Monday, 21 April 2014

Monday quote

Many times a piece of writing is judged on a very superficial level, and the depths that are there are ignored by readers who resent being challenged.

Douglas Wilson, A Serrated Edge.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Unravelling the period of the Judges

The time of the Judges is perhaps the most difficult chronological period to unravel. We are helped in that there is a summary statement in Kings that gives us the duration from the Exodus to the first temple.
In the 480th year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the LORD. (1 Kings 6)
Identifying the time of the specific judges however proves more difficult.

We have times where Israel is under self rule and times where they are subjugated due to God's judgment for their disobedience. While a continuous sequence seems reasonable at first, fitting all the events in the allotted period is somewhat difficult. Here are the periods during the times of Moses, the Judges and the early kings.

Time of the Judges

Israelite leader Duration Duration Oppressor
Moses 40

Joshua ?, 7+

8 Cushan-Rishathaim, Aram Naharaim
Othniel 40

18 Eglon, Moab
Ehud 80


20 Jabin, Canaan
Deborah/ Barak     40

7 Midianites and Amalekites
Gideon 40

Abimelech 3

Tola 23

Jair 22

18 Philistines and Ammonites
Jephthar     6

Ibzan 7

Elon 10

Abdon 8

40 Philistines
Samson 20

Eli 40

Samuel 20

Saul 40

David 40

Solomon till the temple 4

Total 601+

There is a known duration of 480 years from the time of the Exodus until the building of the temple commences (440 according to the Septuagint) and 600+ years if we consider duration of each ruler separately. And this is without taking into account the full duration of Joshua's leadership which is not specified.

Now there are several caveats to my table. It is known that
  1. Samson judged during the 40 year Philistine oppression.
  2. Samuel judged for an unknown length of time. The 20 years is based on the comment,
  3. From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some 20 years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD. (1 Samuel 7)
  4. The duration of Saul's kingship is specified in Acts
  5. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years. (Acts 13)
What the passage in #2 actually means and how it relates to Samuel and David is difficult to ascertain.

Taylor has suggested #3 is a summary statement including the judgeship of Samuel. Though Saul's son Ishbosheth is 40 when he becomes king so ascribing the full 40 years to Saul seems reasonable.

But even with these considerations it is still hard to see how all the events can occur in 480 years. Several approaches to this problem have been proposed.

Hall suggests that the Philistine oppression and Saul's kingship are contemporary with Samson judging for 20 years within that timeframe. I do not think this is viable because Samuel is generally regarded as the last judge and the advent of Israelite kings seems to be the end of the judges.
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8)
A common suggestion is that the judges overlapped in time. Various different proposals for which judgeships overlapped and how long for have been made. There is some merit to this view. We know that at least Samson judged during the Philistine oppression. Shamgur judged during the peace of Ehud. Eli likely acted as a judge during the time of other judges; he was a priest but it is also commented that he judged, but he was not necessarily the only one at that time. Judges were also from different regions and perhaps they may have led within those regions with various overlap.

What makes this proposal difficult, however, is that the early judges are said to judge "Israel" (cf. Othniel, Judges 3) and "Israel" serves the oppressors (cf. Cushan-rishathaim, Judges 3) and the land has rest during the time following deliverance. So for the early judges we have what appears to be a judgeship over all Israel with sequential not overlapping judges.

Another option is to consider a manuscript error. Of all the things that get corrupted in manuscripts, Haley tells us that numbers frequently do. This was probably more likely in the early manuscripts when letters were also used for numerical values. I believe the Masoretic text spells out numbers thus this latter method is less prone to error. Different manuscripts frequently have different numbers in chronological references (although the antediluvian and postdiluvian discrepancies seem deliberate). A candidate for a numerical transcriptional error would be Ehud as the duration of peace for 80 years seems long compared to the other judges. Nevertheless, proposing errors where there is no manuscript evidence of divergence seems a dangerous precedent and I am not really willing to go there. It seems to me that this would led to a multiplication of proposals to fit preconceived ideas. We must submit ourselves to Scripture, not it to us.

The current option I favour is interpreting the duration to include the period of oppression and rest. Note that the period (of rest) given is always longer than the oppression. The phrase,
So the land had rest 40 years.
Is usually interpreted (or translated as),
So the land had rest for 40 years.
However I am informed that the Hebrew allows,
So the land had rest—40 years.
That is, the time period given is a summary period of the preceding events, oppression and deliverance.

With this proposal and the documented overlapping events, a reasonable chronology can be elucidated for this chaotic time in Israel's history.

There is a further statement that can help us anchor dates. Jephthah rebukes the Ammonites who sought to reclaim ancient territory. They had not originally owned the specific territory as Israel was commanded not to take land from the Edomites, Moabites, or Ammonites. Jephthah's response was why did Ammon not try and reclaim the land in the last 300 years. This being the time of the Israelite occupation. The time from the conquest equals the time of Joshua and the Elders plus 319 years if the oppression is counted separately, or plus 266 years if the oppression is included in a summary duration. Jephthah's 300 years is probably a round number; even so, the time of Joshua and the Elders would be several years and this may favour the shorter duration.

Time of the Judges

Israelite leader Duration Duration Oppressor
Joshua ?, 7+

8 Cushan-Rishathaim, Aram Naharaim
Othniel deliverance and rest32
Total 40

18 Eglon, Moab
Ehud deliverance and rest62
Total 80


20 Jabin, Canaan
Deborah/ Barak deliverance and rest20
Total 40

7 Midianites and Amalekites
Gideon deliverance and rest33
Total 40


Monday, 14 April 2014

Monday quote

It is only because [they] do not consider theological beliefs as belonging to a knowledge-tradition that they can dismiss, a priori, theologically informed policy proposals as de facto epistemologically inferior to so-called secular ones, even when secular ones answer precisely the same questions as do the so-called “articles of faith.”

Francis J. Beckwith, “Taking Theology Seriously,” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy, 20:1 (2006): 459-461.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Monday quote

Nothing which implies contradiction falls under the omnipotence of God.

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). Summa Theologica. Question 25. Article 3.


Whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence.


Monday, 31 March 2014

Monday quote

Decadence: To be so addicted to novelty, comfort and prosperity that one cannot lift a finger to sustain them.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The laws of nature

This article puts together several ideas that I have been pondering over the years but have not written much about or with such clarity. Doyle covers important issues such as:
  • The limited relationship between physical laws and judicial law
  • The moral nature of judicial law
  • The descriptive but non-prescriptive nature of physical law
  • How physical law represents God's general upholding of the universe
  • How miracles represent God's special activity in the universe
  • That miracles are impossible is a specious argument
  • That the term "methodological naturalism" is polemical, and unhelpful
Concerning methodological naturalism and science, Doyle not only notes that the term "methodological naturalism" invokes philosophical naturalism ("naturalism" being the shortened form) because they sound similar, methodological naturalism is not even accurate because naturalism does not imply regularity—why should we expect an ordered universe? I think a more useful term for science is empirical induction. Such a term would make scientific fields much narrower though increase clarity. Much of cosmology, palaeontology, archaeology and many other disciplines would come under the umbrella of inferred history.

I would like to add a thought on law. It is not clear than the physical laws are informational rather than just geometrical. The descriptions of such laws are informational, but the laws themselves may not be. I think that they are but that they have low information content. High information content occurs in designed objects such as flowers and people. And morality, while containing information, is more than information. That is, we have matter (and related qualities such as space and time) and the physical laws that describe how they behave; we have message which represents complex objects; and we have morals which specify how conscious objects are to behave.

An excellent article that I wish I had written.

Defining arguments away—the distorted language of secularism

by Shaun Doyle


One of the means that secularists have used to achieve dominance in the culture over the last 250 years has been the manipulation of language. Key terms have been modified, and new terms coined, which slant the ‘rules of engagement’ between Christianity and secularism against Christianity. Three terms in particular: ‘natural law’, ‘miracle’, and ‘methodological naturalism’ have been affected. If we do not expose and correct this sophistry, an honest debate is not possible. At root, these issues reflect the clash between worldviews that must ultimately be accepted for reasons outside of science.

‘The laws of nature’—confusion and caution

One of the most common ways to talk about well-established scientific ideas is to refer to them as ‘the laws of nature’, ‘natural law/s’, or ‘scientific law/s’. These phrases conjure up notions of an orderly universe, and convey the idea that science can teach us much about the universe. The notion of ‘law’ can be a helpful metaphor for understanding the regularity we see in how the universe works, but it is just a metaphor.

One thing true of all metaphors is that they are only helpful to a point before they break down. They do so because, from the point of view of formal logic, all metaphors break the law of non-contradiction. When they are pushed too far, different things end up equated in ways that amount to false statements. For example, saying “Mark is a teddy bear” with reference to Mark’s gentleness equates the physical softness of the teddy bear with the gentle character of Mark, which amounts to saying that Mark has a gentle character. However, saying that “Mark is a teddy bear” with reference to Mark’s physical makeup does not work because Mark, a human, is clearly not made of stuffing! Not all the attributes of teddy bears can be attributed to Mark, and vice versa. This doesn’t invalidate the use of metaphors because everyone intuitively knows this, and we don’t use a metaphor to say that two different things are logically identical—only that they are identical in some significant and relevant property in a particular sense.
‘Natural law’ is itself a metaphor for the regularities of the physical world drawn from the concept of human law. Moreover, it’s a natural metaphor to draw, given a sovereign moral Lawgiver who also upholds His creation in an orderly way (figure 1). The regularities of nature are so regular that they seem to reflect some principle that the matter itself cannot transgress, like how people cannot transgress a human law. However, the notions of obedience and transgression are themselves concepts that most properly apply to the behaviour of moral agents—a concept which does not apply to inanimate matter and energy. That is one of many ways that human laws are not identical to ‘natural laws’, and presents an area where the metaphor breaks down.
Are ‘natural laws’ prescriptive?

However, as people jettisoned the Bible and its doctrine of providence and came to accept a ‘fuzzy positivism’ in its place from the 19th century onwards, many people seemed to forget that the notion of ‘natural law’ is just a metaphor. Because of this, and that the metaphor is so fitting, we have forgotten to pay attention to those areas where the regularities of nature do not correspond to human laws. Failure to recognize the metaphorical nature of ‘natural law’ has brought undue confusion over how the world actually works. The problem is that people often conceive of ‘the laws of nature’ as materially equivalent to human laws. If someone does what human law forbids, it is described as ‘breaking’ or ‘violating’ the law. People then apply this same notion of law to ‘the laws of nature’, and consider a miracle in the same way they consider an illegal act—as if some precept has been ‘broken’ or ‘violated’. The biggest mistake people make when they equate ‘natural law’ and human law is that they make natural law prescriptive. However, there are two major errors with understanding the concept of ‘natural law’ like this.

First, when people think of ‘natural laws’ as prescriptive, there is in fact a subtle but significant difference in what ‘prescriptive’ connotes in comparison to human laws. Human laws are prescriptive messages—they are coded information. Human laws are not inextricably bound to any given physical form—one can communicate the law “you shall not murder” in any human language, and in numerous different physical formats (e.g. writing on a piece of paper, Morse code, speech, etc.). Moreover, a human law cannot render the act of murder physically impossible. Herein lies the difference—when ‘natural law’ is seen as prescriptive, it is not conceived of as merely coded information, but is something materially able to make certain states of affairs physically impossible. However, ascribing ‘natural law’ a tangible existence like this commits the fallacy of reification, which treats abstract concepts as concrete objects. ‘Natural law’ is an abstract concept—it is coded information, like human laws, which formally describes regular patterns observed in nature. As such, ‘natural laws’ have no more power to cause the regularities of nature than a redraw of a map of New Zealand can change the physical coastline.

Second, although human laws and ‘natural laws’ are both coded information, they are different types of messages. Human laws prescribe what people should and should not do, e.g. the law forbidding murder. The law itself says nothing about how people actually act—it is a command, not a statement of fact. ‘The laws of nature’ are different: they are formal descriptions of regular patterns observed in nature—i.e. they are statements of fact. They either correspond with reality or they do not. However, it is meaningless to apply the notion of correspondence with reality to a human law such as forbidding murder, because it is an imperative command, not a statement of fact. Conversely, the statement: “murder is ethically wrong” is a statement of (ethical) fact, and is generally implied to form the basis for the law forbidding murder. This means ‘the laws of nature’ are not formally prescriptive, and are more accurately seen as descriptive concepts.

Read the rest here

Monday, 24 March 2014

Monday quote

And while we ought to forgive each other seven times, and seventy times, and even seven times seventy times, looking for the fruit of repentance is not the same as being unforgiving.

Kevin DeYoung

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Some preliminary thoughts on abortion

I suspect this debate has as much emotion and commitment to a preferred outcome as it does to reason. Still, some remarks are in order. The pro-abortionists argue for liberty and the anti-abortionists for life. Where is the debate to begin. I think both can be addressed and no preferential order needs to be chosen ahead of time. We can discuss both choice and life issues and see how they relate to each other.

Liberty is a reasonable good. All things being equal freedom seems a desirable state. So the pro-abortion argument goes: a woman has right over her own body and the choice to keep any fetus she conceives, or not, should be hers to make as it affects her life currently and in the future if she chooses to keep her child. More so, a fetus cannot make moral demands on the mother to keep it alive.

There are a couple of difficulties with this view. A fetus is not making demands, it is in a situation not of its own making, and requires such nourishment as part of normal development. It is not in a state of illness, nor is it asking for others to bear the cost for negative decisions it made previously.

Continuing with the liberty argument, it seems reasonable to allow adults to make many choices that affect their life. Food they eat, clothes they wear, where they live, how they entertain themselves. But liberties are not absolute. One should not have the freedom to spend other people's money, use their goods without permission, threaten their lives and property in the course of seeking one's own welfare and pleasure. So the question is whether, after conception, the mother should have unrestrained liberty and treat the fetus like a food preference or an item of clothing—to be kept or removed; or have her liberty constrained because the fetus is (or is similar to) the property or life of another.

If the fetus can be considered property, the question is whose property? If we consider it is owned by the mother then it would seem that it is also owned by the father. The physical cost of the child during gestation is not as costly on the father as it is on the mother, but if the fetus is joint owned by the father it can hardly be disposed of without his permission.

The above may read harshly to anti-abortionists but I have tried to assess the possible arguments that may arise. I make no defence that a fetus is in fact property, but for those who deny that the issue is one of life, the property consideration still needs to be faced. And I use the word fetus rather than child so that the argument is no pre-empted by disputed language. Of course it is usual for an expectant mother to refer to her "child" or "baby" even still in the womb.

This brings us to the anti-abortion contention that the issue is one of life: the fetus is in fact a person. This indeed is the crux of the issue. If the anti-abortionists are correct about this then the liberty arguments are null. One does not have the freedom to kill an innocent person to maximise his own freedom, inside or outside the womb.

In this argument over life there are several terms to define. We are not arguing whether the fetus is human: a human in contrast to a non-human such as a chicken or a flower. The fetus is clearly human. It is produced by humans and has a full complement of the human genome. Nor are we arguing whether the fetus is living. If it weren't living it would be dead, or an inanimate object like a pebble. What we are arguing is whether the fetus is a person. Cadavers are human, but not living. They are not persons (in this sense). Elephants are living but not human. They are not persons. Children and adults are humans and living. They are also considered persons. The question that needs to be answered is, What makes personhood? Is being human and living equivalent to personhood? If so then personhood starts at conception. If there is more to personhood than humanness and life we must identify it. When does a conceptus become a person? This is a question even liberty proponents must answer. One cannot be pro-choice for murder.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Monday quote

Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion.

Robertson Davies

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Christians beheaded in Somalia

Remember fellow Christians who live and die in Somalia.
In the port town of Barawa in the Lower Shebelle Region, the extremists on March 4 called residents to the town center to witness the executions of the 41-year-old mother, Sadia Ali Omar, and her 35-year-old cousin, Osman Mohamoud Moge, the sources said.

Before killing them, an Al Shabaab militant announced, “We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya – we want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin [jihadists’] area,” according to an area resident whose name is undisclosed for security reasons.

Omar’s daughters, ages 8 and 15, were witness to the slaughter, sources said, with the younger girl screaming and shouting for someone to save her mother. A friend helped the girls, whose names are withheld, to relocate to another area.

“We are afraid that the Al Shabaab might continue monitoring these two children and eventually kill them just like their mother,” the area resident said.

The militants from Al Shabaab – which has vowed to rid the country of the Christian fellowships, which meet secretly as leaving Islam in Somalia is punishable by death – became suspicious of Omar and Moge due to their irregular attendance at Friday mosque prayers, sources said.

“The two people who were killed on many occasions did not take Friday prayers seriously, especially Omar, who claimed that she was praying in her house,” another area resident said.

Another source noted of Al Shabaab, “They have some spy everywhere in Somalia.”

Somalis who have lived in Christian-majority Kenya are especially suspect. The sources said Omar lived in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh for seven years; her husband became ill in 2011 and returned to Somalia, where he died. Omar and her cousin Moge, who helped take care of her daughters, left Kenya for Somalia in January 2013.
And may the Lord greatly use the Kenyan Christians to impact Somalia for the kingdom. He has promised that the gates of Hades will not prevail!

Hat tip: Classical Arminian.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

A fading glory

In 2 Corinthians Paul contrasts the new and old covenants. The old covenant is on stone (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 34:1, 4), the new on hearts (Ezekiel 11:19); a ministry of death compared to the ministry of the Spirit. He points out the symbolism of the veil of Moses (Exodus 34:33). As a veil obscured Moses' face, so a figurative veil obscures the truth about the new covenant from the observers of the old covenant.

What I had not noticed previously is how Paul relates the fading of the glory of Moses face. Moses face radiated because he had been in the presence of God. Moses covered his face in the presence of the people, but removed his veil in the presence of God.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.

Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34)
Over time Moses' face began to fade. The glory that was the Law represented by Moses' face shining was in fact a glory that was never intended to last.
The Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end. (2 Corinthians 3:7)
The glory that is the New Covenant, brought about by the Spirit, is a glory that never fades. Moses' face faded as it represented a glory that was not intended to last. At the time the Law was enacted it was temporary.
For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Corinthians 3:9-11)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Bible reading time

Desiring God Ministries has created a graph of reading times for each book of the Bible. It is useful in that it takes account of varying length of the chapters. I am uncertain of their method. I suspect it takes genre into account as well, Jeremiah has about the same number of words as the Psalms, though poetry is read slower than prose.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Monday quote

When we have an eye-opening moment from a [Bible] teacher, we should be able to go back to the text and see that it's there. It's different with the esoteric knowledge that gets passed off as biblical insight. You look back at the text, and it's not there any more. You have to buy the DVD to recapture the feeling.

Keith Edwin Schooley

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Dinosaur bones dated with carbon-14

This escaped my notice at the time (2012 August). We should definitely carbon date more fossils and ignore calls that this is a waste of time because we already know that fossils cannot contain carbon-14 except as a contaminant.

Coal and diamonds both contain radioactive carbon despite supposedly being too old. The half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years. So after 5700 years there is half the original amount of carbon-14 left. After 11500 years a quarter of the original amount. If we assume all the carbon in an object is carbon-14 (it is however only a fraction) we can get an extreme upper bound on how old it can be (carbon-14 decays into nitrogen so the known presence of carbon-12 lowers this upper bound considerably). If we measure any carbon-14 we know it must be younger than the extreme upper bound age, though it could be much younger.

So carbon-14 has been found in
  1. Coal
  2. Diamonds
  3. Dinosaurs
All of which are claimed to be older than what they possibly can be. This refutes the argument for an ancient earth. The only response possible is contamination.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Monday quote

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.


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