Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Gospel harmonization

1. Gospel harmonization may sometimes seem to be an exercise in special pleading. Inerrantists indulge in face-saving harmonizations. Liberals say the real explanation is due to different Gospels using divergent, independent traditions. 

2. However, there are problems with the liberal explanation even on its own terms. For one thing, the mainstream view of the Synoptic problem is that Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source. When that's the case, you can't chalk the differences up to independent divergent traditions. Moreover, this isn't a conservative view of the Synoptic problem. Rather, most NT scholars all along the theological spectrum think Matthew and Luke are indebted to Mark.

3. Apropos (ii), scholars often use redaction criticism to account for Synoptic variants. But on that explanation, the difference isn't due to independent divergent traditions, but editorial activity, such as audience adaptation or narrative strategy.

4. Among other things, William F. Buckley was a novelist. He once said that in every novel he wrote he included one major coincidence. Although a coincidence is unlikely, unlikely events happen in real life, so it would be unrealistic if nothing unlikely, nothing coincidental, happened in his plots. 

By the same token, it's unlikely that Jesus was anointed twice. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Indeed, that doesn't mean there's a presumption against it. 

It's not special pleading to think the Lukan anointing is a different event from a somewhat similar event reported in Matthew, Mark, and John. That would be a striking coincidence, but that sort of thing happens in real life.

5. I think it's a worthwhile exercise to produce a chronological life of Christ based on the Gospels. However, I don't view the four Gospels as raw material for reconstructing the life of Christ. These aren't packages which were meant to be torn apart. These were written to be read as integral wholes. 

The notion of going behind the text to determine what really happened is invidious. Since, moreover, the Gospels are generally our only source of information, there are inherent limits to harmonization. We can't automatically use one Gospel as the benchmark that controls the direction of harmonization. If we have different accounts of the same event, we can't necessary say which one tells when or where it really took place, while the other represents a topical rearrangement. Sometimes there are narrative clues, but sometimes not. And it doesn't bother me if we can't always sort this out. 

6. My general position is different from both Licona's and Lydia's. On the one hand, I don't think Licona is a terribly competent exponent of the position he's promoting. And I don't like how he frames the issue, in terms of Roman bioi as a standard of comparison. In addition, his whole approach is rather flippant.

That said, there's an a priori character to Lydia's position, in terms of how she defines historicity. Essentially dictating to the Gospel authors how they are allowed to narrate history. I don't agree with Lydia's stipulative criteria. Ironically, Lydia's evidentialism is quite presuppositional in its own way. 

We need to accept Biblical history as it comes to us. Moreover, the reason the issue of Gospel harmonization crops up in the first place is because we do have variant accounts in the Gospels. It isn't based on comparing the Gospels to Roman bioi. 

The very examples that provoke these debates give us reason to make allowance for certain narrative strategies. Furthermore, we have OT counterparts. We have "synoptic" OT accounts. Parallel reports with variants. 

7. Lydia raises a valid question regarding the presence or absence of narrative clues that would indicate to the reader when the sequence is topical rather than chronological, when there's narrative compression, &c. That's a valid question, especially in reference to Licona's position. 

i) One clue involves parallel accounts. That, in itself, supplies a frame of reference. Comparing and contrasting Biblical accounts of the same events. That clues the reader to take these differences into consideration. The very phenomena that give rise to this discussion provides a backdrop.

ii) But there's also the question of what a reader was entitled to expect. It is reasonable for a 1C reader to presume the sequence is chronological unless there's some literary notice to the contrary? Is it reasonable for a 1C reader to presume the record is unabbreviated unless there's some literary notice to the contrary? I don't think so.

8. To judge by Lydia's discussion of Licona's video presentation (which I haven't watched), there appear to be some similarities between what he is saying and evangelical NT scholars say. In that respect it's not out in left field.

Take the cleansing of the temple. Both Keener, in his commentary on John (1:518), and Block, in his recent commentary on Mark (291n498), think this was a single event, which John transposes. Likewise, both Craig Blomberg, in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (2nd ed., 216ff.), and Vern Poythress, in Inerrancy and the Gospels (133ff.), regard that a legitimate interpretive option. 

Likewise, in reference to the healing of the centurion's son, the explanation that Luke is more detailed, that it was emissaries who spoke on behalf of the centurion, whereas Matthew, through narrative compression, collapses that distinction, is a standard evangelical harmonization. That's defended by scholars like Bock ("Precision and Accuracy"), Blomberg (ibid. 176), and Poythress (ibid. 17ff.). That's the function of spokesmen. And 1C readers would be expected to share that cultural preunderstanding. 

I'm not using that as an argument from authority. The fact that I can cite conservative scholars who take that position doesn't make it correct. But I wonder how conversant Lydia is with the landscape of evangelical Biblical scholarship. 

Again, it's a good thing to have folks from a different discipline interact with Biblical scholarship. Biblical scholarship can become ingrown and hidebound. It's useful to have a fresh perspective. 

9) Regarding the withering of the fig tree, we need to distinguish between what Matthew actually says and what a reader imagines. It's natural for readers to form mental images of what they read. And I think that's a good practice.

So a reader might visualize the fig tree shriveling up right before the disciples' eyes in a matter of moments. That, however, is not what Matthew says. We need to differentiate how we picture the event from how Matthew depicts the event. Matthew's description is much vaguer.

10) Lydia says:

The difficulty is that apparently this same anointing, which John appears to place on the Saturday before the triumphal entry, is quite explicitly stated to have happened two days before the Passover in Mark 14, and Mark is extremely chronological in his telling of the events of Passion Week.

i) Assuming these are chronologically discordant accounts (of the same event), it would be a case of temporal transposition. I think Matthew, Mark, and John refer to the same event. Luke's anointing account refers to a different event. 

ii) Since John's account seems to be more firmly grounded in the setting, his would be the chronologically accurate version, while Matthew and Mark transposed it for thematic reasons–unless they didn't know when it actually happened. Events can be related in different ways. 

iii) However, as one scholar observes: 

The dinner during which Jesus was anointed (Jn 12:2-8) occurred in all probability on Saturday evening…It would be a mistake to conclude from Mt 26:2 ('after two days comes the Passover') and its parallel in Mk 14:1, that Jesus was anointed instead on Tuesday evening…For whereas the chronological marker of Jn 12:1 ('six days before…')is directly related to the anointing (12:2-8), that of Mt 26:2 ('after two days') is directly related to the plot to kill Jesus (26:3-5) and neither Mt 26:6-13 nor Mk 14:3-9 expressly relates the anointing to its context in chronological terms. K. Chamblin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary (CFP 2010), 2:1270.

11) Lydia says:

For example, if John knowingly shifted Jesus' cleansing of the Temple by three years to the beginning of his ministry (which would seem to be precisely the sort of thing Licona means by "displacement") and no such cleansing took place then, that is a _serious_ failure of historical reliability, and frankly, if you or Licona or anybody else defines "reliability" differently, you can just have your concept, and I'll stick with mine.

But that confounds narrative sequence with chronological sequence. In the Synoptics, the cleansing of the temple is firmly grounded in the narrative setting. By contrast, it doesn't have those chronological connectives in John. It isn't linked to what precedes it or follows it. So readers don't have to right to presume that it must have taken place at that juncture. The narrative itself doesn't make that claim. 

12) Lydia says:

The question is just whether Jairus already knew, and said at the outset, that his daughter was dead, or whether he said that she was on the point of dying.

i) For starters, the notion that Matthew's account on the incident reflects narrative compression is a standard evangelical harmonization. That's not just Licona. 

ii) In addition, we need to distinguish between direct and indirect discourse. Between what the narrator says and what he quotes a character saying.

Inerrancy doesn't not entail that whatever a character says is true. Inerrancy primarily refers to the narrator.

Inerrancy doesn't mean Jairus is inerrant in how he expressed himself. Jairus wasn't speaking under divine inspiration.

This, in turn, raises the question of how a narrator should quote a speaker. There's a paradoxical sense in which, if someone makes an inaccurate statement, an accurate quote may preserve the inaccuracy. If you're quoting someone, you're not necessarily endorsing what they say. Rather, you're simply reporting what they said. If they made an inaccurate statement, that's what you report.

On the other hand, there might be occasions where, out of charity, a narrator will correct an incorrect statement when quoting a person based on what the person intended to say. Sometimes it's clear what a speaker meant to say, even if he misspoke or expressed himself poorly.

So, when quoting a character, there are occasions when it would be appropriate for the narrator to improve on the original statement. It's not a verbatim quote. Rather, it's what the speaker meant to say, but failed to say. A narrator might clarify what he meant by restating it. That's an editorial judgment call.

“Traditionalist” Roman Catholics anticipate the death of “Pope Francis” with trepidation

“It’s no good being pope. They’re planning
already for my death!”
In looking to the next conclave, the “Traditionalist” Roman Catholics over at Rorate Caeli – these are not those who have split off (they are neither “sedevacantists” or SSPX – they still believe Bergoglio is a real pope) – are really anticipating that Bergoglio is merely “antiChrist lite” and there is a really bad pope waiting in the wings. His great sin will be to “make Eucharist by freeing oneself from the rituals” – which is code for something like “encouraging a free-for-all in worship far worse than the ‘folk masses’ of the 1970’s”. That move will be attended by other major compromises to “the faith”.

Watch Out - Great Editorial Manoeuvres Signal Cardinal Tagle
Today, when, in the ecclesisastical milieux opposed to the Bergoglian establishment, the "candidacy" of Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, is mentioned, the subject is barely worthy of attention. And yet, the great editorial manoeuvres have started with him!

Vaticanist Cindy Wooden, who directs Catholic News Service, has published his biography, Luis Antonio Tagle: Leading by Listening (Liturgical Press, 2015). Qualified as a "Cardinal of the Poor", a man who listens, a man of dialogue, he is presented as being at the edge of the new evangelization. The book is being translated in several languages, including in French. In Italy, always on the same theme of "the man of evangelization" and "the poor", yet another book on Cardinal Tagle is to appear, "Dio non dimentica i poveri. La mia vita, la mia lotta, le mie speranze" (God does not forget the poor: My life, my struggle, my hope) [Editrice Missionaria Italiana].

Tagle, an intelligent man, with no exceptional personality, young (not yet 59), staunchly liberal, is the ideal character to solidify the hopes of all those who do not wish that the pontificate of Pope Francis be a simple parenthesis. In a previous article of February 9, 2015, we wrote here that this son of the Manila upper class had obtained his university degrees in the United States (on the theme of Episcopal Collegiality), and had taken part in the works of the team that had supervised the monumental History of Vatican II, edited by the ultra-progressive School of Bologna (Giuseppe Alberigo and Alberto Melloni). He had as his mentor Father Catalino Arevalo, Filipino Jesuit, who was acknowledged by the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences as the "Father of Asian Theology", a local version of Liberation Theology. Fr. Catalino Arevalois a disciple of Jürgen Moltmann and of his "trinitarian theology", that considers the Trinity as an "event", fabricated, to say it in a simple way, by the event of the Cross, where God made Jesus his "Son" and obtained his "identity" as "Father". It was Moltmann's disciple that Benedict XVI, always particularly sensitive to academic relationships, made Archbishop of Manila in 2011 and Cardinal in 2012.

An enthusiastic elector of Pope Francis in 2013, he met him again at the time of his apostolic voyage to the Philippines in January 2015. Francis placed him in front of him, to the point that numerous journalists started treating him as the "heir". One of his most powerful supporters, the Honduran cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, coordinator of the Council of 9 Cardinals charged by the Pope of proposing ideas for the famous reform of the Curia had him elected president of Caritas Internationalis on May 14 2015, with a majority of 91 over 133 representatives, as a defender of the marginalized.

The liturgical ideas of Cardinal Tagle? They are well expressed by his predecessor, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, Emeritus of Manila, who, during a mass presided by Cardinal Tagle last January 26, at the 51st Internationzal Eucharistic Congress, which took place in Cebu, Philippines, encouraged to "make Eucharist by freeing oneself from the rituals".

A Co-President of the two last Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, in 2014 and 2015, he had made himself known, at a press conference in the Holy Office Press Office, by these words: "In this Synod, the Spirit of Vatican II has made itself manifest in the Fathers." In her book, Cindy Wooden presents the Cardinal of Manila as a man of the future, one of the great future pastors of the Church. What Saint Charles Borromeo was for the Council of Trent, Luis Antonio Tagle would be for the Vatican II: the example of a new way of governing in the Church. It is, anyway, the image that is being desperately "put on sale"...

Further thoughts on Tuggy's challenge

"Further Thoughts on Tuggy’s Challenge" by Prof. James Anderson.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Last time I checked Real Clear Politics, which had the tally at 84%, NH proved to be a better night for the liberal/moderate candidates (Trump/Kasich/Jeb) than the more conservative candidates (Cruz, Rubio). That's not surprising. NH is a blue state. It says a lot about NH voters that they like Trump so much. Unfortunately, what it says about them isn't good. 

Cruz survives. Rubio was hurt. 

Christie may have hurt Rubio without helping himself. 

Unless the pecking order changes with additional returns, Jeb couldn't beat Cruz in a state that ought to favor a candidate like Jeb over a candidate like Cruz. Maybe Jeb can continue to limp along.

Rubio needs to up his game to stay in the game. 

At the moment it's probably a two-man race between Trump and Cruz, heading into SC. 

Are tu quoque arguments fallacious?

Some pop internet sources classify the tu quoque argument as a fallacy, but that's erroneous:

I am using ad hominem in the way Peter Geach uses it on pp. 26-27 of his Reason and Argument (Basil Blackwell 1976):
This Latin term indicates that these are arguments addressed to a particular man -- in fact, the other fellow you are disputing with. You start from something he believes as a premise, and infer a conclusion he won't admit to be true. If you have not been cheating in your reasoning, you will have shown that your opponent's present body of beliefs is inconsistent and it's up to him to modify it somewhere.
As Geach points out, there is nothing fallacious about such an argumentative  procedure. If A succeeds in showing B that his doxastic system harbors a contradiction, then not everything that B believes can be true.

Exploring the Exodus

1. Over at Debunking Christianity, apostate atheist Hector Avalos has a long review of Patterns of Evidence. I won't have much to say in response to Avalos, since his post is not a direct attack on the Exodus itself, but on a film about the Exodus. At the end of this post I will comment on one of his statements. 

I haven't seen Patterns of Evidence. But from what I've read about it, I'm concerned that the film seems to be predicated on a false premise: 

The operating assumption is that if the Exodus was a real event, there ought to be hard evidence for that event. And from reviews I've read, the film's solution is that scholars are looking for evidence within the wrong period. 

Assuming that's accurate, it's a misguided way to frame the issue. The "Exodus" is, itself, something of an umbrella term for (A) the period in which Israelites were slaves in Egypt, followed by (B) their miraculous deliverance from Egypt, followed by (C) their "40" year sojourn in the Sinai desert, followed by (D) the "Conquest" of Israel. 

2. We need to begin with a realistic understanding of what kind of physical evidence we'd expect to be available at this late date. As Edwin Yamauchi noted, in The Stones and the Scripture:

• Only a fraction of the world’s archaeological evidence still survives in the ground.

• Only a fraction of the possible archaeological sites have been discovered.

• Only a fraction have been excavated, and those only partially.

• Only a fraction of those partial excavations have been thoroughly examined and published.

• Only a fraction of what has been examined and published has anything to do with the claims of the Bible!

3. Regarding A-B:

i) Genesis and Exodus never name the Pharaohs who interacted with Moses and Joseph. That, itself, limits our ability to date the chain of events. We don't even know whose royal records to consult, assuming they're available. We don't know which Pharaonic tomb to look into. That tomb may not have been discovered or excavated.

ii) Even if we knew where to look, Pharaonic tombs don't broadcast the domestic and foreign policy failures of the establishment. 

iii) The Israelites resided in the Nile Delta. By definition, that's a flood zone. Do we really think their mud huts will survival millennia of erosion? 

4. Regarding C:

i)  The Sinai desert is about the size of West Virginia. 

ii) What physical evidence we'd expect to survive depends, in part, on the number of Israelites. Estimates vary. In his commentary, I think Douglas Stuart reasonably estimates their number at 28,800-36,000 (p302). 

iii) They only resided in the Sinai for a period of about 40 years, during the 2nd millennium BC.  

iv) They didn't settle down. Didn't build fortified cities with stone walls, houses, and public facilities. Rather, they were nomads, living in tents and moving from place to place. 

v) Even if they had some hard artifacts, like metal tools, they'd take that with them into the Promised Land rather than leaving it behind. 

vi) Moreover, they were hardly the only people-group to trek through the Sinai. Even if they did leave behind trace evidence, how would we be able to distinguish that from other nomadic groups in the Sinai, like the Bedouin? (I don't necessarily mean there were Bedouin at that time and place, but groups like the Bedouin.) 

5. Regarding D: 

i) Attacks on the historicity of the Conquest are typically based on misreading what Joshua and Judges actually claim. As one commentator notes:

The fact is that the book of Joshua does not claim that the Israelites caused widespread destruction of cities; in fact, it explicitly denies this (Josh 11:13). Joshua speaks of cities being taken and people (especially kings) being killed, but "only three cities–Jericho, Ai, and Hazor–are said to have been burned" (Josh 6:24; 8:28; 11:11,13). Furthermore, some areas seem to have been taken by something more like accommodation (or interpenetration) than conquest (e.g., Gideon, Josh 9; Shechem, Josh 24:1,25; Gen 34). Finally, there is abundant evidence in the biblical record, especially in Judges, of Israelites intermarrying with Canaanites and worshipping their gods…It should hardly surprise us, therefore, if in the material remains of the period Israelites are virtually indistinguishable from Canaanites. B. Webb, The Book of Judges (Eerdmans 2012), 10. 

ii) Avalos says:

Mahoney never addresses the seemingly blatant contradiction that Jabin and Hazor are supposed to have been exterminated completely in Joshua 11:1, 10, and yet there is Jabin king of Hazor AFTER the death of Joshua (See Judges 1:1) in Judges 4:2. 
Apologists have attempted to explain this away by saying that there were two different Jabins. However, Judges has at least one other instance where it simply repeats a story from Joshua (compare Judges 1:11-15 with Joshua 15:15-19)
Therefore, editorial problems probably better explain the occurrence of Jabin in Judges 4. Otherwise, one would have to suppose that after a complete destruction of both city and people, Hazor rose again within a few years, and installed another king Jabin. The archaeological evidence is certainly lacking for that.

iii) But as one scholar notes:

The appearance in Joshua-Judges of two kings with the name Jabin is no more a "doublet" than two Niqmads (II and III) and two Ammishtamrus (I and II) in Ugarit, or two Suppiluliumas (I and II), two Mursils (II and III), and two Tudkhalias III and IV) of the Hittites, or two pharaohs (Amenophis (III and IV), Sethos (I and II), and Ramesses (I and II) in Egypt–all these in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries. K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 184-85. 

As another scholar notes:

Jabin was probably a royal title (like "Pharaoh" for the kings of Egypt). Joshua had defeated another "Jabin" at Hazor almost one hundred years earlier (Josh 11:1-11). Verses 23-24 probably refer to the final destruction of a resurgent Hazor in the thirteenth century, as attested (on at least one reading of the data) by the archeological remains there. B. Webb, ibid., 180.

iv) Notice that this isn't "within a few years," but about a century later. A lot can happen in a century. 

In addition, there's a reason why some sites were settled in the first place. They may have access to fresh water for drinking, fishing, or irrigation. They may be located along trade routes. 

That means that even when a site is destroyed by invaders, it remains an appealing location, for all the reasons that made it a magnet for the original settlers. So it's not surprising that it will be repopulated at a later date. Prime real estate is always desirable.  

Monday, February 08, 2016


A stock objection to Calvinism is that it implicates God in evil because God "causes" or "determines" evil. Let's consider natural evil from the standpoint of freewill theism. Now, I think it's reasonable to claim that physical determinism governs nature at the macro level. 

Depending on your interpretation of quantum physics, subatomic events are either statistical or deterministic. But even if you think they are statistical, that doesn't seem to transfer to the macro world. 

According to Christian theology, there's an interplay between personal agents and natural processes. What the natural order does when left to itself is deterministic, absent outside intervention by a personal agent. (The subatomic order might be an exception.)

In that respect, nature is like a machine. If I create a mantrap, it's the trap that catches or kills the poacher or trespasser. Yet the trap was only doing what I designed it to do. It's not the mantrap, but me, that's responsible for the outcome. 

Every so often we read a news report about someone who put a venomous snake in the mailbox of his enemy. When his enemy reaches into the box to get his mail, he is bitten by the snake. 

Now, it was the snake, and not the culprit, that bit the man. But, of course, we still hold the man who put the snake in the mailbox responsible for the snakebite. 

It isn't even a sure thing that his enemy will die of snakebite. It might be a dry bite. Or he might receive antivenom in time to save his life. Even so, the culprit will be charged with attempted murder. 

Suppose it's the enemy's 10-year-old son who checks the mailbox that day, only to be bitten. The culprit didn't intend to harm or kill his enemy's son. But, of course, that hardly exonerates him. "I'm sorry, your Honor. I didn't mean to kill the boy. That was an accident. His dad was my target!"

It’s time to think about Ash Wednesday and Lent

Christianity Today and Lent
Giving things up for the Kingdom?
Just a reminder: that time of year is upon us: the “liturgically-minded” all want to “give up things for Lent” and such. So you’ll be seeing articles about Ash Wednesday and Lent this week, including those from Christians. The linked article here is from Christianity Today, which ought to know better.

Such suggestions among Christians border on the ridiculous. We should remember Paul’s admonitions, such as:

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Galatians 3:2-6)


If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:20-23).

Instead, Ash Wednesday is a 10th century invention, and not one “Lenten” practice can be traced to the New Testament. The list here, compiled by Yves Congar in his “The Meaning of Tradition”, places many of these rituals well into the fourth century and later:

— The Lenten fast (Irenaeus, Jerome, Leo)

— Certain baptismal rites (Tertullian, Origen, Basil, Jerome, Augustine)

— Certain Eucharistic rites (Origen, Cyprian, Basil)

— Infant baptism (Origen, Augustine)

— Prayer facing the East (Origen, Basil)

— Validity of baptism by heretics (pope Stephen, Augustine)

— Certain rules for the election and consecration of bishops (Cyprian)

— The sign of the cross (Basil, who lived 329-379)

— Prayer for the dead (note, this is not “prayers to the dead) (John Chrysostom)

— Various liturgical fests and rites (Basil, Augustine)

From Yves Congar, in his “The Meaning of Tradition,” (and derived from his scholarly “Tradition and Traditions” and a textbook for Roman Catholic seminarians), (pg. 37).

Again, while such practices as Lenten fasts and the sign of the cross are still practiced, many of these “apostolic traditions” – really those extending earlier than the 4th century – such as prayer facing east, and Cyprian’s rules for electing and consecrating bishops, actually find themselves in the dustbin of history.

Even those for which there is attestation became exaggerated over time. The “Lenten Fast” mentioned with respect to Irenaeus, above, for example, originally only was “40 hours”:

Closer examination of the ancient sources, however, reveals a more gradual historical development. While fasting before Easter seems to have been ancient and widespread, the length of that fast varied significantly from place to place and across generations. In the latter half of the second century, for instance, Irenaeus of Lyons (in Gaul) and Tertullian (in North Africa) tell us that the preparatory fast lasted one or two days, or forty hours—commemorating what was believed to be the exact duration of Christ’s time in the tomb. By the mid-third century, Dionysius of Alexandria speaks of a fast of up to six days practiced by the devout in his see; and the Byzantine historian Socrates relates that the Christians of Rome at some point kept a fast of three weeks. Only following the Council of Nicea in 325 a.d. did the length of Lent become fixed at forty days, and then only nominally. Accordingly, it was assumed that the forty-day Lent that we encounter almost everywhere by the mid-fourth century must have been the result of a gradual lengthening of the pre-Easter fast by adding days and weeks to the original one- or two-day observance. This lengthening, in turn, was thought necessary to make up for the waning zeal of the post-apostolic church and to provide a longer period of instruction for the increasing numbers of former pagans thronging to the font for Easter baptism. Such remained the standard theory for most of the twentieth century.

We simply should not adopt fourth century practices as if it enables us to repent better than or more sincerely than simply to bow our heads and “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Rubio and Cruz

1. Some voters act as though supporting a candidate means defending everything they say and do. I notice that some Cruz supporters excuse everything he every said or did, or unquestioningly accept his ex post facto explanations. That's very credulous.

Rational voters can separate out defending someone's candidacy from blanket support for whatever they say or do. It's possible to support someone's candidacy despite disagreement with one or more of their positions or policies. 

Indeed, it's important to reserve the right to criticize positions/policies of a candidate you otherwise support. I don't issue any candidate a blank check. 

For instance, I might support a candidate even though I disagree with some of his policies. That doesn't necessarily mean I give up those issues. If he becomes president, it's still possible to block those particular policies at a legislative or judicial level. It becomes a question of when and where to fight.

2. Some voters raise fake, frivolous objections to a rival candidate. This is where they are reaching for anything they can use against the rival candidate. These are not objections they consistently raise. If their favorite candidate did the same thing, they'd give him a pass. Or if it were a different election cycle, they might swap those out for different objections. For instance, opponents of Rubio complain about his missed votes. They say he's not doing the job he was paid to do. But there are several problems with that complaint:

i) There's more to the job of a legislator than showing up to vote. His job includes meeting with constituents. Serving on committees and subcommittees. Intercede with other gov't agencies on behalf of his constituents. 

ii) Many votes are just symbolic votes. Unless his vote is required for passage of a bill, or for the bill to pass by a veto-proof majority, missing a vote is not intrinsically significant. 

iii) Let's compare Rubio's missed votes to Cruz:



So Rubio misses votes 0.3% more often than Cruz. Clearly that's a frivolous objection.

3. Another phony issue is that he's too scripted in debates. But when you are limited to 30-60 second answers, you need to have compact, prepared answers to predictable questions. 

4. A basic problem with raising phony objections is that it gives equal weight to frivolous objections and serious objections. But that's a way of saying serious issues don't matter. If you treat frivolous objections and serious objections equally, then you really don't care about the issues. You really don't care about ideology. But I do. 

Here are some serious, substantive criticisms Rubio:

If you wish to find fault with Rubio, talk about something like that

5. There are roughly two considerations:

i) Is Republican candidate A better or worse than Republican candidate B?

ii) Is Republican candidate A (B, C) better than the Democrat candidate?

You could have two Republican candidates who are both better than the Democrat; one Republican candidate is better than another, but the better candidate is less electable. So you have a twofold comparison; two considerations you need to balance: Which is worse? for the Democrat to win, or for a Republican to win, who's better than the Democrat, but worse than one (or more) of his Republican rivals (who have little chance of winning)? 

I know some Christians bristle at those comparisons, but reality constrains our field of action. Suppose I said that if you wish to draw water from a well, you should use a bucket rather than a pasta strainer. Some Christians would respond by saying "That's pragmatic! That's worldly wisdom!"

6. Oftentimes, the debate is cast in terms of Cruz as the intrinsically better candidate, but we must settle for Rubio because Cruz is unelectable. An unfortunate, but necessary compromise. One problem I have with that way of framing the issue is that I not only have some genuine reservations about Rubio, but I have some genuine reservations about Cruz. I doubt he's quite the knight in shining armor that some of his supporters imagine him to be. 

i) Take his position on SSM. In an interview, shortly after Obergefell, he said gov't officials should simply ignore the ruling:

I like that. But I can't help noticing that his initial reaction to Obergefell wasn't that hardline. Initially, he proposed a Constitutional amendment: 

I have a default suspicion about Republicans who propose Constitutional amendments in the culture wars. I think that's often a decoy. It's a lengthy process that usually goes nowhere. So it's a proposal that doesn't cost the politician anything. A diversionary tactic creating the pretense that a politician has taken meaningful action, when it deflects attention away from meaningful action. Placating social conservatives with symbolism.

I'm also curious about the timing. Between his initial, weaker response, and his later, tougher response, Cruz's mentor, Robert George, came out with a public statement saying officials should disregard the ruling. 

Right after that, Cruz came out with a public statement saying officials should disregard the ruling. Hmm. Is that just coincidental? Or was Cruz waiting to see how other conservative opinion makers-would respond, then struck a more confrontational rhetorical pose after they did? Is this putting a wet finger to the wind? Did he sense that his first response might be perceived as too weak?

But that's not all. The Lawrence decision laid the groundwork for Obergefell. If you wanted to oppose SSM, it would be more strategic to draw the battle lines sooner, before the homosexual lobby got so much momentum. And Cruz had an ideal opportunity to do so. The Lawrence decision involved a Texas anti-sodomy law, and Cruz was Texas attorney general at the time. He was uniquely positioned to right that battle. Yet he didn't get involved, and there's prima facie evidence that his inaction might be related to his courting gay donors. 

7. Then there's his position on illegal immigration. There's prima facie evidence that he's shifted position for political expediency:

At one point Cruz proposed an amendment to legalize immigrants, but deny them citizenship, although he now claims that was a poison pill. 

However, one can easily see legalization as part of a long-range strategy. If it's too controversial to begin with outright naturalization, you break it down into increments. You lead with legalization as a first step, to gain a foothold. Having achieved that, you then complain about how arbitrary and unfair it is for immigrants who are here legally to be denied a chance to become citizens.

8. Recently, Cruz opposed draft registration for women:

Although I agree with him on the merits, his statement misses the point. Liberals say women can do anything a man can do. So this is calling their bluff. Right now we have a double standard. This is a way of forcing liberals to be consistent–and make them pay a political price for consistency. 

9. Finally, some conservatives seem to be schizophrenic about the value of an Ivy League education. They usually say political correctness has ruined the humanities at Ivy League institutions. Students are indoctrinated in sheer propaganda. Liberal ideology is at war with history and science. You'd get a much better education at a Christian college like Patrick Henry. 

But then some of them drool over Cruz's Ivy League resume. That suggests a conservative inferiority complex. Is a candidate who attended Harvard and Princeton presumptively better than a candidate (Rubio) who attended a state college on a football scholarship? 

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Overreaction To Rubio's Debate Stumble

Jim Geraghty has a good assessment of Rubio's poor handling of an exchange with Christie in last night's debate. Rubio hurt himself, but not much. His critics are exaggerating the significance of it.

He's performed well in every debate, including the large majority of last night's debate. Trump and Carson frequently commit mistakes far worse than Rubio's. Trump loses every debate, in the sense of being the worst performer of all, and he repeats himself far more than Rubio does and with far less substance. But Trump is often judged by a different standard. He's expected to cross a low bar, while somebody like Rubio is expected to cross one that's much higher. If Trump's irrational supporters are thought to be likely to keep supporting him after his performance in a debate, then his performance is treated like a success. As if Trump's irrational supporters set the standard for him, while somebody like Rubio has to meet a standard far higher. What we ought to be doing is judging all of these candidates by the same standard. Trump has flunked out every time, whereas Rubio has had some occasional bad moments (with last night's being the worst) while usually performing at the level of something like a B or B+. There were multiple segments in last night's debate in which Trump performed worse than Rubio did in his exchange with Christie (e.g., the segment on eminent domain, Trump's comments on healthcare), but Rubio gets a more negative response from analysts and worse media coverage. Similarly, Rubio can have more good moments than other candidates (e.g., his comments on abortion) and a better debate overall, yet get less of a positive response.

I think Cruz had the best performance last night. He'd be a significantly better candidate if he would always conduct himself that way.

Presidential debates

Presidential debates can be useful in some respects. Take the current cycle. Early on, Ben Carson and Donald Trump demonstrated that they are woefully uninformed in many domestic and foreign policy issues. 

Christie has shown that he's an ardent proponent of the surveillance state. Kasich has shown that he's not up to the challenge of the culture wars. 

However, presidential debates have serious limitations. Apart from immigration, I think Rick Perry would have made a good president. But because he went into the debates unprepared four years ago, he blew his chance. He thought he could wing it. He was wrong. 

Jimmy Carter was smarter than Ronald Reagan. Yet Carter was one of our worst presidents while Reagan was one of our best presidents.

Reagan was manifestly over-the-hill in his first debate with Mondale. It was painful to see him struggling to maintain his train of thought and grope for words. Yet Reagan past his prime was vastly superior to Mondale in his prime.

Donald Trump has a very long paper trail. You don't need to watch him in a single debate to have an informed position on his qualifications–or lack thereof. His reputation precedes him. And, in fact, the things he's said and done before he decided to run for president are a more reliable guide.

The debate format lends itself to simplistic answers. Canned answers. Take the coed the military. For a Republican candidate to give a defensible answer in opposition to women in combat, or women in the Navy, he has to lay the groundwork. The general culture will instantly demonize him as a sexist bigot. It takes a lengthy explanation to put the correct answer in context. And that's not possible in debates with one-minute answers or 30-second responses. 

Same thing with abortion. It's basically impossible to give an intelligent answer to that question in 60 seconds or less. 

Debate preparation makes debaters sound scripted because that's what the format demands. A better metric is how candidates respond when they have more time to collect their thoughts and give detailed explanations. 

Police videos and Gospel harmonization

The issue of Gospel harmonization is sometimes cast in terms of photographic realism. In that regard, videos of police shootings are a useful way to illustrate the strengths and limitations of that paradigm.

Sometimes a police video shows you all you need to know about the shooting. It shows you enough to judge whether the policeman was in the right or in the wrong. Whether the suspect was offending party or the offended party.

But police videos can be misleading. They may not show enough. Take an off-duty cop shooting an armed civilian. All the camera depicts is two armed men in plain clothes. You can't tell from that who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. The civilian might be a schoolyard sniper. 

Sometimes this is a spatial limitation. They may show the action of the policeman rather than the suspect, or the action of the suspect rather than the policeman, rather than showing their interaction. They may show the incident from the policeman's angle, or from the suspect's angle, but not both.

Was the suspect charging the policeman when he was shot, or did the policeman shoot him in the back? And what was the alleged crime? 

Sometimes this is a temporal limitation. The video begins too late to give context. It fails to show what led up to the shooting. What did the suspect do or what did the policeman do before the cameras started rolling? A traffic violation? A mugging? 

Take a car chase. The police are in hot pursuit. Is this a joy ride? A child abduction? A fleeing bank robber? 

Moreover, even if you have complete footage, there are things a camera can't show that may be crucial to the interpretation of the actions.

Did the suspect have a rap sheet? If so, what were his priors? Was he a violent career criminal? What did the dispatcher tell the police? Did they know what they were walking into? Sometimes police walk into an ambush. 

Conversely, does the policeman have history of complaints? Formal reprimands in his file? Out of court settlements? Did the police dept. cover up for past wrongdoing? Was a policeman a juvenile offender whose court records were sealed? Some police are crooks with badges (a la Serpico). 

Suppose the suspect brandishes a gun. What's his mental state? Is he psychotic? Is he high on drugs? Even if he's in a state of diminished responsibility, he's just as dangerous to the general public or the police. 

Suppose the suspect brandishes a toy gun. But the police can't tell the difference from that distance. So they must make a snap judgment.

Did the suspect reach into his pocket? You can't tell if he has a gun in his pocket. And he can shoot straight through the pocket. 

Situations like that are like pulling the ring of a grenade. Once you do that, the remaining options are limited.

The point of this extended illustration is that a verbal eyewitness be ambiguous or misleading without sufficient context. An account that simply describes what an observer could see or hear may be unintentionally deceptive, for the correct interpretation of the event requires additional information. 

An interpretive account can be more accurate than a barebones description, because the reader may need supplementary information to understand what happened. 

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Wheaton prof. resigns

Takedown of Richard Carrier

Richard Carrier palms himself off as a probability theorist. If you don't mind the technicalities, here's a critique by a Cambridge educated cosmologist and physicist:

HT: Patrick Chan

The Republican Debates Can Be Misleading

I've watched all of the Republican presidential debates so far. There have been more than a dozen, if you include the undercard debates. I've noticed that some issues haven't come up much yet, if at all. We'll see if that continues in tonight's debate and the others to follow. But the fact that these patterns have persisted through more than a dozen debates is significant.

It's a reminder that we need to distinguish between primary debates and debates in the general election campaign. A candidate can be well-suited for one, but do poorly in the other context.

The audiences will be different. There are lines that will get nothing but applause in a Republican primary debate, but would also get a lot of booing in a debate for the general election.

John's Gospel and the Virgin Birth

You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of fornication. We have one Father—even God” (Jn 8:41). 

i) Critics of the virgin birth complain that this event is only reported in two sources: Matthew and Luke. Actually, the fact that we have two independent records of this event is impressive. 

But now I'd like to consider a neglected source. It's possible or probable that Jn 8:41 is an indirect allusion to the virgin birth. If so, that's even more impressive because it represents hostile testimony.

ii) Of course, Jesus' Jewish opponents didn't believe in the virgin birth. The question, rather, is whether, in Jn 8:41, they are alluding to his out-of-wedlock conception. They don't construe that as a virginal conception, but a virginal conception would underlie and account for his out-of-wedlock conception. 

iii) Scholars are divided on whether his opponents are questioning his legitimacy. For instance, Keener says:

Because Jesus' interlocutors in the story would  here, like most of his interlocutors in the Gospel, interpret him too literally, they may take his charge as implying that they do in fact stem from an adulterous union. Alternatively, they could understand "fornication" in its spiritual sense referring to idolatry. C. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Hendrickson 2003), 1:759.

But if they took him literally, then, by parity of argument, we'd expect the charge of illegitimacy to be literal. So it's unclear why Keener raises that in objection to the interpretation in question.

And, of course, the figurative interpretation is incompatible with the literal interpretation, so we need to decide which is preferable. he can't list both options as a cumulative objection to the interpretation in question. 
Keener also says his opponents are on the defensive at this point, and only go on the offensive in v48. But it's not clear what that means. They seem to be responding to Jesus with a counter-allegation. "We are not bastards"–which carries the implicitly invidious comparison to Jesus. 

Indeed, it's a rhetorical trap. By using suggestive language that leaves the comparison implicit, it attempts to create a dilemma for Jesus. If he declines to respond, the slur does its damage by default. It's out there, to injure his reputation.

If, however, he does respond, he must acknowledge the rumor to refute it. In a way, that confirms the rumor–though not the defamatory interpretation. 
Finally, Keener says:

It is not clear that such charges were sufficiently widespread by the end of the first century to be assumed by John's audience or that of his tradition (although this is possible). Ibid. 1:759.

But there are problems with that objection:

i) We need to distinguish between John's audience and the historical audience. Jesus is addressing some Jews, in the early thirties. John repeats this because that's what they said. He's recording this exchange because the larger dialogue is important to establish the person and work of Christ. Even if this particular allusion would escape their ken, that's embedded in a crucial dialogue.

ii) John may well expect his readers to have background information from prior Gospels. He can take for granted their awareness of the virgin birth. Even if every reader didn't know that, it's not his responsibility. The supplementary information is available. 

Meier thinks the reference is figurative, like the reference to Samaritan pedigree in v48. Cf. J. Meier, A Marginal Jew (Doubleday 1991), 1:228-29.

However, the Samaritan comparison is obscure. Commentators struggle with what his accusers had in mind. Moreover, that allegation is combined with the allegation of demonic possession, which may well be literal.

If 7:41 is a literal slur, that that generates a dilemma for the liberal view of John's Gospel. Liberals date this Gospel to the first quarter of the 2C. They think the author had no firsthand knowledge of the historical Jesus. They think he invented speeches whole cloth.

But in that event, why in the world would the narrator fabricate that defamatory innuendo? Why would he plant that idea in the mind of the reader? Why introduce that stigmatizing characterization into his narrative if it had no historical precedent? Why invent a weapon that critics would use against Jesus?

If, however, this is a historically accurate transcript (or summary) of an actual exchange, then it's plausible that Jesus' Jewish opponents would attempt to discredit him by calling him a (literal) bastard. If they had malicious gossip to that effect, they would surely use it at some point or another. And they'd place the least flattering interpretation on rumors that Mary was an unwed mother. I think many scholars are too high-minded to appreciate what enemies will resort to. 

Indeed, the illegitimacy of Jesus became a standard element of the Jewish polemic. Origen responds to that. We find it in the Toledot Yeshua. In fact, that is still a part of the Jewish polemic, right down to our very own day:

My point is not that that these later sources reflect independent traditions. Rather, they represent a hostile interpretation of the virgin birth. 

By the same token, it's easy to see how the virgin birth would give rise to similar allegations by spiteful neighbors–who'd be more than happy to share that with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. 

Gospel fictionalization