Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dishonoring the Truth about the Shroud

Jason Engwer is great guy and has produced lots of useful and helpful material. I really appreciate his on-line work, and I hope that no one will be so foolish as to think that the criticism I'm about to offer is supposed to reflect badly on him personally. My problem is with his statement, not him.

In particular, his comment asserting:
The large majority of the evidence suggests that the Shroud of Turin predates the medieval era. The 1988 carbon dating of the Shroud is an exception that's often cited. However, there are a lot of problems with that carbon testing. Dan Porter has gathered together some of the relevant evidence here.
is misleading at best and more generally speaking, out and out false.

The statement is misleading because "evidence" isn't like people. It's not like there are five personified evidences, named James, Bob, and Sparky, and only Sparky says X, while James and Bob say Y.

Moreover, even within categories of evidence, how we pick our categories ends up determining the majority. There are three main categories of evidence: Scriptural, historical inquiry, and scientific examination.

On Scriptural inquiry, there is virtually nothing to support the shroud. The Scriptures specifically relate that Jesus' body was wrapped in multiple linen sheets (not a single shroud), that his body was covered with about 75 pounds (American weight) of spices, and that his head was separately wrapped. Moreover, the long-haired person depicted in the shroud does not correspond well with Paul's comment about nature teaching that is a shame for men to have long hair, though it accords well with medieval European iconography. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in Scripture suggesting that Jesus ever left a miraculous image of himself on anything. Furthermore, the burial wrappings of Jesus are specifically described in Scripture, and there is no mention of a shroud. At best, one could hope to find a way to work a shroud into and around the Scriptural evidence, but the Scriptural evidence is uniformly against the Shroud's authenticity.

Historical evidence. The currently prevalent view is that the shroud we see today is the same shroud described for the first time in the 14th century. If this is the case, then the farthest back that the shroud can be documented is the fourteenth century. It's difficult to be sure whether this shroud is the same as that one, but let's concede that for the sake of argument. The absence of any prior history of the shroud (especially given the iconomania of the preceding centuries) is a bit like the dog that didn't bark. Be that as it may, at most the historical evidence can establish a 14th century date for the shroud.

Scientific evidence. The most reliable dating method that has been applied to the shroud is C-14 dating. Like every scientific test, there limits on that reliability. Nevertheless, three tests were performed, and the conclusion was that the material of the shroud dates to the 13th or 14th century with about 95% certainty.

People have proposed other dating techniques, ranging from the absurd to the trivial.

An example of an absurd dating technique is the technique of comparing the shroud to medieval iconography in terms of realism and/or technique. This is an absurd dating technique because it merely demonstrates that the shroud represents a unique artifact, regardless of its date. In other words, it's not as though the shroud represents 1st century Palestinian techniques, but not 14th century European techniques.

An example of a trivial dating technique is the "vanillin dating" approach. There are a number of obvious problems with this technique, the chief one of which is that it lacks any substantial body of scientific research that can authenticate it. A secondary problem with this technique is that the process involved is temperature dependent, and it is already known that the shroud was exposed to fire. A third problem is, if you actually bother to go and read the place where the "study" was offered up, the scientist who provided it himself acknowledged its shortcomings.

Looking at the "scientific" evidence in the light most favorable to those who imagine that the shroud is more ancient than History, Scripture, and Science all suggest, the most that can be said is that there is some kind of remote possibility that the sampled pieces of linen may have come from a part of shroud that was repaired by someone who deliberately attempted to deceive the viewer of the shroud by hiding the repair.

So, the best case scenario for shroud advocates is that part of the shroud is a hoax.

In point of fact, while there are mountains of evidence so-called, there is no reliable evidence that suggests that the shroud is any older than 13th century. The shroud may still be interesting, however, as the earliest known photographic negative.

The reason Mr. Engwer's comment is misleading at best is that dating techniques are not all equal. That said, I still love and appreciate Mr. Engwer, and I want that to be totally clear. I willingly accept his assertion that he honestly believes that he is simply convinced by what he thinks is the evidence.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Correcting Taylor Marshall

Mr. Marshall has a post up at the Roman communion blog, "Called to Communion," which he titled, "John Piper on “Correcting” the Apostles Creed". Both Piper and Grudem think that the phrase, "he descended into hell" is either confusing or wrong and that it would make sense to omit it from recitations of the Apostles' Creed.

After expressing sorrow and suggesting that they get their ideas from an anabaptistic, anti-credal tradition (nothing like poisoning the old well!), Marshall states:
There are potentially a number of errors here. One is that Christ Himself did not have a human soul. Many Protestants, without knowing it, do not believe that Christ has a human soul. They instead believe that Christ has a human body but that His deity serves as the animating principle of His body. Hence, when Christ died, His deity was naturally in Heaven. The conclusion is that He would have skipped Hell entirely.
Does Marshall really think that either Piper or Grudem falls into this category of people who deny Christ's true humanity? It's hard to see this comment as anything other than a straw man.

Marshall continues:
On the other end of the spectrum is the heretical doctrine of Calvin that states that Christ literally descended into the Gehenna of the damned in order to receive the full punishment of sin. This is contrary to Scripture, contrary to the Fathers, and contrary to orthodox Christology. {Read: Calvin’s Worst Heresy: That Christ Suffered in Hell}.
The link is to a most ill-informed post (by the same inimitable - and who would want to - Taylor Marshall). The linked article is an exercise in demonstrating Mr. Marshall's inability to understand what he reads.

In any event, Calvin expounds at length on the article "he descended into hell," in his Institutes (link). In that section, Calvin evaluates a number of options, and ultimately concludes that Christ suffered the pains of hell on the cross, and consequently "descended into hell" in that way. In fact, Calvin makes it quite clear to someone with better reading skills than Mr. Marshall:
Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it.
If the rest of the section was unclear, this one at least should have popped out to Mr. Marshall before he started writing his post back in 2009, much less before he repeated his false accusation now. It was not after death, but before it that Christ (per Calvin) endured hell. Thus, Calvin did not teach that Christ's soul went to the Gahenna of the damned, as Marshall alleges.

Indeed, Professor R.F. White gently corrected Marshall back in 2009 (link), but perhaps a sterner rebuke is in order, since he has not only failed to correct his original post, but has continued the false accusation.

Skipping to the end of Marshall's post, it was amusing to find his comment:
PS: It is Catholic tradition that the 12 Apostles wrote the Apostles Creed. There are 12 lines in the Apostles Creed and each Apostle contributed a line. It was Saint Philip, according to pious tradition who added “He descended into Hell.”
Whether such tradition is "pious" or not, the line "he descended into Hell" is a later addition. Calvin mentions this fact in his Institutes, and Grudem spends a significant, some might say exorbitant, amount of space in his Systematic Theology demonstrating the same thing. It's one of a myriad of "pious" fables that are Rome's stock in trade.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cardinal George Pell vs. Richard Dawkins - Some Thoughts

Someone directed me to a sort of informal debate between Cardinal Pell and Dawkins, in the form of a moderated Questions and Answers session. Dawkins came across as insecure, accusing the audience of bias (though they routinely cheered for his statements) and repeatedly asking the audience why they are laughing (such as at his comment that the "it depends on how you define 'nothing.'"

Pell was asked about evolution and his religion. He alleged that those in his communion can believe almost whatever they like about it. He took the position that men are descended from Neanderthals (Dawkins reacted to this much the way a Star Wars geek would react to you talking about Hans Solo instead of Han Solo and Pell blew it off). He said that the first time a soul was "human" was when it had various characteristics of communication and the like. When question about Adam and Eve, he took the position that they were just mythological, like "everyman." (around 30 minutes) He said he wasn't sure whether the Old Testament recounts God himself inscribing the ten commandments (33 minutes in).

Dawkins asks where original sin comes from if there is no real Adam and Eve.

When an atheist asks Pell (around 41 minutes in) what will happen to him when he dies, he says
(Cardinal) Well, I know from the Christian point of view, God loves everybody. But every genuine motion towards the truth is a motion towards God. And when an atheist dies, like everybody else, they'll be judged on the extent to which they have moved towards goodness and truth and beauty. But in the Christian view, God loves everyone except those who turn their back on him through evil acts.
(Moderator): Oh, so athiesm - not an evil act.
(Cardinal): No, not a - well, no I don't - in most cases its not.
(Moderator): Is it possible for an atheist to go to heaven?
(Cardinal): Well, it's not my business.
(Moderator): No, but well, you're the only authority we have here.
(Cardinal): I would say 'certainly, certainly!'
Dawkins acts shocked that Christians will be bodily resurrected.

Later on the Cardinal asserts that the idea of any child going to hell is grotesque and does not represent the Christian God (48 minutes in)

Around 49 minutes in, the Cardinal shares his views on hell and salvation from it:
(Moderator) Where do you draw the line? Do unbelievers go to hell?
(Cardinal) No, no, no. The only people - Well, (1) I hope nobody's in hell. We Catholics generally believe that there is a hell. I hope nobody is there. I certainly believe in a place of purification. I think it will be like getting up in the morning and you throw the curtains back and the light is just too much. God's light would be too much for us. But I believe on behalf of the innocent victims in history, that the scales of justice should work out and if they don't, life is radically unjust: the law of the jungle prevails.
The Cardinal's theodicy is, in essence, that freedom is necessary.


Don't Sweat that History Stuff ...

Carl Trueman expresses his frustration with attempts to force Roman apologists to confront history:
Thus, as all sides need to face empirical facts and the challenges they raise, here are a few we might want to consider, along with what seem to me (as a Protestant outsider) to be the usual Roman Catholic responses:

Empirical fact: The Papacy as an authoritative institution was not there in the early centuries.
Never mind. Put together a doctrine of development whereby Christians - or at least some of them, those of whom we choose to approve in retrospect on the grounds we agree with what they say - eventually come to see the Pope as uniquely authoritative.

Empirical fact: The Papacy was corrupt in the later Middle Ages, building its power and status on political antics, forged documents and other similar scams.
Ignore it, excuse it as a momentary aberration and perhaps, if pressed, even offer a quick apology. Then move swiftly on to assure everyone it is all sorted out now and start talking about John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Whatever you do, there is no need to allow this fact to have any significance for how one understands the theory of papal power in the abstract or in the present.

Empirical fact: The Papacy was in such a mess at the beginning of the fifteenth century that it needed a council to decide who of the multiple claimants to Peter's seat was the legitimate pope.
Again, this was merely a momentary aberration but it has no significance for the understanding of papal authority. After all, it was so long ago and so far away.

Empirical fact: The church failed (once again) to put its administrative, pastoral, moral and doctrinal house in order at the Fifth Lateran Council at the start of the sixteenth century.
Forget it. Emphasise instead the vibrant piety of the late medieval church and then blame the ungodly Protestants for their inexplicable protests and thus for the collapse of the medieval social, political and theological structure of Europe.
(complete post here)

Sadly, I've seen these or similar responses myself. Moreover, we can continue a lot of these empirical facts (mutatis mutandis) down to the present time.

One other point. Trueman says:
I am confident that my previous writings on Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholics indicate that I am no reincarnation of a nineteenth century 'No popery!' rabble-rouser. I have always tried to write with respect and forbearance on such matters, to the extent that I have even been berated at times by other, hotter sorts of Protestants for being too pacific.
"Berated" may be a strong term, but I have been among those who have criticized him for being too soft on Rome. Thus, I was particularly happy to see this post from him.


Interesting Observations from Benedict XVI

I am no fan of Benedict XVI. I pray for his salvation, but I fully agree with the Westminster divines about the nature of his office. That said, he made an interesting observation, according to the Vatican Information Service, in his remarks on April 11, 2012, during the morning general audience.

VIS reports:
Benedict XVI explained how on the evening of the day of the Resurrection the disciples were at home behind locked doors, full of fear and doubt at the recollection of the passion of their Lord. "This situation of anguish changed radically when Jesus arrived. He entered through the closed doors, was among them and brought them peace", peace which "for the community became source of joy, certainty of victory, trusting reliance on God".
Slightly later on comes the interesting twist:
"Today too the Risen One enters our homes and hearts, although sometimes the doors are closed", the Pope said, "He enters bringing joy and peace, life and hope, gifts we need for our human and spiritual rebirth". Only He can put an end to division, enmity, rancour, envy, mistrust and indifference. Only He can give meaning to the lives of those who are weary, sad and without hope.
Here's the good point, intentional or not. Sometimes - no always - the doors of men's hearts are closed to the gospel. By nature, we are all children of wrath and haters of God. Yet God is not blocked by closed doors. If He wishes, he can pass through the doors, bringing regeneration.
VIS also describes Benedict XVI as saying:
However, the Lord knew that His followers were still afraid. "For this reason He breathed upon them and regenerated them in His Spirit. This gesture was the sign of the new creation. With the gift of the Holy Spirit which came from the Risen Christ, a new world began".
There is no indication in the report that Benedict XVI put together the pieces in this way, but it is interesting how the observations he provided so fittingly describe a monergistic description of conversion.

Also interesting are his comments about regeneration occurring in the breathing upon them. One should be careful about reading too much into the English language report of a general audience comment that likely is original in another language, but it is interesting nonetheless. Were the disciples not previously regenerated by baptism? Was their original baptism not sacramental? If not, why not?

The teachings of Benedict XVI during these general audience are "official" teachings in some sense, and are even characterized as "catechesis." But Roman theology does not - to my knowledge - consider them "infallible" teachings.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Vatican and Economics

The Vatican may be a lot of things, but it is not especially capitalist. According to a report by the Vatican Information Service on March 30, 2012, the Bilateral Commission of the Delegations of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, held in Rome from March 27-29 (presided by Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, and Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson)issued a joint statement at the end of the meeting:
At the heart of Jewish and Catholic visions for a just economic order is the affirmation of the sovereignty and providence of the Creator of the world with Whom all wealth originates and which is given to humankind as a gift for the common good ... the purpose of an economic order is to serve the well being of society, affirming the human dignity of all people, each created in the divine image ... [this concept] posits the obligation to guarantee certain basic human needs, such as the protection of life, sustenance, clothing, housing, health, education and employment ...
(emphasis added)

Very interesting, don't you think?

I have heard a traditionally minded Brazilian member of the Roman communion tell me that the Communists are trying (successfully) to infiltrate the Brazilian hierarchy to destroy the Church.  I think he's only partly right.  The Roman church's views on economics are left-leaning already.  They are not capitalist, free-market views.


Which of the Two Kingdoms Does Westminster Seminary, California, Belong To?

That's a question that was, in effect, posed to David VanDrunen and discussed by Steven Wedgeworth (here).  VanDrunen ultimately came to saying "it doesn’t mean that we can always put every single activity and every single plot of ground here in one kingdom bucket or another. Sometimes it’s more complex than that."  What VanDrunen does not seem to recognize is that the complexity may be on the other foot.  In other words, it may be only the occasional thing that clearly is in one bucket or the other.  Everyone needs to eat to live, so it might appear to be a "common" activity but we are taught that one ought to give thanks to God for our daily bread.  Likewise, prayer may seem like a "spiritual" activity, but it involves language skills that are "common." Moreover, aside from a handful of atheists, everyone prays.  Some pray to the true and living God, others pray to a god or goddess of their imagination (Roman practices come to mind).  In short, VanDrunen's complexity problem is not limited to independent seminaries, but is far more extensive.  Indeed, the more extensive it is, the more it appears that the real problem is an ill-formed set.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Some Music/Comedy from My Friend Mylo

My friend, Mylo Hatzenbuhler, has some music, musical comedy, and comedy on-line.  You can check out his "A Loan Again" and "Born at the PCA," (not a denominational reference), as well as a snippet from one of his convention appearances (link).  He has an official YouTube page, where you can listen to his hit, "Heifer Bells."

You can also hear him weekly on 1450 KBMW or catch the podcast (here's the intro segment), and the first Friday of the month on KFYR-AM. He's also on the air on Wednesdays on KOVC 1490-AM ( at about 6:40 a.m. Central Time.

Of course, you should check out his website: Farm Boy Music, including the store, where you can pick up his CDs.

His good buddy Clyde Bauman is also quite the singer and is featured in some of the non-comedy selections at Farm Boy Music.


Sola Scriptura vs. Sola Ecclesia at Domain for Truth

EvangelZ at The Domain For Truth has a four-part paper on Sola Scriptura vs. Sola Ecclesia, that can be found here: Part 1 - Introduction. Part 2 - Definition of Sola Ecclesia. Part 3 - Definition of Sola Scriptura. Part 4 -Arguments from Scripture and Answers to Some Objections.

- TurretinFan

Tolerance, the Third Reich, and Mark Shea

Mark Shea is complaining that the Third Reich was more tolerant of Rome's demands than the USA is.  Of course, in the U.S. government the Vice President (Biden), the minority leader in the House (Pelosi), and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Sebelius) are apparently baptized Roman Catholics, whereas in the Third Reich, Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, and Heydrich were apparently baptized Roman Catholics.

Check out the 1933 Concordat between the Vatican and the Third Reich and some analysis of it.


N.B. We could also add many other baptized Roman Catholics in the government to the list, including five other cabinet members (Leon Panetta (Secretary of Defense), Kenneth L. Salazar (Secretary for the Interior), Thomas J. Vilsack (Secretary of Agriculture), Hilda L. Solis (Secretary of Labor), Ray LaHood (Secretary of Transportation)), and six of the nine Supreme Court Justices (Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, and Sotomayer).