for all my knowledge is loaded with it. By abstraction, therefore ,I have no basis for believing that from sense perception I can rise to a knowledge of the necessary, eternal, and immaterial in God. Wherever my ideas go, there trails along the notion of the sensible being, in common to all concepts abstracted from sensation which cannot be discarded.

To admit simultaneously that we have no univocal knowledge of God, that all our knowledge comes from sensation, and that we can avoid ambiguity and equivocation by referring predication to the analogy of being, is a contradiction in terms. The only element in analogy which distinguishes it from equivocation is the univocal. If the univocal element is admitted, then how do we account for it if there is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses? We either give up empiricism or admit that talk about God is meaningless.

Secondly, analogy alone makes God unknowable. If God's essence is unknown (as Thomists admit), then it follows that his existence is equally unknowable (since God's existence is supposed to be the same as his essence). The Thomist will quote Romans in response.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20) 
To argue that Romans 1:20 supports empiricism is to argue in a circle. If this view can be coherently explained from any non-empiricist standpoint, then the argument loses all of its force. God may be known through sense perception, but this does not rescue empiricism. May it not be equally true that having innate knowledge of God, we are reminded of him by his works?

Empiricists believe that the principles of proof originate in sense perception. It follows from this that all that exceeds the sensible worlds is unamenable to proof. God exceeds all our senses and sensible objects, but his effects are often sense objects. Yet the fact remains that under theistic empiricism, any knowledge that we could have of the supersensible comes solely from our knowledge of the sensible. But we msut remember that in the argument where we argue for the existence of God, we cannot take as a principle the essence of God, which is unknown to us. The proof being impossible, the only road that can lead us to a knowledge of the creator must cut through the things of sense.

Thomists also argue that God has two sides: as he is eternally in himself, and also as he appears to us in our examination of the content of our sense perceptions. This does not help. How can we possibly know that a thing exists when we do not know what it is? What is it that we are talking about? If we cannot first know him as he is, then how can we draw any connection between God in himself, and God as he appears to us? It does not even seem meaningful to speak of God's essence, for we have no known means of ascertaining what the term "God" even means. Without meaning, truth is absent. So this position is contradictory.

For the Thomist who bites the bullet and states that we can know God even if we do not know his essence, then this opens the gate to other unknowables when one defends an unknown God. If we can talk about God whose essence we do not know, then we can talk of blarps and blegs and splinth and other nonsensical terms with equal clarity. No one knows enough to assert the existence of an object of which they know nothing. The assertion that an object of which nothing can be known reduces to total skepticism. The right of each of us to assert this kind of unknowable throws all objectivity into confusion; and the implicit contradiction contained in asserting that something cannot be known cuts the foundation out from any and all knowledge.

The end of empiricism is verificationism, and the end of positivism is Cratylus, who could not so much as speak, but only waved his hands.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 42

John 2:4, "Jesus saith unto her (viz., to his mother Mary), Woman, what have I to do with thee?" and ibid, chapter 19:26, "When Jesus, therefore, saw his mother and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother. Woman, behold thy son." If he had believed that his mother had miraculously given birth to him, and still continued in her virgin state, would he not have addressed her by the more endearing and exalting appellation than the simple term woman? The mode in which he addressed his mother here, and on various other occasions narrated in the New Testament, shows that he was not at all impressed with the sanctity of the commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother." 
I don't see how any doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary is even relevant to this discussion. Addressing someone today by the term "woman" is quite rude, but ancient Greek did not have such a stigma. J.P. Holding writes:
Critics often accuse Jesus of being rude to his mother here; however, as parallel phrases in Greek literature show, this is not a phrase of derision or rudeness but of loving respect (as our NIV correctly captures). Consider this relevant data:
  1. The term here is "Jesus' normal, public way of addressing women" (John 4:21, 8:10, 19:26, 20:31; Mt. 15:28; Lk. 13:12). It is also a common address in Greek literature, and never has the intent of disrespect or hostility. [Brow.GJ, 99].
  2. The same term is used in Josephus Antiquities 17.17 by Pheroras to summon his beloved wife. [Beas.J, 34]
  3. As for the second part of the response, it reads literally: "What to me and to you?" This is a Semitic phrase that indicates that the speaker is being unjustly bothered or is being asked to get involved in a matter that is not their business. It can be impolite, but not always. (cf. 2 Kings 3:13, Hos. 14:8) [Brow.GJ, 117] The intent must be determined by the context, and the first part of Jesus' saying does point to the latter intent.
Malina and Rohrbaugh [Social-Science commentary, 299] add that such implication of distance was in fact quite proper in a society where men were expected to break the maternal bonds by a certain age. Jesus' reaction is entirely respectful and appropriate in this context.
I like to add non-Biblical examples on things like this, since we (and even Biblical scholars) are accused of making this stuff up. J. K. Campbell in Honour, Family and Patronage [164] describes how among the Sarakatsan of Greece, a young man of a certain age is expected to be even "ruder" to their mother than the critics suppose Jesus to be: He rejects her gestures of affection, and will (for example), if it rains, ignore dry clothes she puts out for him. "Particularly between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, he is given to outbursts of rudeness towards his mother and his sisters. By this abruptness to the women of his family he hopes to give a further demonstration of his growing manliness." Mothers, by the way, are not offended by this, but "are amused and also a little proud as they observe these antics of their young sons. They understand their feelings and approve of them."