Monday, January 31, 2011

Let's you and him be censored

A Facebook conversation I recently had with some longtime acquaintances goes horribly right.

Arianne - Do I really live in this state?!
Store reverses decision to hide Elton John magazine cover

 haha you should go buy the magazine in protest because the Elton John story in US Weekly this week is such a good interview (especially for a weekly gossip magazine lol) !!!

 If they really want to "protect young Harps shoppers" then why don't they cover up the Cosmo cover with the lady hanging out of her dress and promising to show you "50 new ways to drive him wild?"
Blatant hypocrisy.

Yes, hypocrisy, but two wrongs don't make a right. One does not correct one wrong by erring the next time on the wrong side as well. I wish they'd cover all of the indecent mag covers tbh.

 Seriously, they don't cover up the trashy tabloids with stories about alien babies and extreme dieting but this they decided to hide? At least they reversed the decision. Nothing indecent about two people who love each other having a baby.

 I guess you know that we don't agree on that last, Arianne. :-)

 Indeed we don't.
But you probably don't agree with me having a child out of wedlock either, and just as I am content with loving same sex couples having babies, I am also quite content with my planned, unmarried, fertility treatment-induced pregnancy.

 Well, if you're content, you're content. It's just that contentment only goes so far.

 I'll keep that in mind as I make my personal decisions.

 OK. :-)
BTW, it's one thing to make personal decisions and another to publicise your opinion about controversial topics on a public Facebook wall. Which I'm sure you realise.

 I guess for most of my FB friends, my opinion about Elton John's baby isn't controversial. But since I'm not ashamed of my position on gay couples having kids, I'm feeling okay about talking about it.

 I guess I missed where someone gave someone else the right to make tha call about what is controversial.

 If large amounts of ppl on either side disagree about a certain issue, that makes it controversial by definition.

 ‎"large amounts of people did not make the decision in quesstion. Supermarket management apparently did. Oh, and you.

  In keeping with the above definitions of controversial, if the vast majority of Arianne's friends support gay rights, the topic is not controversial for this (her Facebook page) venue. Ergo, I do not find this to be a controversial topic.

Oh, I was just talking about whether the issue is controversial.

Are you aware of some recent survey of Arianne's FB friends on this issue that would tell you that?

A. I did begin with the conditional "if."
B. If the current posts are any indication, you are part of a very small minority.
C. Did you?

I'm not trying to attack anyone, I'm only making the point that some definitions are problematic.

 A. "If" - fair enough.
B. This is a pretty small sample size. :-)
C. No, but I didn't make the positive assertion.

 I agree, the decision to hide the cover is gross. Too much censorship based on individuals' definitions of 'moral' or 'decent' only hurts the rest of us. The Supreme Court ruled years ago on what constitutes "indecent", and this magaine cover does not fit within those terms. Unfortuneately (or fortuneately for freedom), private enterprise has much discretion on matters like this. Definitely makes me feel grateful to live in a heavily populated, relatively tolerant urban area. Btw, I'm impressed with the baby decision and think its awesome! You're an amazing woman!

 How does a private business deciding not to display sthg like that "hurt the rest of us"?

 Do you really want to go there? Make profit the arbiter of morality? Are there more comsumers in San Fran or Springdale, Ark?

To be honest, I don't see how that is particularly relevant.

 Rhology: Bob's is just one of many reasons why censorship is bad- censorship based on morailty or any number of other reasons. Tolerance comes from education. Education comes from information. And, why not give us lots of information, teach us to think, critically analyze, and let us make our own decisions about what we choose to read or look at. Most of us can handle it. I'm certainly not afraid of what a magazine cover is going to do. But then, I'd argue this is as much about fear as it is about 'morality'.

 Hi Sonia!
Let's be clear, though - you also support censorship based on morality. Shall a newspaper run an ad from a neo-Nazi group calling for all whites to rampage thru black neighborhoods and skewer black babies?
Of course not. The question becomes: Whose morality shall we enforce?
Having thought that thru, I have come to realise that the Christian worldview is the most coherent and reasonable. Thus I conclude by commending the self-censorship of the business that didn't want to tacitly endorse perverse behavior of the sort in which Elton John is engaged.

I have zero problem with information, but the mag in question is hardly a source of information. It's celeb gossip, and perverse gossip.

Finally, I have to strenuously object to the "fear" comment. I'd like to ask you to clarify what you mean. Who here is afraid, and of what?

 Hi Rhology- We're not in agreement. I do not favor censorship on any level except that which is provided for by law- that which incites immediate violence. See Brandenburg v. Ohio. (Your example *might* enter this realm depending on facts of the situation.) There's also a legal distinction between what a private and public enterprise may do. This, of course, is a legal discussion I don't have time for on FB.

What you don't like is that the cover offends your sensibilities, your religious worldview, etc. It doesn't offend mine. While we both may have theories on why that is let's just conclude by agreeing that it's cool we can argue and disagree in this country and neither of us will go to jail for it.

10-4. I'm out.

 Yeah, I didn't want to discuss legal complexities either. Just moral. :-)

But as for the "offend my sensibilities", eh, kinda. I'm far from naive; I expect it, but I don't want society to accept such behavior.
And your comment is ironic as well - the store's initial "censorship" of the mag offended your sensibilities, clearly. So do be careful about the stones you chuck. On that note, you didn't answer any of my 3 challenges from last comment.

And yes, it is quite cool. As the Left grows in power in the US, voices such as mine will be progressively (pun fully intended) silenced, and you won't have as many debate partners. But perhaps Jesus will have mercy.

 The cover, Rhology. The magazine cover offends you. It doesn't me. The censoring of the cover does offend me. No stones indireclty thrown. In fact, no stones thrown.

Have a good night, man.

 After a long and busy day, I've had some time to reflect on all the postings. I have determined that I am still totally okay with a. gay couples, b. gay couples having/adopting children, and c. gay couples and their children on magazine covers at the check out aisle. Further, I have decided that a. I am glad gay people don't judge/condone my relationship choices (that I know of anyway) and that b. my tolerance for intolerance is waning which makes me scared that I am also becoming intolerant, which is something I more and more despise. Good night, everyone!

Well, really, I don't know if it's correct to say the cover **offends* me. More like it disgusts me, but I certainly understand why it might offend others.
And of course, I think a simple turnabout will demonstrate that you're not really interacting with the heart of the issue.

The hiding of the cover, Sonia. The hiding of the magazine cover offends you. It doesn't me. The censoring of the cover does not offend me. No stones indirectly thrown. In fact, no stones thrown.

What I'm trying to say is that it seems like you're taking the "we're objective and tolerant, while those fundies are easily-offended bigots" approach. I'd like you to either retract that position (b/c as we've seen, it's not true) or tell me that I mistook your position and explain what your position really is.

I commend you, b/c it's clear you're thinking this thru. And please don't mistake me - I'm not trying to say that I'm way ahead or superior or anything like that. OTOH I have thought about these issues in some detail and it's always gratifying to see others do so as well. I'd like to ask this of you: Does this drift towards intolerance of intolerance, thus becoming a self-contradiction, not lead you to think that perhaps the tolerant/intolerant issue is far less important than truth? And have you ever asked yourself how you know that homosexuality is morally acceptable?

 Sorry Rhology, you missed the sarcasm in my last post. Rest assured, I've thought a lot about my position on such issues long before I posted this. I think what you define as truth and what I define as truth is likely quite different, and I long ago decided that I have absolutely no moral qualms with a man loving a man or a woman loving a woman. Perhaps because I am not as tied to a religion as you are, these decisions are easier for me to make, and frankly, I'm okay with that. Because in my mind, Jesus came from a place of love, not hate, and the hate filled crap people claim in "his name" disgusts me, just as my position on these issues disgust you. That is why tolerance is in fact very important to me. I am not of the opinion that I have it all figured out, and likewise, I do not think anyone probably has it all figured out. So we must coexist, and tolerance would make that much more pleasant. I am now done with this discussion. I'm not budging, you are not budging, and I don't find it all that stimulating. Not trying to be rude, just saying that the questions you pose are not questions I concern myself with the way that you do.

 Oh, my apologies for missing the sarcasm.
But does that mean that you don't in fact see the irony and contradiction in being intolerant of intolerance? How that makes one into a constantly self-referential ideologue?
Most definitely we define truth definitely. It would seem you define moral truth in terms of what you happen to like at that moment. I derive my definitions from what Jesus said and did, and He has much better credentials than you or I. Sure, He loved. He loved sinners, and especially sinners **who repented of their sin**. When was the last time you repented of your sin? You've got some, you know, as does Elton John. I've got you both beat in terms of how bad a sinner I am, but Jesus' forgiveness extends to me too, thankfully. That doesn't mean you're off the hook - you are responsible to both repent of your sin and to stop thinking you have any idea or right to define morality for anyone (including yourself). And Jesus hated sin.
Also, just FYI, while it's true to say Jesus loves sinners, it's *also* true to say He hates them.
...for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." 13 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." (Romans 9:11-13)
The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity. (Psalms 5:5)
The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates. (Psalms 11:5) you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

Anyway, I don't mean to pile on, but you raised some important issues in your comment.
Thanks for the interaction!

 Um, Rhology, please quit preaching at me now. And yes, my comment about intolerance for intolerance was in fact intended to be ironic and sarcastic. But perhaps you think folks aren't smart enough to know that? I think it is clear now and as I said in my earlier statement, I think this discussion has run its course.

 No, the mistake was mine and mine alone. I meant to imply nothing about anyone else's intelligence.
And sorry you thought I was preaching at you. I meant simply a point of information (since you made an incorrect assertion about Jesus), and also I wanted you to know where I'm coming from. Unless you have some prejudicial bias against the Christian position...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review of Bart Ehrman's "God's Problem"

"Where is God now?" inquires Dr. Bart Ehrman in his 2008 book, God's Problem. The subtitle goes on to state, "How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question - Why We Suffer." The further one delves into the book, however, the more one will discover that this claim is substantially inaccurate. One of my friends has done just that. He's dissected Ehrman's book and says a better title more accurately reflecting the book's content and thought would be: "My Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Why We Suffer to My Personal Satisfaction."

Matt (from Vox Veritatis) and I review and dissect Dr Bart Ehrman's God's Problem and, while they're at it, provide a powerful and biblical theodicy:

God's Problem: Review and Solution

(Please leave any comments at the Triablogue cross-post.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A potpourri from a naturalist's reading of the Bible

I met Paul during my recent interaction over the King and I Bible project, and he has posted a lengthy response on a new blog he created b/c his comments wouldn't post correctly.  Blogger is still experiencing these comment bugs, but I suppose it's preferable to 1000s of Asian pr0|\| comments coming in all the time...

2. (Circumcision) is inhumane and it should have baggage.

1) May I ask what evidence you can adduce to demonstrate its inhumanity?
2) I presume you are against tattoos and ear piercings as well, on moral grounds?

What of female genital mutilation? If not, wouldn't this demonstrate sexism on your part?

God did not command female genital mutilation, and in fact the functionality of the female anatomy is markedly diminished after circumcision.  Namely, the woman cannot feel nearly as much pleasure during intercourse.
If you want to charge God with being sexist, I suppose you are free to do so.  I simply request an argument to that effect.  Why is God sexist, and since you seem to think that sexism is bad (if I'm wrong, please correct me), please give me a reason to think so, given your worldview.

3. Please provide evidence for: The existence of a God,

That's not how I roll.  :-)
My argument is that you act as if there is a God, b/c you act like stuff matters.  You act like I can understand you.  You act like there are moral laws.  You act like there are laws of logic.  None of these things are consistent and possible in a godless universe.
I presuppose God exists b/c w/o God, nothing makes sense.  Pointless to point out "evidence".  You'd just reject it anyway b/c you are a sinner.

Let me illustrate by asking you a related question.  Please provide evidence for: The laws of logic and mathematics.
You can't, can you?  No, you have to presuppose their existence to make sense of the universe.  That's an illustration of what I mean.
Specifically, I presuppose and indeed have to presuppose the God of the Bible, b/c no other proposed god in no other worldview contains internal consistency and explanatory power for these questions we're asking.

use these features to show why God would be interested in creating ambiguous literature.

Could you give, say, 2 examples of what you mean when you say "ambiguous"?  Are you open to the possibility that what seems ambiguous to you might seem that way b/c of your ignorance?

It was not written as a historical record, it was written as a letter.

(This is in discussion about Hebrews.)
Yes, a letter that references historical people in such a way that the author makes clear that he is recounting historical events that occurred in the real lives of real people.

The apparent intent is to spread christian doctrine.

Yes, and Christian teaching is based on historical occurrences, such as the giving of the Mosaic Law, the creation, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, etc.

This letter was written somewhere around 1000 years after the event.

I think it's more like 2000 years, actually.
But the time is immaterial - God has a perfect memory.

The author does this by projecting his world view, into the past and overlaying it on the Hebrew's history.

He explains the incompleteness of the OT in terms that explain Christ and also in terms that are inherent in the OT itself.  Such as the repetitive nature of the sacrifices, the inability of the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin and cleanse the conscience, etc.

“What if God were writing it and knew Abraham's heart better than even Ab did, and chose to reveal it more fully in Hebrews?”
See above.

Just so you know, Paul, that's not an answer.

4) “Also, "multiple sources" =/= textual variant.”
Multiple sources/writers/authors often lead to textual variations

I'm sorry, but you're committing a category error here.  The existence of texts that someone, especially numerous someones, felt like copying and preserving for posterity, as well as humanity's imperfection, which is what causes the copy errors, are the causes of textual variation.  Multiple authorship has nothing to do with it.

5. There are many examples of groups of people following charismatic personality's even unto the grave. IE Jonestown, Heavens Gate.

None of those are comparable, and if you'll reread it, you'll see that I was very specific in my language. The apostles would have KNOWN FOR SURE that Jesus was NOT resurrected. That's different than being deceived into thinking that your leader guy is the Messiah, but not having any way to know that was a lie (other than common sense, I mean).  They said Jesus rose from the dead.  If He hadn't, if they'd hidden His body, why go to one's grave confessing that He'd risen when you know for sure that you're not getting anything out of it?

What if they simply went to the wrong tomb?

Why didn't the Sanhedrin just go to the right one and produce the body, then?

Maybe, they saw what they wanted to see

1) It's hardly true that they "wanted" to see Him.  They didn't think He was coming back, remember?  Their hopes were dashed.
2) Are you appealing to the tired old hallucination theory?  Can you name another occurrence when dozens of ppl have seen the same hallucination?  Does it not say something to you that you are positing here a unique event to explain something you otherwise can't explain?  Something that science has no reason to think is possible?

If there is an all powerful loving God, who sent his son as the only way to salvation, don't you think He would have made sure the story was written down correctly?

Certainly.  May I ask why you think that it wasn't written down correctly?  We've seen that you don't know the nature of textual variations, so that's out the window, but perhaps you have something else in mind?

6. Asking for evidence is not the correct way to go about looking for answers?

1) Often it is, but not always.
To show this to be the case, let me ask this:  What is the answer to the questions "is evidence a good way to discover truth?" and "how do you know your mind is properly inclined/geared toward understanding evidence?"  Wouldn't it be true that, to cite evidence as an answer, would be to beg the question at hand?
2) You asked for evidence of God's character.  To ask for evidence of an ought-value, a moral normative value, is a confusion of categories and commits the naturalistic fallacy.  God's character is the standard by which all other standards and actions and questions are judged.  If that is not true, the absurdity to which I refer can be summed up in one word - meh.  That is, there is no reason to do anything, ever.
Here's what I mean, and hopefully it will be helpful when you write up your answer about how things can be compelling on naturalism.  Make sure you deal with the substance of this post when you do.
(This fable might also be helpful.)

Please explain how the authors of the Bible stating the unchanging nature of God, is any more true than the writers of Enuma Elish stating attributes of their gods?

What I mean is that if you want to critique the biblical doctrine of God, you need to critique the biblical doctrine of God.  We can't be smuggling in outside factors and then pretending we're dealing with this one specific God.
And yes, when I interact with, say, Islam, I deal with Islamic doctrine.  I don't prove an irrationality within Buddhism and then run around yelling about how Islam is false.

You said:
It would seem God changes very much from the OT to the NT
ME: “I would suggest that you're not reading them correctly.”
So you are not a literalist?

1) "Literalist" is not well understood, and no, not everything in the Bible is to be taken "literally" if the context demands a different application.  Context.
I use the literalistic principle aka the grammatico-historical method.
2) The invitation to show that God is indeed different in the OT than in the NT is still open; you didn't try to show it.  Remember that DOING diff things is not the same as CHANGING ONE'S CHARACTER.

In fact in the Hebrew Bible there is hardly any mention of an afterlife or a “satan” at all.

True about the afterlife, though it is certainly present.
Satan appears in numerous places, however - Genesis 2, Job, Isaiah, 1 Chronicles, Zechariah, Daniel...

Are you saying the people of God were changing, therefore their writing of God is changing? Doesn't that undermine divine authorship?

People change, yes, as do their circumstances and historical context.  So their writings will address diff things throughout the course of time, yes. Why would it undermine divine authorship?  We believe that the Scriptures are BOTH divine AND human in their authorship and origin.

These are things we find morally despicable today, even in wartime

"We" do?
I have many, many questions and challenges for this kind of bald assertion.  Please read this over.

Would you argue God still commands us to kill even the innocent among our enemy’s? Does God still want us to commit genocide?

Would you please go back and read the passages you cited and let me know to whom those commands were directed?

Yet it is commanded, then Jesus tells us later only the blameless can cast stones.

1) Did Jesus mean for all time and everyone?  Or did He mean for that situation, since those who dragged the woman before Him were hypocritically breaking the Law themselves in that they:
 a. did not also bring the male offender
 b. were merely trying to get Him to say something that would give them an excuse to immorally put Him to death?

2) Why is it that Jesus also commanded us to judge between truth and falsehood and good and bad teachers?

3) Why is it that Paul commanded submission to the gov't when justified, even in execution of capital punishment in Romans 13?

"I'm afraid that I can't take Luke too seriously, given his propensity to delete my comments, which I assure you contained no unseemly content or profanity.”
So because Luke doesn't take you seriously, you dismiss his writings?

No.  It is what I said, no more and no less.

I am not sure I would want that sort of antagonism around my blog either.

OK.  To each his own.  Why are you here, then?

Have you had a chance to read and respond?

To point out the piles of errors would take more time than I have right now.  Suffice it to say that the article was pitifully bad.

“But as for Fyfe, I'm still waiting for him to let us all know how we can know which desires are moral to have and act upon.” I do not completely buy into his flavor of utilitarianism, but it is interesting.

So I ask you about choosing between desires, and the very article itself says "Desires are not correct or incorrect."  May I ask how this was supposed to help?

What good would it have been if we accepted God as the solution for the orbits of the planets, or the devil for mental illness?

1) I am not at all sure what "the solution for the orbits of the planets" means.  I'd appreciate a clarification.
2) I presume you have some scientific proof that devils do not cause some mental illnesses?  May I know how the control group was set up and what interview questions were asked to ensure that no devil could have answered the way the control did?

Well, sure, but the question is not whether people can "do ethics", but how they justify those ethics.
My point is: we are past the point of easy answers.

I'd very much like to see ANY answer, actually.  Never mind easy ones.  How do you justify your ethics?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Semi-open letter to CAIR

Last night I attended an "Advocates for Peace Roundtable" at a liberal United Methodist church in my area.  One of the panelists was the Executive Director of CAIR Oklahoma, Muneer Awad.  During the open Q&A, I asked a question publicly, and afterwards approached Mr. Awad to take issue with him on several things he had said.  What follows is a letter I have just sent to him directly.

17 January 2011

Dear Mr. Awad:

Hopefully you will remember at least a little of the conversation that you and I had after the Advocates for Peace Roundtable at St. Stephen's UMC last night.  My two companions and I were, without much doubt, the only ones on the premises who were not 90-100% in agreement with you and the other panelists (none of whom, interestingly, were Christians).  I appreciate the opportunity not only to ask a question openly but also to approach you afterwards with disagreement.  I fully understand the constraints on your time that cut short our face-to-face conversation (as I too am married with young children) and I also thank you for giving me your card with your contact information.  Perhaps the busy life you lead will not permit you much time to interact with me, but on the other hand, perhaps circumstances will allow it.

I would like to mention three serious concerns I had with the way you spoke and engaged the audience last night.  First, let me remind you of my public question to you during the Q&A, which had to do with your failure to make the honest and helpful distinction between two phrases.  You used "anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred" numerous times during your remarks.  This appellation is unhelpful because, as I pointed out, "bigotry" is not an accurate descriptor of those who have taken time to study the issues at hand, including the relevant literature such as the Qur'an, biographies of Mohammed, and the Hadith.  Further, as I also mentioned, many people, including myself, oppose Islam qua position and system of thought and belief, not Muslims qua people whom we happen to dislike for some arbitrary reason.  Certainly "anti-Muslim bigots" (such as those who advocate 'nuking the Middle East' and are halfway serious) exist, but it is simply unfair and dishonest to lump all those who, for example, support SQ755 for specific and informed reasons into the same group with true anti-Muslim bigots.  Further, it diminishes the meaning of anti-Muslim bigotry when those who are neither anti-Muslim nor bigots are included under that label.

The preceding fleshes out the thinking behind my question.  Part of your answer concerned me greatly, as you said in effect that you use the term "anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred" without qualification because it produces a better effect in your audiences.  This is simply an admission that you do not blush at using open and obvious propaganda tactics to further your cause and reel in your audiences (such as the deeply biased liberals who represented the majority of the audience at the Roundtable), establishing common cause with them against the Big Bad Aggressive Well-Funded Warmongering Right Wing.  I noticed that the lefties were eating it up, hanging on your every word.  I tip my hat to your understanding of your audience, but firing up your supporters with tacit admissions of dishonesty is hardly commendable.

Second, I was confused by your unwillingness to interact honestly with Islamic teaching about the advancement of Islam by violence.  You may recall that, as I drew my Muhsin Khan copy of the Qur'an out of my bag, we were interrupted and were thus unable to continue the discussion on this topic, but you had challenged me to demonstrate Qur'anic commands toward violence against unbelievers. My next question was in fact going to be that which I tweeted to you later that evening. Pardon the brief primer on the Qur'anic doctrine of abrogation, but your failure to mention the wide and varied Qur'anic teaching on violent jihad can only mean that you are either ignorant of the Qur'an or were unwilling to deal with the topic honestly both in public and in the private face-to-face we were having.  At this time, I choose the more charitable interpretation of your behavior: that you are ignorant of it.  Surah 2:106, among others such as 2:109, 9:1 and 4:15 (cf. 24:2), teaches that Allah sometimes abrogates certain ayas with better ones, later in the life of Mohammed.  Obviously, then, for anyone to understand Islam today, we would have to have some idea of the order in which these Surahs were revealed. Dr Muhsin Khan, the translator of my copy of the Qur'an from Islamic University in Medina, believed that Surah 9 was among the latest Surahs, as do all of the other sources I've been able to find, such as  This means either that Surah 9 contains contradictory passages to other passages in the Qur'an that advise peace and tolerance, or that Surah 9 abrogates earlier verses.  If the former, the honest reader will conclude that Islam is false.  If the latter, your approach to the question - that of completely ignoring ayas such as 9:29, "Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture, until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued" - is without any excuse other than sheer ignorance.  Many more ayas could be produced to substantiate this point.  What excuse do you have for your failure to interact with these texts in an environment where not only is this the very topic at hand, but you were asked specifically about it?

Third and finally, in our conversation, I told you that, as a biblical Christian, my position is that, for example, worshiping Allah is sinful.  You may recall that I said it while explaining to you that which should be fairly obvious - disagreement on truth is not equivalent to "Islamophobia" or a desire to execute violent actions against someone with whom one disagrees.  You told me that my expression of my position, which disagrees with yours, means that "we can't work together", and the surrounding context of the discussion implied that we can't be neighbors either, nor friends.  Your rationale behind this was basically "if you think I'm doing something wrong or that I hold a false position, then you're judging me".  Though I have little doubt that such thinking is a frail holdover from public school education and your stint with the ACLU, it is an almost laughable claim.  You are a Muslim.  Few others in attendance were Muslims.  You will not agree on everything, as should be obvious.  Thus, the only meaning this could possibly have is that you choose not to want to be a neighbor or friend to me because I think your religion is false.  For my part, unless you perform repeated and unrepentant acts of unlawful and/or immoral behavior against me or others, I not only accept you and others with whom I disagree as neighbors and friends, but I actually desire it.  Jesus commanded me to love my neighbor, and because of Him I am happy (not merely reluctant or constrained) to obey.  What will be the outcome of this, for you?  Will you explicitly choose to exclude me and those who are like-minded with me because we believe your religion to be false, or will you demonstrate true tolerance and grace, which you took great pleasure in professing openly in front of over 100 people last night, in accepting those who want to be friends and neighbors, despite disagreement?

Peace to you,

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Discussion on the nature of objective moral values

Damion asked me some interesting questions about objective moral values, since I throw that phrase around a lot.  They are fair questions, so let me address them.

And by the way, thanks again to Damion for pointing me to The King And I blog.
I think WL Craig's explanation of what he means by "objective moral values" is very helpful.  Paraphrased from memory, it's "by objective moral values I mean that they are true independent of whether anyone believes them or not".  So that would more closely align with your former proposition:  if it is a statement which accurately describes the arrangement of objects in time and space. Close, that is, b/c although obviously I quibble with the "time and space" part of it, the truth value of the statement "I am sitting on a chair right now" (which has to do with the arrangement of objects in time and space) is equal to the truth value of the statement "idolatry is never morally justifiable".

This leads me to a question about your "time and space" comment - are statements about conceptual truths like "a is not non-a in the same way and at the same time (where a is an idea, not a materia object)" objective according to your definition?

Also, you said:
Most of the universe is merely matter/energy in motion

On naturalistic materialism, I am not at all sure that this statement can be substantiated.  It seems to be a hypothesis, but one for which, with anything close to our current level of technology and observational power, any level of nearly-complete evidence could be marshaled.  Do you disagree?
And on Christianity, the question is impossible to answer and not really that important.  God has not revealed how many angels and demons exist.  What if there were quadrillions of each, 1000s for each human that has ever existed or will ever exist?  We don't know how "big" they are.  The characteristics of the plane they inhabit.  How "big" Heaven and Hell are.  And of course, the number of dead humans whose souls are some"where" at least matches the number of humans currently alive.

Anyway, it's also interesting that the moral statements to which I refer, ie God's moral laws/commands, are also decisions in the mind of God, so in a way, they are both.
The missing element here might be the normative value, the applicability and authority that a command from God the Creator has over the entire creation.  If I say "idolatry is morally wrong", what normativity or authority does that have?  What obligation would anyone else have to follow it?  Thus it is merely my sentiment, my feeling.  It's ultimately a description of what I think, for whatever reason I may have to think it, not a PREscription of what others OUGHT to do or ought not to do.

For more on this, and at the risk of pointing you to something you've already read, permit me to refer to this post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The King and I Project: Abraham and Isaac, part 2

The discussion continues with Paul on the previous comment.

Paul, your double post is b/c the spam filter ate your 1st one, but in the interest of full disclosure i went ahead and made it post it anyway.  No problem.  It's a bit of a headache for everyone. :-)
And thanks for your thoughts and continued interaction.
Finally, thanks for letting me know you're a naturalist.  It might be relevant later on.

1) Cool.

2) Re: mutilation - when I said "specious", I meant that it's loaded with pejorative baggage.  "Circumcision", being more precise both contextually and theologically as well as lacking said pejorative baggage, is to be preferred.  Would not a refusal to modify your vocabulary accordingly demonstrate bias on your part?

3) Hebrews and probability analysis.
You said:
I would be quite a task to do a true Bayesian probability analysis

Then may I ask why you made the claim?  Did you have any reason, any justification for it, or think you did when you wrote it?

It is somewhat unclear who the original author of the letter to the Hebrews was

True, it's unclear who the HUMAN author was.  Christians also accept that God is the fundamental (aka "other") author, though.

The belief in resurrection is a core element to developing Christian theology at this point, and it shows throughout the letters in the New Testament.


So why then would we assume such passages as Hebrews 11 are an accurate account of history?

I'd say it's b/c God wrote it, and b/c it actually discusses historical people, in the past tense.

Especially when it the majority of the book is based around themes of faith and resurrection.

Certainly it does.  I'd contend that it brings up the ppl it brings up precisely b/c an important part of their lives and careers was relevant to the discussion.  It's significant to talk about them b/c faith and resurrection were active in their lives, as opposed to bringing up some guy named Joe who didn't have faith and who died after an unremarkable 40-year life.

It is also a stretch to assert the author of Hebrews had a better chance of correctly deriving Abraham's motives from the text than we do.

What if God were writing it and knew Abraham's heart better than even Ab did, and chose to reveal it more fully in Hebrews?

4) So I understand that you don't have knowledge of a textual variant, and know of no translational problem.  OK, cool.
Also, "multiple sources" =/= textual variant.

You said:
However, not something I find particularly compelling.

I'd ask you at this point: given naturalism, why would you believe that ANYthing is compelling, given that you're merely matter in motion, receiving and reacting on neural impulses over which you (since "you" don't exist; matter exists and you're a material machine) have no external control?

a. Yes, He knows the outcome of the tests.
b. Yes, those things required a lot of faith.  One thing to clip your nails, quite another to circumcise yourself.  Yeesh.
c. 2 things.  They had their origin in God, not in man.  And on a human level, what reason do you think the apostles might have had to throw away all their religious acceptance and such for the sake of a guy who they knew wasn't God (if indeed they knew for sure that they'd hidden the body and that Jesus didn't really rise from the dead)?  It's not comparable to jihadists blowing themselves up - they don't KNOW that Allah is a false deity.  The disciples would've KNOWN FOR SURE that Jesus didn't rise, if He didn't rise.

6) I wouldn't say that asking for "evidence of God's character" is the right way to go about it.  Rather, we either accept that claim at face value or we accept another.  Accepting any other leads to absurdity (and when I say "absurdity", I mean it as a serious charge, haha); thus by process of elimination I don't see a good reason to say that God's character is not in fact absolute and unchanging.  Especially b/c He said it is.

You said:
It would seem God changes very much from the OT to the NT.

I would suggest that you're not reading them correctly.
For one thing, did you know that the NT discusses eternal torment in Hell MUCH more frequently than does the OT?
Have you ever looked at OT/NT with a view to the different situations in which the people of God (rather than God Himself) lived?

In the OT He is concerned only with his preferred family, while in the NT he is much more interested in everyone

Actually, He's very interested in redeeming a particular people in both, and reaches out to the outside world in the OT quite a lot.  Let me commend this article to you.

stops walking and wrestling with people

Far from it!  Jesus is very God incarnate, and He's in the NT!

The book of Joshua is filled with the genocidal slaughter of the Canaanites. God commands the killing of even the elderly and unborn children. Yet in the New Testament we are told of a God who loves the world. Then on to the present, and genocide is seen as barbaric.

This is shifting morality?  God condemns Ananias and Sapphira to death in Acts 5, and Jesus says in Luke about some ppl who died when a tower fell on them: "I say to you that you too must repent or you will likewise perish".  Jesus predicted the razing of Jerusalem in AD 70 and warned the unrepentant Jews that this judgment would fall on them. Etc.
God has the right to put anyone to death anytime, remember? And every day, 1000s of ppl die.

What of all of the laws in the OT?

Here, take a look at this and it will hopefully help you out on this question.

Yet it is commanded, then Jesus tells us later only the blameless can cast stones.

Are you familiar with the actual Mosaic law regarding how adulterers were to be punished?  Namely, that BOTH parties should be present?  That the whole reason they brought the woman to Him like that was to hypocritically test Him?

And thanks for the link to commonsenseatheism.  I'm afraid that I can't take Luke too seriously, given his propensity to delete my comments, which I assure you contained no unseemly content or profanity.
But as for Fyfe, I'm still waiting for him to let us all know how we can know which desires are moral to have and act upon.

What is interesting is quite a few religious philosophers have been doing ethics without grounding moral truths in God for quite a while. 

Well, sure, but the question is not whether people can "do ethics", but how they justify those ethics.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The King and I Project: Abraham and Isaac

Dami0n, the Agnostichicagokie, has directed me to a blog that has some promise to it, called Project: The King and I, in which a skeptic reviews the KJV Bible a chunk per day with the goal of finishing it in a year.
They'll have my respect if they make it thru Leviticus and thru the genealogies of 1 Chronicles, to be honest.  OTOH, from what I've seen so far, that they treat the Bible fairly, without appealing via external critique to their own arbitrary and self-centered morality and morés, is too much to ask.  Shouldn't surprise me, given that they link to the Skeptics' Annotated Bible in their sidebar.

Anyway, today they are dealing with Abraham and Isaac, with which I've dealt at length in the past.  I popped over and summarised that post in the combox.  A commenter responded, and my reply follows:

Hi Paul,
I'll respond to you in the numbered order.
1) By OFFERING him. Doesn't mean you finish the job.
Let me break in here and say that my confidence in this point is lower than in my other points, so... :-D

2) How long was he supposed to wait? He was commanded to do sthg, so he did it. It's not as if time makes a diff to God. And yes, he and Isaac were already circumcised.

3) B/c he had faith, as Hebrews says.

4) Yes ram in place of lamb is interesting. But I did explain it. :-)

5) What precisely is absurd about the answer why? I'd appreciate a logical stepwise process to get to that conclusion; "absurd" is a serious charge.
Who said God was doing this testing to puff up His ego? Please either cite Scripture and/or give your argument.
Yes, He does know us from before we were formed in the womb. What connection does that have?

6) I worship such a God b/c He is worthy of worship, b/c He created us. I don't get to judge Him. Nobody has any moral basis on which to judge Him. 
(You walked right into my trap, haha.)
I don't claim God is "omnibenevolent", FYI.
I'd be interested in knowing how you know that "being mean" is morally objectionable. Just b/c you think so? Who are you?
And "thou shalt not kill":
--It's "murder", not "kill".
--I already explained this - go back and read my comment again, please. 
--The problems with DCT are perceived, not real. I encourage you to read what I mean by that.


Another commenter said:
I can't jump through the moral hoops and origami-like twists of logic to arrive at the conclusion that this story represents anything other than an insecure god worried about obedience above all else. 

My reply:

Let me ask you to run a mental exercise, then.
First, ad arguendo decide you're going to accept the Christian presuppositions and framework of understanding, and apply it to this passage. God is not insecure; He is testing Abraham and wants to make him holy and increase his faith in God. He is foreshadowing the substitutionary atonement of the coming Messiah. He is demonstrating His ownership and sovereignty over all things, including human lives (let alone the lives of SINFUL humans, who are rebels against His rule and law). 

Second, you can safely remove your Christian spectacles now. :-) Now ask yourself on what basis you, given your own worldview, know that:
a) logic exists and is a good way to discover truth
b) it is objectively morally objectionable to do anything. 
Note that "I think it's morally objectionable b/c it is displeasing to me" does not fulfill the requirements - that's not objective. Human empathy doesn't either. Societal preference/agreement doesn't either.

Maybe that will help you get it.