Thursday, December 13, 2018

Wheat vs tares and the "Christianity is a white man racist colonialist religion" challenge

One of Jesus' key parables is the one on wheat and tares. This seems especially relevant as we see the captioned challenge. Which, popped up at ZDK on Tuesday. The Missionary comes to Africa, Bible in hand. Let us pray. By the time he reaches Amen, he holds the land and the Africans only the Bible. 

The rhetorical force taints the gospel without ever actually addressing inconvenient questions such as truth. A clue that something is wrong. Something, that must be firmly answered.

Lest we be distracted from the pivotal truth of the gospel, here is Strobel, again -- truth comes first:

Case for Christ - L. Strobel from Rufino Magiting on Vimeo.

So, too, let me now clip an updated excerpt from the introduction for U9 on the sins and blessings of Christendom; in my online street level systematic theology 101 draft course:
>> (v) a culture influenced by the scriptures will always be an Iron and Clay mixture of progress and resistance to progress. So, (vi) the tensions inevitably lead to drearily repeated conflict; too often, marked by "sawdust in your eye/ plank in mine"one upmanship games.

Consequently, sadly and to our shame, (vii) this pattern explains much about the history of that civilisation that for many centuries was known as Christendom, and is now usually styled Western Civilisation.

It is therefore unsurprising to see that (viii) it is now quite common for Bible-believing evangelical Christians who stand up in public or online to be presented with "shut up! . . . " rhetoric based on reciting long litanies of the real and imagined sins of Christendom and/or out of context clippings from especially the OT.  Where as well, (ix) the NT is not immune to this sort of angry, demonising out of context misreading.  
As a case in point we may  examine a highly misleading campaign billboard sponsored by the American Atheists: 

This billboard was put up in attempted retort to the declaration by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that 2012 -- 400 years after the epochal KJV of 1611 -- would be celebrated as the Year of the Bible. (The billboard, unsurprisingly, irresponsibly distorts the record on the Bible's impact on liberation from slavery and its wider contribution to the rise of modern liberty and democracy.)
 This sort of aggressively hostile, emotive -- and, too often devilishly hoggish --  rhetoric is in too many cases designed to make it out that the God of the Bible is an imaginary moral monster and his followers are little more than potentially genocidal Nazi-like barbarians. We may freely add, that if we are black, we are portrayed as gullible and/or race traitors betraying our people to white religious con-men. In a classic expression, such come to Africa bearing Bibles and say, let's pray. By the time "amen" is said, they hold the land (= economic, social & political power) and the blacks have only the Bible, by implication an empty book of religious myths.
  The ideological inference drawn from this, is that especially white Christians will use belief in this "fictional" "bronze age god" to impose a theocratic tyranny and inquisition on the general public; also, that Bible-believing blacks are little more than useful idiot fellow travellers or are outright traitors. In either case, the Christian faith and its gospel message are stigmatised and stereotyped through loaded strawman caricatures into little more than an oppressive fraud not even worth listening to.  All, without ever having to deal with inconvenient questions such as the truth of the gospel message, the reality of God or the need for us to repent and seek reformation as communities under God, in light of the dynamics reflected in the seven mountains framework:

In short, for many today, Bible-believing Christians and the gospel have been cleverly pushed out beyond the right hand margin of the Overton Window:

On that framing, the only "acceptable" Christians then become those who are safely locked inside the window as it moves ever "leftward" in service to a radical, essentially secularist/progressivist and even culturally marxist agenda pushing for the normalisation of ever more bizarre perversions and pathologies outlined or hinted at in Rom 1
In short, we see that we must systematically answer the "the-God-of-the-Bible is a moral monster" thesis.
[NB. cf. here (observe comment exchanges) and here, and Copan here, here, here; here is longer but more popular; Dr V J Torley, here, is also useful in specific response to the leading New Atheist, Dr Richard Dawkins.]

Now, such objectors as have just been described plainly view us (or, to promote their agendas, would want us to be viewed) as "Christo-fascists." That is, in their view we are heirs to the Nazis and/or slave traders or the racist lynch mobs and passive church mice too cowed to do anything about oppression. They also sometimes view us as being much like -- or even worse than -- IslamIST radicals such as Mr Bin Laden and ilk; who, through terrorism, settlement and conquest would impose Islamic Sharia Law and Apartheid-like dhimmitude upon us. (Cf. documentation of this IslamIST agenda here and here.) 
Sadly, it gets worse.  
There are actual cases, like EvilBible [note general refutation here and specific rebuttals here and here , also the recently revealed Nuremberg investigatory documents here and a key cluster of quotes here], where there is an outright -- and quite viciously irresponsible -- attempt to claim that Hitler was a Christian, acting out of the tenets and examples of this faith. That is, in such minds, Nazism is viewed as a consequence of the Christian Faith and ethics, lived out on the ground. 
Nor are such inclined to take seriously the correction that the following is at the core of Christian ethics, as taught by Jesus and his apostles:
Ac 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. [--> God is our all-wise, all-good loving Creator and Lord, whose commandments and instructions to us for living will therefore be "for our own good." [Deut. 10:13.] ]
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth [--> so, racism is decisively undercut], having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
  29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. [--> confronts the foundational sins of pagan culture, calling for repentance] 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” [--> repentance and reformation are called for in light of the warrant for the gospel, the resurrection of Jesus witnessed by over 500. This is also backed up be a warning of upcoming judgement by God.]
Rom 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
9 For the commandments [--> as in Mosaic . . . ], “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal [--> these two cover aggressive warfare and the like as carried out by the Nazis right there], You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
1 Tim 1:Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers [--> that is slave traders . . . decisively undercutting the evil which haunts our history as a region],[b] liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound[c] doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. [ESV]
Likewise, in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, Jesus taught that a world in which the gospel would be sown, beginning to bear good fruit would be cross-sown by the enemy of our souls with poisonous but at first similar weeds. Then, because the weed-roots are entangled with those of the wheat, to try to root out all of the weeds would destroy the wheat. So the solution is to wait and in due time extract the weeds and destroy them then harvest the good wheat. Thus, we are to expect that a gospel-influenced culture will be in a race between godly revival and demonic riot, which will extend to churches and even families. 
So, our call is obviously to sound discipleship and to bring forth the fruit that manifests long before the actual harvest that we are wheat not toxic weeds. In short, our gospel ethics driven lifestyle is a crucial facet of our service to God and is a key authentication of the gospel. Which points to the significance of being salt and light, a shining gospel-based counter-culture in a dark world, as can readily be seen in Eph 4 - 5.>>
Perhaps, it is time to re-think?

Let us therefore briefly ponder the parable:
>>Matthew 13:24-30 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Parable of the Weeds

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[a] among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants[b] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”


  1. Matthew 13:25 Probably darnel, a wheat-like weed
  2. Matthew 13:27 Or bondservants; also verse 28
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Matthew 13:36-43 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Parable of the Weeds Explained

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Are we wheat or tares?

Let's note, using Wikipedia as a handy summary on darnel (the most likely "tares"), a peculiar weed of wheat that, being a rye-grass, closely resembles it but is very prone to infection by a toxic befuddling fungus:
Illustrating wheat vs tares when the ear appears
Darnel usually grows in the same production zones as wheat and was a serious weed of cultivation until modern sorting machinery enabled darnel seeds to be separated efficiently from seed wheat.[1] The similarity between these two plants is so great that in some regions, darnel is referred to as "false wheat".[2] It bears a close resemblance to wheat until the ear appears. The spikes of L. temulentum are more slender than those of wheat. The spikelets are oriented edgeways to the rachis and have only a single glume, while those of wheat are oriented with the flat side to the rachis and have two glumes. Wheat will appear brown when ripe, whereas darnel is black.[3]
Darnel can be infected by an endophytic fungus of the genus Neotyphodium and the endophyte-produced, insecticidal loline alkaloids were first isolated from this plant.[4]
The French word for darnel is ivraie (from Latin ebriacus, intoxicated), which expresses the drunken nausea from eating the infected plant, which can be fatal.[1] The French name echoes the scientific name, Latin temulentus "drunk."
 So, we see some very interesting hints. Close resemblance while young (though the seed can be told apart hence "good seed"), leading to the shock of discovering what was not sown at least by the legitimate sowers. This already raises the question of guarding the field from those who would sow bad seed by night -- watching and defending borders and the land are important. (Clearly, proper general, logical and theological education and yes apologetics and correctives are key. Not every seemingly plausible or attractive message is good.)

Next, the way darnel becomes toxic is interesting: readily picking up a toxic, befuddling fungus (likely, spores are in the air) that would have been invisible until made manifest through effects. Then, the shock of discovering what should not have been there when the ears appear . . . a preliminary sign that harvest is coming but now will not be an unmixed joy.

This already speaks strongly to the mixed-blessing nature of a culture influenced by the gospel: tares are also going to be sown, will look like the real thing, but will eventually come out as a toxic infestation. But the point was the wheat.

Could it be, too, that by the power of the seed of the word planted in our hearts we may change by the miracle of regeneration into wheat?

Are we bearing a good head of grain?

Pulling back, do we see wheat and tares in our communities?

Are we so fixated on tares that we don't notice the wheat?

Pulling on a similar parable, are we allowing the bitterness of the weeds of the past to rob us of the truth of the gospel?

And so, we are back at the fallacy in the Let's pray story: it embitters, befuddling and distracting so that we lose sight of the kernel of truth. The answer to the sad history of colonial oppression and the tainting of Christendom by tares is not to burn it all down, but to discern wheat from tares and act accordingly.

Food for thought. END

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Answering Gordon Robinson's "Who/ what is God?" -- the credibility and civilisational foundational importance of God, the gospel, gospel ethics and gospel theology

The reality and credibility of God, the gospel and gospel-based ethics and theology are not just matters of academic importance or of opinions and rhetoric. They are crucial for the survival of our civilisation.

Those are strong words, but they are justified. This, we will now explore in 101 level outline.

Now, again, let us refresh our memory of Mr Gordon Robinson's key accusation in the Sunday Gleaner on August 26, 2018, as we already noted on Nov 7th:
Either the Church has NO CLUE about who/what God really is [--> educational fraud], or it deliberately misrepresents God's essence in order to frighten people into becoming church members and tithing [--> financial fraud]. Nothing else makes sense.”  Other assertions: “dangerous dogma promulgated by the Church and its many brainwashed surrogates,” “perverse propaganda spread by Christian churches,” “sycophants” and the like.
 We need to ask, first, what has brought Jamaica and the wider Caribbean to a place where one of our region’s top five newspapers feels free to publish such ill-founded accusations against the Christian faith? For, the Gleaner has in effect accused the Church of posing as teachers about God, ethics and the like while being utterly ignorant and/or greedy for money. Then, tellingly, it felt it appropriate to suppress correction. 

(BTW, this suppression of the right of responsible reply already indicates a terrible situation. For, when we see controversial, one sided assertions, reporting or opinions in our regional media without effective reply, it may well mean little more than that such media houses are captive to particular agendas and are using their editorial power to suppress the other side of the story. Sad.)

Now, as was discussed on ZDK Radio Tuesday last (and as has been in this blog and elsewhere for years), we are facing a civilisational tidal wave of de-Christianisation from the North, and another due to radical Islam from the East. We are also now facing a rising influence from China. Which, is itself in a race between the spread of the gospel and the current re-assertion of harsh Communistic, Atheistical radical secularism. 

(Historically, the tipping point is when a community becomes 20 - 30% Christian in adherence. In a democracy, 5% can sharply swing an election for good or ill. For +5% for A means - 5% for B, a 10% shift. When A goes up, those votes come from B; B must go down. Say, B was 52% and A 48%. That shifts to 53% for A and 47% for B, which in a "first past the post" system can move numbers of seats far more sharply, especially if B's support is heavily concentrated in urban centres and A's is spread across the hinterlands. This is where it is a political maxim that elections are won in the mushy middle, the swinging vote. A 5% rise in the vote for sound reformation can make a big difference; and likewise if the mushy middle can be polarised against those who support sound, gospel-ethics driven reformation, that can and does move the balance of power towards putting evil for good and good for evil, leading to a voyage of folly for the proverbial ship of state. (Also see here on the Ac 27 example.)  That unwise polarisation -- better, pushing to the disreputable stereotyped scapegoat margins -- would then shift the terms on which policies are hammered out and elections are fought through moving the BATNA-points in the Overton Window. Too often, to bitter cost. As Ac 27 shows.)

Let me refresh our memories on the parable of the ship of state:
 [T]he idea is that the owner-merchant captain of a ship (= the people of Athens c. 430 - 400 BC) was blind and could not navigate or steer the ship. Members of the crew (= political leaders and pundits who got that city into the ruinous Peloponnesian war) then tried to befuddle him, and clamoured to gain control of the helm through having popular support; even though they plainly lacked character and competence. Meanwhile, away in a corner was a disdained, “useless” stargazer – the skilled navigator. The fate of such a “ship” was sadly predictable; a grim warning on how democracies can fail.

So, in a certain sense it is unsurprising to see the sort of development we now face; our region is not insulated from the big global trends in a global, Internet age. As I summarised in 2016:

But that does not answer the charges. Where do we begin?

First, Christians will note that the Bible nowhere sets out to prove the existence or credibility or moral soundness of God beyond all doubt or objection. (That's a futile task in a world where post Godel even complex axiomatic systems in Mathematics are inherently incomplete or are self-contradictory and we have no process to create a known coherent system.) 

Instead, as Romans 1 records, it points to the evident signs in creation around us and to our own inner life as making acknowledging God so compelling that to walk away from God leaves us without excuse and is ruinous to a civilisation:
 Rom 1:18 For [God does not overlook sin and] the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who in their wickedness suppress and stifle the truth, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them [in their inner consciousness], for God made it evident to them.
20 For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through His workmanship [all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made], so that they [who fail to believe and trust in Him] are without excuse and without defense . . . .

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God or consider Him worth knowing [as their Creator], God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do things which are improper and repulsive, 29 until they were filled (permeated, saturated) with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice and mean-spiritedness. They are gossips [spreading rumors], 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors [of new forms] of evil, disobedient and disrespectful to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful [without pity].

  32 Although they know God’s righteous decree and His judgment, that those who do such things deserve death, yet they not only do them, but they even [enthusiastically] approve and tolerate others who practice them. [AMP]

 Those are hard words, but a glance to our North (and increasingly, around us here in the Caribbean) should give us sobering pause. For, Rom 1 reads uncomfortably like our headlines. 

That's part of why, in the first response to Mr Robinson [the one that was refused publication], R and I briefly drew attention to three crucial bits of evidence that we too often tend to overlook:
EXHIBIT I: >>Over the years, many millions have met and been transformed through meeting God in the face of Christ. This includes countless Jamaicans [--> and we can obviously add, Antiguans, Montserratians, Bajans and other Caribbean citizens]. It also includes many famed scholars, eminent scientists and leaders of powerful reformations. Logically, if just one of these millions has actually been reconciled with God through Christ, God must be real and the gospel must be true. (Where, if instead so many are deeply delusional, that would undermine the rational credibility of the human mind.) >>

Sir Francis Crick's March 19, 1953 letter to his son Michael,
describing DNA, and pointing out its textual, linguistic character
EXHIBIT II: >>consider how for sixty years now we have known that the DNA in the cells of our bodies has in it complex, alphanumeric, algorithmic code that is executed through molecular nanotechnology to build proteins, the workhorses of biological life. That’s why Sir Francis Crick wrote to his son Michael on March 19, 1953 that “we believe that the DNA is a code. That is, the order of bases (the letters) makes one gene different from another gene (just as one page of print is different from another).”

Yes, alphanumeric code (so, language!), algorithms (so, purpose!), i.e. intelligent design of life from the first living cell on. Including, us. No wonder the dean of the so-called New Atheists was forced to admit that Biology studies complicated things that give a strong appearance of design.>>

EXHIBIT III: >>Next, Mr Robinson and others inevitably appeal to our known duty to truth, right reasoning, fairness, prudent judgement, etc. But, where did that inner moral law (testified to by our consciences) come from? Surely, it is not a delusion; or else responsible, freely rational discussion would collapse into nihilistic chaos: might and manipulation (= “power and propaganda”) make ‘right,’ ‘rights,’ ‘justice,’ ‘truth,’ ‘knowledge’ etc. Instead, our conscience-guarded hearts and minds clearly show the Creator’s design that we freely live by the light and law of truth and right.

Such considerations – and many more – point us to the only serious candidate for the source of reality that can bridge IS and OUGHT: the inherently good (and wise) Creator God, a necessary and maximally great being. Who, is fully worthy of our loyalty and of humble, responsible, reasonable service through doing the good. Then, we may readily draw out the classic understanding of God described in scripture and studied in systematic theology: all-good, eternal, creator and Lord with sound knowledge and full capability to work out his good purposes in the right way at the right time. >>
In short, we first  have many people all around us and down the ages whose lives have been positively transformed through meeting God in the face of Jesus, through the gospel. 

Where, yes, there are many hypocrites and we all struggle to walk in the truth. 

That's why scripture counsels us to fight the good fight of faith, and it is why Jesus taught in a famous parable that an enemy would sow poisonous weeds among the newly planted wheat so that one could not uproot the weeds without fatally damaging the crop. (Cf. here.) 

Nor, will it do to wave hands and dismiss successful discipleship and living relationship with God as psychological delusion (a well-known objection, post Freud and Marx et al). For, "if instead so many are deeply delusional, that would undermine the rational credibility of the human mind" -- including the minds of the selectively hyperskeptical objectors. As in, self-referential incoherence that undermines the very minds that we need to be rational and responsible. 

(Sadly, there are more objectors who are perfectly willing to throw away rationality than one might suspect.)

Rom 1 is already biting hard.

Then, when we look at DNA [which we all study in school and know to be at the heart of cell-based life], we find a world of code-based molecular nanotechnology. 

Code? Yes:

Code-using, algorithmic information tech, that had to be in place for cell based life to exist. 
 [In a nutshell, algorithms are step-by-step finite procedures that achieve a definite target.]

Ponder, for example, protein synthesis, the metabolic process that builds the workhorse molecules of cell based life, proteins (including most enzymes):

Where, the well-known Origin of Life researcher Yockey, pointed to the implicit communication system:

We can readily compare here, the "layercake" communication system framework that for example runs the Internet:

No, it will not do to point to the existence of a physical-chemical layer and hyperskeptically pretend that the layered codes and protocols do not exist. Or to airily wave hands and sneer at "analogies" as though this and other forms of inductive reasoning are little more than fallacies, implying (so bad is this objection) that they are not foundational to science and our day to day reasoning. 

Self-refuting self-referential incoherence in the heart of selective hyperskepticism, yet again.

And that extends to the notion that "evolution" solves the problem. 

For, the above challenge is antecedent to cellular self-replication. Without it, there is no room to have mutations of the genetic code that then somehow happen to be incrementally advantageous.
Astrophysicist, Luke Barnes illustrates the fine tuning challenge,
just on two of dozens of parameters and constraints on physics
(And it is a huge, unanswered challenge to empirically ground the extraordinary claim that code systems [= language], algorithms, executing machinery and then the complexities of organisms from amoeba to Mozart wrote themselves bit by bit through lucky noise filtered by finding successive needles in the incomprehensibly vast haystack of possible Amino Acid sequences. For example, a typical protein is 300 AA long, pointing to a field of possibilities of 20^300 ~ 2.04 * 10^390. That is vastly more possibilities than can be explored at a fast organic chem interaction rate of 10^12 - 14 interactions/s by the ~ 10^80 atoms of our observed cosmos in ~ 13.85 billion years from the singularity on the conventional timeline. Far too much haystack for our universe to credibly search through Dawkins' blind watchmaker processes. A cell actually needs thousands of proteins to function properly. Where, too, if you suggest a "golden search" you face the issue that a search is a sampled subset of a space of possibilities. Search for a golden search thus comes from the power set of the original configuration space; the collection of all subsets. Where for a set of n members, the power set has 2^n members. 2^[2*10^390] is already computer smoking territory. And if you appeal to as yet undiscovered laws that write life into the cosmos, you are looking at fine tuning on steroids, pointing strongly to the design of the cosmos. Where, just to get to C-Chemistry, aqueous medium, cell based life on "privileged" terrestrial planets in galactic habitable zones, we are already looking at a serious fine tuned cosmos challenge. Pointing strongly to design of our observed universe. Another whole subject!)
Famed evolutionary theorist, J B S Haldane long since posed the un-answered self-referential incoherence challenge of evolutionary materialist scientism:
"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (NB: DI Fellow, Nancy Pearcey brings this right up to date (HT: ENV) in a current book, Finding Truth.)]
Let's just draw the quick point that language (as strong a mark of intelligence as there is) is causally antecedent to cell-based life.

Rom 1 is biting harder and harder.

Then too, Exhibit III pointed to our own inner life and nature: our minds are governed by known duty to truth, right reason, fairness and justice, etc. Indeed, the whole rhetorical force of Mr Robinson's objections and similar arguments pivots on their knowledge that we are so governed. We are morally governed creatures in our inner life, thought, speech and outward behaviour -- as our consciences bear witness (if we haven't managed to befuddle, utterly warp or kill them yet). 

Something that is universally known.

Another clue, and a big hint.

No wonder (as is in the second article in the series) we see from the pagan Roman statesman and Lawyer, Cicero, c. 50 BC:
. . . For, he summarised the received view in his day, on how Law is “highest reason, implanted in [our] nature, which prescribes those things which ought to be done, and forbids the contrary.” He continued: “the voice of conscience is a law . . . moral prudence is a law, whose operation is to urge us to good actions, and restrain us from evil ones.” He then concluded in his own voice: “the origin of justice is to be sought in the divine law of eternal and immutable morality.” [Cf. De Legibus.2] 

F/N 2:   See:

Also, when John Locke penned his famous Second Treatise on Civil Government (which is known to be foundational to modern democratic self-government) he cited Anglican Canon Richard Hooker on the linked Golden Rule taught by Moses, Jesus, Paul and the other Apostles. We thus see, at the pivotal point in his argument:
“. . . my desire . . . to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.” [2nd Treatise on Civil Government, Ch 2 Sec. 5 (1689), citing Eccl. Polity, preface, Bk I, Ch. 8.] 

{Hooker then continued: "[citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8 and echoing Justinian's Jurisconsults in The Institutes of Law, the built-in textbook in the key synthesis of Roman Law, Corpus Juris Civilis:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . "}
 Let me add Paul's remarks on the law within and on the golden rule, which Hooker also echoes:
Rom 2:14 When Gentiles, who do not have the Law [since it was given only to Jews], do [c]instinctively the things the Law requires [guided only by their conscience], they are a law to themselves, though they do not have the Law. 15 They show that the [d]essential requirements of the Law are written in their hearts; and their conscience [their sense of right and wrong, their moral choices] bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or perhaps defending them . . . . 

13:[b]Owe nothing to anyone except to [c]love and seek the best for one another; for he who [unselfishly] loves his neighbor has fulfilled the [essence of the] law [relating to one’s fellowman]. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and any other commandment are summed up in this statement: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor [it never hurts anyone]. Therefore [unselfish] love is the fulfillment of the Law. [AMP]

Thus, not only is it known that we are morally governed, but this is foundational to self-government, law and community, thus to civilisation. We cannot not know this.

So, how can we ground this in our worldviews? How can we bridge and fuse IS and OUGHT, forming a coherent morally governed understanding of reality?

After Hume pointed out how there is a categorical leap in arguments that go IS, IS . . . OUGHT, there is just one place: the source or root of reality. In that root we need an entity that is both the source of being and by core characteristic so good that it is at the same time inextricably the adequate wellspring of moral government so that Euthyphro's dilemma or the like cannot thereafter sever the fusion of IS and OUGHT. 

Unsurprisingly, as was noted, there is just one serious candidate: the inherently good (and wise) Creator God, a necessary and maximally great being. Who, is fully worthy of our loyalty and of humble, responsible, reasonable service through doing the good that accords with our evident nature. 

(If you doubt or dismiss this, this is philosophy on comparative difficulties not "dogma" or "brainwash[ing]", simply put up an alternative that is factually adequate, coherent and explanatorily powerful without being simplistic or an ad hoc patchwork: ______ . You will readily see why I can freely write as I just did.)

It will help to reflect on "necessary being" in light of the logic of being. In a nutshell:

 Yes, there are some big, hard questions here. But, if we are to explore and understand who/what God is, those are the questions we must ponder; even at 101 level.

Then, we may freely draw out the classic understanding of God described in scripture and studied in systematic theology: all-good, eternal, creator and Lord with sound knowledge and full capability to work out his good purposes in the right way at the right time.

Rom 1 has bitten home with terrific force.

Also, we are at the threshold of Christian, redemptive ethical theism, and of its powerful answers to the Idea of God [aka Philosophy of Religion] and to Systematic Theology. Which is far beyond the dismissive insinuations and talking points that seem to increasingly be an ill-advised common-place in too many influential circles in our region.  Where of course, those who are dismissive need to face the force of the testimony of the 500, and other evidence on Jesus of Nazareth.

Instead of going on and on in what is already a far-ranging blog post, let me first use a link pointed to by reader S, on the credibility of the Gospels etc (for the Bible is a key source for Christian Theology):

This introduction to the rational defence of the Christian Faith will also be helpful:

(Cf. Full course from RZIM here.)

Where, too, we may now see useful courses on Systematic Theology online. Wayne Grudem has a useful brief introduction:

(And this course seems to be a good survey, based largely on Grudem's 1,000+ pp introductory work. [Let me also point to unit 2 in my own online draft "street-level 101" course. Grudem's video lectures on his well-received textbook are here, and here at Amazon; currently US$ 26.96. U/D Dec 4, Grudem's Systematic Theology is readily available through Amazon . . . unsurprisingly, no. 1 bestseller on this topic . . . etc, and is archived at the Web Archive project here in various formats -- warning, a fat download.])

Let me embed one session on the doctrine of God:

These are of course just a beginning. END

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Pakistan PM (and cricketer) Imran Khan ill-advisedly claims "there is no mention of Jesus in history"

As MEMRI translates and reports, Pakistan's new(ish) Prime Minister has recently joined the "Jesus is [largely] a myth" club:
 Imran Khan: There were prophets of Allah other [than Muhammad], but there is no mention of them in human history. There is negligible mention of them. Moses is mentioned, but there is no mention of Jesus in history. But the entire life of Muhammad, who was Allah's last prophet, is part of history.
 Immediately, this reflects an unwarranted but all too common anti-Christian bias against the eyewitness-lifetime New Testament documents; which are collectively historically and archaeologically well supported, with Luke-Acts as backbone. Secondly, on fair comment,  it fails to recognise the difference in immediate public profile between a peaceful teacher and martyr and a ruler of an expanding state that imposed its will by the sword, which would obviously draw widespread attention. It is also tellingly ignorant of the cluster of early cross-references that provide corroboration to the outline of Jesus' life. 

 In case you need a reminder from "last time," on the atheistical front, notice this equally ill-advised assertion:

 These two incidents of course reflect the two tidal waves pattern of cultural challenges to the Caribbean that we have so often highlighted:

Of course, this points to the opportunity for us to rise up as the third tidal wave -- one that brings the Good News as the true "light rising in the West" (as UWI's motto declares):

Now, in first answer to Mr Khan and the atheists and fellow travellers of the FFRF, let us observe what Australian scholar Paul Barnett long since aptly  and succinctly noted in Is the New Testament History?:
On the basis of . . . non-Christian sources [i.e. Tacitus (Annals, on the fire in Rome, AD 64; written ~ AD 115), Rabbi Eliezer (~ 90's AD; cited J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1929), p. 34), Pliny (Letters to Trajan from Bithynia, ~ AD 112), Josephus (Antiquities, ~ 90's)] it is possible to draw the following conclusions:
    1. Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judaea during the period where Tiberius was Emperor (AD 14 - 37) and Pontius Pilate was Governor (AD 26 - 36). [Tacitus]
    2. The movement spread from Judaea to Rome. [Tacitus]
    3. Jesus claimed to be God and that he would depart and return. [Eliezer]
    4. His followers worshipped him as (a) god. [Pliny]
    5. He was called "the Christ." [Josephus]
    6. His followers were called "Christians." [Tacitus, Pliny]
    7. They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome [Tacitus, Pliny]
    8. It was a world-wide movement. [Eliezer]
    9. His brother was James. [Josephus]
[Is the New Testament History? (London, Hodder, 1987), pp. 30 - 31. Cf. McDowell & Wilson, He Walked Among Us (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993) for more details; free for download here.]
 Such already suffices to refute Mr Khan's claims on want of relevant historical reference from Non-Christian sources.

It is important to focus the NT testimony. So, turning to Peter's theological will, 2 Peter, we may see also a telling rebuke to all such "myth" claims; in a record c. 65 AD that was literally sealed with this martyr's blood:
2 Pet 1:16 . . .  we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
19And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts . . . [ESV]
Similarly, we note the official summary of the church's C1 first generation witness that Paul recorded 55 AD, recording the testimony of the 12 and the 500 which dates to 35 - 38 AD in Jerusalem (a key site, within a decade of the events):

1 Cor 15:1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you . . .

3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures [--> cf. esp. the c. 700 BC Isa 52:23 - 53:12], 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God . . . 

11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. [ESV]

We may also observe Luke's introductory remarks for his two-volume work (which by its 62 AD cut-off in Ac 28 shows how its base form dates to 57 - 62 AD, using Mark as a key underlying source [which therefore dates to the 40's - 50's AD and which records Peter's detailed testimony]:
Lk 1: 1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. 
 5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,1  of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth . . . . 
Ac 1: 1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 
 4 And while staying  with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with2  the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [ESV]
Turning to chain of custody (the other half of the famous Ancient Documents Rule), we can summarise:

Pulling back our focus, we may ponder the impact of the minimal facts method, as Habermas and others note how -- per an ever growing survey of the literature across the range of views (apparently now approaching or in excess of three thousand sources) -- the majority to an overwhelming majority of scholarship on the passion and resurrection of Jesus accept that we can identify a core of "minimal facts," up to twelve in number. In summary:

The minimal facts method only uses sources which are multiply attested, and agreed to by a majority of scholars (ranging from atheist to conservative). This requires that they have one or more of the following criteria which are relevant to textual criticism:

    1. Multiple sources - If two or more sources attest to the same fact, it is more likely authentic
    2. Enemy attestation - If the writers enemies corroborate a given fact, it is more likely authentic
    3. Principle of embarrassment - If the text embarrasses the writer, it is more likely authentic
    4. Eyewitness testimony - First hand accounts are to be prefered
      Early testimony - an early account is more likely accurate than a later one

Having first established the well attested facts, the approach then argues that the best explanation of these agreed to facts is the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . . [Source: "Minimal facts" From Apologetics Wiki. Full article: here. (Courtesy, Wayback Machine.)]

 In substance:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion [--> which implies his historicity!].

2. He was buried.

3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.

4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).

5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).

6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.

7. The resurrection was the central message.

8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.

9. The Church was born and grew.

10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.

11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).

12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

[Cf. Habermas' paper here and a broader more popular discussion here. NT Wright's papers here and here give a rich and deep background analysis. Here is a video of a pastoral presentation of a subset of the facts. Habermas presents the case as videos here and here, in two parts. Here is a video of a debate he had with Antony Flew.]
 The power of the method then lies in challenging alternative explanations to account for the relevant credible facts:

We may briefly compare:

Match to four major credible facts regarding Jesus of Nazareth & his Passion
Overall score/20
Died by crucifixion
(under Pontius Pilate) at Jerusalem c 30 AD
Was buried, tomb was found empty
Appeared to multiple disciples,
many of whom proclaimed
& suffered for their
Appeared to key objectors who then became church leaders: James & Paul
Bodily Resurrection
Visions/ hallucinations
Wrong tomb
Stolen body/fraud
Quran 4:155 -6: "They did not slay him, neither crucified him." 1 1 1 1 4
 "Jesus never existed" 1 1 1 1 4
 "Christianity as we know it was cooked up by Constantine and  others at Nicea, who censored/ distorted the original record" 1 1 1 1 4
"What we have today is 'Paulianity,' not the original teachings of Jesus and his disciples" 2 1 1 2 6
Christianity -- including the resurrection --  is a gradually emerging legend based on a real figure
Complete legend/pagan copycat (Greek, Persian, Egyptian, etc)

(I have given my scores above, based on reasoning that should be fairly obvious. As an exercise you may want to come up with your own scores on a 5 - 1 scale: 5 = v. good/ 4 = good/ 3 = fair/ 2 = poor/ 1 = v. poor, with explanations. Try out blends of the common skeptical theories to see how they would fare.)

 Laying a priori anti-supernaturalism aside as a patent case of worldview level question-begging closed mindedness, the above table shows that there are two serious candidates today, the resurrection as historically understood, or some version of a collective vision/hallucination that led to a sincere (but plainly mistaken) movement.

The latter of course runs into  the problem that such collective visions are not psychologically plausible as the cultural expectations of a resurrection would have been of a general one in the context of the obvious military triumph of Israel. Nor, does it explain the apparently missing body. Moreover, we know separately, that the culturally accepted alternative would have been individual prophetic visions of the exalted that on being shared would comfort the grieving that the departed rested with God. So, an ahead of time individual breakthrough resurrection -- even, one that may be accompanied by some straws in the wind of what is to come in fulness at the end -- is not part of the mental furniture of expectations in C1 Judaism.  Where, hallucinations and culturally induced visions are going to be rooted in such pre-existing mental "furniture."

Where, also -- tellingly -- the women who bought spices and went to the tomb that morning plainly expected to find it occupied by a dead prophet, one unjustly judicially murdered as so many others had been.  (And if you doubt the account that reports how these women became the first to discover the tomb and to see the risen Messiah, consider how dismissive C1 Jews were to the testimony of "hysterical" -- that very word in English is rooted in the Greek for womb, hustera (reflecting a very old prejudice . . . ) -- women. Such an embarrassing point would only be admitted if the reporter was seeking to tell the full truth as best as he could, regardless of how poorly it would come across to his audience; a C1 audience, not a C21 one.)

The Easter event cuts across all reasonable cultural expectations, and obviously forced a much closer -- transforming -- look at messianic prophetic passages such as Isa 52 - 53 which plainly led to an aha moment.

Moreover, the visions suggestion also runs into the problem of the empty tomb; hence the skeptical resistance to that otherwise quite reasonable fact.

(Remember, the NT record is that the women disciples who went to the tomb that first Easter Sunday morning to complete the burial rituals that had been hastily begun just before the Sabbath, on finding the grave open and the body missing at first thought the authorities had taken the body. These primary documents subsequently record the Sanhedrin's official talking point as that the disciples stole the body while the guards slept. Oops. The point of agreement is obvious: the body was missing, and neither group seemed to be responsible for it. [Cf below for more.])

You may think that this sort of balance of evidence should be well known and that educated, responsible and reasonable people would at minimum be willing to accept it as well-grounded that Jesus of Nazareth was a significant Galilean Jew and teacher who had clashes with the Jerusalem authorities which cost him his life. Whereupon, his followers then proclaimed to one and all across the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean and beyond over the next several decades, that Jesus was the prophesied Jewish Messiah, and that though shamefully (though unjustly) crucified -- blatantly true by the criterion of admitting an utterly embarrassing claim -- he was risen from death as Lord and eschatological Judge; until Nero would find it convenient to divert suspicion be falsely accusing Christians of setting fire to Rome in 64 AD.

Even Wikipedia (no friend of the Christian faith) concedes:

Jesus[e] (c. 4 BC – c. AD 30 / 33), also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ,[f] was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader.[12] He is the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians believe he is the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Messiah (Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament.[13][14]

Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed historically,[g] although the quest for the historical Jesus has produced little agreement on the historical reliability of the Gospels and on how closely the Jesus portrayed in the Bible reflects the historical Jesus.[21][h][i] Jesus was a Galilean Jew[12] who was baptized by John the Baptist and subsequently began his own ministry, preaching his message orally[24] and often being referred to as "rabbi".[25] Jesus debated with fellow Jews on how to best follow God, engaged in healings, taught in parables and gathered followers.[26][27] He was arrested and tried by the Jewish authorities,[28] turned over to the Roman government, and was subsequently crucified on the order of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect.[26] After his death, his followers believed he rose from the dead, and the community they formed eventually became the early Church.[29]

The birth of Jesus is celebrated annually on December 25 (or various dates in January by some eastern churches) as a holiday known as Christmas. His crucifixion is honored on Good Friday, and his resurrection is celebrated on Easter. The widely used calendar era "AD", from the Latin anno Domini ("in the year of the Lord"), and the alternative "CE", are based on the approximate birth date of Jesus.[30][j]

Christian doctrines include the beliefs that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born of a virgin named Mary, performed miracles, founded the Church, died by crucifixion as a sacrifice to achieve atonement, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, from where he will return.[32] Most Christians believe Jesus enables people to be reconciled to God. The Nicene Creed asserts that Jesus will judge the living and the dead[33]before or after their bodily resurrection,[34][35][36] an event tied to the Second Coming of Jesus in Christian eschatology.[37] The great majority of Christians worship Jesus as the incarnation of God the Son, the second of three persons of the Trinity. A minority of Christian denominations reject Trinitarianism, wholly or partly, as non-scriptural.

But, sadly, as Mr Khan and FFRF all too tellingly illustrate, that is not the case. 

 It is high time that there was a serious re-assessment of the sort of confident manner dismissive assertions that we keep on seeing. END

PS: It would be remiss of me to leave out a sadly telling context for Mr Khan's remarks. For, as MEMRI goes on to note, he continued:
. . . Every few years, in some Western country, our dear Prophet is blasphemed against and dishonored. What is the consequence of this? Muslims become angry. We take to the streets in protest, [protestors] break things in our country. But what does it achieve? It enables the enemies of Muslims to tell people in the West: "See, Islam is a big religion that spreads violence." They get an opportunity to spread propaganda against Islam.
I am sorry, but this push to secure Islam from fair comment criticism is simply not good enough. 

Especially, coming from the lips of the Prime Minister of a country where a Christian woman. Asia Bibi was falsely accused of blasphemy, was pressured to convert to Islam under immediate threat to her life -- what else does a leather noose around her neck imply? --  and then languished for eight years under unhealthy conditions on death row. Where too, her province's governor and the Minister for minority affairs were murdered for trying to bring justice to a patently innocent woman. 

And, to cap it off, THIS is what we see now that she is freed (and is subjected to a must not leave Pakistan order, also having just been denied asylum by UK PM May):

For shame, Mr Khan. For shame!