CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Un-Sinning Sin

Pastor Jaynan Clark Egland, President of the Word Alone Network, a Lutheran grassroots network of congregations and individuals committed to the authority of the Word manifest in Jesus the Christ as proclaimed in Scripture and safeguarded through the work of the Holy Spirit, has written an interesting piece about the present debate in the ELCA over homosexuality.

In "Forgive sin or un-sin it?" Pastor Egland expresses some thoughts that I have had about the issue of homosexuality. Pastor Egland writes:

Though it is not popular or palatable the church needs to ask, "Is homosexual behavior a sin or not?" The sin question is ours to ask and ours to come to a position of clarity on. To avoid asking it serves no one, especially not God.

Turning to the Word of God first and then to our history as a church, our tradition, our past and present policies and then further considering society's historic understanding and its current conversations, opposing sides may be able to come to agreement that what the church is being asked to do --in blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining practicing homosexuals --is something completely new and without precedent or support biblically, historically or traditionally. I would proffer that the new thing the church is being asked to do is to "un-sin" sin. The church is also being asked to accept an alternative to where we find our identity. Is our identity in Christ alone or in something or somewhere else like one's sexuality?

A quick glance or an intense study of the scriptures reveals that Jesus was all about the recognition of sin and sinners and the forgiveness thereof. We are reminded that even in his healing ministry Jesus did not say, "Take up your mat and walk" but rather "Your sins are forgiven." Jesus did not ignore sin or embrace it; he forgave it and embraced repentant, forgiven sinners of all kinds. What happens if the church that bears his name goes into the business of un-sinning sin rather than forgiving it? Is it any longer a church at that point? What happens to the confession of sin and absolution? Are some required to confess while others demand theirs be accepted and even embraced? Why not just un-sin them also? Though the questions may sound harsh and are by nature difficult to deal with they need to be asked, and soon.

We face the possibility this August of a few more than 1,000 voting members representing only their own consciences making a top-down decision that unravels the entire tapestry of biblical and historical ministry of healing, forgiveness and salvation that makes us a church of Jesus Christ. Jesus was crucified, died and was raised from the dead to forgive us of our sins and give us eternal life with him. Jesus didn’t die to embrace your self-identity or redefine or un-sin your sin. Though we are tempted to identify ourselves today as enlightened, post-modern and advanced in every way -- beyond the first disciples, the early church fathers and the reformers of the past -- we need to reconsider our identity within the limitless nature of the cross and the empty tomb as life-changing events on every level, for all people and for all time. Changing lives through forgiveness, healing and the promise of life eternal is Jesus' "business" and the only reason for the church to exist.

Before I go any further, let me clearly make a disclaimer: when I am talking about the homosexual issue, I am not in any manner speaking for every member of the Christian CADRE. While I know that some members agree with my views, others don't and what I say should be attributed to me (BK) only.

I think that Pastor Egland makes a great point. I don't think that the language of the Bible can point to anything other than a clear, unequivocal condemnation of sin. At the same time, it is clear that Jesus interacted with sinners and did not (to my recollection) tell anyone that they could not be welcomed in the kingdom. Thus, there will always be a tension in the church about dealing with sinners of all types. Some, focusing on Jesus' forgiveness ("God's radical love" as my present pastor would say) argue that we are to preach God's love and forgiveness to all and not tell others that they are sinners since that may separate them from God. Others say that until a person recognizes and confesses their sin, they are the type of unrepentant sinner that Jesus condemned in the persons of the Pharisees, and to not preach sin first is to condemn people to remaining in their sin.

Regardless, both sides should be able to agree with Egland's perspective on the history of the Christian church. It has been a church that has a ministry of "healing, forgiveness and salvation." If we un-sin sin, isn't that taking away the very basis of the Gospel?

Of course, I have so far begged the question of whether homosexuality is a sin. But I have done so purposefully because I think that if we were talking about any other issue other than homosexuality that the church has historically understood as sin, there would be little question that Pastor Egland is right. If the church suddenly started saying "okay, you steal for a living and think there is nothing wrong with that -- that's okay because we are no longer going to recognize that as a sin," almost everyone in the church would find that ridiculous. Thus, Pastor Egland's point is valid if homosexuality is a sin.

Is homosexuality a sin? Personally, given the Biblical texts and 2,000 years of church history as a guide, I have never heard a convincing argument that it is not. But the issue is still being debated so I will not make a dogmatic assertion here despite strong feelings that my position is correct. Regardless, I agree with Dr. Egland that this issue needs to be hashed out soundly rather than buried under a pile of rhetoric (as the ELCA has done in its "Journey Together Faithfully" series). And above all we must all recognize that regardless of whether homosexuality is a sin, Christians are called to love all people and share with them the good news of the Gospel.

The synoptic puzzle meets my word processor

There are various theories about how the different accounts of Christ's life are related. The questions pursued include these: Which authors had access to to which materials? Which account is earliest? Detailed and computer-based comparisons add some weight to the theory that the similarities between Matthew and Mark may trace to a common source document older than Mark.

Comparisons of the gospels started long ago as a tedious manual process of comparing texts line by line. But these days there are other tools to help with such a comparison. Even my word processor contains basic tools to compare different versions of documents and show modifications and matches. I used Microsoft Word.

So what happens when you compare the Greek texts of Matthew and Mark in a standard word processor? First, you find that the the computer cannot successfully compare the documents as a whole. They are too different for a comparison at the level of the whole document. There is so much additional material in Matthew as compared to Mark that the word processor stopped the comparison without identifying any matched sections. To get a comparison from the word processor, it was necessary to separate the documents into individual accounts -- for example, the parable of the sower or the death of John the Baptist -- and then compare them. Comparing two documents the size of Matthew and Mark, account by account, is no quick task even with a word processor.

Here is an example of a comparison between Matthew and Mark. The text below is a comparison of the accounts of the discussion "whose son is the Messiah?".

ΚΑΙ ΑΠΟΚΡΙΘΕΙΣΣΥΝΗΓΜΕΝΩΝ ΔΕ ΤΩΝ ΦΑΡΙΣΑΙΩΝ ΕΠΗΡΩΤΗΣΕΝ ΑΥΤΟΥΣ Ο ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΕΛΕΓΕΝ ΔΙΔΑΣΚΩΝ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΙΕΡΩ ΠΩΣ ΛΕΓΩΝ ΤΙ ΥΜΙΝ ΔΟΚΕΙ ΠΕΡΙ ΤΟΥ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ; ΤΙΝΟΣ ΥΙΟΣ ΕΣΤΙΝ; ΛΕΓΟΥΣΙΝ ΟΙ ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΕΙΣ ΟΤΙ Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΥΙΟΣ ΔΑΥΙΔ ΕΣΤΙΝ; ΑΥΤΟΣΑΥΤΩ ΤΟΥ ΔΑΥΙΔ ΛΕΓΕΙ ΑΥΤΟΙΣ ΠΩΣ ΟΥΝ ΔΑΥΙΔ ΕΙΠΕΝ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙ ΤΩ ΑΓΙΩΚΑΛΕΙ ΑΥΤΟΝ ΚΥΡΙΟΝ ΛΕΓΩΝ ΕΙΠΕΝ ΚΥΡΙΟΣ ΤΩ ΚΥΡΙΩ ΜΟΥ ΚΑΘΟΥ ΕΚ ΔΕΞΙΩΝ ΜΟΥ ΕΩΣ ΑΝ ΘΩ ΤΟΥΣ ΕΧΘΡΟΥΣ ΣΟΥ ΥΠΟΚΑΤΩ ΤΩΝ ΠΟΔΩΝ ΣΟΥ ΑΥΤΟΣ; ΕΙ ΟΥΝ ΔΑΥΙΔ ΛΕΓΕΙΚΑΛΕΙ ΑΥΤΟΝ ΚΥΡΙΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΠΟΘΕΝΠΩΣ ΥΙΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΥΙΟΣ; ΚΑΙ Ο ΠΟΛΥΣ ΟΧΛΟΣ ΗΚΟΥΕΝ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΗΔΕΩΣ; ΚΑΙ ΟΥΔΕΙΣ ΕΔΥΝΑΤΟ ΑΠΟΚΡΙΘΗΝΑΙ ΑΥΤΩ ΛΟΓΟΝ ΟΥΔΕ ΕΤΟΛΜΗΣΕΝ ΤΙΣ ΑΠ ΕΚΕΙΝΗΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΜΕΡΑΣ ΕΠΕΡΩΤΗΣΑΙ ΑΥΤΟΝ ΟΥΚΕΤΙ

This account is chosen mainly for brevity and does not completely illustrate the interesting points that become more apparent in longer accounts, but it shows a few of the things which come to light through such a comparison:

First, notice the black text. This is material that matches, word-for-word, in the Greek texts of Matthew and Mark.

Second, notice the blue text. This is material that is in Matthew, but not in Mark. In the comparisons of the various accounts, this falls into two groups: material that is also in Mark but in somewhat different words, and material that is not in Mark at all. Both kinds of material are expected based on the popular current theory about the documents' relationship, the theory that Matthew copied Mark.

Third, notice the red text. This is material that is in Mark, but not in Matthew. It also contains two types of material: material that is also in Matthew but in somewhat different words, and material that is not in Matthew at all. The fact that some material is in different words is no real surprise. The fact that Mark should have content that is not found in Matthew is somewhat inconsistent with the theory that Matthew copied Mark, especially since material unique to Mark is a fairly common find when comparing the documents.

Examining the the texts closely, it's not hard to see why people devised the theory that Matthew copied Mark. It's plain that there must be some kind of relationship between the documents. Many accounts contain the same material in nearly the same words; it is not really plausible that this happened to such an extent by mere coincidence. Since there is so much material in Matthew that is not in Mark, Mark could not be based on Matthew. So, the theory went, Matthew must be based on Mark. If Matthew copied Mark, that would explain the accounts where Matthew has roughly the same material as Mark, and the accounts where Matthew has more material. It would explain the parts where account after account is in the same order from one document to the next. It would explain the parts where a word processor can easily find comparisons, words and even phrases that match exactly.

But the assumption that Matthew copied Mark may be too simple to explain all the facts. If Matthew copied Mark, then why are there accounts in Mark that are not found in Matthew? Why are there accounts, found in both, in which Mark has substantially more material than Matthew? Why are there even some accounts in which Mark has over twice as much material as the parallel account in Matthew? If Matthew's greater length as a whole is an argument that it is later, doesn't the same reasoning lead us to believe that shorter individual accounts in Matthew must be earlier than the corresponding longer accounts in Mark? There are sections where one account after another are found in the same order in both documents; if these are an argument that these documents are related, then what do we make of the number of sections where the accounts are in a noticeably different order? If the accounts which have closely-matching material are an argument for relatedness, then what about the places where the relationships are not particularly close or there are noticeable variances between the accounts?

For all the questions that arise, the documents clearly indicate some sort of relationship. The material shared by Matthew and Mark comprises roughly 74% of the material in Mark, with roughly 26% of the material in Mark not found in Matthew. The shared material likewise comprises roughly 42% of the material in Matthew, with roughly 58% of the material in Matthew not found in Mark. But the theory that Matthew copied Mark seems too simple to account for all of the facts. It seems more likely that Matthew, rather than working directly from Mark, worked from one or more older documents also available to Mark.

It would be tempting to suggest that the additional material in Mark is simply a later expansion of Mark, at least on the principle that the simplest theories should be tried first. But that theory seems to leave too many facts unexplained. For instance, some things suggest that there may be more than one older document involved. First, the accounts earlier in the documents -- before the account of John the Baptist's death -- are often in a different order from Matthew to Mark, but starting with the account of John the Baptist's death the accounts track each other fairly closely. Second, the same earlier accounts show a lower percentage of material from Mark that is also found in Matthew than the later accounts (roughly 67% from the earlier accounts, as compared to roughly 77% of the later accounts). Third, the same earlier accounts show noticeably less word-for-word matching in word-processor comparisons (roughly 29% from the earlier accounts, as compared to roughly 45% of the later accounts). From this, it seems likely that there was a single previous document that contained the later section beginning at or about the record of John the Baptist's death and continuing up to or about the account of the empty tomb. The material before John the Baptist's death suggests a more complicated relationship of the texts. There were likely previous written accounts, possibly several documents, for the material before John the Baptist's death. Going beyond this would be excessively speculative at this point.

Leaving aside the question of the number of earlier documents and their boundaries, what is more certain is the content of the earlier document or documents. Going back to the electronic comparisons, it's likely that the words and phrases which match exactly from Matthew to Mark reflect the content of the earlier material. In accounts where exact matches are frequent between the Greek of Matthew and Mark, it seems likely that any older document must also have been in Greek and that the matches reflect words and phrases which were the exact wording of the older document. In other sections, exact matches in the Greek documents are less frequent or even difficult to come by, despite the content being plainly parallel. In these instances where the meaning compares closely but the wording does not, there is basis to wonder whether the older document may have been in another language and whether Matthew and Mark have each preserved their own translations. The history of the people involved and the appearance of occasional words and phrases in Aramaic raise the question how much of the older material was in Aramaic.

Assimilating and analyzing this volume of material could easily take the space of a small book, and I do not intend to try the patience of this blog's readers any further right now. Even with the generalities that can be made about the different sections of the documents, there is still within each section some noticeable variation in how closely different accounts are related between Matthew and Mark. More analysis will need to be done on an account-by-account basis. Some preliminary details of the analysis are available here. Other information on this comparison will be posted here in this blog from time to time.

Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis?

About 15 years ago, before the science (yes, it is a science) of intelligent design came on the scene, I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper arguing that there existed a reasonable middle ground between the dogmatism of the creation-science camp and the dogmatism of the evolution camp. I argued that if evolution were merely taught as a theory rather than as proven fact, it would go a long way towards resolving the conflict. I guess I was rather naïve at the time because I thought that the conflict between the two was based largely on a decision by a minority of idealists in the evolution camp to push naturalistic evolution as the only possible alternative for the creation of life. Of course, the text-book sticker controversy in Cobb County, Georgia, has demonstrated that teaching evolution as a theory is not acceptable to evolutionists -– they have to have evolution taught as proven fact even though, at best, it is a model for which many scientists believe there to be a significant amount of evidence.

In the years since then I have read and studied quite a few things in this area of origins, but I still believe that I was right 15 years ago -– if we simply teach evolution as a theory, then that would resolve most of the problems. But because evolutionists have dug in their heels arguing that evolution must be taught as fact, simply teaching evolution as a theory is no longer an option. Rather, public schools should teach evolution, but it should do so by encouraging the children to think critically about the theory to see if they agree with evolutionists that it is "fact" or agree with non-Darwinian scientists that it is a model that is little more than naturalistic dogmatism disguised as proven fact.

To that end, I read with interest the on-line essay, "Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis?" by David Buckna. Essentially, Mr. Buckna’s essay is a series of questions about evolutionary theory and its ability to explain the evidence. To that end, he quotes from many of the proponents of evolution and follows by rhetorically asking the proponents questions intended to clarify the meaning of the quotes and to expose biases in the original quote or the supposed evidence for evolution.

Linked through the article is an origins of life policy that appears to have been originally proposed by Mr. Buckna and Denis Laidlaw in an article published on the Institute for Creation Research page also entitled “Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis?” (Mr. Buckna needs to become as creative with his titles as he is with his proposals -- of course, I seem to have suffered the same uncreativity in the title of this post).

As no theory in science is immune from critical examination and evaluation, and recognizing that evolutionary theory is the only approved theory of origins that can be taught in the [province/state] science curriculum: whenever evolutionary theory is taught, students and teachers are encouraged to discuss the scientific information that supports and questions evolution and its underlying assumptions, in order to promote the development of critical thinking skills. This discussion would include only the scientific evidence/information for and against evolutionary theory, as it seeks to explain the origin of the universe and the diversity of life on our planet.

The obvious question is "what’s wrong with that?" What could be wrong with someone presenting as part of the teaching of evolution the scientific information that both supports and questions evolution? An article in the Orlando Sentinel entitled "In the Beginning" (which is no longer available on-line, unfortunately) presents one evolutionist’s answer to these questions when discussing Mr. Buckna’s proposed approach.

A Canadian elementary-school teacher, David Buckna, has proposed a more neutral approach to teaching intelligent design than stickers that question the validity of evolution.

Buckna's "Origins of Life" program is based on the premise that "no theory in science is immune from critical examination and evaluation."

* * *

It's not that simple, says Mark Perakh, a retired physics professor at California State University, Fullerton.

"The question of whether there was ever an act of creation by a supernatural creator is beyond science," says the author of Unintelligent Design – a book that dismisses the concept.

"I expect that origin of life will be given a well-substantiated natural explanation in the forthcoming years."

(Note that Dr. Perakh does not state that evidence shows that the origin of life has a natural explanation. Rather, he “expects,” i.e., he has faith, that a naturalistic explanation will be forthcoming. It appears that Dr. Perakh has more faith in science than I do, but that is typical of people who hold dogmatic beliefs.)

The response from Dr. Perakh to Mr. Buckna’s proposal is that positing the possible existence of a supernatural designer is beyond science. But that brings us back to the question of what science should be doing. In this area of origins, should science be trying to determine the truth of how things came to be, or should it be trying to determine naturalistic explanations for how things came to be? If it is doing the latter, than I think science is an interesting intellectual exercise, but I don’t see any reason to accept its outcome as truthful since it has excluded at the outset any possibility of a non-naturalistic explanations. In other words, all science will do in this area is encourage scientists to come up with naturalistic explanations for origins regardless of whether they are true. It is like telling someone that they have to explain how balls bounce off bumpers on a billiard table without considering the possiblity of the laws of physics -- they may be able to do it, but there is no reason to believe that there solution is true since a possible explanation has been excluded at the outset.

Mr. Buckna, who I have had the pleasure of corresponding with, has written a letter to the Editor of the Orlando Sentinel following the publication of the article, and he has given me permission to post it here. Mr. Buckna wrote:

So there is no misunderstanding, I am not proposing that any form of creationism or intelligent design be mandated in science classes by local or state boards of education. The suggested 'Origins of Life' policy can be read in its entirety in the Buckna/Laidlaw article, "Should evolution be immune from critical analysis in the science classroom?", at (www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-282.htm)


He then continued by noting that there are four different approaches to the origins of life question for evolutionists depending on their philosophical or theistic beliefs:

The origin perspectives of evolutionists can be classified into the following general categories--all of which are based on naturalistic philosophy:

ATHEISTIC NATURALISM God does not exist. There is no real design (only apparent design) and nature is all there is. eg. Carl Sagan:"The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."; Richard Dawkins: "...although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." (in The Blind Watchmaker", p. 6)

AGNOSTIC NATURALISM One is unsure whether God exists. Though nature may not be all there is, nature is all that matters.

THEISTIC NATURALISM God exists. He designed the natural laws. There is no design in the strict sense, and although _in principle_ nature is not all that matters, _in effect_ it is.

THEISTIC EVOLUTION God designed the natural laws so that their ordinary operation would result in the intended outcome.

University of California (Berkeley) law professor Phillip Johnson ["Darwin on Trial"] says naturalists define words like "evolution" and "science" in such a way that naturalism is true by definition. Johnson commented in World magazine: "Evolutionary science is based on naturalism and draws philosophical conclusions to that base. That's why any theistic evolution is inherently superficial. It leads people into naturalistic thinking, and they don't realize it." (Nov. 22/97, p.13)

What Mr. Buckna is pointing out is that all of these various approaches to origins, despite two of which being labeled "theistic," are naturalistic in origin. They either deny any role to God in the origin of life question or they deny God any real role. In fact, as the Johnson quote points out, theistic evolution leads people to start thinking in terms of origins as if there were no God under the guise that God is like the Wizard of Oz – somehow behind the curtain pulling levers, but really not much of a wizard.

Mr. Buckna’s letter concludes, appropriately enough, with another quote by Dr. Johnson on CNN in 1999 that I think bears consideration in light of the proposal to teach evolution critically:

I think we should teach a lot about evolution. In fact, I think we should teach more than the evolutionary science teachers want the students to know. The problem is what we're getting is a philosophy that's claimed to be scientific fact, a lot of distortion in the textbooks, and all the difficult problems left out, because they don't want people to ask tough questions.

The Argument from No Other Versions

Meta’s Blog sets forth an interesting argument for Christianity with which I have little familiarity called the "Argument from No Other Versions." Below, I set forth Metacrock's statement of the argument as posted in a blog entitled "Defending No Other Versions Argument against Kirby" -- that's Peter Kirby, author of the Christian Origins Blog.

Jesus Myth

Specifically, Metacrock's argument responds to the "Jesus Mythers." Believe it or not, there are people out there who not only deny that Jesus was God or was resurrected, they deny (contrary to the great weight of the evidence, in my humble opinion) that Jesus Christ was an actual figure in history. In essence, the entire Biblical account of Jesus' life, earthly ministry and death is, in their view, a fiction. They put together interesting, but scholarly irrelevant, items such as Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle in argument that Jesus never existed. As my fellow blogger Layman has demonstrated in an essay entitled "Scholarly Opinions on the Jesus Myth", those who believe that Jesus never existed, but believe that Jesus was rather a myth made up by people like St. Paul about 2000 years ago, are really outside the pale of scholarly research.

For example, as quoted in Layman's "Scholarly Opinions" essay, in his book Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, atheist historian Michael Grant completely rejected the idea that Jesus never existed.

[I]f we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. * * * To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ myth theory. It has 'again and again been answered and annihilated by first rank scholars.' In recent years, 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.

Still, as an advocate of intelligent design, I am aware that simply being outside the scholarly mainstream is insufficient reason to conclusively demonstrate that the argument has been refuted (elsewise, no advances in knowledge outside of the reigning paradigm are possible). Thus, the "Argument from No Other Versions" as another refutation of the belief that Jesus never existed interests me greatly. Moreover, I think the "Argument from No Other Versions" goes well beyond an argument against Jesus' non-existence to a positive argument for the truth of the central claims of Christianity.

As set forth by Metacrock in his blog, the "Argument from No Other Versions" begins by asserting that there is a fundamental difference between the mythology that we see and the history that we see coming down through the ages. Mythology, he argues, tends to proliferate, that is, myths have multiple versions of the accounts which can differ wildly in their views. History, on the other hand, has a core story which is consistently involved in every early retelling of the account. Let me give an example.

Proliferation of Myth

Anyone who has ever tried to look up the history of just about any mythical figure learns quite quickly that multiple accounts of his life and adventures exist. For example, many versions of the story of Greek hero Herakles (more commonly known by his Roman name of Hercules) exist from Apollodorus to DAulaires Book of Greek Myths. (House, Christine "Hercules the hero: understanding the myth.") These multiple accounts exist because there is no central core of truth behind the story that people of that time would have known to be true and would have dismissed any major variation. Thus, if follows that if there are fewer versions of an account, that means that there is more likelihood that it is based on historic fact rather than mythology.

Keep in mind, that when Metacrock is talking about "multiple story versions," he is not speaking of minor discrepancies. He is talking about major differences in the accounts. Getting back to Hercules, for example, "There are as many different versions of Hercules' life story as there are storytellers. Differences between the Disney movie version and other versions include the explanation of who Hercules' parents were, and why he had to perform the 12 Labors." ("The Life and Times of Hercules.") As will be discussed further below, minor inconsistencies in the story can be attributed to a large number of issues including different viewpoints, different emphasis, and differing languages. Thus, it is not enough to point out, for example, that the number of angels at the tomb changes depending upon which Gospel account you read. They are all in agreement on the basic fact that there was a tomb of Jesus that was empty and someone told the women (angels in most of the Gospels, a young man who could be an angel in Mark's Gospel) that He was not there.

Non-Proliferation of History

Accounts that are actually historical, on the other hand, tend to be more consistent in their retelling and contain a consistent core story that reaches out from each of the retellings. If the story is a myth, then it seems to follow that anyone would be free to change and embellish the account as they wish without fears of repercussions. However, if there is a consistency from the earliest retellings of the account, that consistency seems to speak to the fact that there was a core historic story which the people who told the account (I will refer to them as "storytellers" even though I am not suggesting that what they related is fiction) did not feel free to change.

The argument lists three reasons that they would not feel free to change it. The first is that eyewitnesses would be the guardians of the truth and would challenge any change to the story that is untrue. Second, if everyone else already knows the story, to change it for purposes of making a point would hurt the storyteller’s credibility. Thus, there is every reason to believe that a storyteller would not make changes to the core story if he already knows that the central story is well known to the members of the community. Third, a point that I think is very important, why bother to change the story if everyone already knows the facts? If the storyteller would change the known facts, he would be challenged to support his change by those who know better.

Thus, if there is a consistency in the account of a person's life, then it is likely that one of these three facts -- if not all three -- would explain that consistency.

The Argument from No Other Version contends that the Gospel accounts (which are by far the four earliest accounts of the account of Jesus) are very consistent in their core story. This is different from myths where the storytellers are free to make up the facts surrounding the key figure. Thus, this consistency argues strongly in favor of a historical core of truth that the authors of the Gospel knew and which they were trying to relate.

Variations in the Gospel Accounts

Does the fact that there is some variation in the accounts argue for myth? Two answers come to mind in response to this question. The first is what can be called the "You Can't Win Either Way" response. It goes like this: Skeptics use the fact that there are inconsistencies in the Gospel to argue that they are not truthful because if they were truthful then all four authors of the Gospel would have the same things, e.g., Jesus would say the same things on the cross in all four Gospels, they would all say precisely how many women went to the tomb, etc. But imagine for a moment that they were all perfectly consistent in every respect down to relating the same quotes word for word. What do you suppose would be the charge by skeptics? I know from experience that wherever two or more Gospels relate the same account, the charge from skeptics is that one or more of the Gospel authors copied from one of the others. You cannot win in that situation with a skeptic.

Another response is to note what my friend Bede at Bede's Journal, a professional historian, has to say:

You see, history is not just a collection of facts and figures. People who just try and sort out the facts are usually called 'antiquarians' who are supposed to be a bit inferior to real historians. Also, a record of events that is just "one damn thing after another" is called a chronicle and not a history. The chroniclers are also felt to be a rather lowly breed compared to the true man of history. So it is the explanatory, analytical and narrative elements of a historical work that mark it out as a member of that illustrious genre. And it is the case that you can analyze, explain and narrate in many different ways. The facts can be fitted together to produce radically different pictures. So in what sense is the historian's creation not fiction? Based on a true story perhaps? Dependent on the facts but not determined by them?

Bede makes an excellent point. Even in a narrative of events that one knows, the analysis and explanation of those events are going to be colored by the reporter’s point of view. There is no question that each of the four Gospels were written at different times by different authors for different audiences and different purposes. Each of these authors, then, would have related the facts that they thought most important to make an impact on their intended audience to meet their intended purpose. Does that mean that the Gospel authors are not relating history? No, because all history is written in exactly the same way.

The truth is very important, but none of the Gospel authors were simply trying to chronicle the events of Jesus’ life. They were taking their best recollection of the facts of His life and telling them in a narrative for differing audiences at differing times and for differing purposes. However, even in these different narratives, they did not change the core story and, in fact, I would argue that one of the reasons that the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke seem to follow each other so closely is because the authors did use each other's works to double-check their own recollections. Why is it hard to believe that Matthew, being outside of the inner-circle of Peter, John and James, would defer to Mark's account of what happened during the Transfiguration because Mark was Peter's companion and would have heard Peter's account first hand more recently than Matthew? Why is it hard to believe that Luke, not being an eyewitness but talking with eyewitnesses, would defer at points to the account of Matthew who was an eyewitness?

I think that the Argument from No Other Version has some promise even though it comes with some questions that I am still trying to sort out. In the meantime, I conclude this blog with Metacrock's version of the argument as found on his blog.

Metacrock's Version of the Argument from No Other Version

1) Mythology tends to proliferate: multiple story versions are common.

2) When historical facts are known to a wide audience, people tend not to deny the basic facts of an event--

a) eye witnesses keep it straight,

b) people who try to invent new aspects of the event are confronted with the fact that most everyone knows better, and

c) people know the story for a fact and just don't bother to change it.

3) Story proliferation would probably influence further tellings, thus creating many more documents with different versions of the same story.

4) If a myth proliferates we would tend to find more versions of the same story, when there is only one version we can accept a degree of certainty that the story did not proliferate.

5) We do not find a proliferation of versions of the Jesus story in any sources we know of.

6) The most logical way to account for this single Jesus story is through (p2), that everyone knew it was the case, there were too many eye witnesses to spread new versions.

a) It is illogical to assume that everyone just liked it so they didn't add to it.

b) There was no canonization process in place in the early period, and the single unified version existed from the earliest trace of the story.

7) Therefore, we can assume that it is probably the case that the masses were familiar with the story of Jesus because the story reflects events known by all to be factual.

This Pagan Copycat Stuff is Getting Out of Hand

Check out this Easter's Foxtrot.

Pretty funny. And about as convincing!

The Author of Luke-Acts as a Smooth Operator: His Use of Sources As a Guide to Genre

It is widely remarked that the author of Luke-Acts is a smooth operator. That is, his Greek is more polished than the other Gospel authors. So polished, in fact, that it difficult to detect his use of sources based on an internal review of the Greek alone. Fortunately, in the case of the Gospel of Luke, we can compare him to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew and see that he used Mark and Q as sources. From the comparison, we can see that Luke takes his sources and linguistically makes them his own, but that he is generally faithful to them. See Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity, page 209 (“[W]hen passages in Luke are set alongside passages from Mark, Luke proves to have been a sober and careful scribe.”). Given the lack of comparative material for the Acts of the Apostles, searches for the sources of Acts have been less fruitful. Moreover, in the case of Acts we may be dealing with more oral tradition than written material. Nevertheless, given his knowledge of early Christianity and his literary abilities, few doubt that the author also utilized sources for his second book.

Interestingly, the author’s use of sources compares very well with what was expected of ancient historians of his day. Around the middle of the second century, Lucian of Samosata wrote his How to Write History, in which he critiques poor historians. Therein, Lucian describes how good historians should make use of sources:

As for the facts themselves, he should not assemble them at random, but only after much laborious and painstaking investigation…. When he has collected all or most of the facts let him first make them into a series of notes, a body of material as yet with no beauty or continuity. Then after arranging them into order, let him give it beauty and enhance it with the charms of expression, figure, and rhythm.

Lucian, How to Write History, 47-48.

As we can see, Lucian advised that historians should carefully investigate their subjects and gather sources, put them down in a series of notes, arrange them into a more orderly account, and then finalize them into a higher literary style.
There are some interesting comparisons to the preface of Luke; where the author says he “investigated everything carefully”, he was aware of the many accounts already compiled, and that his purpose was to put things into an “orderly account.” But most important for our purposes here is that the author has faithfully used his sources but reworked them to such an extent that they are not readily apparent as such from the text. It appears, therefore, that he is following the expected step-by-step use of sources by ancient historians.

We should notice here the three stages of composition: first, the series of notes, then a formless draft and finally, order and style. The existence of preparatory notes leads to the conclusion that the author puts the information from his sources into a document that he himself writes. The use of these notes in the definitive text makes it intelligible that, through this double filter, the indications which would permit us to identify the author’s sources have disappeared from the surface of the text…. So we can conclude that Luke has rewritten everything, erasing the traces of the documents consulted.

Daniel Marguerat, The First Christian Historian, page 16.

Although I am skeptical that Luke has simply “erased” such traces, his drafting and reworking them has no doubt made them much harder to detect. Of course, this does not indicate anything nefarious on the author’s part. Just the opposite, in fact. The author of Luke-Acts appears to have written and used his sources as the ancient historians of his day were expected to. Which is yet more evidence that he and his audience understood that he was writing according to the conventions of historians of his day.

The Resurrection: A Harmonization of the New Testament Accounts

A number of years ago, I ran across a challenge from a skeptic on the internet: to write a harmonization of all the resurrection accounts in the New Testament, in chronological order, leaving out nothing. This challenge was well-hyped, supposedly unanswerable. Like many things on the internet, I am skeptical of broad claims that nobody could ever answer the challenge; it did not take that long to place all the accounts in a chronological sequence. The original challenge indicated that the final response should include all 4 gospel accounts, the pre-ascension section of Acts, and Paul's recap of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in I Corinthians 15:3-8. In the hopes that someone finds this helpful, it is now available here.

The bottom line: Christ is Risen!

A blessed Easter to you all.

Thank God for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Sorry for my reduced posting activity as late, but work has kept me very busy. One of the busiest months I have while not in trial. I have managed to gear down a bit for Easter, but have decided to spend that time with family and friends rather than working on an extensive resurrection post. However, I did want to remind readers of the many fine resources on the historicity of the resurrection that are available. For a list of books relevant to a defense of the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, check out my Listmania List over at Amazon: The Historical Resurrection of Jesus.

I also review several books at Amazon relevant to the resurrection. You can read those here.

Happy Easter.

"The Lord has really risen...." Luke 24:34.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." 1 Peter 1:3

Terri Schaivo: Immediate Desire v. Higher Duty

In many ways I agree with CADRE member The Dawn Treader when he says in his post entitled "Exegeting Culture: The Terri Schiavo Story" that "I feel like we are all standing around a swimming pool and watching a child drown … and analyzing the drowning and discussing the ethical and legal issues involved in diving in to save the child." Still, I think that I have seen little discussion about is the difference between what we want (our desires) and what we would do if we choose to act virtuously.

As I understand the situation, Terri is being starved to death because her husband (and supposedly others who have never been identified that I can find) introduced testimony that Terri, in a casual conversation about people in persistent vegetative states, said words to the effect of "I wouldn't want to live that way." As I listen to the endless discussion of this matter on the radio, I hear person after person saying basically the same thing about Terri's position: "I wouldn't want to live like that."

Ignoring for a moment the dispute over whether she actually said such a thing, I guess I wonder whether we ought not take into account the difference between what we want and what we do on the basis that it is virtuous to do so. I may have a desire to do something or avoid doing something because of a gut reaction that it would be distasteful, but that doesn’t mean that in light of my concept of what is good or virtuous, I wouldn’t do it anyway. For example, I wouldn't want to go fight the war in Iraq, but I would go if I were called upon to do so -- there is a higher calling than my desires. I wouldn't want to be unmarried, teenage and pregnant, but if I had been in that position, I wouldn't have aborted the baby -- there is a higher calling than my desires.

I told my daughter the other day that I wouldn't want to live in the condition that Terri Schiavo is living. But you know what? I believe that only God can take life, and as long as I can live, I don't think it is right to pull the feeding tube and killing myself even if I am in the persistent vegetative state. My distaste at living life in a persistent vegetative state is outweighed by my beliefs that the better, more virtuous, road would be to live out my life in such a condition until God sees fit to bring me home.

Unfortunately, we will never know what Terri wanted because it has become fairly obvious that absent a miracle, Terri will shortly be starved to death. But I will always wonder whether when she said (allegedly) that she "wouldn't want to live that way," she meant that it would be distasteful or undesirable, but that doesn't necessarily mean that she would have wanted the feeding tube removed. As many millions of people have been throughout history, she may have been motivated by a higher purpose.

Odds and Ends Heading into Easter

Bill Maher -- In case you were unaware, Bill Maher, comedian of Politically Incorrect fame, has made a few . . . uh . . . shall we say, disparaging comments, about Christianity. He has worn his ignorance like a bad tatoo by saying such enlightened comments as "I think religion is a neurological disorder." Well, Scott Pruitt of Pensees has written a rather lengthy response to Mr. Maher which is well worth the time to read.

The Shroud of Turin -- One of the shroud experts has now chimed in on the shroud-like images created by Nathan Wilson which I blogged about in my post entitled "Maybe the Shroud is Dead After All (or maybe not)". In the Associate Press article entitled "Teacher Claims Shroud of Turin Is Fake", Shroud expert Dan Porter said

. . . that while Wilson's theory is ingenious, it does not produce images identical to those on the shroud.

"It is not adequate to produce something that looks like the shroud in two or three ways," said Porter, who lives in Bronxville, N.Y. "One must produce an image that meets all of the criteria."

Porter contends sun bleaching cannot have produced the image, which he and many others say is the result of chemical reactions on the cloth.

A problem with Wilson's hypothesis is that sun bleaching merely accelerates bleaching that will occur naturally as the material is exposed to light," Porter wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Eventually, Wilson's sun bleach shroud image will fade into the background as exposure equalizes the bleaching."

The shroud has often been displayed, sometimes in bright sunlight for days at a time, and no such image fading has occurred, Porter said.

Porter and others also question whether panes of glass at least 6 feet long were produced in medieval times, as Wilson's theory would require.

The JAMA Article on the Crucifixion -- For those looking for information about exactly how Jesus died, you may want to consider reading On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ, William D. Edwards, MD; Wesley J. Gabel, MDiv; Floyd E Hosmer, MS, AMI, Reprinted from JAMA - The Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 256, Copyright 1986, American Medical Association. Here is the abstract:

Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials, was flogged, and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deep stripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of crucifixion, his wrists were nailed to the patibulum and, after the patibulum was lifted onto the upright post (stipes), his feet were nailed to the stipes. The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respirations. Accordingly death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus' death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier's spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicate that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.

At the same time, we should recall, as Greg Koukl reminds us on the Stand to Reason blog, that:

At the last, it was not the cross that took Jesus’ life. He did not die of exposure, or loss of blood, or asphyxiation. When the full debt for our sin was paid, and the justice of God was fully satisfied, Jesus simply gave up His spirit with a single Greek word that fell from His lips: “Tetelestai.” “It is finished.” The divine transaction is complete. The debt was cancelled. (Colossians 2:13-14)

Poem for Maundy Thursday and Easter

Tom Graffagnino, yet another friend of the CADRE, has published another poem, but unlike most that I have linked to the CADRE site, this poem deals with the majesty and mystery of the Passion. Entitled "Only Jesus Knew the Score", it reads, in part:

When they sang the Hymn that evening,
Only Jesus knew the score...
Those glad and joyful verses,
Hid the pain that was in store.

Jesus saw the torture coming...
The crown of thorns pressed on his head;
He knew the mocking and the scourging,
Even as He broke the Bread.

He saw The Cross and Roman soldiers;
He understood those painful signs,
That the Prophets had once spoken...
Even as He poured the wine.

He knew well there at The Table,
Of the wicked heart of man....
He saw clearly Calv'ry's bloodshed,
And nails driven through His hands.

He knew the pain, the spit, the laughing...
He knew the spear would pierce his side;
He knew death by crucifixion,
Was how Messiah had to die.

As always, I encourage everyone to visit his website (go to the page "Essays")and read the rest of the poem as well as many of his others. Good stuff, Tom.

Robert Sutherland, author of Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job: A literary, legal and philosophical study, recently sent me a link to an Discovery Magazine article about the Shroud of Turin entitled "Experiment: Turin Shroud An Easy Forgery". The article notes that "Nathan Wilson, a fellow of literature at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho, claims to have successfully created a shroud-like image."

Rather than attempting to discover how to darken linen without chemicals or paint, Wilson just did the opposite.

"It is not an issue of dark placed on light, but of light replacing dark. The most obvious method for lightening linen is the one housewives have used to bleach tablecloths for centuries and, more likely, millennia. Put the cloth outside beneath the sun," he said.

Helped by microbiologist Scott Minnich, an associate professor at the University of Idaho, who provided him with scientific advice on structuring the experiment, Wilson put fabric under a glass panel painted with a human face — using white paint — and left it in the sun for a few days.

Wilson found that when a positive image of a man's face was painted onto glass, and left over linen beneath the sun, a color inversion took place, creating a photo negative.

"Wherever light paint had been applied, the linen remained dark beneath, and wherever the darker shade of linen had been left bare, the image lightened. In this regard, the image produced is very similar to that of the Turin Shroud," Wilson told Discovery News.

Not being a Shroud of Turin expert, I certainly don't know whether this effort has duplicated what is found on the shroud. However, I return to an article that I linked in my earlier Shroud post from 2005 News on the Shroud of Turin from Shroudstory.com:

The Shroud of Turin images may not the direct result of a miracle, at least not in a traditional sense of the word. But they are not manmade either. These seem to be the contradictory conclusions from an article in the peer-reviewed, scientific Journal of Optics (April 14, 2004) of the Institute of Physics in London: Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo, researchers at the University of Padua, Italy, discovered a faint image of a second face on the back of the Shroud of Turin.

This supports a hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin's images are the result of a very natural, complex chemical reaction between amines (ammonia derivatives) emerging from a body and saccharides within a carbohydrate residue that covers the fibers of the Shroud of Turin. The color producing chemical process is called a Maillard reaction. This is fully discussed in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Melanoidins, a journal of the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities (EU, Volume 4, 2003).

This conclusion by the two physicists seems to be at odds with Mr. Wilson's conclusion from his experiment. The Discovery Magazine story, however, mentions the work of physicists Fanti and Maggiolo, and seems to acknowledge that Mr. Wilson has not fully answered their paper:

In a study published last year in one of the journals of the Institute of Physics, the Journal of Optics A: Pure and Applied Optics, Giulio Fanti, professor of Mechanical and Thermic Measurements at Padua University, claimed that enhancing imaging procedures revealed the image of a man's face on the reverse side of the shroud.

Featuring striking three-dimensional quality, the image matched in form, size and position the known face, according to Fanti's controversial claim.

"On both sides, the face image is superficial, involving only the outermost linen fibers. When a cross-section of the fabric is made, one extremely superficial image appears above and one below, but there is nothing in the middle. It is extremely difficult to make a fake with these features," Fanti said.

According to Wilson, if the cloth is reversed beneath the sun — after the image on the front has been created — the image can be made as superficial as desired.

"It is not difficult for me to produce an image on the reverse side of the cloth, but Fanti's conclusion that both images are superficial presents something for me to explore in future experiments," Wilson said.

Don't know quite what to conclude from all of this, but it does seem that there are reasons to ask further questions before assuming that Wilson's experiment proves that the Shroud of Turin is a fake. One question I would like to ask is: how sophisticated would a medieval forger have to be to include the following in his fake:

1. Actual human bloodstains including pericardial fluid and serum, some of which flowed from a living body and some of which flowed from a dead body. Consider the following from Shroudstory.com:

Many of the [bloodstains] have the distinctive forensic signature of clotting with red corpuscles about the edge of the clot and a clear yellowish halo of serum.

Some forensic experts think that can identify that some of the blood flow was venous and some was arterial. Most of the blood flowed while the man was alive and it remained on his body. There is some blood that clearly oozed from a dead body, as was the case for stains resulting from a wound in the man’s chest. Here, the blood, with a deeper color and more viscous consistency, as is the case for blood from a postmortem wound, ran from a chest wound, flowed around the side of the body and formed a puddle about the man’s lower back.

Mingled with the blood from the chest wound are stains from a clear bodily fluid, perhaps pericardial fluid or fluid from the pleural sac or pleural cavity. This suggests that the man received a postmortem stabbing wound in the vicinity of the heart.

2. Large nails through the wrists instead of the palms of the hands which one would not expect of a medieval forger since the iconography of medieval and pre-medieval periods was that the nails were put through the palms.

3. The face image is on the shroud itself instead of a separate cloth where medieval incongraphy and practice (as I understand it) would have suggested that the face would have been covered separately.

4. Medically accurate details of a scourging. Again, according to shroudstory.com:

Forensic experts tell us that the body images show explicit and medically realistic details of piercing wounds, lacerations, bruises, contusions, and abrasions are medically accurate.

The man’s once-outstretched arms are modestly folded at the wrists. It is on the images of the arms that we see rivulets of blood. It is on the man’s chest, between the fifth and sixth ribs that we see an elliptical gash from which the blood flowed under the man’s lower back. We see the horrific wounds where the man was nailed to the cross. So accurate are the details, medical experts realize they demonstrate a knowledge of pathology that was not understood in the Middle Ages; not by artists, not by crafters of fake relics, and not by the best medical minds of that age. How did this relic forger translate such medically-accurate detail, in both the front and back images, onto the long piece of linen cloth?

I will look forward to some of the pro-Shroud apologists examining Mr. Wilson's experiment a little more closely. In the meantime, I am going to reserve any type of concession that the shroud is fake.

A More Complete List of Terri Schiavo sites

Robert Bowman of the great apologetics site The Center for Biblical Apologetics has pulled together a much better list of Terri Schiavo related sites than I had. So, rather than keep them to myself, here they are:


GENERAL NEWS AND RESOURCES ON SCHIAVO

"Terry Schiavo" - Wikipedia
Internet encyclopedia article

Terry Schiavo News
News articles from around the world, continuously updated



LEGAL DOCUMENTS AND ANALYSES

Terri Schiavo Case: Legal Issues Involving Healthcare Directives, Death, and Dying
FindLaw is a standard online legal news service

Supreme Court of Florida-Documents in the Schiavo Cases

Abstract Appeal (Matt Conigliaro)
Blog focusing on the Florida legal system and the Schiavo case (somewhat
supportive of ending Schiavo's life)

American Center for Law and Justice
Christian conservative advocacy group, favoring keeping Schiavo alive


SITES FAVORING KEEPING SCHIAVO ALIVE

Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation
Primary site supporting keeping Terri alive

Blogs for Terri
Wealth of information and opinion supportive of keeping Terri alive,
including activist information (phone numbers of legislators and the like)

Pro-Life Postings about Terry Schiavo
Aggregator of hundreds of blogs advocating keeping Terri alive

Robert Johansen, "Starving for a Fair Diagnosis"
National Review Online article by Catholic priest on the weaknesses of the
medical information on which the court has relied in the Schiavo case

Family Research Council: The Terry Schiavo Controversy-Facts, Myths, and Christian Perspectives
Christian conservative public policy organization's web page on the subject

Christianity Today: Terry Schiavo
News and opinions from a major evangelical magazine


SITES GENERALLY FAVORING ENDING SCHIAVO'S LIFE

Eric Zorn's Notebook: The Schiavo Case
Reporter's list of links on both sides, though appearing to favor ending
Terri's life

Respectful of Otters
Clinical psychologist's blog, with an entry critiquing the medical
affidavits affirming that Terri still has some cognitive functions

More Info on Terri Schiavo's Case

For those seeking insight into Terri Schiavo's case (sadly, the appeals court has denied her parents' appeal within the last hour), I recommend two sources:

1. Apologia Christi: Friend of the CADRE Apologia Christi has been doing a pretty good job of following this case and posting some good analysis of the situation.

2. The International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide has been collecting some fine articles about the case including "Starving for the Truth from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, and "Starving for a Fair Diagnosis" from the National Review Online.

Hastily Generalizing the Slippery Slope

Friend of the CADRE Phil Steiger (whose own blog Every Thought Captive is recommended daily reading) made a comment on my post entitled "Cleft Lips and Palates, Abortion and Discrimination in the U.K." which read as follows:

There are many people out there who do not believe in the validity of the 'slippery slope' argument, but I am afraid reality bears it out. If we are at a point where a society is willing to label this a handicap, then we have slipped a long way indeed!

Slippery Slope arguments were identified in my college textbook on logic as an informal fallacy. Yet, as I have followed the events of the world, I cannot help but notice that people who argued against various positions in my own lifetime on the basis of slippery slopes have turned out to be quite prophetic. My fellow blogger Layman (who has been quite busy at the office the past few days) has earlier voiced his doubt about slippery slopes but recognizes that bright lines are sometimes helpful which, in my view, shows a realization that some slippery slopes are true.

How do we tell when a slippery slope argument is simply fallacious or may have merit? To answer that requires a quick review of the slippery slope fallacy. According to The Nizkor Project:

The Slippery Slope is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question. In most cases, there are a series of steps or gradations between one event and the one in question and no reason is given as to why the intervening steps or gradations will simply be bypassed. This "argument" has the following form:

1. Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
2. Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim. This is especially clear in cases in which there is a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.

The first thing to note about this description of the slippery slope is that the fallacy occurs only when "some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question." The argument is fallacious, according to Nizkor, because "there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim." Thus, slippery slopes are fallacious arguments only when there is no argument made as to why the next step on the slope should follow from the first.

In other words, the slippery slope argument looks basically like the following:

1. A will lead to B.
2. B will lead to C.
3. C will lead to D.
4. Therefore, A will lead to D.

These claims are simply that -- claims. There is no argument attached to support the propositions that A will lead to B or B will lead to C, etc. But suppose my argument looks like the following:

1. A will lead to B because . . . .
2. B will lead to C because . . . .
3. C will lead to D because . . . .
4. Therefore, A will lead to D.

In this circumstance, I have given reasons for each step of the slope. Now, it may be that my reasons do not support the statement. Thus, I could say "The upcoming G5 Summit will lead to war because the sky is blue." In such a case, there is no rational basis for concluding that because the sky is blue the upcoming G5 Summit will lead to war. But, if I say "The upcoming G5 Summit will lead to war because the Netherlands has promised to attack if the summit takes place," then I have given a reason supporting my view that "A will lead to B."

So, if I argue that we are sliding down the slippery slope towards killing other people who are incapable of caring for themselves, I may be committing the fallacy of slippery slope if I do not support my argument with reasons for believing that we are on the slide. However, if I can show that there are reasons to believe we are sliding down the slope, then to simply argue that because I am using a series of "A will lead to B which will lead to C . . . " statements that I am committing the slippery slope fallacy commits another logical error: the error of hasty generalization.

Consider the following argument which was made by Leo Alexander in 1949 when speaking about "mercy killings" by the Nazis:

The beginnings at first were a subtle shifting in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually, the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans.

This argument suggests that the mindset that accepts that some human life is not worthy of living led to an acceptance of mercy killing of the socially unproductive then the ideologically unwanted, then the racially unwanted, finally ending with all non-Germans. It is seen as a classic case of slippery slope by those who support euthanasia, but is it? Certainly, it claims that A led to B which led to C which led to D, etc. But are the steps unsupported? If they are unsupported, it is a fallacious argument. But if the steps are supported, then the argument is not fallacious simply because there are a series of "A leads to B"s involved.

Thus, if I assert that abortion has led to the devaluing of human life which has led to such things as the Terri Schiavo case and the acceptance of partial birth abortion, is this simply a slippery slope fallacy or is this a valid argument? It depends upon my reasons for making such an assertion. Since I don't want to post too long, I will simply leave it for readers to decide whether there has been a case made or whether these arguments are simply an assertion that "some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question." However, I will leave you with two thoughts that I believe demonstrates that we are slipping down a real slope:

1. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion was constitutionally protected in Roe v. Wade, the court stated that from the point of viability to birth, abortion could be prohibited except as to protect the life of the mother. In the on-going debate over Partial Birth Abortion (which is actually infanticide because the baby is 90% born before being killed), the viability of the baby seems to be irrelevant. Consider the following about the infamous Dr. Haskell -- one of the leading providers of partial birth abortions:

In 1993, the American Medical News-- the official newspaper of the AMA-- conducted a tape-recorded interview with Dr. Haskell concerning this specific abortion method, in which he said:

And I'll be quite frank: most of my abortions are elective in that 20-24 week range. . . . In my particular case, probably 20% [of this procedure] are for genetic reasons. And the other 80% are purely elective.

In a lawsuit in 1995, Dr. Haskell testified that women come to him for partial-birth abortions with "a variety of conditions. Some medical, some not so medical." Among the "medical" examples he cited was "agoraphobia" (fear of open places). Moreover, in testimony presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 17, 1995, ob/gyn Dr. Nancy Romer of Dayton (the city in which Dr. Haskell operates one of his abortion clinics) testified that three of her own patients had gone to Haskell's clinic for abortions "well beyond" 4 1/2 months into pregnancy, and that "none of these women had any medical illness, and all three had normal fetuses."

For what reasons are partial-birth abortions usually performed?

2. In the 1990's, Dr. Jack Kervorkian, a.k.a., Jack the Dripper, was sent to jail in Michigan for second degree murder when he ended the life of a terminally ill patient. Physician-assisted suicide is illegal in all but a handful of states. Over thirty states have enacted statutes prohibiting assisted suicide, and of those that do not have statutes, a number of them arguably prohibit it through common law. Yet, today, a CBS news poll shows and the St. Petersburg Times contends that majority of Americans apparently agree with Michael Schiavo that it is okay to pull the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo because she is in a persistent vegetative state and Michael Schaivo (who clearly has conflicts of interest on this point) has testified that she would have wanted to die.

Simplicity, Complexity and Design

Friend of the CADRE, David Heddle, at He Lives has an excellent post entitled "Suboptimal Design?" which is dated March 7, 2005, in which he analyzes an attack on Behe's theory of irreducible complexity and intelligent design by a blogger using the psuedonym Perakh. Perakh makes the following point:

As I have argued before (Perakh 2004), contrary to Dembski’s persistent assertions, complexity is certainly not just disguised improbability. Examples to the contrary abound. Imagine a pile of stones. Each stone has some irregular shape that resulted from a series of chance events. Among these irregularly shaped stones we find a perfectly rectangular brick. It has a simple shape which can be described by a short (i.e. simple) program containing only three numbers – width, length, and height. On the other hand each of the irregularly shaped stones can be described only by a more complex program containing many numbers. However, the probability of a rectangular brick being a result of chance is low: the brick is reasonably (with a high probability) assumed to be a product of design. For irregularly shaped stones the opposite is true – the probability of their origin in chance is larger than in design. Here the relationship between probability and complexity is opposite that prescribed by Dembski’s definition (but compatible with the definition of Kolmogorov complexity – see, for example, Chaitin 2003).

In this example simplicity rather than complexity is a marker of design. I submit that the described example shows not only that Dembski’s definition of complexity fails for certain situations but also that, generally, a more reasonable statement is that simplicity points to design while complexity as such points to chance (more about this in Perakh 2004).

If this is so, then the first part of Behe’s IC concept – complexity - is more reasonably construed as an indication of “blind” evolution rather than of design.

David makes a very astute response:

As I understand, according to Perakh, Behe claims complexity and irreducibility (of functionality) are necessary to signal design. Or, if you like, low probability and functionality. The and is crucial. As is the fact that, nowhere in this definition, is extreme, inexplicable simplicity precluded from signaling design.

So Behe’s definition does not mean a perfectly rectangular stone, because of its simplicity, does not signal design—it just doesn’t signal the type of design he is investigating, i.e. the design of complex systems. It (the rectangular stone) is a sort of trivial design in the sense that it is beyond dispute—nobody would argue that the 1×4×9 monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey would occur naturally.

To compare a perfectly rectangular stone to a garden variety stone, obviously of a more complex shape, and which all would agree is more likely to be naturally occurring, and to say that this has anything to do with Behe’s arguments, is wrong in at least two ways:

1. Behe does not say that simplicity cannot signal design

2. Behe does not say that non-functional complexity (the natural stone) is a signal of design

Perakh’s conclusion that “simplicity points to design while complexity as such points to chance” is sensible (if the complexity is not functional), but it does not refute Behe, as I understand him (which may be flawed) who (a) (I speculate) would not deny that extreme, inexplicable simplicity (a perfectly rectangular stone) points to design and (b) would not argue that complexity per se points to design, but only functional and irreducible complexity.

As noted by commentor Jim Price:

Perkah misunderstands both Behe and Dembski when he claims that "[A]ccording to Behe and Dembski, the more complex a system, the more likely it was designed". For Dembski, complexity per se isn't important, what matters is 'specified complexity'. For Behe, complexity per se isn't important, what matters is 'irreducible complexity'. The adjectives are crucial to their arguments. In fact, it's fair to say that their entire body of work consists of fleshing out what they mean by the adjectives. Hence it's very ironic that Perkah claims that 'Behe has not provided a definition of 'complexity'. Behe isn't trying to define 'complexity', he's trying to define something else, something he calls 'irreducible complexity'.

Both Mr. Price (probably no relation to Layman) and David Heddle are making a very important distinction. The science of Chaos (is it still considered a science?) had complexity as its cornerstone. The butterfly curve measured in chaotic equations is very, very complex, but I doubt anyone in the ID movement would consider the randomness built into systems to be the result of intelligence (other than in the broad sense that the randomness involved is the result of the physical laws that appear to be to precise to have been randomly generated as discussed in the teleological argument for God). Rather, it is the complexity coupled with the usefulness. A very, very simple item can be "irreducibly complex" or have the "specified complexity" if it appears to be designed perfectly for a particular system to work.

Excellent work, David.

Note added: 3/22: A e-mailer notified me that I made a mistake in saying that Perakh was a pseudonym. He said Perakh probably refers to Mark Perakh who posts at http://www.talkreason.org -- the author of "Unintelligent Design" (Prometheus Books, 2004). My apologies to Mr. Perakh.

Cleft Lips and Palates, Abortion and Discrimination in the U.K.

Hanibal Smith at The A-Team Blog has blogged on a rather horrible article from the Guardian entitled "Cleft lip abortion done 'in good faith'." The article reports on the fact that two doctors who performed a late term abortion on a child whose only reported defect was a cleft lip and palate would not be prosecuted for violating the British abortion law requiring evidence of a "serious handicap" before such an abortion can proceed.:

Doctors and health officials will consider whether more guidance on abortions is needed following the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute two doctors who authorised a late abortion on a foetus with a cleft lip and palate.

Jim England, the chief crown prosecutor for West Mercia, said the doctors believed, in good faith, that there was a substantial risk the child would be seriously handicapped.

* * *

Joanna Jepson, 28, now at St Michael's Church, Chester, but then a trainee vicar, found out about the procedure in 2002 when studying abortion statistics and suggested that it amounted to unlawful killing.

Yesterday Ms Jepson said: "While I'm disappointed about the CPS's decision to drop the case, I am pleased the case has raised the issue of late-term abortion and the plight of disabled babies in late-term pregnancy. It has exposed grave discrimination and I will be seeking legal advice."

Excuse me? I may not be well versed in the laws of England, but it seems to me that it is difficult to find a basis on which a cleft lip and palate can be considered a "serious handicap" -- serious enough to warrant killing the unborn child. I doubt that those who are members of the Cleft Lip and Palate Association ("CLAPA"), who assert that "one in every 600-700 children in the UK is born with a cleft lip and/or palate" would agree that it is a "serious handicap."

Is it a serious handicap under British law? According to LifeNews.com in a 2003 article about this same case:

Under British law, an abortion cannot be preformed after the 24th week unless there is risk of a serious handicap. As cleft palate is routinely corrected by surgery and Rev. Joanna Jepson argues that the police should have enforced the law and prosecuted the abortion practitioner.

* * *

"While there is no definition of serious handicap, the common understanding of the man in the street is that cleft palate is a fairly common condition and repaired routinely,” said Jepson’s attorney, Paul Conrathe. "We are asking for a ruling that cleft palate is not a serious handicap and that the police have misdirected themselves in law."

The article is correct in noting that cleft palates are routinely corrected by surgery. According to the CLAPA on their page of treatments for cleft lips and palates:

A cleft lip is usually surgically repaired by the time a baby is 2-3 months old. It requires a general anaesthetic and takes roughly one and a half hours. The surgeon re-arranges the skin and muscles of the lip so no skin grafting from other parts of the body is needed.

Most babies recover very quickly and will not experience much pain after this operation. Medication is given for any discomfort. The hospital stay for this operation is between 3 - 5 days. A parent is usually welcome to stay in hospital with the child.

Feeding after the lip operation is not usually a problem.

* * *

The palate is usually repaired by the time a baby is a year old. The tissues of the palate are re-arranged but no extra tissue from other parts of the body is used. The operation is, like the lip repair, carried out under general anaesthetic and takes approximately one and a half hours.

It is difficult to imagine circumstances under which a cleft lip and palate would constitute a "serious handicap" such as to support a belief that children with such mild deformities should be aborted. It seems reasonable that doctors could be disciplined, if not prosecuted, for performing an abortion for a cleft lip or plate since it is difficult to see how they could be considered a "serious handicap." Yet, leaving that choice to abort a child for a mild deformity appears to be exactly what British pro-choice advocates claim ought to be done -- at least they seem to favor giving the doctors unlimited discretion.

"At the moment it is down to the doctor's discretion and their decision about how severe the abnormality is," a [pro-choice] spokeswoman told BBC News.

"It was decided by two doctors that the abnormality was severe enough to allow the woman to have an abortion if that's what she wanted."

I certainly want to be careful here. It is, of course, possible that the doctors saw something more serious than a cleft lip and palate on this baby. But all I can go by is the news story which seems to have nothing in it to say that the baby had anything more than a cleft lip and palate. Thus, it seems to me fair to say that the only thing that this baby was found to have was a cleft lip and palate which these doctors determined were a severe enough handicap under the law of England so as to make abortion the best available option. But it was still just a cleft lip and palate.

It seems as if England is sliding down that slippery slope (sorry Layman) of aborting anyone who is less than perfect under the guise of "severe handicap." Am I alone in this conclusion? Consider the words of Baroness Masham of Ilton on March 16, 2004 to Parliament:

I must admit at the start that I find abortion at any time and for anyone, especially the most vulnerable, a very disturbing situation. But today we are speaking of a more specific situation and of the law. It seems that there is no definition in law of the term "serious handicap". While the situation means that doctors can and do abort on the grounds of any condition, to press for a definition of the term "serious handicap" would in effect be to sign the death warrants of those babies who fall within the definition; for instance, many with Down's syndrome or spina bifida.

Many disabled people are painfully aware that in this country doctors can abort on grounds of "serious handicap" at any time up until birth. This situation is one which clearly discriminates on the grounds of physical or mental ability. The Disability Discrimination Act came into force in 1999, and yet discrimination on eugenic grounds—

"making a pure and perfect human race"—

has got worse. I do not think that many of the public realise that disabled babies can be terminated after 24 weeks and up to full term. After all, 24 weeks is almost six months.

One of my secretaries was born with a cleft palate. She was operated on. She is a splendid girl, full of vigour, and enjoys life to the full. I am sure that many of your Lordships know people who have been born with cleft palates or hare lips. With microsurgery and surgeons' skills we are talking now of something which can be corrected. Some time ago a paediatric plastic surgeon told me that he was concerned that he was not getting enough babies with cleft palates each year to keep in best operating practice. He needed about 30 babies to operate on each year but this figure had dropped because they were being aborted.

Modern society seems to want only the perfect—designer clothes, designer babies, the immaculate fridge. There is also a growing danger of other people judging the quality of life of those they think will not have as good a life as they have themselves. Is that not playing God?

I hope that tonight's Question will alert some people who may not have realised how far down the road of discrimination we have gone, with regard to the unborn child who may or may not have a handicap.

Sad.

Fideism and Isaiah 55: 8-9

Sometimes I run into people who make the charge that it is inappropriate to try to use logic to evaluate what God does. This charge usually stems from the idea that it is inappropriate to use our logic to evaluate and/or make sense of the ways of God because our logic, like the rest of our nature, has fallen. One of the usual proof-texts for this way of thinking is found in Isaiah 55:8-9:

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts."

This type of thinking has been generally labled fideism. Fideism, according to CARM Theological Dictionary, is the "position that religious doctrines rest not on reason, but only on faith." The New Advent Encyclopedia defines fideism as "A philosophical term meaning a system of philosophy or an attitude of mind, which, denying the power of unaided human reason to reach certitude, affirms that the fundamental act of human knowledge consists in an act of faith, and the supreme criterion of certitude is authority." In other words, this view holds that matters of faith should be taken strictly on faith and reason does not enter into determining truth.

There are two objections to this line of thinking. The first is based on the Bible itself and the second is based upon the consequences of this idea.

First, with respect to the Bible, two counters are possible which, working together, destroy this idea. The first is the fact that Isaiah 1 seems to roll back the idea thtat we cannot use reason to approach God. Isaiah 1:18-20 says:

"Come now, and let us reason together,"
Says the LORD,

"Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.
If you consent and obey,
You will eat the best of the land;
But if you refuse and rebel,
You will be devoured by the sword."
Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Emphasis added.)

In this verse, the Lord, through Isaiah, clearly calls on us to reason with Him. The verses then continue to make an argument, i.e., use reason, in the logical form of modus ponens, that is, "if - then." The verse begins with the proposition that our sins are like scarlet but they can be as white as snow. How? If you obey, then you will eat of the fat of the land. However, If you rebel, then you will be devoured. Thus, God is reasoning with us in the classical form of modus ponens.

Second, the context of Isaiah 55:8-9 demonstrates that those verses do not stand for the proposition that we cannot understand the ways of God. Why not? Because Isaiah 55:7 sets the context as to whom God is speaking the words being relied upon. When God says "My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," who is He addressing? Look at Isaiah 55:7:

Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Whose thoughts are not God's thoughts? The unrighteous man's thoughts. Whose ways are not God's ways? The wicked man's ways. That is the ways and thoughts Isaiah 55:8-9 are addressing.

The logical error comes in the form of realizing that a person has to use logic to defend their belief that Isaiah 55:8 (or any other Bible verse they may point out) says that it is inappropriate to try to use logic to evaluate what God does. How so? Because someone who holds this view must also use modus ponens to make that argument. In effect, they are saying: If we have fallen, then we have also fallen in our intellect. If our intellect has fallen, then we should't use logic to evaluate what God does. But they are using reason (not faith) to argue as a religious doctrine that religious doctrines rest not on reason, but only on faith. This is erroneous thinking.

I am not saying that we have not fallen in our intellect, too. I am saying, however, that we have not fallen so far as a fideist would have you believe. We are capable of understanding some things about God, and God calls on us to use reason in looking at Him and His ways. But just because our flawed reason may lead us at times to the wrong conclusion, that is no reason to abandon the entire project. The old addage "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" seems especially applicable here.

Religion and Genetics

Researchers have published a study of identical and fraternal twins which purports to show that our "genes contribute about 40% of the variability in a person's religiousness." Another study -- by Dean Harmer in his book The God Gene -- claims that there is specific genetic material that encourages spirituality.

It would not surprise me to find that genetics plays some part in religious belief, though pegging down numbers like "40%" seems far fetched to me. It would also not surprise me if the human genetic code encouraged at least an openness to some leve of spirituality. Of course, I have yet to see a study that claims that genetics plays a preponderant role in religiousity. Nor would I expect to. I myself have gone through periods of doubt and increased faith. Some Christians convert to atheism. Some atheists and agnostics, even leading atheists like Anthony Flew, convert to theism. Ultimately, though upbringing, exposure, and experience all play their roles, openness to religion is a matter of choice.

I also thought this comment was interesting:


About a dozen studies have shown that religious people tend to share other personality traits, although it is not clear whether these arise from genetic or environmental factors. These include the ability to get along well with others and being conscientious, working hard, being punctual, and controlling one's impulses.

Anyone else see the significance, if any, of a genetic predisposition towards religiousity? In all humans or in some more than others?

Questions in the Terri Schiavo Case

First, the good news is that the U.S. Congress has issued a subpoena to have Ms. Schaivo and her (*ahem*) husband appear to testify before Congress next week. This action buys some valuable time for the Congress to act to try to protect Ms. Schiavo's life. (Note, even the Vatican has chimed in on this issue saying: "By any decent count, Mrs. Terri Schiavo can be considered a living human being, deprived of full conscience, whose legal rights must be recognized, respected and defended. The removal of the feeding tube from this person, in these conditions, can be considered direct euthanasia," the Vatican official said. "As far as we're concerned, impeding someone access to food and water represents a pitiless way to kill that person.")

However, I do have a question. As I am sitting here listening to the news, it has been mentioned on at least three occasions that Terri's (*ahem*) husband, Michael, has two children by another woman out of wedlock. Both of these children have been born to her (*ahem*) husband since Teri suffered her brain injury.

Obviously, if Teri were to improve in her condition (such as her parents' attorneys and doctors claim is possible), doesn't this create an untenable position for her (*ahem*) husband? I mean, if I were in Congress, I would ask him a very simple question: Mr. Schaivo, doesn't your cohabitation with and fathering of the children of another woman create a conflict of interest in your ability to look out for the best interests of Terri?

Here is my question for anyone who may know: when a person is granted guardianship in Florida, isn't there a provision in the guardianship papers that allow for the removal of the guardian where the guardian is shown to have a probable conflict of interest? Has this been tried? Anyone know?

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