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Friday, June 22, 2018

Seriously... WTH?! - Part 1

In this episode I begin my long overdue treatment of the theological position known as Annihilationism or Conditional Immortality (Conditionalism). Part one of this series deals primarily with hermeneutical, verbal, and textual issues related to the case made by major proponents of the view.

Enjoy the show!

Major Sources:
For Conditionalism -
Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, ed. by Date, Stump, Anderson, and Grice
The Fire that Consumes by Fudge
Papers avail on request

Against Conditionalism -
Hell Under Fire ed. by Morgan and Peterson
"On Banishing the Lake of Fire," in The Gagging of God by Carson
Papers avail on request

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Freed Byte - Bad News Bears?

In honor of Father's Day tomorrow, here is an episode on male pattern baldness. Well... something like that.

So did Elisha really call out two she-bears to maul a bunch of little children because they laughed at him being bald? Let's find out.

Enjoy the show!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Tyler's Collected Works on Genesis 1 and YEC

Rejoinders to a YEC Response

First, I would like to thank Steve Schramm for the engagement with one of my articles dealing with issues surrounding Young Earth Creationism and Genesis 1:1-2:3 and how they are commonly discussed in Christian debates. His article was one of the first substantive engagements with any of my work on Genesis 1 from the YEC side that sought to actually engage with concepts and arguments. Steve's article, while pointed was overall charitable and thorough and throughout, and Steve himself appears to at least desire to give the most accurate treatment of my views possible. While I will show where he does at times misunderstand my view or argument, I do not think it is every intentional or due to any lack of effort to give the most fair treatment possible. Sadly disclaimers like this (and like the one the lead Steve’s article) should not be necessary but given the often contentious nature of these debates, I find it necessary to praise the virtues that Steve exhibits and pray more YEC’s would follow suit.

The article that Steve is responding to is my article entitled “Responses to Common YEC Arguments.” This article was meant to be a quick, almost bullet point style list of some of the more common YEC arguments for their view. It was not meant to be exhaustive and was part of a general series of Genesis 1:1-2:3 that I was producing on the Freed Thinker Podcast. Some of the confusion from Steve’s article could have been cleared up by reviewing the entire corpus of my work on this issue.

Steve appears to like to get up into the details and so do I. This means that his response to my article was extensive and my rejoinder will be as well. As I told Steve, this exchange is going to get wordy. But as I like to say, brevity may be the soul of wit, but verbosity is the soul of getting one’s point the hell across. And Steve and I both seem to like making our points clear.

To that effect, I would like to start with a distinction that I think is helpful. This is the distinction between Young Earth Creationism (YEC) which is the view that the earth is young, usually dated somewhere between 6,000-12,000 years old, and the position of a Calendar Day (or Literal Day) view of Genesis 1. This is a concordist view holds that the creation account in Genesis presents an actual successive series of 7 24-hour says in which God created all things. This distinction is helpful as one may hold to one without necessarily holding to the other and yet the term “YEC” is commonly conflated with the Calendar Day view. 99% of the time a person who holds to one will almost certainly hold to the other, but we should keep these concepts distinct as we will see, arguments for one may not qualify as arguments for the other. The same for objections against them.

Steve starts his article by basically saying that while I profess to take no view on the are of the earth, that the earth does have an age. He spends quite some time on this point (well at least devotes a relatively large amount of space to it for an online blog post). Since he spends so much time on this, I would be remiss if I did not address it at all, but if I’m being honest, I found this section to be of little value. Why? Because it is trivially true that the earth does have an age. I agree. Of course it does. The earth has existed for a specific time. However, the reason I said I have no dog in this fight is because I think the age of the earth is utterly irrelevant to the Bible and Christianity. Since my view of Genesis 1 is that it is a highly stylized literary framework used to form a polemical temple text against the gods of Egypt (a possibly later cultures as well given one’s view of redactional activity), it means that the first creation account is simply not giving us a diachronic or literal presentation of material creation. The age of the earth, then becomes a trivial question (in terms of Biblical Christianity) in the same realm as how many moons orbit Jupiter and how species of bees there are. If my understanding of Genesis 1 is correct, then the earth could be 6,000, 10,000, 1 million or 4.5 billion years old and that would be a scientific question alone, not a Biblical one. Scientifically, it would interesting to be sure, but nothing to get into heated Bible debates over that often end in anathemas.

Steve grants this point when he writes, “With that in mind, strictly speaking, there are only two options. And the reality is that one can affirm the views that Tyler holds about the authorial intent of Genesis and hold either YEC, OEC, or TE.” This is correct. Since these matters of material origins are not spoken of in Genesis, according to my view, then the text is not determinative between the views. However, Steve adds, “…in my view, there are pretty insurmountable Scriptural issues in accepting old-age chronology.” The reason for this, he says, is that because my view does not address these issues, then my comments have “zilch to do with the age of the earth.” Here the distinction I made previously will not be vitally important as will understanding the intent of the article I originally wrote. This article is dealing with YEC arguments used in an attempt to prove that the earth is young and that the Bible teaches that – thus part of the problem that I am driving at is precisely the conflation of the two theories of YEC and Calendar Day. In addition, I’m offering objections to these arguments, not making arguments or presenting evidence of my own. This means that I’m not attempting to make a positive case for my view of Genesis 1 but rather am showing why the arguments put forth by those in the YEC camp (typified usually by those at groups like Answers in Genesis and fail to demonstrate what they would like them to.

Steve followed the same numbering pattern of my original article and I will continue to do the same.

1. OEC’s are intimidated by secular scientists and so they reject what they know the text says.

Here Steve simply protests that he is not aware of any such arguments put forward by any proponents of YEC. This could be refuted a million times over anecdotally by anyone who rejects YEC in their churches, blogs, in online forums, facebook groups, etc. However, we can go beyond this. While I could give numerous examples such as my debate with my friend Jason Mullet available on my podcast, a talk given by Gary North on the Framework model, but I can do better. He seems to pull a lot of his citations from AiG and mentions Jason Lisle. This has actually been one of my major and repeated complaints against Dr. Lisle – that he accuses people who deny YEC as being intimidated and influenced by “secular science.” He does so in this lecture entitled “Creation-Evangelism” (a title that should be wildly problematic to any who think Christ alone saves and that one’s view of creationism has taken far too much attention away from that effort already), as well as in this article where he responds to Norman Geisler on similar issues, in which he writes, “It could well be that many Christians are reluctant to accept the literal words of Genesis because they are intimidated by secular scientists. ‘The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.’ (Proverbs 29:25).” I could give countless more examples from Lisle, Ham (and his affiliates), Sarfati, Comfort, Morris and so forth, but let this suffice to get Steve started down the line. Now, most people who reject YEC will not directly encounter the thought leaders of the YEC movement but people who mass consume their work and often uncritically parrot what they hear. The thought that the reason someone would reject YEC is because they have been duped into believing the secularlist lie of evolution is so pervasive an experience to any outside the YEC camp, that I have a very hard time thinking that Steve is entirely unaware of it. While the sins of the minions may not always go back to the braintrust, surely in the case of YEC, this manner of rhetoric has been publically, repeatedly, and loudly championed throughout the years. Anyone who denies YEC is considered a “liberal” and is suspected (or flat out accused) of giving of inspiration and inerrancy.

Even the quote from Jeanson which Steve provides is problematic. It assumes that non-Christians are wrong on the age of the earth, and because of Romans 1, this is because of spiritual reasons. Thus when we helpless babes go through public schools, we are of course doctrinated into this “non-Christian” view. Well stop the boat. Imagine if Genesis 1 isnt telling us that the world is young and as such it is not the Biblical or “Christian position” that the earth is young. What then? What if the earth is in fact old and  the YEC is simply mistaken? Are the “non-Christians” then right because of their spiritual blindness? I mean surely that would not be a position that Steve would affirm even if Jeanson might.

Jeanson then goes on to say that many of us are just ignorant of literature. We do not read enough. Specifically, Jeanson is concerned that they do not read enough of what the AiG folks have written. He writes, “…they are clueless about anything scholarly that we’ve written. I’ll ask them, “Name the last young earth creationist scholarly book you’ve read.” The response: “I don’t know.” Have you read Coming to Grips with Genesis? No. Have you read Earth’s Catastrophic Past? No. So why don’t more people accept this? Because they’re totally ignorant of what we’ve printed. And they don’t want to consider it.”

Numerous flags on the field. First, there is not much “scholarly” material coming out of AiG. Usually it is people working well outside of their fields (if they have advanced degrees at all), none of it to my knowledge is peer reviewed, and they are not working in academic institutions in the discipline about which they are writing. This often amounts to little more than non-experts writing in an echo chamber. Jeanson mentions as an example Coming to Grips with Genesis was written by Terry Mortenson who has a PhD in the history of Geology. What makes him an Old Testament “scholar” is beyond me. Now, this does not mean that what they write is false, but merely that if the folks at AiG would like to be viewed as scholarly, they should publish along scholarly guidelines. This kind of rhetorical bait and switch actually makes them look less reputable, not more.

In addition, it’s not a compelling kind of argument because it is so easily falsifiable by many of us who have read their publications (for me I’ve read much of their treatment of Biblical texts but I care very little to read the science because it’s outside of my discipline and irrelevant to the scriptural texts) or the argument could cut both ways. If you could say that a view is problematic due to the ignorance of opposing views by the adherents, fueled by their lack of research into the publications by the opposing views, we could easily find even more examples among YECs that have not read the most academic and scholarly work put out by OECs, TEs, Day-Age views, Framework views, etc. In fact, the most common response I have gotten to my paper dealing with Genesis 1 from YECs, is ardent refusal to even read it because its “liberal and accepts science over the Bible.” Anyone who has read the paper knows it is nothing of the sort, but I think more people have positively refused to read it than have read it, at least in part. So if Jeanson, and by extension Steve, think that that is a good criticism of YEC, then that scalpel cuts far deeper backwards.

In fact, Steve himself seems to not even be able to hide  this overall tendency in himself. He cannot refrain from making this comment: “For example, I have personally had numerous interactions with Christians who are now convinced the earth and universe are billions of years old, but who admitted that they used to hold to a young age view based on the text. What changed? The Bible hasn’t!”

For Steve, why have these people changed their views? Well they have capitulated to the  changing science is clearly the inference he wants us to draw. The problem is that if someone thinks that they were wrong about Genesis 1 being a literal and scientific account, then they may be able to go and look at the scientific evidence outside of the YEC echo chamber. Or, maybe they have something like their own Copernican revolution where they are so convinced by the evidence for the Old Earth that they hold it more strongly than they do their belief that Genesis 1 teaches a young earth and so they move to things like Gap Theory or Day-Age or non-concordist views like mine. Notice that Steve can here only give the singular option that it is changing science as opposed to the unchangeable word of God that must be to blame. This kind of framing of the issue is indicative of the issue that I was addressing in the first question.

While much more can be said, I think most of my comments would suffice to answer the rest of Steve’s comments here regarding the rhetorical point, except that he seems to think that when I mention “YEC literalism” that I am referring to some kind of “hyper-literalism,” which simply is not the case. While I think it is too literal beyond what the text demands (or allows), I do not think that YEC’s are all guilty of hyper-literalism on par with people thinking that Jesus was literally a wooden door.

He points out that much of my view is based on the work of John Walton, which is true enough. Steve seems to think that a valid objection is that other OT scholars disagree with Walton, such as John Oswalt. Yes. Scholars disagree on the meaning and interpretation of Genesis 1 and the ANE backgrounds. Once again, this point is so trivially true that I’m not sure what the point is. I could equally point out the numerous scholars who object to Oswalt’s views of Genesis 1. In fact, the great irony is that Steve himself would almost certainly object to Oswalt’s own views since he takes Genesis 1 to be historic fact presented in POETRY and ALLUSION. He flat out rejects that it is historical narrative.

He them says that I use “rhetorically-charged” terms like “glass like dome called a firmament” and “literal pillars” but that I don’t allow my readers the chance to evaluate the difference between narrative and poetic language or somehow assume the hyper-literalist view of YEC. Here, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do I expect my readers to be responsible and go read the texts, but this also has the problem of many YECs – non-literal when it is convenient to do so. The glass like dome firmament is found in Genesis 1. Steve needs to decide what to do with that. We know from history and from other texts in the Bible that the firmament is viewed like a solid molten glass dome that keeps the waters above from the waters below and in which the heavenly bodies move across  the sky. Steve would need to show that either we are wrong in how we assess the views of ANE cosmology, or that the Bible means something out by it without giving any indication that it means something else by it, or, as appears to be his strategy here, to say it is symbolism. Well there are two problems. Why is the firmament in Gen 1 symbolic but nothing else is and what tells him that (besides the need to escape the objection which would be entirely ad hoc) and if it is symbolic, what is it symbolic for? This is the same for the pillars found in nearly all other creation accounts in Psalms, Job, the prophets and elsewhere. Imagine that they are all poetic and symbolic, what is symbolic of? And is that any better?

2. If you just take the plain meaning of the text, it clearly means 6 literal solar days.

Let’s again start by stating the intention of my answer which I gave in the article. In this case it is that the YEC cannot simply beg the question of what they find the “plain meaning” to be. Many of us simply do not think the plain meaning that they think is plain, to be very, well… plain. In fact, many of us find that when we try and read the plain, literal meaning (often with a concordist assumption), that it raises more problems than not. Thus, the thrust of my response what that when they call it “the plain meaning” it is similar to when one Christian view among many calls themselves “the Biblical view.” It’s so condescending and question begging as to be borderline dishonest.

He wants us to keep two things in mind. That I appear to assume some current scientific understanding and that I’m trying to separate Genesis 1 from a “plain meaning” hermeneutic of the entire Bible. We will see why both of these fail as criticisms.

I’m going to bullet point these out since we are now going on 3 layers of blog posts to get the objections and rejoinders. It will be my objection, Steve’s protestation, then my rejoinder.

Me: How is there morning and evening without no sun?
o Steve: You only need a light source, not necessarily the sun.
Me: In Day 4 God says that the sun was the basis for a day. If God defines a day as needing the sun, who is Steve to disagree?
o Steve: God created a light first.
Me: Incorrect. The Hebrew is very clear that God separated the definite articled “the Light” from “the Darkness.” These are not abstractions or “a light” on day one and “another light” on day four. This is referring to a single concept – THE light that shines upon the earth, marking out daytime. This is an exegetical point nearly all YECs miss because they need to posit TWO light sources to make their literal Calendar Day view map on to the text in any meaningful way.

Me: Is this supernatural light “good” and if so why did God scrap it and replace it just a few days later with the sun?”
o Steve: I’m not aware of any recent creationist who claims the first light was supernatural.
Me: the supernatural thesis (which includes the light imitating from God or from some singular light abstraction maintained by God) is honestly one of the only answers I ever hear from current YECs to be consistent. Some have tried to argue that it could be light generally around the universe but then that would not answer the issue of the daylight on the first day above since for that we would need a fixed, relatively close singular light source and not just all the ultraviolet light in the universe for example. So what we get is that this is a temporary light that lasted 3 days as the majority view.
o Steve: What’s wrong with it being supernatural?
Me: Nothing. I agree, creation is a supernatural process. I never said supernatural wasn’t allowed (though in Gen 2:4 God himself says he uses natural processes). But this doesn’t answer how God could make it, call it good, then replace it by the sun 3 days later.
o Steve: But that’s just the plain meaning
Me: Yeah. And that is a problem since that is a tension for the plain meaning that is not clearly resolvable.
o Steve: There are numerous options for what the light could be. It could be God was light.
Me: no. It was created. God is not.
o Steve: Light could have been a form of energy.
Me: Sure. But why create it for this purpose, call it good, then replace it by something else to serve the same purpose?
o Steve: God could have “attached” the light to the sun.
Me: I have no idea what that even means. Plus, besides the myriad of conceptual problems that would have (light without a source – see the supernatural view above which he says no one affirms but ironically 2 out of 3 of his options are that view), it also doesn’t solve the objection about why God would create it for this purpose, call it good, then replace it by something else to serve the same purpose?
o Steve: These are no more speculative for the origins of the sun than naturalistic ones.
Me: I never said that it wasn’t but I could also easily disagree on my view. Steve is inventing whole cloth ideas of material origins not in the Bible while scientific views of the origin of the stars are potentially empirically verifiable. Which shouldn’t matter if Genesis 1 is not a competing narrative in material details (which I don’t think it is).
o Steve: It doesn’t make sense to side with naturalists on some points and not others.
Me: I’m not actually didn’t make that case, but it shouldn’t matter either. I side with naturalists on the benefits of brushing my teeth but not on their view of moral foundations. This seems like an argument from guilt by association.
Me: must I side with Christians against naturalists on everything about origins even if I think the Christians are getting something wrong?

Me: “How are there days [sic] when God says that the whole purpose of the sun and moon and stars was for the purpose of marking out days and seasons in Day 4?”
o Steve – Because evening and morning had taken place.
Me: This begs the question of the Calendar Day view and assumes the very answer trying to be given.
o Steve – the Hebrew of Gen 1:5 could be rendered “and the evening and the morning were day one.”
Me: without going into boring details… that would be HIGHLY unlikely to the Hebrew.
o Steve – God intends to communicate what the readers could understand… and that would be literal days.
Again, this would simply be to beg the question of the plain and clear meaning of the passage. Myself and others have argued that this would be almost instantly recognizable to the ANE readers as a temple text. So what was plain to them is probably not what is “plain” to us reading it as scientifically minded moderns.
o Steve – a day is possible with no sun, signs and seasons so any light source and rotation will do.
Me: First see above about the light source. Without that answer nailed down, this one cannot get off the ground. Plus, the issue again is that God said that the whole purpose of the sun was precisely to establish days. Imagine that I argued that marriage existed before Adam and Eve and said “sure God expressly created Adam and Eve to establish marriage… but he had marriage around before that.” Steve would roll his eyes at me. And yet that is the argument being made here.

Me: ”The light and the darkness are separated on Day 1 but then God creates the sun and the moon for the purpose of separating the light and the darkness on Day 4. But if that had already happened on Day 1, then what light and darkness are being separated on Day 4? Did they fuse back together at some time?”
o Steve – well then the Scripture would say God separated some light from some darkness twice.
Me: Yeah. That’s the problem. And see my comment above how this is not general light in Day 1 and specific light (sun light) in Day 2. This is the definite articled specific daytime making light from the definite articled darkness of night time on both days. On day 1 and day 4 God separated the same light and darkness. This leads to the problem of God’s creative activity being undone sometime on Day 2 or 3.
o Steve – it could be general light and not the light on the earth.
Me: Not only are you then going to have the issues of numerous of my questions above about the nature of the light and the God ordained role of the sun as the marker of days, but now also the hermeneutic would have to be inconsistent. Whereas the existence of “morning and evening” is taken to be a marker of literal solar days, it now must itself be symbolic since there would be no morning and evening. Even if the rotation was 24 hours (though the measure of time would now be arbitrary), it would not be marked by mornings and evenings. In fact, from the phenomenological vantage point on the face of the earth (an assumption nearly ubiquitous among YECs) there would be absolutely no way to tell the passage of time or rotation of the earth since there would be no luminaries in the sky to mark it. So now Steve and the YEC would be stuck with “morning and evening” being both literal and symbolic in the same way at the same time. A contradiction if there ever was one.

Me: ”How is it literal days if plants are created on day 3 but we are told in Genesis 2 that no plants had grown because it had not yet rained and man was not yet created to work the earth? Could they not survive the 3 days without water until man was created?”
o Steve: This isnt a problem if Gen 2 isnt a new creation account, but a “zooming in.”
Me: I know that is typically the view of YECs and that is precisely the problem. It is a problem on THAT zooming in view because they would then ostensibly be referring to the same time line. But in one case plants come before man, in another, man before plants. So which is it? Zooming in doenst resolve the issues that come from a diachronic view.
o Steve: Kruger gives arguments in his paper about why Gen 2:5 is talking about a specific type of plants.
I’m familiar with Kruger’s work on this and would have my criticisms of his argument. But for space, since Steve does not list them then I feel no need to do that work for him. Simply saying that someone has given some kind of response somewhere else cannot suffice as a response to my objection.

Steve wraps up this section by reasserting that it is the “plain and clear meaning of the text if it’s proper exegesis-and not eiesgesis-we intent to accomplish.” Yet from what I’ve seen, the issue is not a matter of exegesis and eisegesis. In fact that seems far to myopic. For even if one of us is wrong, surely we are both trying to handle the text exegetically. In fact, he hasn’t shown any way that I am eisegeting the text since all of my observations and questions have been based on the context, language, grammar, and vocabulary of the text itself. Nowhere have I appealed to anything like the “order of creation as agreed upon by the majority of scientists” like he claims.

3. Genesis is literal history and not allegory.

For space and our own sanity, I’m going to very quickly summarize Steve’s comments and why they simply fail to address my comments. Steve agrees with me that there are numerous other creation accounts that are poetic in nature. He then basically asserts the same statement in the original and poses the same false dichotomy of either literal history or allegory. Here he seems to miss my two main points of response in this section.

First, my main observation is that there are poetic sections that are historical in nature. That is, they are historical poems but which do not tell the history in a straight forward diachronic manner. This is clear and obvious evidence that the disjunction between “literal history” and “allegory” is just a false dichotomy. There are more options than that. Steve concedes this but then just says just because that is the case, does not mean it is the case in Genesis (though he still confuses non-literal with “allegory” and thinks it is allegory being infused with history in those cases which is false). Well that’s just trivially true. I would be dumb if that was my argument. My point in saying this was that the YEC cannot make the argument that BECAUSE it is not allegory that it is therefore literal history. Steve might not make that argument but many YECs do.

Second, my point was that YECs cannot simply ASSERT that Gen 1 is a literal historical narrative. That is a positive claim that must be demonstrated. It cannot be assumed. There are features of historical narrative and poetic narrative and temple texts and such that establish the genre of literature it is. Literal Historical Narrative is doubtful even a clearly identifiable genre in the ANE (and we should think in terms of theological history or theological reportage, but I think with certain qualification I can grant the kind of genre he is getting at). Because it would be the extreme minority exception, and not the rule, it cannot be treated like some kind of default genre for any narrative. Like it is literal history unless proven otherwise.

So Steve is right. It is different than the creation accounts in Psalm 104 and Job 38. But then again Job 38 and Psalm 104 are ALSO different genres from each other. One is Poetry and one is Epic – both are poetic but they are not the same genre. Ironically, if you’ll remember, one of Steve’s own expert witnesses that he appealed to in order to contradict the work of Walton was Oswalt who holds that Genesis 3 is a poetic narrative (very much like an epic or a cosmogonic myth minus the ANE mythical elements).

He appeals to Steve Boyd, an OT Hebraist (who for some reason is now trying his hand at radioisotopes…) and his paper dealing with some kind of statistical analysis of genre. While the statement seems clear and scientific giving a 99.999 probability with a 99.5% confidence level, no argument was given by Steve to support this. I am somewhat familiar with this study and ones like it and find it methodologically WILDLY problematic on par with the statistical studies of Pauline lexicography used by critical scholars to excise half of the Pauline corpus from authenticity. It also smacks of the kind of secret decoders of hidden messages in the Bible. Statistical… but absurd nonetheless. My recommendation is that when someone comes trumpeting flashing statistics for near certainty when it comes to things like literary genre… gird your loins because youre most likely being taken for a ride.

I’d like to give Steve the benefit of the doubt that he has read Boyd’s paper “Statistical Determination of Genre in Biblical Hebrew: Evidence for an Historical Reading of Genesis 1:1-2:3” but the quote he gives is also from the abstract and there is no actual argument given. For now it sits as more simple assertion. No evidence has been given that Gen 1:1-2:3 is literal historical narrative. None. And yet Steve feels confident in writing, “Therefore, we recent creationists argue with good reason that Genesis 1 should be taken as a straightforward, natural account of real history.” Well… why? Based on what evidence?

4. Jesus took Genesis literally and so should we.
Here, once again Steve is just misconstruing my argument. I never said that a YEC claims that Jesus takes every word of Genesis literally. I said the issue was that it treats Genesis as ONE Genre in total.

He then says that Jesus took Genesis “naturally.” Well once again, like “literal” or “plain and clear,” when left undefined this kind of language just becomes a wax nose to mean “they read it however I read it.” And yes, Jesus does reference events that happen. I believe in a historical creation, Adam and Eve, and a fall, and a flood and so forth. None of that has any relevance to the genre of Gen 1:1-2:3.

I’m not sure how to respond much to this section since Steve’s comments, with all due resepect, are just a kind of “nuh uh” rhetoric. They add no arguments, no evidence, no exegesis. The problem is clear. Those like Lisle that want to appeals to Jesus language about “from the beginning” have a huge amount of work to do since those passages are demonstrably about the creation of humans and not from the very moment of creation since humans were not created from the very moment of creation. There is simply no time reference to how long after the moment of creation it was until humans came along. It’s just not in the text. And I provided parallel uses of such language that simply CANNOT mean that. So it is incumbent on them to demonstrate it. Steve made no such effort and so at this point my criticism in the original argument seems relatively untouched.

He tries to use a Disneyland example which fails simply because it is not analogous. It is not that I’m trying to overliteralize the use of time, it is that NO time is given. It would be more like if someone said, “I’ve wanted to go to Disneyland since the day I was born!” Unlike the “4 years ago” example that he tries, this kind of hyperbole is clearly NOT meant to be take literally but at the same time it does not give us a concrete time reference either for when the person started wanted to go. So too Jesus’ statement about “from the beginning.” Well we know Adam and Eve and the murderous act of Satan didn’t happen at the beginning moment of creation. But the language doesn’t tell us when it did happen. This is a hyperbolic/idiomatic way of just speaking of the beginning of the Biblical narrative when humans come in. In the Bible, where does the creation of man as male and female and the fall happen? In the beginning. Steve’s analogy just isnt analogous and thus doesn’t address my argument and he does not exegetical work to bolster his claims.

Steve’s final argument is based on a kind of “whats good for the goose” kind of reasoning. He here anticipates what will be coming in his second article in response where he deals with my position on the relationship of Gen 1 and Ex. 20. There I argue that whatever Moses meant in Gen 1 he will mean in Ex. 20. Steve wants to then say that whatever Jesus means by “since the beginning” in one context, he will mean in the other. There are two MAJOR problems with this.

First, Exodus one is directly and expressly BUILDING on the meaning found in Genesis 1. That means Moses would be self-consciously and purposefully using the same concept between the two passages. This is simply not the same in the incidental use of similar phrases in different contexts in different books. Jesus could very well use the idiom differently in different contexts (in fact it would be rather easy to come up with numerous examples where this is precisely the case). So Steve is simply outside of his exegetical warrant to use that kind of argument here.

Second, if Steve were familiar with my whole body of work and my comments in debates and such, then he would know that I absolutely think that the author of Genesis was using a calendar week as a paradigm for the creation. I have no problem with that. The issue is whether or not it is a concordist, diachronic literal account of creation or if it is a literary framework used to present a cosmogonic temple text that satirizes the gods of Egypt. The calendar days are, in my view, simply analogical concept hooks that the author uses to tell his story of the inauguration of God’s temple on earth in supremacy over the gods of the nations. When pressed into a literal historical diachronic narrative, it clearly and demonstrably falls apart (besides not fitting with the ANE literary context anyway). But I’m not a Day-Age theorist or a Gap theorist or any form of OEC. You aren’t going to hear arguments from me that Yom on days 1-6 means long periods of time. That simply isnt my view.

So, after all this effort, Steve has missed the big picture. Showing that Moses is using a calendar week is not going to do much to affect or change my reading of Genesis 1. He would need to address and defend the concordist, diachronic and literalistic aspects of the YEC. And remember, I’m not here concerned with the age of the earth because in my view, that has absolutely nothing to do with what is taught in the text.

Let’s see how Part 2 of Steve’s response comes together. Hopefully much stronger and improved over Part 1.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Noetic Affects and Effects of Sin and Grace

In this episode I present my paper dealing with the Noetic Affects and Effects of Sin and Grace and explore the ramifications of sin for the breakdown of what Brunner called the “I-Thou” paradigm. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Listen in and you will!

Enjoy the show! 

For the full text of this paper including footnotes, citations, and bibliography please visit:

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Tax Exemption and the Church

In my previous article I discussed the results of a completely unscientific survey that I performed in various Facebook groups dedicated to discussions between atheists and theists and Christians and the like. I was looking for a possible change in attitudes over the last 5 years within the so called “New Atheist” movement – basically the online atheistic community. The results came in and did seem to confirm what others had been saying about a kind of sea change within the movement, away from the virulent and hostile anti-theism of the old guard atheists like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and co, to a softer, let’s all just get along even if you religious people are idiots kind of ethos. Sure there are still anti-theists, but the apparent shift is away from that kind of militant posturing as a meta-rhetorical strategy.

Previously the responses had been almost completely draconian and totalitarian – the removal of children from religious homes, the criminalization of public religiosity such as prayer or evangelism, the banning of religious owned property and the requirement of state sanctioned (and thus purely secular and atheistic) education and curriculum in all education settings from public schools to charter schools and even home schools. The only thing missing from this was the hammer and sickle and someone leading the effort that goes by the title Chairman. Truly a testament about what happens when we forget the past and exactly how totalitarian regimes take root.

Thankfully 5 years later, much of that was gone. Of course some of those answers came in – religious upbringing is child abuse, specifically the doctrine of hell; religion is mental illness and the state should mandate treatment; only secular state run education; and all of that. Anti-theists and atheistic fundamentalists are probably going to be a mainstay among us for as long as religious fundamentalism will be. However, these answers did not dominate the conversation like they had in the previous survey. The primary response was the removal of the tax exempt status of churches and religious organizations. It is to this topic that I will turn.

The history of tax exemptions and the organization of a non-profit sector is long and complicated and I am far from an expert in this area. This is a very helpful resource for those who would like to delve into the broader history of tax law. Rather than focus on how we get here, I’m going to simply clear up some misunderstandings and why ending tax exemption for churches is not only problematic, but may actually end up working against the separation of church and state in the long run.

I would like to begin by clearing up one major myth the seemed to crop up throughout the answers as to why revoking tax exemptions would be preferable – I’m going to call it the Joel Osteen Myth. This is the idea that Churches are money making machines to bilk their congregation of their hard earned money. Joel Osteen and his $10M+ home was used regularly as exhibit A for this myth. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not an Osteen fan, not in the slightest. I’m a harsh critic actually – mostly for theological reasons however (which I actually think are more substantive than political or cultural ones). However, I also think that if we are going to be critical and use this man as an object lesson for ecclesiastical greed, we should also be accurate. My comments should not be read as endorsing that pastors should be that wealthy or that it’s ethical for a church to be so well off or even that big. That’s not the point I’m making, but rather that Osteen and megachurches everywhere are not a good reason to cut tax exemption – it would be an exemplar of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

We need to remember that Joel Osteen is a brand more than a pastor. He has a publishing and product empire that is surely the main source of his income. I was reminded of Rick Warren who became wealthy after his book The Purpose Driven Life topped the best seller charts, and then not only stopped drawing a salary from Saddleback Church where he pastored, but also cut them a check to pay them back for all of the pay he had drawn from them over the year. I wondered if Osteen had done something similar and sure enough, he stopped drawing a salary from Lakewood shortly after his first best seller. So when we look at Osteen’s house or wealth, we should realize that his publication, not his pastorate, is almost certainly the source. At his peak, he was drawing about $200k annually as a salary. Now is that a lot? Well without getting into too much evaluation of the ethics of pay, that would put him at average for upper middle class. He would not even have been classified as Upper Class yet if his salary from Lakewood was his only income. Clergy taxation is also very complicated with housing allowances, personal tax, self-employment clergy tax, and so forth. So we should also keep in our minds that the tax exemption of churches is not the same issue as the tax burden of clergy.

Next, does Osteen’s wealth warrant the argument that his church (or all churches) should be tax liable? If this were the case, then a large number of nonprofits would fall under the same argument. We will get to this shortly when we discuss the nature of a nonprofit but it would be a problematic argument to say that if the leadership of a nonprofit is well paid, then the organization itself should no longer be a tax exempt nonprofit. We will discuss this in more detail shortly. What the Joel Osteen Fallacy relies on is the assumption that wealthy churches and pastors are the norm, or are at least representative enough to rightly depict church financial practices as a whole. This is a myth large enough to plant a megachurch in. As we can see from the stats in the graphic below drawn from a study done by The Hartford Institute:

A megachurch is typically classed as 500 members and above. This means that approx. 6.5% of all churches in the U.S. are megachurches. The average church in the U.S. is under 100 people. And what about salary? The average pastor’s entire compensation package (salary and housing benefit) is $31k – if he has two children, that would be barely above the poverty line. Roman Catholic priests earn somewhere between $21k to $26k – no kids to worry about so further from the single person poverty line but not by much. Jewish Rabbis are the highest paid earning more than the average protestant pastor and Catholic priest combined. This means that the average clergy earn over $20k less than the average public school teacher at $59k. Now the atheist may think that it is good that educators earn more than pastors (what with all deluding of the minds of our congregants), but they should not then think that churches are money making machines or that most clergy do it for the financial advantages of it all. In fact, the average salary of megachurch pastors serving in churches of 1000+ (the top 2.5% of church size and only about the top 1/3 of all megachurches) had an average total compensation package of only $81,923. So even when we explore the largest and wealthiest of U.S. churches, we are not looking at people living fat on the calf so to speak. And once we break down salary from housing benefit, their actual take home pay may be well below those numbers.
With that leg of support for the demand for tax exemption to be revoke effectively swept away, I would like to address another major area of confusion. Churches are a non-profit organization which confers certain tax benefits. However they are a specific type of non-profit – a charity. Let’s break these down first explore some of the problems that may arise from trying to remove tax exemptions for churches only.

A nonprofit is any organization where its net profit from donations, fees, or any other revenue from activities does not go to the benefit of any one or multiple individuals. This means, basically, that the profit goes back into the operation of the organization rather than going into anyone’s bank account or paying off shareholders. Nonprofits do not need to serve the general public and can charge for services – a very well-known example that we will use as a paradigm for this discussion, is Planned Parenthood. They have a very well paid leadership, take government subsidies, charge for services, make voluminous profits, and yet because all of the profit goes back into the operation of the organization and not to the payment of any individual(s).

Planned Parenthood is not only a nonprofit though – they are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit: a charity. This is the same category as a church in fact. A charity is a nonprofit whose purpose is to benefit the public at large and aim to improve the quality of life of the community somehow.  On helpful way to think of the difference between a general 501(c) nonprofit and a charity 501(c)(3) is the scope of work that they do. Where a nonprofit generally can market itself to a certain group of paid members (homeowners associations and auto clubs are a good example), specific charitable nonprofits exist to serve the general public in some way. In essence, general nonprofits can be specific while specific nonprofits must be general. Clear as mud?

Several other myths that I hear from atheists frequently can now easily be dispatched when we use Planned Parenthood as the paradigm. A common myth is that a charity is classified by how much of its earned income that it gives away (I commonly see an arbitrary 80% number thrown around) but this is simply not the case. Do atheists think that Planned Parenthood gives away 80% of its earned revenue (not just profit) to the community? Clearly they do not.

Another myth is the Joel Osteen Fallacy discussed above, and that is that if the leadership is well paid (or I heard if they even had paid full time leadership at all) that they should lose their tax exemption. The current CEO of Planned Parenthood, makes over $500k per year – 2.5 times what Osteen earned and over 6 times what the average megachurch pastors earned. There are other charity CEOs that are in the millions. If a charity needs to have its tax exemption revoked because of salary, then countless charities would need to be cut by that scalpel.

So, what about revoking tax exemption for churches? This brings up a lot of great questions and to be honest, if done equitably and consistently, I can see the arguments for both sides, even though I ultimately come down that tax exemption is the best for all parties. We will look at this through several landmines that arise from churches having their 501(c)(3) status revoked and becoming tax liable (specifically property tax) as well as some of the problems of them being classified as 501(c)(3). Basically, both are attempts to procure the separation of church and state but neither does it perfectly. (For a lengthier list of Pros and Cons of this issue, see here).

We will look at this from 3 angles: 1) Protection of the separation church and state, 2) protection of the right to exist as a church body, and 3) equitable regulations without unconstitutional religious tests.

1. Protection of the separation church and state. What many people do not realize is that as a 501(c)(3), individual churches are not technically permitted to endorse any specific candidate or to lobby congress. While there are broader guidelines on what kind of public support that they can show for policies or propositions, the tax law is clear – they cannot financially and officially endorse any candidate for public office. 

This is known but not commonly understand, and considering that other 501(c)(3)s such as Planned Parenthood and the NRA are known for their lobbying efforts, this seems inconsistent. Isnt the evangelical lobby a huge driver in American politics? Well yes, but in these cases, the organizations that fund campaigns and lobby congress are not churches – they are not even 501(c)(3)s. They are often 501(c)(4)s or some other kind of nonprofit or charity that is permitted to endorse candidates and lobby and simply work on behalf of their constituents (Planned Parenthood and the NRA effectively set up shell charities that are not 501(c)(3) to do what they want to do) because they do not have the same set of tax exemptions that the 501(c)(3)s have with regard to property taxes.

So while there are loop holes, what the tax exemption allows is a clearer wall of separation of powers between Magisterial and Ecclesiastical institutions. The government is not using taxes on the church to fund things that would directly violate church beliefs, but the church is also not allowed to try and wag the political dog through lobbying and pulpit pounding. Both sides win.

On the other hand however, we can see in cases like the IRS’ fight with the Church of Scientology how tax exemption could still muddy the waters and allow the state  to govern who is and who is not an officially sanctioned religious body. While they do have a set of guidelines for determining what counts as a valid ecclesiastical body (regular services, educational courses for members and children, regular and publicly known meeting locations, and about a dozen other factors), the IRS took the stance for approximately 30 years that the Church of Scientology was not an official body despite meeting nearly all or most of the criteria on their list, mostly because the methods of the church ran too much like a business and it was demonstrated that funds were in fact being funneled directly to the profit of individuals. In 1993, the IS finally reversed this ruling and granted exemption status despite protest that their practices had not fundamentally changed.

While many of us would agree with the concerns over Scientology specifically, this incident does highlight an area where we may equally be uncomfortable giving the government authority – deciding what religions do and do not count as state sanctioned. It feels rather Red Nation to many of us – secularists included who worry that if the political pendulum would swing, that secular charities may be refused exemption. So for many, in the name of removing that authority from the government, the only way to resolve it would be to not even place it in the position to decide. This could be accomplished by not giving any charity that level of tax exemption such that the government wouldn’t be the one deciding – if we cannot play nicely, then no one gets to play, so to speak.

As of right now, the IRS takes a very hands off approach to classification. Basically, a religious body can assume to be tax exempt at their formation. They do not need to apply to be tax exempt. This allows for one of the more controversial issues in this whole debate – the lack of filing. Unregistered churches are assumed tax exempt unless proven otherwise, but since they are unregistered, they do not need to file their income with the IRS with the dreaded IRS form 990 or 990 EZ. That is clearly a major benefit to a religious or secular organization. However, there is a major downside – a risk. They are not officially sanctioned by the IRS. They have not been confirmed to be tax exempt. This means that they are in fact, in limbo. While many churches in major denominations can likely rest assured that they would qualify, smaller or independent churches or religious groups may not be so lucky. Imagine operating under the assumption that you are tax exempt, only to find out that you do not qualify. The back taxes could be astronomical. While it is highly unlikely, one could also conceive of a move by a more secularist anti-clerical government to arise and require registration with the intent of denying any unregistered religious groups. This would be quite a sizable financial and property/land grab since the back taxes would plausibly shut down a vast majority of religious organizations. So yes, they do not need to register and file, but they do so at some risk.

This leads naturally to the second issue – right to exist.

2. Protection of the right to exist. As many political commentators and economists have pointed out, the truism is true – taxation is the power to destroy. The problem here is rather simple – many churches simply would not be able to survive without the tax exemption. As we saw above, it is a myth that most churches are flush with money or even financially stable from year to year. Anyone who has been to small churches for some time know that often at the end of the year there is an extra push for giving – not to make the pastor rich, but to literally keep the lights on and the other bills paid. I’ve been to churches where the pastor, who already works another job, refuses to draw a salary for a month to make sure that the doors can stay open the following month. If churches who had been tax free for decades or centuries were suddenly forced to pay for taxes, many would simply not be able to remain open.

Another issue here is that of double taxation. Essentially a church (or really any 501(c)(3)) is a voluntary association where people pool resources for some community and/or public benefit(s). If the giving of the church is then taxed, effectively you are taxing that voluntary group of people twice. If the tax exemption 501(c)(3)  status is revoked, then giving to that organization would be a taxable payment, not a charitable donation and as such you would be taxing the monies coming and going.
While this is almost the same as #1, allowing 501(c)(3)s to be taxed may run into the problem of the government deciding which religious organizations (or really which charities generally) could exist or not. Instead of deciding from the beginning who could and could not be considered a 501(c)(3), the government could create targeted taxation upon specific kinds of charities or land ownership if taxation was permitted.

3. Equitable regulations without unconstitutional religious tests. The issue here has been hinted at above. How would one go about determining which charitable and/or religious organizations and nonprofits would lose their tax exemptions? What would the standard and the metric be? If one argues that it should only be churches or religious organizations that should lose tax exemptions (this was the view of most of the atheists that answers the questions, typically explained as due to their belief that religion served no community good and harmed young people), then how would this process go about without an expressly stated religious test – which are deemed unconstitutional as an explicit violation of the 1st amendment? This kind of religious test would set an extremely problematic precedent – one even many secularists should be concerned with should the government swing more in favor of a more overtly religious or theocratic state.

There is a way around this though and that would be to remove tax exemptions equally across all 501(c)(3)s, shore up some of the ability to create shell organizations like 501(c)(4)s, or even back out many of the tax exemptions for nonprofits generally. However, in order to achieve this equitably the line in the sand would need to be around nonprofit classifications and not expressly religious lines. The atheists then who answered that revoking tax exemptions would need to think about if effectively overhauling and removing tax breaks for charities is worth what they think they would accomplish by removing tax exemptions from churches.

There are certainly more pros and cons that what I have had time to very briefly discuss here. Estimated revenues from property tax alone would be in the tens of billions annually – for some cities upwards of 80% of land is non-taxable so the boost in revenue would certainly be helpful. Ye t this too comes at a cost. Many churches operate soup kitchens, homeless shelters, free counseling services, community aid programs, etc. and if these services were to close down, the municipality may be tasked with paying for some kind of replacement services. In some cases, this may drive more cost to the government than it does revenue. It simply is not as clear cut as some would think, especially in more urban or rural environments where many of these small churches exist which would be disproportionately hindered.

Other issues arise as well when we enter into political and economic philosophy – is a tax exemption the same thing as a subsidy? Some say yes, some say no. I’m inclined to think that either view is possible to maintain but that if religious organizations (including atheistic and secular groups like Sunday Assembly) are equitably included, then the government is not providing direct subsidies or benefit to any specific religious or non-religious group or citizens. However, this again raises the issue of the IRS becoming arbiter and judge of what is a “true religion.”

Tax exemption and the church is highly controversial issue and if I am being honest, I’m not convinced that either side is outlandish – from either a secular or a religious point of view. In both cases there are pros and cons for the separation of church and state, for public benefit and for general equality. In fact, many churches have decided to not be classified as 501(c)(3)s, register with the IRS, and pay taxes like a general nonprofit would precisely because of the some of the reasons above, but mostly because they want to be able to perform any political activity they choose such as lobbying and campaign finance, without fear or government reprisal. While I have religious reasons to want to avoid that (if history has taught us anything, where the church enters the state, the state often is not far behind in coming into the church), I would ask the atheists if what they really want is a bunch of evangelicals who are angry about being forced to pay taxes now also able to official sponsor campaigns and lobby congress…

Although it is far from perfect, at the end of the day I find the benefit to simply weigh more heavily on keeping the tax exemptions in place to offer the best protection of the separation of powers and of the benefit to the community and her citizens.