Monday, 13 November 2017

Monday quote

For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957).

Monday, 6 November 2017

Monday quote

I have learned in other fields of study how transitory the "assured results of modern scholarship" may be, how soon scholarship ceases to be modern.

C.S. Lewis, "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism", Christian Reflections.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

An egalitarian interpretation of the woman's curse

The first 3 chapters of Genesis profoundly impact on the rest of Scripture. Many discussions of other passages of Scripture hinge on what Genesis means. Previously I have written on the curse placed on the woman in Eden. The conclusion was that the curse could mean
  1. Your desire is against your husband [curse] but he is to lead you [right action]; or
  2. Your desire will be against your husband [curse] and he will dominate you [curse].
With the first seeming more likely.

This is based on the parallel between the phraseology in Genesis 3 and 4.
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pain in conception;
in pain you shall bear children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3)
And Yahweh said to Cain,
“Why are you angry, and why is your face fallen?
If you do well will I not accept you?
But if you do not do well,
sin is crouching at the door.
And its desire is for you,
but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4)
Others have pointed to the use of "desire" in Canticles.
I belong to my beloved,
and he desires me!
This is a positive use of the term desire, though desire need not be intrinsically positive. The context can show whether a term is positive or negative, as seen by the use in Genesis 4. But if "desire" is being used in a positive sense in Genesis 3, how can we make sense of it?

If the passage should be translated, "Your desire will be toward your husband", then the curse is in him ruling over her in a way that was not intended. Taking a cue from Canticles: the man desires his wife. It may be prior to the Fall that man desired his wife much in the way that Solomon desires the Shullamite. Canticles is an example of the pre-Fall situation. God created man to desire his wife and a wife to desire her husband. The curse is then the change in attitude of the man from desiring his wife to dominating his wife, all while she maintains her desire.
“I will greatly increase your pain in conception;
in pain you shall bear children.
Your desire will [continue to] be for your husband,
and he [will no longer desire you but instead he] shall rule over you.
This interpretation is more egalitarian.

Although this interpretation is worth contemplating, there are a couple of potential difficulties.
  1. The curse on the woman is God forming a sinful attitude in the man.
  2. Men seem to desire women generally, and sexual desire in a man for his wife may be greater than her sexual desire.
The first is of some concern as it could suggest that sin in more of a male problem. It is not uncommon in the modern West to blame men for their failings as being intrinsic to them, and to excuse women for their failings as being reactions to sinful situations extrinsic to them. While external factors do come into play, externalising our failures and not acknowledging them as our sin is unbiblical. Also, by making the problem one of a husband's domineering attitude it may imply that difficulties within marriage are predominantly due to husbands.

The second is not so much concerning but rather it does not seem to match reality. Men often (though not always) sexually desire their wives more than the other way around. To resolve this one could argue for a desire of women to be cared and protected. This may be true but it removes the connection to Canticles which has a strong romantic and sexual overlay.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Monday quote

My pessimism extends to the point of even suspecting the sincerity of the pessimists.

Jean Rostand

Monday, 23 October 2017

Monday quote

I am certain that large percentage of the money that I spend on taxes is wasted and in many cases, worse than wasted—that is, it is wealth destroying. I would rather give out money to random people on the street than pay taxes to a destructive government.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Monday quote

Sometimes life is not about being happy, it's about doing what is right.

Mrs Patton.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Monday quote

History will show you not all the answers, but it’ll tell you a lot of the questions to ask and furthermore, it will show you how other people have dealt successfully or unsuccessfully with similar type issues.

James Mattis (1950–).

Monday, 2 October 2017

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

When does personhood begin?

There are arguments for personhood beginning at fertilisation, at implantation in the womb, at birth.

Fertilisation seems possible. It is a specific time that 2 gametes which are not persons become a single cell. This single cell has a continuity with the person born. That is, there is a discontinuity at fertilisation and no discontinuities thereafter, and there is little disagreement that the sperm and egg are not persons.

However embryos split into two sometimes and humans can also artificially split them and continue to split them. Some argue that a new soul occurs when an embryo splits into 2 (which is a somewhat reasonable argument). More problematic is the issue of multiple embryos combining to form a mosaic. Does this mosaic baby have 2 souls, or do 2 souls become 1, or does 1 die (probably not as both cell lines continue in various ways)?

Further, the embryo becomes 2 distinct structures: the baby and the placenta. The latter supports the baby through pregnancy but it is not exactly part of the baby. The embryo can develop solely into support organs (placenta) in a molar pregnancy (hydatidiform mole) and there does not appear to be a person at any stage even though fertilisation has taken place.

The problem with womb being the definition of personhood is what about ectopics that survive? Abdominal gestation occurs rarely but they are clearly babies. Ectopic pregnancies are usually tubal, but can occur elsewhere, and abdominal pregnancies may have started out tubal.

Theologically traducianism implies personhood at conception for continuity. There must always be a soul because the soul is inherited. Conversely, if the concept of the new creation of souls (creationism) is correct, this potentially allows for a gap between conception and personhood. Note that these arguments (traducianism and creationism) are a result of the theology and our theology should be scriptural. So what does the Bible argue for?

Birth seems too late. Many scriptures point to personhood starting before birth, though to argue specifically for fertilisation from the Bible is a little harder. Job talks about the night he was conceived (Job 3:3).

Although previously I thought conception equalled personhood, I am now not so certain. In Scripture life is very clearly connected to blood. Combining this with what we know about human physiology, one could argue for circulating blood: a heart and blood cells. Death should be defined by absence of a beating heart (not brain death). If this is the case then perhaps personhood starts when the heart and blood cells are made: about 2–3 weeks post conception. Note that this is 4–5 weeks after usual dating; pregnancy dates are calculated from last menstruation which is (usually) about 2 weeks prior to fertilisation.

There is also an enigmatic verse in Ecclesiastes that says
As you do not know the way the spirit [ruach] comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. (11:5)
It is unknown whether ruach should be translated "spirit" or "wind" here, but if it is the former, it is at least possible that God sends the spirit into a fetus in a way that we do not understand.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Monday quote

Is there any man that thinks in chains like the man who calls himself a free-thinker? Is there any man so credulous as the man who will not believe in the Bible? He swallows a ton of difficulties, and yet complains that we have swallowed an ounce of them. He has much more need of faith of a certain sort than we have, for scepticism has far harder problems than faith.

C. H. Spurgeon

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Worldview thinking

Peter Leithart wrote a critique on worldview thinking back in 2003. Some of this may be in reaction to how he was seeing this played out at the time. Nevertheless, I don't find the complaints generally valid.

God has an opinion about everything. As God is truth, his opinion is correct. In as much as we think correctly we are thinking God's thoughts after him. At its simplest: the Christian worldview is the worldview of God; of Christ.

All people have a worldview. All worldviews are at least somewhat incorrect and usually inconsistent in places. One may therefore complain that we cannot know God's thoughts for certain, which is true. Because we are not outside ourselves how can we, with an imperfect worldview, know the true worldview. The errant man is chasing an inerrant truth external to himself but is only judging with his own errant perspective.

These complaints are true enough. But they are not insurmountable. And they neglect how we know and approximate truth.

Leithart's complaints are: 1) how do we get external to ourselves to judge (as my above paragraph); 2) worldview thinking is intellectual, specifically how do we know whether our worldview forms our externals compared to whether our externals shape our worldview; 3) worldview presupposes a birds eye view; and 4) worldview philosophy overrides theology.

The 4th complaint is merely a problem to avoid. And it is not a problem confined to worldview thinking. It is a problem all men take to the Bible, at least men who see the Bible giving a somewhat consistent testimony. We all systematise to some extent and we all categorise our ideas; thus our prior ideas may frame our theology at the expense of Scripture. Fine as a warning, but a warning all men need. And at least worldview thinking reminds us that theology is philosophy, or rather our philosophy is our theology.

The first 3 complaints are very much related. It is a confusion that appears to come from a more binary perspective: truth is not falsehood. Which is entirely correct. But falsehood is not entirely untrue and incompletely understanding is not necessarily false understanding.

We gain knowledge by degrees and we modify our thinking incrementally. This is a design feature. We learn from our elders, and our reason. And our ability to reason leads us into increasing amounts of truth. So complaint 2 is in fact not a problem, but why worldview thinking works. Our thinking comes from our surroundings and shapes our surroundings. That is how we grow in knowledge. God gives all men nature from which we gain knowledge. He gives us all the ability to reason. These externals (nature and reason) lead us to more truth. And the truth allows us to modify our environment based on that truth. It is a spiral of gaining more and more truth. Worldview thinking does not know everything that is true, rather it gains knowledge of the truth. Thus complaints 1 and 3 are also dealt with. We don't get external to ourselves, but we judge from what true knowledge we do have, using that knowledge to weed out wrong ideas and gain new right ideas. And we do end up getting a bird's eye view or sorts, only incomplete, out of focus and a few misinterpreted pictures. But as our view gets better the gaps are slowly filled in, items come into focus, and we come to realise that some of the things we thought we were seeing are in fact something else.

Or to change the analogy. We struggle with advanced calculus but we can count. We learn our times tables. We are taught what primes are. Then the trigonometry we were getting wrong we now get right; and not only do we get it right, we can see why it is right.

Further to natural knowledge we have Scriptural knowledge. This gives us greater understanding than natural knowledge and curbs the extent our reasoning can mislead us. When we submit ourselves to Scripture we allow God to guide us into truth increasingly. The spiral goes inward to truth.

This also explains why those who consciously reject God have a tendency away from the truth; how overtime their worldview becomes increasingly incorrect. Worldviews are not just an intellectual exercise. We need faith that God has given us reason. We need faith in our fundamental presuppositions, and faith that God will guide our divine-originating (but broken) reason into truth. Those who reject trust in God grow in foolishness as God does not protect them from their faulty presumptions and faulty reasoning.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Monday quote

Violation of conscience is a grave act against man. It is the most painful blow inflicted on human dignity. It is, in a certain sense, worse than inflicting physical death.

Pope John Paul II (1982).


Under the threat of losing their jobs, citizens are being forced to sign declarations that do not agree with their conscience and with their convictions,... Violation of conscience is a grave act against man. It is the most painful blow inflicted on human dignity. It is, in a certain sense, worse than inflicting physical death, murder.... The principle of respect of conscience is a fundamental right of man, guaranteed by constitutions and by international accords. I raise my voice to God, together with all men of good will, so that the consciences of my countrymen are not suffocated.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Monday quote

Those who refuse to let their opponents dispute have no right to complain if they hear instead lewd catcalls in the streets; in a sense, it is what they have chosen.

C.S. Lewis.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Monday quote

A common argument in modern culture is that differences between the sexes are essentially social constructs;... it is in fact social constructs that allow sexual differences to be minimised.

Matthew Hosier.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Monday quote

You’re born. You suffer. You die. Fortunately, there’s a loophole.

Billy Graham

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