Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Eternal Rome? The Eternal Mediator?

Eternal Rome
Eternal Rome, Eternal Mediator?
Continuing to follow De Chirico’s presentation of the Catholic system as consisting of two pillars, the second element is the Catholic Church’s understanding of itself as the continuation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This axiom is connected to the first in the following way:

“Between the orders of nature and grace, a mediating subject is needed to represent nature to grace and grace to nature, so that nature will progressively and more fully be graced and grace will eventually achieve its final goal of elevating nature. That mediation is the theological raison d’être [reason for the existence] of the Roman Catholic Church and the chief role of the Church within the wider Roman Catholic system.”

Allison, Gregg R. (2014-11-30). Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 1075-1080). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pg 56 in the printed edition.

Consider the role that Rome has assumed for itself, with the way that the Lord thinks of worldly empires. Speaking to Cyrus, who defeated the Babylonians and who enabled the Israelites to be released from their “Babylonian Captivity”, God says:

My Take on the Reformation in England: Owen, Packer, Hooker, Puritans, Anglicans, and Worship

J.I. Packer A Quest for Godliness
Over on Facebook, in response to my recent blog article on John Owen, “Political Defeat was the Condition of Cultural Achievement”, an old [conservative Anglican] friend of mine commented:

the reformed Anglican judgment is that Puritanism (especially its more radical expression) constituted a perversion of the English Reformation, not its teleos. There were Calvinists among the supporters of High Church Anglicanism (e.g., Whitgift). They were the heirs of Cranmer et al., not the Puritans, whose radicalism contained the seeds of its own destruction.

I responded:

I don’t know that “seeds of its own destruction” was an entirely fair characterization. I’ve been looking at this period a bit (the theological aspects which were called “Reformed Orthodoxy”). This period was characterized by “precise theological formulations”, among other things.

While it’s true that “Reformed Orthodoxy” seemingly came to an abrupt halt at one point, there were a lot of things that went into it:

Angelic kenosis

Bnonn has commented a post of mine:

i) I'd begin by noting that in the post he critiqued, I wasn't really exegeting Gen 6:1-4. I have discussed the exegetical questions in more detail elsewhere. For instance:

ii) I'd like to say a few things about Michael Heiser. Bnonn has probably read or seen more of his stuff than I have. Heiser occupies an intermediate niche. On the one hand are secular Bible scholars who approach Bible history from a naturalistic standpoint. On the other hand are theologically orthodox Bible scholars who affirm and defend Biblical supernaturalism. When, however, confronted with ufology or paranormality, they basically bury their heads in the sand. They don't engage the putative evidence. They just say God wouldn't allow it. 
To his credit, Heiser does perform yeoman service by sorting and sifting through the swamp of ufology. I'm glad he takes the supernatural seriously. But from what I've read of it, I think his theology is sometimes unorthodox. And I think he overworks the "divine council." 
His popularity is due, in part, to the fact that he's a scholar who studies issues that interest many people–issues that most other scholars (secular or theologically orthodox) neglect or disdain. His popularity is also due in part to the fact that lots of his stuff is available for free. These things have made him influential. 
When theologically orthodox scholars vacate the field, that leaves a void which is generally filled by New Age opportunists. Heiser is several notches above that. However, he suffers from a lack of better competition. 
iii) Bnonn says:
Understanding the sons of God to be divine beings is not a fringe view, nor a modern one. In fact, it was the exclusive view until about the second century AD. It is reflected in 1 Enoch 6, Jubilees 5, the Septuagint, Philo (De Gigant 2:358), Josephus (Ant. 1.31), the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QapGen 2:1; CD 2:17–19), Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen, among others.
Unfortunately, the phrase that comes to mind when I see that list is "legendary embellishment." From time to time the Bible makes cryptic, tantalizing statements which generate reams of extrabiblical pious fiction. A literary tradition that takes on a life of its own.
iv) I'm also like to make a point about assessing supernatural explanations. Consider an illustration. On the issue of large numbers in the OT, Colin J. Humphreys said the following: 
A further reason relates to the crossing of the Red Sea, which the book of Exodus records happened in less than one night. 1.75 million people, ten abreast and 1 metre apart, would form a column of people 175 kilometres long. It is hard to believe that so many people could cross the Red Sea on foot in one night. 

Now a Christian might object on the grounds that we're dealing with a miracle. But I think that's too indiscriminate. Parting the Red Sea is a miraculous event, but crossing the Red Sea is a natural event. God does the parting, but humans do the crossing. The Israelites crossed on foot at a natural pace. God was able to teleport them from one side to the other, but he didn't. When it comes to interpreting the narrative description, when it comes to visualizing the scene, it's not inappropriate to consider logistics. It's not wrong to ask if 1.75 million Israelites is a realistic figure. To say "it's a miracle," or "God did it" is not an adequate response to that specific issue, for the narrative doesn't say or imply that there was anything supernatural about the Exodus in that particular respect. To appeal to a miracle to solve that problem (if it is a problem) would be a classic deus ex machina. Hence, it's proper to question the traditional interpretation of the figures. 

Even within a supernatural framework, we need to be consistent. We need to follow through with the same principle–be it natural or supernatural. Not begin with one principle, but end with another–after changing horses in midstream. Not begin with a horse but end with a unicorn, or vice versa.   

v) With that in mind, let's begin by stating what the angelic interpretation amounts to. To recast the claim in modern terms, humanoid angels mated with human females, thereby procreating a race of genetically-enhanced supersoldiers. It's a paranormal form of genetic engineering. 

Now, I don't have any antecedent objection to the supernatural interpretation. But considered on its own grounds, I think it lacks internal consistency. 

There are degrees of interspecific compatibility:

a) Many species lack sufficient anatomical compatibility to copulate with other species.

b) Of the subset of species that pass that barrier, many species lack sufficient genetic compatibility to reproduce with other species.

c) Of the subset of species that pass that barrier, many species lack sufficient genetic compatibility to reproduce fertile offspring by other species. 

The physical constraints for interspecies breeding are extremely exacting. For the angelic interpretation to be feasible, I think angels would have to become human. Wholly human. 

If so, that's a trick you can only perform once. By that I mean, you lose your angelic powers in process of using your angelic powers to become human. You put your angelic nature behind you. Angelic kenosis. An angel that turns itself into a human can't turn itself back into an angel, because it ceased to be an angel. By exchanging greater powers for lesser powers, it lacks the supernatural ability to restore itself from lesser to greater. Even if a supernatural agent can make itself a natural agent, a natural agent can't make itself a supernatural agent.   

It's like stories of immortals who fall in love with mortals. The immortal lover can't raise the beloved mortal to his level, but he can lower himself to her level–by relinquishing his immortality. Yet once he trades down, that's what he's stuck with. There's no going back to what he was, for he gave that up. He no longer has access to his erstwhile superior abilities. 

If, however, angels became merely human, then their offspring would be merely human. Not superhuman hybrids. So I don't think the angelic interpretation is consistent all the way through. 

Compare that to pagan gods who sire offspring by mortal women. Although that's mythological, it has a certain inner logic. The gods are humanoid to begin with. Physical beings. Like genetically enhanced humans. The range along a common continuum with man. Therefore, their offspring by mortal women would be demigods: more than human but less than divine. Sharing qualities of each. 

If you reject anthropic interpretations (e.g. the text is about the rise of prediluvian Nimrods), then a theogonic interpretation is more coherent than an angelic interpretation. But, of course, treating Gen 6:1-4 as a bowdlerized theogony is harder to defend on orthodox grounds. At best, I suppose you could try to classify that interpretation as polemical theology. 

Monday, March 02, 2015


I'll make a few brief observations about the Erskine College situation. 

For starters I know next to nothing about Erskine College. Someone like Justin McCurry probably has more background info.

i) I don't know in what respect Erskine is affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church. Does that mean it's answerable to the denomination? 

ii) On the face of it, I can't tell what Erskine's policy is regarding homosexual students. Beyond expressing disapproval, does it have any teeth? Is it a position with any practical (i.e. disciplinary) repercussions?

For instance, must student applicants be professing Christians? Must they sign a student handbook in which they agree to a certain code of conduct? Is violation grounds for expulsion? 

In the nature of the case, what students do off-campus would usually be beyond the ken of the administration. If, however, it came to the attention of the administration that a student was committing sexual immorality, would that be grounds for expulsion? Or is their stated position purely advisory?

Erskine College spokesman Cliff Smith said, “I would hope the conversation would be they feel loved, respected and cared for, and that their faculty and staff are interested in them as individuals,”
That's about as limp-wristed (pardon the pun) as you can get.

iii) Christian colleges and seminaries need to update their student handbooks. Traditionally, they forbid students from engaging in premarital or extramarital sex. However, in an age of legalized homosexual marriage, it's technically possible for homosexual students to have "marital" sex with each other. Yet that's a gross violation of Christian ethics. 

The distinction between licit sex within marriage and illicit sex outside of marriage is only germane to heterosexual activity. That can't be the differential factor for homosexual activity inasmuch as homosexual activity is immoral regardless of the marital context.

Indeed, there's a sense in which marital homosexual activity is even worse because it defiles the divine institution of marriage.

iv) Varona has said "“It took me by surprise when I read it two days ago," "It basically came out of nowhere," "My sexual orientation is no secret." "So it took me by surprise."

Maybe he's really that naive. The fact that some classmates were aware of his homosexuality doesn't mean the administration would normally be aware of a student's sexual proclivities. I assume this flew below the radar until he and a teammate gave an interview to OutSports. At that point it came to the notice of the administration. 

v) Predictably, this issue is cropping up more often. Gordon College has been threatened with loss of accreditation. 

Biola has "clarified" its position (whatever that amounts to). Wheaton has homosexual staffers. That tells you something about the Philip Graham Ryken's presidency.  

vi) In one respect, the coverage by the secular "news" media is unwittingly comical. Due to its Biblical illiteracy, the secular "news" media is typically shocked to find out that homosexual conduct is contrary to Christian ethics.

Now, to some extent, Christian institutions are having to play catch-up. These are new formal policies, but the theology is utterly traditional. It's just that in the past, it was unnecessary to formally prohibit homosexual conduct in a student handbook. That's not because it was ever acceptable. Rather, in the past, it was tacitly understood to be out-of-bounds. That was a given. 

Most students were straight, and the kind of sexual immorality that would ordinarily be comment-worthy would be heterosexual immorality. 

To take a comparison, Christian student handbooks don't ban cannibalism. That's not because Christian ethics has no position on cannibalism. Rather, that's because Christian colleges don't have student cannibals. There's no lobby for cannibalism. 

vii) In addition, the cultural elite is incensed by the fact that Christians don't jump on the bandwagon of the latest radical chic fad. It's as if they really expect us to take our cue from them. The cultural elite has spoken! How dare we lag behind!

But in another sense it's not comical. For government is using police powers to coerce compliance. Rob Bell recently said "I think culture is already there."

Only in the sense that a gun is held to its head. If you threaten people with loss of employment, fines, and/or imprisonment, then that will certainly lower resistance. But that's enforced conformity rather than conviction. If you hold a bank manager's family hostage and threaten to kill or torture them one-by-one unless he transfers funds to your Cayman account, he will comply under duress. 

Easter Resources 2015

Since 2009, I've been putting together a post of resources for each Easter season. Here are the ones from previous years:

Open Air Preaching Where Babies Are Murdered


Sunday, March 01, 2015

The freewill defense hits an iceberg

Kevin Harris: 
 The Vatican astronomer goes on to say that perhaps if there are intelligent beings in another solar system that they don’t need salvation, they don’t need the atonement of Christ, they may have remained in full friendship with the Creator. 
Dr. Craig: 
 This is the most interesting theological speculation. If there is intelligent life made in God’s image somewhere else in the universe, have they fallen into sin? Or was this a civilization or culture in which the Fall did not occur? Adam did not take the apple or Eve did not take the fruit of the tree. Is it possible that there could be a race of intelligent beings that has not fallen into sin? Well, it seems to me that that is possible. C. S. Lewis imagined such a thing in his science fiction trilogies. It is possible, I think. Adam did not have to sin; Eve didn’t have to sin. Neither did their descendants. So it is possible there could be such a population. In that case, they wouldn’t have fallen into sin and wouldn’t need redemption. 

He's conceding, as a live possibility (i.e. feasible), that you could have actual planets where every member of that intelligent species is unfallen. So that cuts the nerve of the freewill defense insofar as that's predicated on God's inability to create sinless rational agents without infringing on their libertarian freedom. And not just isolated individuals, but in this case, everyone in that particular class of agents. 

By Craig's admission, a freewill theist can no longer say the world contains moral evil because God was unable to create a world in which all free agents do right. 

Zombie rights

Cotard’s syndrome is a relatively rare condition that was first described by Dr. Jules Cotard in 1882. Cotard’s syndrome comprises any one of a series of delusions that range from a belief that one has lost organs, blood, or body parts to insisting that one has lost one’s soul or is dead. 
By the logic of the transgender movement, individuals who self-identify as zombies should be free to eat people. Cannibalism is a Constitutional right. And not just munching on corpses, but eating people alive. 

Craig on Adam and Eve

I'm going to comment on this podcast, which is a mixed bag:

Dr. Craig: Before we conclude that the sky is falling, the sky is falling, it isn’t true that the whole story of human sin and redemption falls to pieces if you deny the historical Adam and Eve. As I share in the Defenders class, the doctrine of original sin, though common to Catholicism and most Protestant denominations, is not characteristic of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Eastern churches – like Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox – do not hold that all of mankind falls in Adam’s sin and inherit original sin from Adam. They do believe in a historical Adam. That is true. But it isn’t the case that the whole story of sin and redemption falls apart without Adam and Eve. For the Orthodox Christian, Adam is simply the floodgate, so to speak, through which sin enters into the world and then spreads to the rest of humanity. But it could have entered at any point when you think about it. There was nothing particularly special about that point. So, as important as Adam and Eve are, we mustn’t think that the doctrine of original sin is inherent to Christianity because it is just not. It is part of Catholicism and Protestantism for the most part, but it is not characteristic of Orthodoxy.

That certainly illustrates Craig's big tent philosophy. However, Christianity is a revealed religion. The criterion isn't Eastern Orthodoxy but Biblical revelation. 

Dr. Craig: What he is talking about there is the genetic diversity that is exhibited by the human population on Earth. The claim is that you can’t get that kind of genetic diversity from a bottleneck of just two people. You need a few thousand. I’ve heard as low as 2,000 individuals as this bottleneck. 
What we need to understand is that these are genetic estimates based upon mathematical modeling and projections into the past. We know that that kind of mathematical modeling is based upon certain assumptions that may or may not be true, and can sometimes be wildly incorrect in their projections. So, although Coyne has a great, great deal of confidence (I think he even speaks of scientific certainty), that, I think, is hyperbole.[4] It could well be the case that these mathematical models are simply incorrect. I don’t want to minimize the challenge that is presented by the genetic data, but it is not as cut and dry as what Coyne presents it. I talk a little bit about this in the Defenders class in the section of Doctrine of Man where we look at the question of the origin of humanity.
This reminds me of global warming. Climatologists make predictions based on computer models. But, of course, their predictions have been wide of the mark.
Dr. Craig: No, the age isn’t the problem. The problem is the population size. In order to get this amount of genetic diversity, the claim is you needed to have at least 2,000 people originally to result in this. 
One of the assumptions that is based upon is that the rate of mutation doesn’t change. But if the mutation rates are changing then they could accelerate and that could produce greater diversity than one might expect. You might say that increasing diversity would have a selective advantage so this perhaps would be a kind of accelerating process. Again, we just don’t know that these mutation rates have been constant over all of these thousands of years.
That raises two issues:
i) Even on naturalistic grounds, science requires unprovable operating assumptions. 
ii) Moreover, the Biblical doctrine of human origins isn't naturalistic. So there's even less reason to presume mechanistic uniformity. 
Dr. Craig: All right. He is talking here about the so-called “Mitochondrial Eve.” That is to say, astonishingly, geneticists have established that all human beings on Earth are descended from this single woman who he claims lived about 140,000 years ago. Scientists have called her, in reflecting on the biblical Eve, the Mitochondrial Eve. 
Kevin Harris:but that genes on the Y chromosome trace back to one male who lived about 60,000-90,000 years ago. 
Dr. Craig: This is the so-called Chromosomal Adam, again playing on the biblical figures. So the claim is that the Chromosomal Adam – the Adam from whom all persons are descended today – lived around 60,000-90,000 years ago, but the woman lived around 140,000 years ago. That doesn’t match up, right? Well, I am no geneticist, but recently Michael Murray, who is involved in the BioLogos movement and with the Templeton Foundation, sent me an email in which he said some recent studies have just reestimated the dates of the Mitochondrial Eve and Chromosomal Adam and they’ve determined that they were roughly contemporaneous. 
Kevin Harris: Really? 
Dr. Craig: Yes! Which, if that is correct, that is just astonishing. This could be Adam and Eve. It could be the original human pair that we are talking about. So this evidence might come back to bite Coyne. Coyne knows more about this than I do, but I am simply reporting what I have been told that would make one really sit up and think about this.
At any rate, what it would show would be, again, the uncertainty of these dating approximations. They are based on mathematical models, and they are subject to radical revision.
That illustrates how tentative the science is. 
Dr. Craig: I think the most plausible take for those who want to deny that Adam and Eve were literal persons would be to say that the literary genre of Genesis 1 and 2 and 3 is not meant to be historical; that this is something like myth or fable or something that teaches some deep truths in the way, say, that Aesop's fables teach deep truths. But it would be a mistake to take these as literal people. These are not meant to be taken in that way. That would be the most plausible spin, I think, for those who want to take the non-literal view. The really hard part for that, though, is that Jesus and Paul seemed to take it literally. They seem to think that there really was such a person as Adam in which case you’d have to either say that they were wrong (which raises all kinds of problems) or you could say that this was just a part of their incidental beliefs but not part of what they actually taught. For example, Paul may well have believed that the Earth was flat for all we know. He probably believed that the sun went around the Earth based on their perception. But they nowhere teach that. They don’t teach this as Christian doctrine. Maybe you could say that about the historical Adam. It is a really difficult problem as to how you are going to sort this out. For that reason, I am inclined to stick with the literal Adam and Eve until absolutely forced by the evidence to abandon that view. I think we are far from that point.[7]

i) Although that's better than outright capitulation, it's weak and unstable. One issue is what science can prove. Ironically, proponents of methodological atheism shoot themselves in the foot. They rightly perceive that if an omnipotent, interventionist God exists, then you can't stipulate the uniformity of nature. In principle, God can do anything anytime or anywhere. 

Moreover, God's involvement in human affairs is often direct. 

ii) The narrator of Genesis was not a modern theistic evolutionist. That's not his frame of reference. That can't be driving his outlook. 

The trail went cold

Dr. Craig: He is saying what is the situation now is that we’ve reached the limits that are humanly possible for having any higher energy experiments or for probing more deeply into outer space. He is saying that there is a kind of in-principle reason for thinking that we’ve pretty much got the full physical story. That is really remarkable. 
Kevin Harris: You don’t hear that very often. 
Dr. Craig: No! No! It is astonishing! It is highly significant, I think, because what do skeptics so often say when confronted with evidence for the beginning of the universe or the fine-tuning of the universe? They say, “Future scientific discoveries will explain this.” They appeal to a naturalism-of-the-gaps and say just because we haven’t answered it yet, someday physics will explain the origin of the universe or the fine-tuning. I think what Ellis is implying is that that is not going to happen. He thinks that we have pretty much reached the limits, and therefore the worldview that contemporary science delivers to us right now is fundamentally correct. The rest will simply be ironing out the details. That means you can’t escape things like the finitude of the past or the fine-tuning of the universe by just punting to the future discoveries of science. 

I think that's a seriously flawed inference. The fact that physics and cosmology may have hit an evidentiary wall doesn't mean "we're pretty much got the full physical story" and "the worldview that contemporary science delivers to us right now is fundamentally correct." Rather, we may not have anything like the full story. It's like saying "Nothing exists beyond what I can see through my binoculars. That's where the world ends." But, of course, that reflects the range of the binoculars, not the range of reality. 
If physics and cosmology have hit an evidentiary wall, then their quest for ultimate answers will be forever frustrated. They never will discover the ultimate explanation, because that depends on having additional empirical evidence which is forever inaccessible. Hence, for all we know, worldview which contemporary cosmology and physics delivers to us might be fundamentally misleading, but we're in no position to correct it. 
We haven't reached the logical terminus of the explanatory process. Rather, we've reached an arbitrary stopping-point, short of the goal, due to technical limitations in what we are able to detect. Physics and cosmology will remain essentially incomplete. The destination is out of reach. 
To take a comparison, a homicide detective asks the medical examiner how the decedent died. He's told the decedent died from a heart attack. Was he poisoned? No. He had heart disease. Death by natural causes. For purposes of ruling out foul play, that's an ultimate explanation. 
Conversely, suppose it is a case of homicide. But he doesn't have enough good leads to track down the killer. So the trail goes cold. He knows how the victim was killed, but how who killed him. It's an unsolved crime. 
If Ellis is right, then that's the predicament of contemporary cosmology and physics. That's a serious problem for physics and cosmology. It's permanently provisional. Frozen in midstream. 
That also disarms one side in the "warfare" between science and Christianity–at least in reference to the origin of the universe. The cosmologists and physicists ran out of ammo. They never found the answer they were looking for, because they ran out of evidence. Or, put another way, the evidence outran them. They have more questions than answers. And the answers are unavailable. 

Hypothetical universalism


“Political Defeat was the Condition of Cultural Achievement.”

John Owen
In England, civil war from 1642-1646 ended in almost a complete triumph for Puritanism, religiously and politically. Churchill, in his “History of the English-Speaking Peoples” (New York, Barnes and Noble edition, 1995) noted that:

By the spring of 1646 all armed resistance to the Parliamentary Army was beaten down. The Puritans had triumphed. In the main the middle class, being more solid for Parliament, had beaten the aristocracy and gentry, who were divided. The new money-power of the City had beaten the old loyalties. The townsfolk had mastered the country side. What would some day be the “Chapel” had beaten the [Anglican] Church. There were many contrary examples, but upon the whole this was how it lay … (pg 190).

During these years, the Puritans seemingly were the political “masters of the universe”. They had political power. They had the freedom to move and operate, and seemingly to shape their own destinies and the destiny of the country.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A pop mythological touchstone of friendship



Star Trek has become a fixture of the American mythos. I suppose Star Trek is to the American pop cultural lexicon what Homer was to the Greeks. A source of so many illustrations and catchphrases. Far more than Star Wars or Lord of the Rings

The Western is the only rival in that regard. But Star Trek is far more of a one-man vision than the Western genre. Mind you, Roddenberry was a limited storyteller. He himself ran out of material early on. Others had to pick up where he left off. 

I'm old enough to have seen the premier broadcast. I wasn't really into Westerns as a kid. I watched episodes of Bonanza, The Big Valley, and the Rifleman, but that was basically filler. They weren't my favorite shows. I don't think I ever saw Gunsmoke

The only Western I really liked was The Wild Wild West, because of the retro science fiction elements and the rapport between Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. 

I was more into shows like Star Trek, Time Tunnel, The Invades, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Green Hornet, the Prisoner, and the Avengers

As a teenager I once made the mistake of reading a book by a Trekkie. I just wanted more background about Star Trek. But I got more than I bargained for. Reading it I was suddenly and temporarily inducted into the world of Trekkies. I thought to myself, "These people take it really seriously. It's unhealthy!"

The author, a woman (forget her name) would compare Kirk/Shatner with Spock/Nimoy. Some viewers, she said, bonded with Kirk while others bonded with Nimoy.

Can't say I bonded with either character. 

I thought McCoy/Kelley was the most likable actor/character. But he was underutilized. Scotty/Doohan was another underutilized actor/character. I liked Sarek/Lenard as well. 

It's interesting that Shatner, Nimoy, and Lenard are all Jewish. 

I think Spock caught on in large part because his character dovetailed with the Sixties. The counterculture. 

Nimoy had to cope with the dilemma of typecasting. Would you rather play one memorable character or play dozens of forgettable characters? 

I do remember him in some other roles. He was good in Brave New World. Good in a remark of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I remember him in A Woman Called Golda, although he was eclipsed by Ingrid Bergman. 

But, of course, Spock was his signature role. Technically, Shatner was the star and the lead character, but he was quickly overshadowed by Nimoy. 

Shatner was, himself, a replacement for Jeff Hunter. Although he's hardly a great actor, Shatner does have starpower. Had the dominating stage presence that Hunter lacked. I think the series would have bombed if they kept Hunter.

I think Nimoy was convincing, in part, because he had an unusual face. A good face for a humanoid alien. He used to have a great speaking voice, but that became very frayed over time.

As he himself said, he modeled the character's isolation on the Wandering Jew motif. The consummate outsider and observer.

There are people who become very attached to certain TV characters. But I can never forget that it's fiction. It's not the world I have to live in. It's not my present, and–more importantly–it's not my future.

Nimoy enjoys the immortality that the world can confer. But the immortality which a dying world confers is ephemeral and delusive. 

I'm not emotionally invested in the life and death of actors. They are strangers. There's an illusory sense of familiarity that comes from watching them. And if we were introduced to them at a certain age, there's an element of nostalgia. But I don't have a personal connection with celebrities. That's make-believe fellowship.

Nimoy's death is just another reminder of my own mortality. I was just a kid when I saw it for the first time. Now I'm 20+ years older than the actors were at the time. And they are dying off. 

Overdosing On Fiction

One of the reasons why people are so interested in the death of somebody like Leonard Nimoy is that they enjoy thinking about imaginary worlds, like the imaginary world of Star Trek. There's a lot they don't like about real life. They want a better world. That's also one of the reasons why people are interested in science fiction books, romance novels, and video games, for example. While that sort of fiction is acceptable and useful up to a point, our culture is far too focused on it. There's not much interest in real evidence about how real people will really live in a real afterlife with a real God. People prefer their fiction. When they're interacting with relatives, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers, they'd rather discuss the fake world of Star Trek than the real heaven. Behind that preference is the presumptuous wishful thinking that God is like them and that the afterlife will be what they want it to be. They ought to spend more time in non-fiction and less time pursuing their fictional preferences.

Gregg Allison addresses Rome’s “Nature-Grace interdependence”

Gregg Allison on Roman Catholicism
You can purchase this work here.
As was shown in my last three blog articles on “the Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace” (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), this “interdependence” serves as a foundational tenet of Roman Catholicism, and virtually every Roman doctrine is shaped and underpinned by it.

Finally, here, Allison gives his opinion of this “interdependence” – the source of it, and the reason why its source is flawed. What follows is from Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 1006-1073). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pgs 52-55 in the printed edition.
Each of the above doctrines and practices will be assessed in due time in the remainder of this book, but an appraisal of the first pillar on which they are built—the nature-grace interdependence—will be undertaken now.

Evangelical theology disagrees strongly with its counterpart concerning the interdependence between nature and grace. One objection is that the Catholic system’s concept of nature owes more to philosophical traditions—the Neoplatonism at the heart of Augustine’s theology; the Aristotelian philosophy to which Thomas Aquinas’s theology was wedded—than to Scripture.

Because Catholic theology defines “nature” philosophically, rather than shaping this concept according to Scripture, evangelical theology considers its notion of nature to be fundamentally flawed.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Is Gen 6:1-4 about ETs?

It's a silly question, but some people take it seriously. A few quick observations:

i) Gen 6:1-4 doesn't say the "sons of god[s]" were sky people. It doesn't say they came down from the sky.

ii) The syntax is ambiguous. It doesn't say the Nephilim were the offspring of union between the "sons of god[s]" and human females.

iii) Even if you think aliens exist and made contact with humans, there's no reason to think they'd find human females sexually attractive–any more than we find other species sexually attractive. Isn't it pretty egotistical to imagine that ETs lust for human females? 

iv) And if it's aliens, why just male aliens mating with human females? What about female aliens mating with human males?

v) Moreover, it's wildly improbable to think that aliens, who (ex hypothesi) developed independently on a planet with a different atmosphere, different ecosystem, would be anatomically compatible with humans–much less genetically compatible to the point of interspecies reproduction, resulting in hybrid offspring. 

I suppose a committed ufologist could salvage that thesis by appealing to genetic engineering. That, however, strays far from the text.

vi) Isn't the alien abduction trope about humans going up rather that aliens coming down? That humans are transported to a spacecraft to undergo experimentation? 

vii) To me, the text invites a far more mundane explanation. Isn't this a familiar scenario? Raiding parties to abduct women from a neighboring tribe or village. That happens in lots of primitive cultures. An invading army where officers have the pick of the women. Sex-starved sailors who discover the Polynesian islands and help themselves to the bounty, including–or especially–native women. 

If it weren't for one or two enigmatic designations (nephilim; "sons of god[s]), surely we wouldn't take it any other way. 


I'm going to take the Alexander UFO Religious Crisis Survey:

1. “Official confirmation of the discovery of an advanced, technologically superior extraterrestrial civilization would have severe negative effects on the country’s moral, social and religious foundations.” 

We need to distinguish between what would happen and what should happen. If that happened, I don't think that discovery ought to have any negative effect on the foundations of Christianity. 

But in reality, it would become a new religion for many clueless people, including nominal Christians. They'd seek moral and spiritual guidance from the wrong source.

2. “My congregation would perceive any contact made with a technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization, direct or indirect, as a threat.”

Of course, that's hypothetical. It would only be threatening of the aliens were threatening. A hostile invasion. That scenario. 

But in principle, contact with an alien civilization would not be intrinsically threatening. Mind you, it would certainly be disruptive. 

3. “The discovery of another intelligent civilization would cause my congregation to question their fundamental concepts regarding the origin of life.” 

That's a non sequitur. If they exist, they're creatures–just like us. God made them. 

4. “If highly advanced intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, the basic tenets of religion would be present.” 

If they're unfallen aliens, then they'd worship the same God as Christians do. Mind you, that depends in part on how much divine revelation they are privy to. It's possible that God reveals himself more extensively to fallen, but redeemed creatures like us.

5. “Genetic similarities between mankind and an advanced extraterrestrial civilization would challenge the basic religious concepts of man’s relative position in the universe.” 

That's no different than the issue of genetic similarities between mankind and other terrestrial lifeforms. So that wouldn't add anything new to the issue. 

6. “If an advanced extraterrestrial civilization had religious beliefs fundamentally different from ours, it would endanger organized religion in this country.” 

No, that would simply mean they're a fallen race–or evil spirits in alien guise.

7. “Scientific confirmation of contact with an advanced extraterrestrial civilization is probable in our lifetime.” 

I doubt it. 

8. “It is unlikely that direct contact with an advanced extraterrestrial civilization has occurred or is currently ongoing.” 


9. “My congregation would question their beliefs if an advanced extraterrestrial civilization had no system of religion.”

Same answer as #6. Again, though, assuming that they even exist, there's no presumption that God revealed himself in the same detail to every alien race. 

10. “If an advanced extraterrestrial civilization proclaimed responsibility for producing human life, it would cause a religious crisis.” 

Same answer as #6. 

A Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace Part 3

How the Roman Catholic view of nature and grace intersects with a variety of Roman Catholic doctrines and practices.

See also:

A Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace Part 1.

A Roman Catholic View of Nature and Grace Part 2.

Aquinas was the problem; the Reformation was the solution.

I’m continuing to work through Gregg Allison’s work, “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment”.

A proper evangelical assessment of Catholicism will treat Catholic theology as a coherent, all-encompassing system with one of its two key tenets being the nature-grace continuum that underscores the less-than-devastating impact of sin on nature, which, as a consequence, retains some capacity to receive, transmit, and cooperate with grace.

Specific theological doctrines and practices in which the outworking of this understanding of the nature-grace continuum can be seen are: