CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I was able to make Dr. J.P. Moreland's presentation at a conference that Biola University put on, When God Seems Silent. I missed the beginning of Dr. Moreland's lecture due to traffic, but as an experienced public speaker, Dr. Moreland frequently recapped his points.

It may seem counterintuitive to begin a conference on the supposed silence of God by pointing out the ways in which God speaks to us but I thought it fitting.  Dr. Moreland acknowledged that there are times when the believer is not hearing from God and that speakers to follow would address dealing with those periods of silence, but it was his role to point out that God often is communicating with us and we should learn the ways in which He communicates. Too often we can pity ourselves as abandoned by God when we are not listening. 

  • Gifts of prophecy, wisdom, and words of knowledge. 1 Corinthians 14:11.  Dr. Moreland is no cessationist.  God speaks to us Today through words of prophecy, wisdom and knowledge.  He encouraged Christians to pray for and about these words and give God time to speak in through the gifts of the Spirit.   
  • Dreams. God spoke to people throughout the Old Testament through dreams, but God's speaking through dreams is also attested in the New Testament.  Most memorably in Matthew's Infancy Narrative but remember also Peter's preaching that "Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams."  Acts 2:17.  
  • Putting Thoughts in Your Mind. Unfortunately, I missed most of this one, but derived from references back and allusions that Dr. Moreland believes that God will speak to us through verbal statements in our mind, such as "Speak to that Person About ___."
  • Angelic Visitation.  Angels communicate God's word to people throughout the Old and New Testaments.   Dr. Moreland emphasized that angels speak to people today or may just communicate by their visible presence.  He shared a personal experience he had that was confirmed by at least one other believer.  It was during this point (as I recall) that Dr. Moreland made a simple but -- I think -- crucial point.  "We live in a supernatural world."  Do not be shy about things such as angelic visitations or even dreams, for our worldview is a supernatural one or it is nothing. 
  • Impressions.  Dr. Moreland describes impressions as "prelinguistic" and "not thought," but a "sense of something." He provided a personal example, were he was at a meeting and had an impression about someone there who he did not know. As Dr. Moreland approached the man he prayed and received a word of knowledge that he relayed to the man. The man received the word and confirmed that he had been struggling with the particular issue that Dr. Moreland addressed.
  • Providential Circumstances.  Sometimes God speaks to us through circumstances, things that happen in our lives.  Dr. Moreland suggested using the following criteria to help determine whether God is speaking in this way.  First, the event at issue should be something that is very improbable.  Second, the event should have special significance.  Dr. Moreland used the example of trying to choose a place to live and having had an ideal house in mind and one becoming available in an unlikely way in a particular location that fit he and his wife's dream home. 
Dr. Moreland emphasized that for all of these one had to learn how to recognize that it is God speaking.  He admitted, as we all must, to having been wrong at times when we thought God had spoken to us.  This should not surprise us.  We live in a fallen world in fallen states ourselves.  But as we grow as Christians, with mature teaching, Bible study, fellowship, and earnest prayer, we can develop our ability to discern when it is God speaking in different ways.  Having missed the beginning I hesitate to suggest that Dr. Moreland did not emphasize the role of the Bible in God's communicating with us; but I missed it if he did.  I would very much like to have had the opportunity to ask him about that. 

I also enjoyed the worship that follow Dr. Moreland, led by Lovelite.  Many of the approximately 500 students left after Dr. Moreland left -- it was getting late to be at school on a Friday evening and I took it that the lecture was all that was required for chapel credits -- but a good 200-300 students stayed for the worship.  

A couple of months ago, Julian Baggini presented a proposal for a "Heathen Manifesto" in the electronic (and maybe print) pages of the United Kingdom magazine The Guardian. Having recently heard of it, and reading it through, I have very few complaints, none of them more than trivial--except of course where we principly disagree on metaphysics, as supernaturalist theists and naturalistic atheists logically do.

I warmly recommend readers check out the article at the link above; and then click on the jump for some commentary.

I've been doing a series on Greta Christina's laughably bad reasons why we shouldn't believe in God. In my most recent post I examined her claim that all religious arguments are 'ridiculously weak', and noted that she linked to certain posts on her own blog where she examines some of those arguments in more detail. I'm going to take a break from the regular series and look at some of these, starting with her post on fine-tuning.

Things are not off to a promising start with her description of the fine-tuning argument:

The Universe is perfectly fine-tuned to allow life to come into being. The distance of the Earth from the Sun, the substance and depth of the atmosphere, the orbit of the Moon, the nature of matter and energy, the very laws of physics themselves… all are perfectly tuned to let life happen. If any of them had been different by even a small amount, there could not have been life on Earth. And the odds against this fine-tuning are astronomical. Therefore, the Universe, and all these details about it, must have been created this way on purpose. And the only imaginable being that could have created the universe and fine-tuned it for life is God.
The problems begin with her description of the Universe as 'perfectly' fine-tuned for life. She apparently thinks that when fine-tuning proponents say the Universe is fine-tuned, they mean that it is perfectly hospitable to life, a veritable cocoon of mild, pleasant conditions which allow life to flourish. Thus she sarcastically subtitles the second section of her post "Bitter Expanses of Cold and Blasting Chaotic Heat-The Perfect Vacation Spot!" She then goes on to object:

The overwhelming majority of the universe consists of unimaginably huge vastnessess of impossibly cold empty space… punctuated at rare intervals by comets, asteroids, meteors (some of which might hit us, by the way, also negating the “perfectly designed for human life” concept), cold rocks, blazingly hot furnaces of incandescent gas, the occasional black hole, and what have you. The overwhelming majority of the universe is, to put it mildly, not fine-tuned for life.
However, the fine-tuning argument does NOT include the claim that the Universe is perfectly hospitable to human life or any other life for that matter, if by hospitable we mean that conditions are comfortable for humans or other life forms. Rather, the claim is that the Universe is set up to permit the emergence of life at all. The claim is that, of all the possible ways a world could be, in terms of its fundamental constants and physical laws, the number of life-permitting ways is vanishingly small. As Paul Davies has noted, "'anthropic' reasoning fails to distinguish between minimally biophilic universes, in which life is permitted, but only marginally possible, and optimally biophilic universes, in which life flourishes because biogenesis occurs frequently ..." Never mind whether the Universe is hospitable to human life; that it allowed human life to evolve at all is what is so surprising and in need of explanation, given that the vast majority of combinations of constants and physical laws do not allow any life to evolve. To take just two examples: 1) if the gravitational constant were just a little larger than it currently is, any stars that managed to form would burn out quickly and form black holes, preventing the formation of stable solar systems in which life forms could evolve; 2) if the strong nuclear force were just 2% stronger than it currently is, all of the initial hydrogen formed after the Big Bang would have fused into diprotons, thus short-circuiting the formation of heavier elements required to create planets on which life could evolve. 

Thus, Christina's stock recital of the vastness and coldness of the Universe is beside the point, as is her complaint that the conditions which enabled the emergence of life on Earth are only temporary in the grand scheme of things. It is no objection to the fine-tuning argument that the Universe is inhospitable to life.

(NB: This lack of hospitality can be exaggerated, however, and there are plenty of atheist physicists who affirm that the Universe is not just minimally biophilic. For example, Leonard Susskind says that "Our own universe is an extraordinary place that appears to be fantastically well designed for our own existence.")

The fact that the fine-tuning argument only rests on the claim that the Universe is minimally biophilic also rebuts Christina's invocation of Douglas Adams' puddle analogy:
Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!
The idea is that the Universe seems to have been fine-tuned for life, but really the correct way to think about this is that we have evolved to fit our habitat, instead of our habitat having been designed to fit us. But this is where the above discussion becomes relevant. Once again, the basic claim upon which the fine-tuning argument is based is that the number of life-permitting universes, compared to the total number of possible universes, is vanishingly small. The idea is that the other universes would not allow ANY sort of life to evolve, not even life with a different physical basis. These other universes do not allow for the formation of complex chemical and biological structures, are incredibly short-lived, are permeated with high-intensity radiation, etc. Now there are indeed cases, of which Douglas Adams' sentient puddle would be one, of things being adapted to circumstances rather than the other way around. The fact that Tarzan, for example, grows up to become very lean, muscular and athletic, does not imply that his jungle habitat was intentionally designed to fit his muscular figure, but rather that he himself adapted to that environment. But fine-tuning is not one of those cases. It is by all accounts, even that of most atheist cosmologists (see here for more examples), a case of the circumstances seeming to fit the object.

Another objection Christina makes to the argument is that vastly improbable events happen every day which we take no notice of, because one or another equally improbable event was bound to happen, so there is no reason to demand a special explanation of fine-tuning, even if it is improbable:
Here’s an analogy. I just rolled a die ten times (that’s a six-sided die, all you D&D freaks), and got the sequence 3241154645. The odds against that particular sequence coming up are astronomical. Over 60 million to one. Does that mean that this sequence was designed to come up? Or think of it this way. The odds against me, personally being born? They’re beyond astronomical. The chances that, of my mom’s hundreds of eggs and my dad’s hundreds of millions of sperm, this particular sperm and egg happened to combine to make me? Ridiculously unlikely. Especially when you factor in the odds against my parents being born… and against their parents being born… and their parents, and theirs, and so on and so on and so on. The chances against me, personally, having been born are so vast, it’s almost unimaginable. But does that mean I was destined to be born? Does that mean we need to concoct an entire philosophy and theology to explain The Improbability of Greta-ness?
Once again, however, she misunderstands the point fine-tuning proponents are making when they claim that the improbability of fine-tuning demands an explanation. It is not just the improbability itself that is noteworthy, but the significance of the outcome as well. 

Let's use her own example for a minute. Suppose a gambler is rolling a die and is betting that he can guess the outcome in advance. Suppose he predicts that the sequence will come up 3241154645, and it comes out exactly as predicted. Would the other betters simply shrug their shoulders and dismiss the outcome, reasoning that some such sequence was bound to come up? No, they would quite reasonably suspect that something more than chance was involved in determining the outcome. Or suppose you owe loan sharks $26,650 and unless you give them the money by tomorrow they will come for you. Then suppose the morning the debt is due you find an unmarked envelope on your porch containing exactly $26,650. Would it be reasonable to dismiss the exactitude of the amount and its timing as mere coincidence? Or should you rather conclude that someone meant for you to have that money in response to your plight?

On the other hand, we don't stop to wonder if we roll a die ten times in a row and get the sequence 3241154645, if the roll is not connected to any independently significant outcome. We begin to suspect intentionality only when we have more to go on. The moral of the story is that we must distinguish between improbable events for which there is no reason to suspect intentionality (or at least, an overarching intentionality), such as Greta's coming to be born, and improbable events which do suggest an overarching intentionality, as in the case of your receiving exactly the amount of money you need to pay off the loan shark. Because Greta fails to make this distinction, this objection also falls flat.

My examination of Greta's 'arguments' is beginning to sadden me. How can anyone rest content with being so obviously intellectually lazy?

Skeptics, and sometimes New Testament scholars, are dismissive of Gospel accounts of “behind the scenes” events, such as Judas’ visiting the chief priests, Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, or the proceedings before Pilate. This is often due, in part at least, to the purported impossibility that the Gospel authors had access to any sources of what happened behind the scenes. Setting aside the possibility of Jesus attesting to some of this himself -- which historians are reluctant to include in their analysis but Christians should consider -- the dismissive way in which skeptics and some historians reject these accounts out of hand is unjustified. History is replete with examples of much more “secret” or “closed” proceedings having their happenings disclosed to the very people you would assume lacked access.

Take the Siege of Malta. In 1565, the Turks invested the Island of Malta, determined to take it away from the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights had used the strategically placed island as their base of operations, launching galley attacks on Muslim shipping and generally being a thorn in the Ottoman Sultan’s plans for domination of the Mediterranean and the invasion of Sicily and Italy. Long before the sizable Turkish fleet set sail, however, the Knights knew of the Turkish plans. And long before the Turks set sail, the Turks had detailed plans of the Knights’ defenses. Agents for both sides were busy in Constantinople and Malta.

But more to the point is that during the siege itself, neither side could keep its top secret councils of war out of enemy hands. Shortly after arriving ashore, the Ottomans held a council of war to decide their next step. The decision was made to lay siege to Fort St. Elmo, guarding one side of the Grand Harbor. Not only the decision, but the details of the Ottoman plans, were betrayed to the Knights by two renegade defectors. “One of them had been a personal guard to Mustapha Pasha and had been present that very evening when the Turkish war council had met. Valette learned from him that the decision had been taken to invest Fort St Elmo first of all.” The Great Siege: Malta 1565, by Ernle Bradford, Chapter 9. See also Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for he Center of the World, by Roger Crowley, Chapter 9.

As improbable as it may seem, the Knights were privy to the highest secret councils of their Muslim adversaries. But then, the Muslims also gained access to the Knight’s councils of war, as well. A top Spanish soldier -- Francisco de Aguilar -- aiding the Knights in the defense of Malta provided a wealth of detailed information to the Ottomans. Aguilar strolled out to the front lines, claimed he was going to snipe at the enemy, and promptly switched sides. “This defection was extremely serious. Aguilar was a highly rated and trusted man. He was well informed. He had often been present at discussions between Marshal de Robles and La Valette: he had heard a great deal of confidential discussion about the plight of the defenders--frank talks about the fortifications, details of the guard’s daily routines, weapon supplies, and tactics. All this was now in Mustapha’s hands.” Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for he Center of the World, Roger Crowley, Chapter 13.

As these examples show, what is presumed “top secret” and “unknown” need not be so. Compared to the councils of war in the Siege of Malta, the “proceedings” before the Sanhedrin and Pilate were hardly state secrets. Moreover, there are early Christian traditions that there were Jesus sympathizers -- such as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus -- among the Jewish and Roman officials. These traditions appear to pre-date even Paul’s conversion from Jewish persecutor to Christian evangelist. Whatever Paul’s exact relationship was to the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, he obviously had one and had learned enough from them to convince him that Jesus deserved his death and that Jesus’ followers were a serious threat. Although the Gospels do not name any particular defector or source, it likely never occurred to them that it was necessary to do so. Moreover, the failure to advertise the presence of particular Christians or Jesus sympathizers among the Jewish or Roman leadership in Jerusalem following the execution of Jesus and persecution of his followers is understandable. At the very least, the simple, dismissive approach to the possibility of sources behind the recounting of these proceedings is unjustified.

Last time I posted, I began an examination of the claims of Joel Hoffman that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. I have already given my reasons for rejecting Hoffman's relativistic claim that those who argue that homosexuality is a sin are somehow arguing from preconceptions and not from the Bible. So, the question becomes: is the view of the individuals who believe homosexual marriage is Biblically proscribed more correctly understanding the Bible or is Hoffman? Hoffman argues that the incorrect reading of Leviticus shows that people who oppose homosexual marriage are wrong. He says,
The first comes from the many people who use Leviticus 18:22 — about a “man who lies with man as with a woman” — to defend anti-homosexual positions. (For some reason, this stance seems particularly popular among mega-church leaders, who really ought to know better: Rick Warren, for example, or Joel Osteen, who recently told CNN that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin.)

It’s true that Leviticus 18:22 seems to discourage homosexuality, and though it stops short of specifically calling it a sin (which is why I think Pastor Osteen is wrong — more here), I’m not convinced by those who try to interpret the text as being about anything other than homosexuality.

But the very same section of the Bible also prohibits making clothes by combining different materials (Leviticus 19:19), technically known as sha’atnez.

So unless Pastor Warren, Pastor Osteen, and those of their ilk are willing to take a public and vehement position against wool-and-cotton clothing, I have no patience for their argument that they are locked into their anti-homosexual position by the Bible. They are not. They are choosing the verses they like, and, apparently, they like to hate homosexuality.

For a Biblical scholar, Hoffman's post shows a remarkable lack of discernment. First, let me acknowledge that Hoffman is correct: Leviticus 18:22 does not use the word "sin" in reference to homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 reads: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." The word "abomination" means "a vile, shameful, or detestable action, condition, habit, etc." The Hebrew word translated as "abomination" is "תּוֹעֵבָה" or "tow`ebah" which is tranlated "a disgusting thing, abomination, abominable." The same word is translated by the NASB in Leviticus 20:13 as a detestable act.

Now, I guess you can all me crazy, but I tend to think that an act that is called detestable, disgusting, vile or shameful can be categorized as a sin even if the word "sin" isn't used. I have already set forth my understanding of "sin" in a post entitled What is Sin and How Can I Explain It? As I said in that post, sin is "missing the mark", i.e., anything that a person does that is not perfectly consistent with what God would do in the same circumstances "misses the mark" and is therefore sin. Obviously, if the Scriptures (which are the Word of God) say that something is vile, detestable, disgusting and/or shameful, it cannot possibly not be a sin as I understand it.

Moreover, even Hoffman acknowledges that the Leviticus verse identifies lying with a man as one lies with a woman as a bad thing. Hoffman links an article in his blog entry entitled Who Says Homosexuality is a Sin? on a website that he apparently authors entitled God Didn't Say That: Bible Translations and Mistranslations as further support for his position. This article provides more of the same, but in more detail in a response to the New Living Translation translating tow`ebah as a "detestable sin" instead of abomination. Hoffman argues that translating tow`ebah in that fashion is an interpretation and not a translation. In other words, it is adding editorial comment to the verse rather than allowing the verse to speak for itself. But, at the same time, he admits that the verse is probably applying to homosexuality (although limited to male homosexuality in its lanugage) and he further agrees that the word "abomination" is probably appropriate for the description. He writes:
The Hebrew word to’evah occurs often enough that it’s not hard to figure out what it means. For example, in Genesis 43:32, the Egyptians don’t eat with the Hebrews because it is a to’evah for the Egyptians. Similarly, “every shepherd” is a to’evah to the Egyptians according to Genesis 46:34. Deuteronomy 14:3 helps us out further: “Do not eat any to’evah”; from context the to’evah is unkosher animals. Proverbs 21:27 teaches that the sacrifice of the wicked is a to’evah. In the moving lament in Psalm 88, verse 9 (also numbered verse 8, and in the LXX numbered Psalm 87:9) includes the woe that God has made the author a to’evah to his acquaintances.All of this evidence — and more — points in the direction of "undesirable thing" for to’evah. The standard translation "abomination" is probably mostly right. (I sometimes wonder if “taboo” was included in the meaning.)
Okay, so where is Hoffman really in disagreement with Osteen? Certainly, Hoffman correctly notes that the Bible doesn't use the word "sin", but his own argument shows that he agrees when Osteen attributes to the Bible the perfectly reasonable conclusion that it is a sin because it is clearly called an abomination which would seem to necessarily include sin. Okay, so the word sin isn't used in Leviticus 18:22, but is Osteen ultimately wrong if we don't split hairs?

But, Hoffman might respond, even if we don't split hairs, the Bible also identifies the combining of cloths as a sin, doesn't it? Obviously, Hoffman argues, we don't hold the same vehemence against wool-and-cotton clothing so homosexuality isn't a sin. With all due respect, this is a poor argument for several reasons.

First, the argument is logically flawed. If I read a book that correctly identifies a Corvette as a car in one chapter, but wrongly identifies a John Deere as a car in another chapter, does that mean that a Corvette is not a car? No, of course not. So, even if it were the case that the combining of two materials in clothing is identified as a sin when it really is not a sin (which I think is a wrong reading of the text), does that mean that homosexuality is also not a sin? It does not appear to follow.

Along the same line, why does Hoffman have to search for the two different materials verse to show that homosexuality is wrong? What Hoffman calls "the very same section of the Bible" (Leviticus 19:19) is actually the next chapter, Why doesn't he choose some of the nearby verses in chapter 18 such as the verses that says the children should not be offered as sacrifices to Molech (verse 21), the verse that says you shouldn't sleep with your neighbors wife (verse 20), the verse that says you shouldn't have sex with animals (veres 23) -- all of which are closer to the homosexuality verse than the two types of cloth verse? Well, obviously, it is because these activities are almost universally acknowledged as wrong.

Moreover, Hoffman is not even right in suggesting that the wearing of clothing made of two different materials somehow applies to 21st Century Christians. Leviticus 19:19 says, "You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material." So, is the cross-breeding of cattle and planting two different types of seeds in a single field a prohibition of these same things in the 21st Century? Pastor Warren, Pastor Osteen "and others of their ilk" would seem to be justified in saying that this is not the same thing. Here's why: The laws of the Old Testament can roughly be put into three categories. According to the New Advent Encyclopedia,

The Divine Law of the Old Testament, or the Mosaic Law, is commonly divided into civil, ceremonial, and moral precepts. The civil legislation regulated the relations of the people of God among themselves and with their neighbours; the ceremonial regulated matters of religion and the worship of God; the moral was a Divine code of ethics.

The ceremonial law was clearly designed to separate the Hebrew people from the other, pagan societies that would be surrounding them. These laws in include the Verse 19:19 seems quite clearly to be a shadowing or type of God's desire that the people of Israel should remain separate and distinct from the cultures around them. Thus, there are verses against mixing of certain things (two different seeds in the same field, two different breeds of cattle, and two different types of cloth in the same garment) which seem to be a ceremonial law which emphasizes the idea that God's people should not mix with the pagan cultures around them.

Allow me make a brief side note: in saying that homosexuality is identified as a sin, I am not saying that it is a worse sin than any other. While I think that an argument can be made that the word "abomination" makes it worse sins (and it seems that Jesus makes it clear that some sins are considered worse than others in Matthew 18:6), I am not certain that I agree with those arguments and am not advancing them here. So, by saying that homosexuality is a sin, I am not saying that people who claim a homosexual orientation or engage in a homosexual act should be treated any worse than a person who commits the sin of giving to the needy for show and not out of love which is also a sin (Matthew 6:2).

So, it seems to me that the very foundation of Joel Hoffman's argument is flawed. While I am no fan of Osteen, Hoffman's definitely loses this battle.

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