Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Food: One of the finer pleasures in life

I want to make your life better. Lately, I've been expanding my cooking repertoire by using YouTube. Life is so much better because of YouTube than it was when we had to rely strictly on Julia Childs and whoever else came on the TV. Now, anybody can start a YouTube channel, and lemme tell you there's some talent out there. I've tried all kinds of things on YouTube and even come up with some formulas of my own for culinary deliciousness. But right now I want to share two exceptional dishes I've tried. They are exceptional in the sense that they take ordinary dishes and make them stand out, and it isn't complicated. One of the dishes is fettuccini Alfredo with shrimp (I've made this dish with chicken, too). The other is sesame chicken. Both of these YouTube videos yielded the best fettuccini Alfredo and sesame chicken that I have ever eaten anywhere.

First, there is Natasha who will explain to you how to make fettuccine Alfredo. Listen to everything Natasha tells you. She's a wizard.

Second, there's this Chinese girl. I don't know her name. She's kind of weird and makes me cringe a little, but every recipe I've tried of hers has been over-the-top good, so I listen to her. This is my favorite one that I've tried so far. Do not miss any details. The only suggestion I might make is to slightly increase the ingredients for the sauce toward the end or you might not be able to coat all of your chicken. Also, I haven't used ketchup any of the times I've made it. The first time, I used pizza sauce I had made for pizza. The second time, I just blanched and pealed a tomato, then blended it, and used some of that. Also, I recently tried it with some broccoli, and that was good, too.

For my own recipes, I'm thinking about making my own YouTube videos. I'll get back with you on that. In the meantime, tries the two above. You will thank me.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Does the Bible condemn homosexuality?

This morning, somebody posted on a forum arguing that the Bible doesn't (or may not) condemn homosexuality. Here's a summary of his arguments:

1. The Old Testament is not applicable to Christians.
2. Homosexuality is an orientation, and people in Jesus' day had no concept of it, so they couldn't have forbidden it.
3. Nobody knows what Paul meant by "arsenokoites" in 1 Corinthians 6:9.
4. Romans 1 might be an interpolation.
5. Nobody in the NT but Paul said anything about it.

Here is how I responded.

There are a few things here I disagree about and some I'm not sure about.

First, you say the OT isn't relevant to Christians. I don't think that's true. It is true that some of the Mosaic laws are not applicable to Christians. But the OT is still full of moral principles that are applicable to Christians, and some of those moral principles are codified in the Mosaic law. For example, adultery is still a sin.

We can tell when the Mosaic law is talking about a moral principle that applies universally by looking at how God treats other nations. God never condemns other nations for violating the Sabbath, or for eating pork, or for wearing the wrong clothes or not planting their crops correctly. However, he does condemns other nations for violence and for their sexual practices.

So the real question is whether the condemnations of same sex relations in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are limited to the Mosaic covenant or whether they codify universal moral principles. Leviticus 18:22 says that "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." This is one among many sexual prohibitions listed in chapter 18, and it explicitly forbids two males to have sex with each other. What we want to know is whether this prohibition was limited to the Mosaic law, which only applied to Jews living under the Mosaic covenant, or whether it captured a universal moral principle that applied outside of Israel.

The answer is found near the end of chapter 18. After listing all these various sexual prohibitions, it says in verses 24 and 25, "Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants." So clearly, God judged other nations for engaging in these sexual practices, including men having sex with men. That means the prohibition isn't limited to those under the Mosaic covenant. It's a universal moral crime, and that means it applies just as much to Christians as it does to Jews under the Mosaic covenant.

You say there's no mention of homosexuality in the Bible, that homosexuality is an orientation, and that people in Jesus' day had no concept of it. I don't know if all of this is correct. You may be right that homosexuality is never spoken of as an orientation in the Bible, but I don't see why the word, "homosexuality," must be restricted to an orientation. Why can't it also refer to behavior? Is this just a quibbling over semantics? As far as whether people in Jesus' day had any concept of homosexuality as an orientation, I doubt you're correct. We know that people in Jesus' day did form long term homosexual relationships1, and if homosexuality is just as inevitable a part of the human population then as it is now, we should expect that a certain portion of the population would be gay. It seems doubtful that nobody would notice.

Besides that, any behavior has an underlying desire. You see this theme throughout the Bible. For example, Jesus said, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart" (Luke 6:45). So in Jesus' view, your behavior arises out of what is in your heart, i.e. all of your desires and preferences. So if somebody were observed to engage in same sex relationships (especially if done exclusively), then the natural conclusion any Christian would draw was that the person had a preference for same sex relationships. That is essentially how you are defining homosexuality. Maybe they didn't have a word for the preference, but they certainly must've had a concept of the orientation.

You say that nobody knows what arsenokoites means because Paul invented the word. The word is also used in the Sibylline Oracles, which might predate Paul, but you're right at least that Paul was one of the first people to use the word. But I think you're mistaken to say that we have no idea what Paul meant by it. It's easy to see that it's a compound word between arsen (male) and koites (bed, or to lay, or have sex with). Both of these words are used in the two passages that condemn same sex male relations in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. These words are found right beside each other in the Septuagint translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. They're used right next to each other in 20:13.

18:22 καὶ μετά ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικείαν, βέλυγμα γάρ ἐστι.

20:13 καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετά ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός, βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι· θανάτῳ θανατούσθωσαν, ἔνοχοί εἰσιν.

Anybody familiar with these passages would've noticed right away that Paul was alluding to these passages, and it would've been clear what he was referring to. Even without these passages, it would've been clear. "Koites" is so commonly understood in Greek to mean "sex," that we even use it in English to refer to sex. So "male sex" is just as good a literal translation as "male bed," and it would refer to somebody who has sex with males.

Some scholars think the malekoi and arsenokoitai refer to the active and passive members of a same sex union between two males. The malekoi was the passive partner, and the arsenokoitai was the active partner. We just don't have an English word for malekoi, which is why you get so many differences in English translations.

You say that Romans 1:26-27 may have been an interpolation. I've never heard that. Is this speculation, or is there a textual variant involved? We have lots of old copies of Romans. Do any of them lack this passage? Romans is one of the undisputed letters of Paul, and it is typically the standard by which other letters attributed to Paul are judged to be authentic or inauthentic. So I would think you'd need a pretty good argument to dismiss this passage.

You say that nobody but Paul talked about same sex relationships. You might be right that they didn't talk about it explicitly the way Paul did, but there are at least three passages where Jesus talked about it implicitly. One passage is in Matthew 5 where Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. The law includes Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, so Jesus was implicitly affirming these prohibitions against same sex relationships.

In Matthew 19, Jesus is confronted by some Pharisees about Moses allowing divorce. Jesus made an argument that God's original intention for marriage was for it to be permanent. His argument was based on how God originally made Adam and Eve. He said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?" Since Jesus grounded his argument in Adam and Eve being made male and female and becoming one flesh, this would not only rule out divorce, but it would also rule out same sex unions because God originally made them male and female to form a complimentary pair. That was God's original intention for marriage. So Jesus was implicitly condemning same sex unions in this passage, too.

There's a third passage, but I can't remember it.


1. Robert Gagnon lists a few examples in this book review.

Friday, November 08, 2019

A quick and dirty argument for moral realism

Somebody on the internet challenged Christians to explain why they know morality but atheists don't. His question was based on a misunderstanding about the moral argument for God. Whereas the moral argument for God makes an ontological statement about morality and its grounding, the questioner took it to be an epistemological statement. In my response, I briefly explained the distinction between the ontological and epistemological questions of morality. Then I explained that concerning the epistemological question, atheists and Christians are mostly in the same boat. Here's my response:

I think that moral ontology and moral epistemology are distinct things. What makes something true and how we know that something is true are two different things.

What Christianity provides that atheism doesn't is an ontological foundation for objective morals. But epistemologically, we are all on the same footing.

Most of what we know to be right or wrong are conclusion we draw from broader moral principles. We deduce what we should do in specific circumstances given certain virtues, values, and principles that we accept. These deductions require the use of the same laws of logic that atheists and Christians all know about.

But our reasoning can only go so far. If I say that such and such is wrong, then you ask me, "Why is it wrong?" I'll give you an argument. One of the premises in my argument will be another moral principle. So you can ask me again why I think that moral principle is true, and I may give you another argument with yet another moral premise, etc. But we can't keep doing this forever or else we'll have an infinite regress and no real moral principles. So there must be a foundation of moral principles that can't be reduced any further. The question then becomes how we know those moral principles since it isn't on the basis of deducing them from prior principles.

In this case, I think we know morality in the same way that we know the external world, the uniformity of nature, and the past. The external world could be an illusion since all perception happens solely in the mind. But we all have this natural instinct to affirm that what we perceive is real, and we hold on to this natural inclination to trust our senses until we have good reason to think we're mistaken. There are times when our senses deceive us, like when we have dreams and hallucinations or when we see illusions or mirages. But these misfires do not prevent us from believing, fairly strongly, that in general, our senses are giving us true information about an external world that actually exists. People who deny this are just kidding themselves.

The same sort of things is true about the past. It's possible we were all created five minutes ago complete with memories of things that never happened. But just because it's possible doesn't mean it's reasonable to believe. And sometimes our memories fail us. We remember things wrong, we forget things altogether, and sometimes we "remember" things that didn't even happen. But none of these mistakes we make undermine the general reliability of our memories, so we all believe that there was a past that actually happened in spite of the fact that our intuitive knowledge of the past is fallible.

The uniformity of nature is a necessary assumption for us to learn anything from experience. An infant can learn that "fire is hot" just by experiencing it. He only has to stick his finger in the candle one or two times before he's convinced that he'll burn his finger if he does it again. Even from an early age, we have this built in assumption that the future will resemble the past or that what we experience can be extrapolated to what we do not experience. Science would not be possible without this principle because without the principle, nothing that happens in the lab would have any relevance to the world outside the lab. Nothing that was observed yesterday would have any bearing on what we should expect tomorrow. Even animals learn by experience. This principle can't be proved. The only way you might try to prove it is by reasoning that since it has always yielded true information in the past, it will probably continue to do so in the future. But that is to assume the very thing under question, so it's a circular argument and doesn't prove anything. We sometimes make mistakes when we apply the uniformity of nature. This happens when we make hasty generalizations. But the fact that we can make mistakes when applying the principle doesn't undermine our belief in the principle.

I could go on to mention other things we know in a similar manner. There are some items of knowledge that are just hardwired into us. We were designed to have this knowledge. None of these things can be proved, and we do sometimes make mistakes regarding these things. We see things that aren't there, remember things wrongly, and make hasty generalizations. But we are still justified in believing in the past, the external world, and the uniformity of nature.

I think morality is known in the same way. We all know that there's a difference between right and wrong. We may disagree on the content of those moral principles because we make mistakes when reasoning from broad principles to specific circumstances. Or we may make mistakes in the same way we make mistakes when trusting our senses, our memories, or our ability to make generalizations, but this doesn't undermine our knowledge that there is a difference between right and wrong or that our ability to identify instances of rights and wrongs in a generally reliable way.

Since morality is hardwired into atheists just as much as Christians, we are on the same epistemological footing. If we weren't, then Christians and atheist would never be able to have meaningful debates with each other on moral issues. But we have debates all the time.

Each of us struggles sometimes with moral issues. We're struggling to figure out the right course of actions. Well, moral decision making would not be difficult if we didn't have an innate sense of morality. It is because we know innately that there are correct answers to moral questions that we struggle so much to find them. Sometimes moral decision making is difficult because there are moral dilemmas in which more than one moral value comes into play. The value of courage might run against the value of life in some scenarios, and we have to decide which one is more important. Two people can agree that two character traits are both virtues but disagree on which one is the greater virtue. And as a consequence, they'll solve the moral dilemma differently.

The only advantage Christians have over atheists when it comes to solving difficult moral problems is that Christians have an additional source of guidance--the Bible. If the Bible is God's revelation to man, then however difficult it may be to understand, it gives us at least something else to go on.

Further reading

Here's another quick and dirty style post I made on moral realism: "Are moral realists delusional?"

Here's my opening statement in a debate I had on moral relativism in which I defended moral realism using a similar argument as above: "All morality is relative"

Here's my opening in another debate on morality where I defended moral realism. I modify my presentation almost every time I make this argument just to keep it fresh or emphasize a particular point or to make clear what wasn't clear in a different presentation, but this was one of my earliest attempts: "Morality debate, part 1"

This is an excerpt from a dialogue I had with a guy in the comment section of another blog in which I defended moral realism: "My moral epistemology"

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

I think; therefore, I am

I see it sometimes said on the internet that the only thing we can know is that we exist, and this is based on the cogito. But if you think about it, one would have to know a handful of things in order to justify belief in one's own existence. The cogito, after all, is an argument. The conclusion is that "I am," but that conclusion is drawn from premises. The argument goes something like this:

1. If I think, then I exist.
2. I think.
3. Therefore, I exist.

Or, one could begin with the premise that, "If I did not exist, then I would not think," which is logically equivalent to the first premise. One could just as well begin with the premise that "All thinking things exist" or "Whatever thinks, exists." These variations amount to the same thing.

Since that is basically the line of reasoning, there are three things one must first know before drawing the conclusion that they exist. They would have to know the truth of the first premise, the truth of the second premise, and that the conclusion follows from the two premises.

If one knows that they exist based on the cogito, then they ought to admit that their existence isn't the only thing they know. They also know three other things.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

The Healthywage app and losing weight

I was a skinny kid all the way up to my mid-30's when my metabolism slowed down. Whenever people would ask me what my secret was for being so skinny, I would say, "I eat as much as I can as often as I can," and that was the truth. When my metabolism slowed down, I kept up this habit. Whenever I sat down to a meal, especially if it was a good meal, I didn't feel satisfied until I was about to pop. If I didn't feel like I needed to be rolled out of there, it would make me feel like I was wasting food or wasting the opportunity to enjoy good food. Consequently, I got fat.

Through most of my 20's and early 30's, I weighed somewhere around 155 lbs. Then in my late thirties, when I got tired of being fat and out of shape, I decided to start losing weight and eating healthy. I bought a scale and was shocked to find that I weighed 186 lbs. A few months after I started lifting weights and eating healthy, I started doing triathlons. My weight got down to 170 lbs before I quit due to knee problems and frustration, and my weight gradually creeped back up.

Over the last two years (I'm 45 now), things got out of hand. I got fat, and my health started getting worse (see, for example, my post on GERD). I tried intermittent fasting, and cutting out soft drinks, and I lost weight pretty effortlessly, but it would taper off, and I'd start drinking soft drinks again.

One day, I was in the car with my daughter, and I said, "You know, losing weight would be so much easier if I had some incentive, like if somebody gave me a dare or something." Then she told me about this app you can get for your iPhone called Healthywage. With Healthywage, you can make a bet to lose a certain amount of weight in a given time. The incentive is that if you don't lose the weight, you lose your money, but if you do lose the weight, you get your money back with some extra. I don't know how my skinny daughter knew about such a thing, but I was glad she did because that was exactly the sort of incentive I needed.

I downloaded Healthywage and did one of their challenges for three months for a one time payment of $60. I did my first weigh in, and I was at 208 lbs. I'm pretty sure that's the fattest I've ever been. I had to lose 6% of my weight within 3 months. When I succeeded, I got about $80 back. That extra $20 was enough to get a pizza, but instead, I decided to do another challenge. This time, I did a challenge for $100 to lose another 6% in three months. This one didn't go as smoothly in the beginning. The first one was so easy, I didn't really put in any effort into the second one until the time started getting short and I began to worry I wouldn't pull it off. But I buckled down, and now it looks like I'm going to be able to meet my goal. My goal this time around is 184.6 lbs. You're probably thinking the math doesn't work out, but that's only because after my first challenge, I gained a few pound before starting the second challenge. Anyway, I'm now down to 183 lbs with a week and a half left to go. I'm going to do my final weigh in this Wednesday, though, so I can start eating the candy I've been socking away for Halloween.

That's my story. Now, I want to tell you specifically how I've been losing weight and why I think it's been pretty easy. I also want to tell you more about how Healthywage works.

First, let's talk about Healthywage. Healthywage will give you mutltiple challenges you can sign up for. Most of them involve paying $60 to lose 6% of your weight within three months, but there are other challenges. When you join one of these challenges, other people join it, too. All of their money is pooled together into a pot. At the end of the challenge, that pot is divided between everybody who met the challenge. Any extra you get is due to those who did not meet the challenge. Of course Healthwage also gets their cut from the pot. I don't remember the percentage, but if you meet the challenge, you are guaranteed to at least get your money back. If everybody meets the challenge (which they never do), then Healthywage will refund everybody's money and take no profit for themselves.

You can also do personalized challenges where you're not in a pool with other people. You agree to pay a certain amount of money every month, and you decide how many months you want the challenge to last and how much weight you want to lose. They calculate what your reward will be at the end of it if you meet your challenge.

I should warn you that Healthywage is not entirely honest. They're very misleading in their ads. They'll say that so and so won $10,000. What that actually means is that they contributed $950 a month for ten to twelves months, and they got anywhere from $0 to $500 back. There's a calculator where you can play with the numbers, and it'll estimate how much you'll get if you meet your goal. So just be aware. From what I've seen, the most profit you can make per challenge is around $50. Still, that's enough for a pizza party.

You can maximize your winnings by joining more than one challenge at a time. I think you can do as many as ten challenges at a time.

There are two official weigh-ins you have to do--one at the beginning and one at the end. To do the weigh in, you have to record a video clip of yourself doing the weigh-in and showing the scale and everything. There are instructions on the app and the web page explaining how to do the video. It's not hard. During the challenge, you can do unofficial weigh-ins if you want. I always do mine once a week. This helps you keep track of your progress and determine whether you're on schedule or not. You can also compare your standing with other people.

Now, let me tell you how I've been losing weight. I started intermittent fasting a little over a year and a half ago. For me, intermittent fasting has involved skipping breakfast and sometimes delaying lunch until 1 or 2 pm. This was kind of hard in the beginning, but I've discovered that being hungry is sometimes a matter of what your body is used to and what it expects than merely a lack of food. Your body can be trained to expect food at certain times and to complain when it doesn't get it. Skipping breakfast was difficult in the beginning, but now I don't even think about it. I never get hungry in the mornings. Sometimes, I'll have a donut or a waffle if I'm hanging out with somebody else, though. One delicious breakfast snack once a blue moon doesn't throw me off.

If you find it difficult to skip breakfast, there's another strategy you can use. If instead of having a cinnamon roll, French toast, or bagel for breakfast, you instead have an egg or two, it will fill you up quicker, with less calories, and prevent you from getting hungry longer. So have eggs if you must have breakfast. Another strategy is to delay breakfast for an hour or two for a while. Then delay it longer. Keep doing this until you're not eating until noon or later.

There's a ton of information about intermittent fasting on the internet, so I won't go into the technical details about why it works. It has to do with insulin, though.

I have cut out soft drinks off and on over the years. Soft drinks--especially Dr. Pepper--are highly addictive. They're hard to quit, but if you can muscle your way through it for about two weeks, the craving will go away. I always get caffein withdrawal headaches when I quit Dr. Crack, but BC Powder is the most effective way to make that go away. Just pour a little packet of BC Powder into half a glass of water, swirl it around, and drink it. It isn't pleasant to drink, but the headache will go away within 30 minutes. That's usually all it takes for me to get over with the withdrawal.

In fact, sugar is highly addictive in any food, but if you can go a certain amount of time without sugar, the craving goes away. I've heard anything from ten days to twenty days. But it's hard to cut out sugar because it's in everything. I never knew how much sugar was in my food until I tried to cut it out. Even eating too much fruit can feed the addiction. But it's in pretty much all processed food. If you buy your food in a box, it almost certainly has sugar in it. If you limit your grocery shopping to the outer walls of the grocery store, that's where most of the healthy food is located.

Some people think if they drink a smoothy every morning that they are eating healthy because smoothies have so many fruits and vitamins. But the truth is, smoothies are very fattening and full of sugar. You should make it your policy to not drink your calories at all. Drink only water and eat your calories. If you're an athlete, you'll need to get your electrolytes somehow, so I'll cut you some slack, but for the rest of us, drink only water. If you want to have fruit, then eat solid fruit. Don't drink it. I do recommend eating apples from time to time. They're great for your digestion.

In the beginning, I lost weight quickly, but then it plateaued. My next steps was to cut out almost all sugar from my diet. This was very hard for the first few days, but then it got easy. This also helped me lose a lot of weight. At one point, I seriously cut down on my carbs. That was very hard. I've discovered through reading and experience that when you eat a lot of bread, it just makes you crave food all the more. But when you cut it out, the cravings go away.

Things got difficult when I started a new hobby of making home made pizza a few months ago. So, I just switched strategies. I gave up the habit of over eating at every meal. What I do now is eat two slices of pizza, then wait. I'll always crave a third slice, but if I wait ten or twenty minutes, I'll start feeling like I've had a full meal, and I don't need that third slice.

Ideally, I wouldn't eat pizza, but since I love making it about as much as I love eating it, I haven't cut it out. I also make baguettes sometimes. :-(

Losing weight isn't all about a life of deprivation, though. There are delicious foods you can eat and still lose weight. One strategy is to eat a diet of chicken and watermelon. Watermelon fills you up without a lot of calories. Some people even do the "watermelon diet" where watermelon is all you eat. But you need protein, so you should eat chicken, too. Protein helps you feel full and satisfied. Plus, it's necessary to live. You can eat all the vegetables you want and not worry about anything.

Let me share a few recipes that are delicious, healthy, and easy to make. First, there's pan roasted chicken. Here's a video showing three ways to cook a chicken breast, including pan roasted. Of these, pan roasting is my favourite because it creates this nice crust on the outside. Oven roasting is easier, but it doesn't produce that crust, so I prefer pan roasting. You can season it with only salt and pepper, and it'll be delicious. I usually pan roast three chicken breasts at a time. First, I'll flatten them with a mallet, which makes them cook more evenly. Then I'll season one with salt and pepper, then next with salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano, and the third with fajita seasoning. I'll eat one that day and put the rest in Tupperware for later.

The next is oven roasted broccoli and/or asparagus. I put the broccoli or asparagus in a bowl, pour some olive oil in there, then some salt and pepper. I mix that up, then put it on a cookie sheet and bake it in the oven at 350 or 400ºF for around ten minutes. You could also just lay it on the cookie sheet and drizzle the olive oil over it, then sprinkle salt and pepper. You don't have to mix it up in the bowl. I do it that way because it makes it easier to get the olive oil evenly coated all over everything. When it's done cooking, you can squeeze some lemon juice over it, and it adds some flavor. This is so much easier and more delicious than steaming your vegetables, which I used to do all the time. I'm ashamed to admit that I steamed vegetables for a girlfriend, and as you can probably guess, we are no longer together.

Sometimes, I make salads instead of broccoli or asparagus. My salads are simple. I buy one of the 50/50 mix blends of greens (e.g. spinach and arugula or spring mix and baby spinach). I put a handful in a salad bowl, add some sliced cucumber, tomato, and avocado, and sometimes a little bit of sunflower seeds, shelled of course. I add a balsamic vinaigrette, mix it up, and eat it. It's delicious and easy to make.

I think that's it. Let me summarize my weight loss strategy. I only eat between the hours of noon and 8 pm. Sometimes I'll delay eating until 2 pm or later. Sometimes I'll eat a little later than 8 pm. If I snack, it'll be raw carrots. I eat (or aim to eat) roasted chicken, roasted broccoli or asparagus, salad, and watermelon (at least when I'm being good). Of course, I eat pizza, too, but I don't recommend it for weight loss. Don't over eat. Eat a small meal, and just wait ten or twenty minutes. Chances are, you'll stop being hungry. Apparently, it takes a little time for your stomach to tell your brain that you've had enough. If you don't give it that time, you'll end up eating more than you needed to be satisfied.

Some strategies for avoiding hunger include drinking black coffee, drinking lots of water, or eating eggs. Boiled eggs are best, but I frequently scramble eggs or even make omelets.

If you eat like I eat, you'll rarely get hungry. Cutting out bread, pasta, soft drinks, and candy will go a long way toward suppressing your appetite. Eating a lot of bread and pasta just makes you crave food all the time. If you can cut those things out, you'll find weight loss to be almost effortless. Again, it's hard to cut them out in the beginning, but if you just muscle your way through it for a week or two, the cravings will go away, and you'll be fine.

If you drastically change your diet in the ways I suggested, the weight will just fall off of you in the beginning, but it will slow down after a while. If you plateau at some point, and you're still fat, then you'll just have to do something more drastic. There's a ton of information on the internet, and it's hard to tell what's credible and what isn't. But let me share an article with you that is a meta-study. It's a survey of other studies on the health benefits of fasting--particularly intermittent fasting. It's called Impact of Intermittent Fasting On Health and Disease Processes by Mark P. Mattsona, Valter D. Longoc, and Michelle Harvie. I'm linking to this article because it links to multiple other articles.

I also recommend going to YouTube and searching, "insulin," "insulin resistance," "insulin fasting," "fat insulin" "glucose insulin," and related things. There's a lot of videos that explain the mechanisms of fat storage, fat burning, weight gain, weight loss, etc. It's interesting stuff.

Oh yeah, one more thing. If you're a sedentary person, all you really need to do is walk 30 minutes a day. You don't have to join a gym or do anything too hard. Here's a video of a woman explaining why walking is even better than running for weight loss. It seems counter-intuitive, but she's pretty, so she must be right. Just walking 30 minute a day will do wonders for your health. It's not just your physical health either. It's great for your emotions and your mental clarity, too.

Between cardio and weight lifting, I think weight lifting is better for weight loss. The reason is because when you lift weights, you continue to burn calories from the work out for as long as your muscles are repairing themselves. Plus, the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism will be because you need extra energy to maintain that muscle mass. If you don't want to go to a gym, and you're not a work out nut, then just do push ups. Push ups are one of the best all purpose work outs you can do. I recommend doing as many push ups as you can, resting a minute or two, then doing as many as you can again, resting a minute or two, then doing as many as you can a third time. Do that every other day or so. Burpees might be even better, but I hate doing burpees, so screw that.

Disclaimer: I have no expertise in health, fitness, biology, or anything related. This is all based on personal experience and internet browsing. Also, there's no guarantee you'll get the same results as me using the same methods. Everybody is physically and psychologically different.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Two approaches to making a case for Christianity

There are two ways that one might make a full case for the truth of Christianity. There are more, but I'm only concerned with two in this post. One way is a gradualist approach where you inch your way to the final conclusion in small increments. You start off making broad claims, but as you go along, you narrow things down to the specific claims of Christianity. For example, you might start off by making the case that the natural world isn't all that exists. Then you argue for the existence of the god of the philosophers or some general theism. Then you argue that Jesus was the messiah and that he rose from the dead. You could go on to make theological arguments about how salvation works.

Another way is to jump to the end. You could just make an historical argument that Jesus claimed to be the messiah, then rose from the dead. That would prove Christianity with all of its baggage. You'd get God, supernaturalism, morality, etc. thrown in.

That second method might be quicker and more to the point, but I think the gradualist approach is better. The reason is because of how noetic structures work and how people grapple with new information.

A noetic structure is the sum total of all of your beliefs. Everything you think is true is part of your noetic structure. Beliefs are logically connected to each other. For example, the belief that "immaterial souls exist" is logically connected to the belief that "the natural world is not all that exists." It would be a contradiction to claim to believe in immaterial souls while, at the same time, believing that the natural world is all that exists.

Since beliefs are connected in this way, it's nearly impossible to change your belief about one thing without having to also change your beliefs about a number of other things. If you hold all those other beliefs for what seem to you to be good reasons, then it's going to be very hard for you to change your belief about the one thing. The fewer adjustments you have to make in your noetic structure in order to accommodate some new piece of information, the easier it will be for you to accept the new information as true.

This also depends on how strongly you hold those other beliefs. The more strongly you hold the beliefs that require adjustment, the harder it will be for you to change your mind about anything that requires adjusting those strongly held beliefs.

All of us filter our experiences through our noetic structure. We assess new information in light of what we already know and believe. When we are exposed to information that is inconsistent with what we already believe, we resist. We have some initial skepticism about it. If our current beliefs are strong enough, that may result in us rejecting the new information as false. If the new information is sufficiently compelling, then we make the necessary adjustments in our noetic structure to accommodate it, and we end up changing our minds.

This is why two people can look at the same information or evidence and come to different conclusions. It isn't necessarily because one is being reasonable and the other is being stubborn. It's because each of them is trying to be consistent. We have a natural tendency to want our entire noetic structure to be coherent.

We aren't always successful, though. Probably each of us has beliefs that are inconsistent with each other. We often don't notice it because we aren't thinking about everything at once. Every now and then, we'll notice an inconsistency in our noetic structure, and this will lead to internal intellectual wrestling match, trying to smooth it all out and make it consistent. If the problem is too difficult to reconcile, we'll put it on the back burner and go make a knife. Sometimes we'll come up with a resolution resulting in a change of mind.

We aren't perfect rational machines, though. Our desires, emotions, and biases also influence how strongly we hold on to our beliefs and resist change. If there's something we don't want to be true, we'll look for reasons to think it isn't in order to satisfy our desire for it to be false by convincing ourselves that it isn't. All we have to do is gather together as many teachers as we can who will tell us what our itching ears want to hear. If we so much as surround ourselves with people who hold the desired belief and avoid those who don't, it becomes easier for us to keep that desired belief.

With all of that in mind, the gradualist approach to making a case for Christianity should work better. If you jump straight to the case for the resurrection of Jesus, you are making a lot of demands on your listener's noetic structure. To accept that Jesus rose from the dead, they've got to make a lot of adjustments to their noetic structure to accommodate that belief. That may be very difficult for them to do.

But if you can convince them that there's at least a god of the philosophers first, or that Judaism is reasonable first, then it will be much easier for them to accommodate the resurrection of Jesus into their noetic structure. It would require fewer adjustments. And belief in God would come easier to a person who already believes in a supernatural realm than if they think the natural world is all that exists.

There are more steps in a gradual case for Christianity, but each step is smaller and easier to make. It's similar to the frog in boiling water analogy.

You might wonder how I reconcile all of this with my Calvinism, particularly with the doctrines of total depravity and irresistible grace. I addressed this issue in my posts, "Calvinism and Evangelism," "Does Calvinism render apologetics superfluous?," and "The persuasive power of arguments in a presuppositional apologetic."

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Causation and creation ex nihilo

Happy Halloween, happy reformation day, and happy Melinda's birthday!

I was thinking about causation this morning because I recently had a formal type debate on the Kalam cosmological argument. Although the debate was formal in the sense of having character, round, and time restrictions, it happened over private messages, so I can't give you a link to it. But it doesn't matter. Causation wasn't an issue in the debate. It's just that causation is relevant to the KCA, and since I was thinking about the KCA, I got to thinking about causation this morning.

When WLC (and most people) formulate the KCA, they say something along the lines of, "Whatever begins to exist has a cause." The way it's worded leaves it open to whether we're talking about something beginning to exist ex materia or ex nihilo. This leaves the premise open to certain criticisms, like the spontaneity of radio active decay and virtual particles popping in and out of existence. Whenever I debate the KCA, I don't stick to WLC's formulation of it. Instead, I anticipate certain objections and formulate it in a way that either addresses them or avoids them.

One doesn't need to defend the broad claim that all things that begin to exist require causes because in the KCA, we are talking specifically about the universe beginning to exist ex nihilo. If we stick to defending that, then we don't even need to address things like radio active decay. The premise I typically defend is that it's impossible for something to spontaneously pop into being out of nothing with no cause or reason. That narrows the scope of what needs to be defended and avoids certain criticisms.

One of the criticism people bring against the first premise in the KCA is the fact that nobody has ever observed something coming into existence out of absolutely nothing. Since such an event has never been observed, neither has anybody been able to observe whether such an event typically has a cause or not. Without making such observations, we are not in a position to say that something coming into being ex nihilo requires a cause.

The primary weakness of this argument is the underlying assumption that the only way we could know whether creation ex nihilo requires a cause is through observation. This assumption is problematic for a few different reasons.

One reason is because it's questionable whether anybody ever observes causation at all. David Hume has a chapter on this subject in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. He argues there that nobody actually observes causation. Rather, we just assume causation whenever we see things conjoined in certain ways in space and time.

I don't want to go into all of Hume's arguments, but consider this thought experiment. Imagine a situation in which a golf club strikes a golf ball, and the golf ball goes flying. But the reason for this series of events isn't that the golf club causes the golf ball to go flying. Rather, there's an invisible spirit that causes the golf ball to move whenever the golf club gets sufficiently close with the right speed. And suppose that's the case for everything in the physical world. Nothing causes anything else in the physical world. Instead, the invisible spirit causes everything to move. And the spirit does it in such a consistent way that there appear to be regularities to it. These regularities allow us to formulate laws and make predictions using formulas and math.

If that's even possible, then it raises the question of whether we're actually observing causation at all. All we're observing is objects moving. When we see a golf club swinging followed immediately by a golf ball flying, and when the timing and location are just right, we just assume that one thing causes the other. If we must be able to observe causation before we can know whether it has occurred, then we would never know that anything had a cause. That doesn't seem reasonable, so that's one reason to doubt the premise that the above criticism is based on.

Another reason is because it's one thing to observe when a cause happens, but it's another to observe when a cause does not happen. How could one ever know, merely from observation, that an event happened without a cause? Suppose we saw a golf ball just take off, but we didn't see any golf club hit it. Could we say it was an event without a cause? We may think it doesn't have a cause because we assume that if there had been one, we would've seen it. But it's always possible the cause eludes our perception. it's always possible when we observe events that there's a hidden cause.

Suppose we did observe something coming into existence out of nothing. How could one observe a cause in that situation? We might say it had no cause because we didn't see one, but that really isn't an adequate reason to think it didn't have a cause. It might have an invisible cause. Or suppose we saw somebody wiggle their nose, and as soon as they did, something popped into existence out of nothing. Even in that situation, we wouldn't be able to tell that the wiggling of the nose caused something to pop into existence out of nothing. So there's just no way to tell, merely by observing, whether something coming into existence out of nothing had a cause or not. And with that being the case, it's irrelevant whether anybody has ever observed something coming into existence out of nothing, whether with or without a cause.

If observation isn't how we would know whether something had a cause or not, then lack of observation is no reason to deny that we know whether something had a cause or not. Our knowledge of causation must come by some other way. I think it comes from a rational intuition. David Hume denied this, but I think he was mistaken.

If you accept quantum indeterminacy, then you'll believe there are quantum events without sufficient causes. Let's grant that for the sake of argument. At best, this would prove that it's possible for something to come to be without a sufficient cause. But it wouldn't show that it's possible for something to come into existence out of nothing. It wouldn't even show that it's possible for something to come to be without any cause at all.

In the case of spontaneous radioactive decay, there may not be sufficient conditions for a decay event, but there are necessary conditions. These necessary conditions include things like the ratio of protons to neutrons. That's why different isotopes have different half lives. The initial conditions of an atom give us a probability of a decay event, and if you get enough atoms of the same element with the same number of neutrons, that probability will average out into a half life for the whole collection. That means the probability is determined by the initial conditions, and that means the initial conditions are necessary for the decay event even if they aren't sufficient to determine the decay event. So even spontaneous quantum events have causes. They just aren't sufficient causes.

In the case of something coming into existence out of nothing, there isn't even a set of initial conditions. There's no "thing" that has properties which serve as necessary conditions or that can give us probabilities. So creation ex nihilo isn't remotely analogous to spontaneous quantum events.

One can merely reflect on creation ex nihilo and see, by a rational intuition, that it's impossible for it to happen with no cause or reason. Lucretius didn't even think it was possible with a cause or reason. I don't know why there are people who can't see this. I've never had the least bit of doubt about it. When you think about it carefully, it appears to be a metaphysically necessary truth. Since it's metaphysically necessary, looking at the physical world isn't how we come to know it. If we could only know it through looking at the physical world, it wouldn't be a necessary truth. It would be a contingent truth. It might be true in one universe but not another depending on the physical characteristic each universe happened to have. It's not a physical law at all because it doesn't merely describe how the physical world happens to be. It's a metaphysical law because it puts constraints on what can or can't happen in the physical world. It's a law that applies to all universes.

The lack of analogy between creation ex nihilo and spontaneous quantum events cuts both ways. Some people try to extrapolate from causes in the physical world to the cause of the physical world. They claim we have physical evidence that something can't spontaneously come from nothing in the fact that every event we observe always has a cause. This is an inductive argument for the principle that all events have causes or that all things that come into existence have causes. But the argument fails because the beginning of the universe is not sufficiently analogous to anything that happens in the universe. So even if we grant determinism in the universe, it wouldn't follow that the universe as a whole has a cause.

You have to be careful when you reason inductively. Imagine a situation in which an alien comes to earth, and for the first week he's here, the only birds he sees are crows, and all the crows he sees are black. But then he finds out, through a friend, that crows aren't the only birds. There's a whole slew of birds that he hasn't seen. Would he be justified in reasoning that because every bird he's seen up until now has been black, that all the other bird species are black as well? Probably not. He may be reasonable in thinking the next crow he sees is going to be black, but that isn't sufficiently analogous for him to think the first chicken he sees is going to be black. He might be justified in having a suspicion about it, but that's all.

In the same way, causal events in the physical world are not sufficiently analogous to the beginning of the physical world to extrapolate from one to the other.

And that's about all the thoughts I had on causation this morning.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Devil's advocate debates

Playing devil's advocate in a debate can be fun in a way that other debates aren't. In both cases, you can be in it for the gamesmanship of it, but if you're defending a view you actually hold, and especially if it's something that's important to you, you're probably going to feel a little anxiety over the possibility of failing. When you play devil's advocate, you can enjoy the gamesmanship of it without that anxiety. You still have a little anxiety because you want to win, but since there isn't anything at stake, they're more enjoyable.

But they have practical advantages, too. Most people primarily read material that reinforces what they already believe. When they anticipate opposition, they delve even further into it in hopes that they'll be prepared when the opposition comes. When we read opposing points of view, we often don't read them as carefully or as charitably. We kind of hop scotch through it, picking out little issues here and there that we can take issue with. That is not how you should read something if you really want to understand it.

Preparing for a devil's advocate debate changes all that. It forces you to put yourself into the other person's shoes, to see things how they see it. I have seen people play devil's advocate half-heartedly, of course, but if you're really trying to win the debate, then you'll try to come up with the best arguments you can. That forces you to read your opposition in the most charitable way, and it enables you to understand their point of view better. That's a good thing.

The more deeply you delve into a topic, the more flaws or snags will appear. For example, a professional physicist is more aware of the snags in general relativity than most others are because they've studied it in more depth. If you study Christian apologetics in any depth, and if you do it with a desire to arrive at the truth, then you will come up with objections to things on your own. Sometimes, you'll come up with better objections than the opposition typically does because the opposition will not understand the arguments as well as you do.

Playing devil's advocate allows you to test those objections. It's kind of like how, in science, you test a hypothesis by trying to prove that it's wrong. You put it up against situations in which it might be falsified. You may be able to come up with answers to your objections on your own, but testing it by trying to defend it in a debate allows you to see how well it holds up to the scrutiny of other people. And maybe those people will have something to say that you didn't think of.

You could just ask people how they would respond to an objection, but the temptation in that case is to accept whatever answer they give you , even if it's not a good answer, just because it gets you out of a problem area. But if you actually try to defend it in a debate, then you're going to force the other person to try to give better responses to it, and if they succeed, then you'll have better confidence in their answer.

Playing devil's advocate can also help in dealing with objections you come up with because in your effort to defend those objections, you'll be forced to delve more deeply into them, to think about them more carefully. In the process, you'll be able to see the flaws in them more clearly. Just as delving deeply into the side you agree with raises objections you might not have otherwise seen, so also does delving more deeply into the opposition reveal more objections you might not have otherwise seen. So you can actually find objections to your objections by trying to defend them rather than trying to dismiss them.

Somebody told me recently that they thought devil's advocate debates are dishonest. I don't think they're dishonest as long as you're upfront about the fact that you're playing devil's advocate. You may be concerned that playing devil's advocate might inadvertently change somebody's mind in a way that you don't want their mind to change. You don't want to accidentally cause somebody to deconvert from Christianity if you're a Christian. When I have devil's advocate debates, if I don't think the person I debated with did a good job, then I'll explain in the comment section or something why I don't think the arguments I gave in the debate work. That way anybody reading the debate will at least get to hear a refutation of them in case my opponent didn't refute them, or they didn't refute them the way I thought they should have.

So I'm all for devil's advocate debates. I've participated in many of them. They were fun and constructive for me.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Molinism: a problem and a possible solution

I sent William Lane Craig a question about Molinism a while back, and I was just thinking that the question could be made into an argument against Molinism.

Here's the issue. Molinism requires libertarian free will (LFW). According to LFW, there are no condition prior to and up to the moment of choice that are sufficient to determine what that choice will be. With that being the case, we should expect that if we were able to turn back time and put a person in the exact same situation they were in before, they might not make the same choice as they made the first time.

Libertarians acknowledge that antecedent conditions can have some influence over your behavior. So let's say that Jim meets Bob and has a desire to shake hands with him, but he has LFW, so his desire is not sufficient to determine that he will shake Bob's hand. And in the absence of any Frankfurt-type scenarios, Jim could choose otherwise. But his desire has some influence over his action, and the stronger the desire, the more probable that he will choose to shake hands with Bob. So let's say, hypothetically, that the desire is such that there's a 75% chance that Jim will shake hands with Bob and a 25% chance that he won't.

If that were the case, then we should expect that if we turned back time and played the scenario out many times, that 75% of the time, Jim would choose to shake Bob's hand, and 25% of the time, he would choose not to.

But this comes into conflict with Molinism. According to Molinism, there is a counter-factual describing what Jim would do if he were to meet Bob, and this counter-factual has a truth value prior to God creating the world containing Jim and Bob. Suppose the counter-factual is that if Jim meets Bob, then he will freely shake his hand. If that counter-factual is true, then shouldn't we expect that no matter how many times we turn back the clock, Jim will shake Bob's hand? If so, then that conflicts with the earlier stipulations about LFW and how that would play out in Jim's choices when he's put in the same situation multiple times.

There is a possible solution to this, though. If there is some possible world where time gets reversed multiple times, then surely there would be counterfactuals that applied each time it happened. For example, you might have one that says, "If Jim meets Bob the first time, then he will shake his hand, but if time gets reversed, and Jim has the decision to make a second time, then Jim will not shake his hand." And you could string that counterfactual out as many times as time gets reversed in that world. That would solve the problem.

But that does seem to have some bearing on what makes a counterfactual true, which is another thing to think about.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Demonstrable proof

Somebody said on a discussion forum today that what it would take for them to believe in God would be demonstrable proof. It got me to thinking.

In physics, there are theoretical physicists and experimental physicists. Theoretical physicists crunch numbers and manipulate equations and form hypotheses that hopefully make some prediction that is testable. Then an experimental physicist will design some experiment in which they can test the prediction. Once it is tested and the prediction is actually observed, then you have something like "demonstrable proof." An example of this is how the standard model of quantum mechanics predicted the existence of the Higgs Boson. It wasn't until the Higgs Boson was actually observed at CERN that we had demonstrable proof of its existence.

But before we had demonstrable proof of the Higgs Boson, we still have very good reason to believe it existed. The standard model already had a lot of experimental evidence backing it up, and it predicted the Higgs Boson. It seems to me that belief in the Higgs Boson was well justified even before we had demonstrable proof.

So when people say they need demonstrable proof of God, I take that to mean they want to see direct evidence of God. They want to see God himself or at least observe something that seems to be the direct effect of God, like writing in the sky or a voice from heaven or something.

What we have are philosophical arguments for God. These arguments predict the existence of God. That is, if the reasoning is sound, then we should expect there to be a God. So they are similar to hypotheses in physics that are backed up by reasons but for which we lack demonstrable proof. We'd like to verify them or falsify them by testing them, but there doesn't seem to be any way to test them unless God himself decides to make his presence known. We can't make him do that.

Hypotheses in physics and philosophical arguments for God have two things in common--they rely on previously existing evidence and some kind of reasoning from that evidence to the conclusion. For example, cosmological and teleological arguments rely both on observations in nature as well as reasoning from those observations. Even string theory, which a lot of people criticize because it's not testable (yet), is based on observation and reasoning. Some physicists think string theory is true because they think the observations and reasoning that lead to it are sound.

So is it ever reasonable to believe a hypothesis before it has been demonstrated to be true? Sure! Granted, we'd have greater warrant if we had demonstrable proof, but short of demonstrable proof, arguments can give us sufficient warrant for believing in God in the same way that arguments can give us sufficient warrant for believing a scientific hypothesis before they have been tested.

Think about it. There'd be no reason to bother testing a hypothesis unless you first had some initial reason to think it was true. Hypotheses that are worth testing aren't arbitrary. Some have greater warrant than others, too, depend on what evidence or line of reasoning that lead to them. Physicists were pretty sure the Higgs Boson existed before we ever had demonstrable proof. So whether we can be pretty sure God exists apart from God making his presence known in some demonstrable way depends on how good the philosophical arguments for his existence are. But they shouldn't be dismissed merely because we lack demonstrable proof or because they can't be tested.

Monday, September 23, 2019

What is homophobia?

Homophobia is what people used to be called if they thought there was anything immoral about homosexuality. That struck a lot of these people as odd because a phobia is a fear, and one need not fear something to be morally opposed to it. So those who were being called homophobic denied being homophobic on the basis that they had no fear of homosexuals.

But then the accusers explained that a phobia need not be a fear. It can merely be an aversion. One example I heard where a phobia is not a fear is the word, "hydrophobic." This word is sometimes used of materials that resist water, like when you wax your car, the surface of your car becomes hydrophobic. And there are clothes that can be treated so that water beads off of them. They become hydrophobic.

It seems to me that if "phobic" or "phobia" is used in that sense when people are called "homophobic," then all straight people are homophobic because they don't want to have relationships with members of the same sex. If that's what homophobia means--an aversion to sexual or romantic relationships with members of the same sex--then it seems to me that if you're straight, you ought to embrace the fact that you're homophobic, and people should stop using it as if it's an insult.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Why did Judas betray Jesus?

This post is entirely speculative, and nobody should take it as an argument for how or why things actually went down. It's just a possibility that I was thinking about this morning.

This speculation is all based on speculation about what Jesus' followers expected of him. From various things in the gospels, it looks like a lot of people didn't know what to make of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, but as things progressed, his followers began to see him in more of a messianic light. Some were frustrated that he just didn't come right out and declare exactly who and what he was explicitly.

Jesus seemed to be more interested in showing people who he was and letting them draw their own conclusions than in making explicit claims about himself. This is less so in the gospel of John. In some cases, Jesus appeared to want to hide his true identity and only reveal it to those who were closest to him.

So I got to thinking about why Judas might've betrayed Jesus, especially after seeing Jesus' miracles. Before I go on, let me remind the reader that this is all entirely speculative. By the last week of Jesus' life, his claim to be a messiah (i.e. a king) had become pretty clear. The fact that he rode into Jerusalem during Passover week on a donkey with crowds shouting, "Hosanna to the son of David!" consciously acting out a messianic prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 made his intentions clear. This incident, along with the scene he made in the Temple, is probably what got Jesus arrested and tried for claiming to be "the king of the Jews."

If Jesus' messianic claim had become clear by this point, what did his followers expect to happen? It's easy to imagine that they expected Jesus to ride into Jerusalem and take the throne. While doing so, he'd surely overthrow the Roman occupation. One interesting fact is that one of Jesus' twelve apostles is identified as being from the Zealot party. This was a political party in the first century that wanted to use force to overthrow the Romans. It's interesting to speculate why a person like that would be following Jesus. What did he expect of Jesus? Did he retain his Zealot views the whole time he was following Jesus?

Well, maybe, if Simon the Zealot was expecting Jesus to initiate an armed revolt, he wasn't the only one. I mean look at the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after Jesus had been crucified. They were clearly disappointed about something. They said, "But we were hoping it was he who would redeem Israel." Since Jesus was crucified, they were disappointed to find that Jesus did not redeem Israel. What would "redeeming Israel" have meant? Perhaps an armed revolt. Even after Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples asked him, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" They were still expecting him to take the physical throne of David and establish national sovereignty, which surely would entail overthrowing the Romans.

I read a book earlier this year called Judaisms and Their Messiahs At the Turn of the Christian Era, edited by Jacob Neusner and two others. It's a collection of essays about various Jewish messianic expectations. There was a lot of diversity in beliefs about messiahs in Judaism, but I don't remember there being any where the kingly messiah was going to come peacefully and claim to have a kingdom that is "not of this world." For those who imagined a messiah in the sense of a Davidic king, they thought it would be an actual king on an actual physical throne over Israel. So it stands to reason that's what a lot of Jesus' followers expected, and they were disappointed when he was arrested and crucified.

So here's my speculation. There was a time in John's gospel when the people tried to make Jesus king by force, but Jesus avoided it by withdrawing to the mountains to be alone. Maybe what happened with Judas was that Judas hoped and expected Jesus to assert his authority and place himself on the throne of David. His expectations may have been especially high when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. When it became clear to Judas over the following days that Jesus had no intention of taking the throne by force, Judas felt betrayed. This could have seriously angered him because he gave up everything to follow Jesus. So it could be that he betrayed Jesus out of furious anger, disappointment, and maybe even a little revenge. Maybe he felt like Jesus had misled them all.

I've heard some people speculate that Judas may have "betrayed" Jesus as a way of forcing the issue. If the authorities came to arrest Jesus, then Jesus would have to assert his dominance, and that would get things going. If that were the case, then Judas may have been the opposite of disappointed. He may have had a lot of faith in Jesus. But if he had enough faith in Jesus to pull a stunt like that, it's hard to imagine why he thought the stunt was necessary. Maybe he was just impatient.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Is monogamy natural?

For a few years now, I've heard more and more people say something to the effect that monogamy is not natural. They base this on the fact that people want multiple sex partners even when they are in a relationship. That's why people cheat. So to embrace this more "natural" view, they either reject monogamy, opting for open relationships or pluralistic relationships, or they reject traditional marriage.

This strikes me as a mistaken line of reasoning. First of all, it's an argument that proves too much. If it's sound, then not only would it do away with monogamy, but it would do away with morality altogether. Morality is what adjudicates between which of your desires it's okay to give in to and which you should resist. If it's okay to give into any desire as long as it's natural to have that desire, then morality would have no place in the world. This would erase one of the most important distinctions between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom because then we'd feel free to endulge in our every desire. We would act purely on instinct, giving in to any natural urge that presented itself. It's perfectly natural to want to get revenge, to want to hurt people who wrong us in traffic, to want to tell lies to avoid uncomfortable situations, etc. But that doesn't make these things okay. So even if it's natural to want to have sex with multiple people even when you're in a relationship, that doesn't make it okay either.

Second, this line of reasoning leads to a contradiction. If we adopt the idea that our natural desires and inclinations are an indication of how we should live our lives, then that would both eliminate and justify monogamy. After all, it's just as natural to feel jealous and to not want your spouse to be with other people as it is to desire sexual relationships with other people yourself. If jealousy and a desire for your spouse to be sexually loyal to you alone is a perfectly natural feeling, then wouldn't that suggest, by the same reasoning, that monogamy is natural?

A lot of people try to embrace this open relationship idea or having multiple partners on the basis that monogamy is outdated, and they're getting with the times, but they still end up feeling jealous or having problems with it. They dismiss these problems on the basis that jealousy is immature and they just need to overcome it. But is it any less natural? Why isn't the inclination to embrace every desire indiscriminately considered immature instead? Isn't it children who whine and cry whenever they don't get everything they want? Isn't the mature thing to exercise self-control when it comes to inappropriate desires or desires that hurt people and damage relationships?

I think this idea that monogamy isn't our natural state just because people have desires and inclinations to stray from their partner is a really silly and immature excuse to live like animals.

EDIT: Wow. Just one day after posting this, I was on a discussion forum, and somebody said these exact words to me: "Were [sic] designed to be polygamous by nature and being in a 1 on 1 life partnership contradicts this."

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

God and gunfighting

Here's a guy whose YouTube channel I found a couple of weeks ago when I was looking at stuff about guns. As I was browsing through his videos, which are almost solely about guns and military training, I came across these two videos where he talked about religion. I was taken aback by how articulately he defended why he believes in God and is a Christian. It was totally unexpected given everything else that's on his channel. Maybe it's the beard.

Part 1

Part 2

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Four views on the fall of man

Somebody asked me recently why God would create man knowing we'd sin, introduce evil into the world, and God would have to send Jesus to die for all that. At the time, I was trying to explain the difference between essential and non-essential Christian doctrines and how Christians disagree with each other over non-essentials but remain Christians. So rather than answer his question in light of my own theology, I explained to him how different people would respond to his question in light of their own theology. Here's what I said to him.

The way a person answers this question will depend on what theology they subscribe to. Rather than push my own view, I'll explain the way four different kinds of Christians might respond.

  • Open theism
  • Arminianism
  • Molinism
  • Calvinism

Open Theism

Open theism is the view that for God, the future is an open question. Some people accuse open theists of denying God's omniscience because God doesn't know all the future free will choices of his creatures. Open theists themselves will deny this accusation on the basis that God can only know what is true, and there are no truths to contingent future free will choices. So, for example, whether you will choose Sprite or Coke tomorrow isn't something God knows today because there's no truth to the matter. As long as you have free will, it could go one way or the other.

It's probably obvious to you by now how an open theists would answer your question. God didn't know what would happen when he created Adam and Eve because they had free will.


Arminians subscribe to simple divine fore-knowledge and libertarian free will. This means that our actions are not determined by antecedent conditions. They are spontaneous events. And God knows what we will do.

Arminians justify the creation of mankind, in spite of his knowledge that they would sin, on the basis of weighing the pros and cons. The good that comes from free will outweighs the bad. Some of the goods that comes from free will include goodness itself (since in their view, morality isn't even possible without free will), love (both love for each other and love for the creator), and rationality. Under this view, life would be meaningless without free will because we'd just be a bunch of pre-programmed robots.


This is the view Craig subscribes to. According to Molinism, people have libertarian free will, but God has what's called middle knowledge. This is knowledge of counterfactuals concerning free will decisions. For example, "If Jim meets Bob on Tuesday, Jim will offer to buy him lunch." So under this view, God knows what each person would do under every circumstance.

Prior to creating the world, God surveyed all the possible worlds with all of their contingencies, and he actualized the world that contains the greatest number of saved people, or the greatest ratio of saved to lost. So whatever evils there are in the world are here because the world where the most people get saved happens to also have a lot of evil in it.

Under Molinism, God can't just actualize any possible world he wants. He's limited by the counter-factuals of human freedom. Consider these two worlds:

  • World 1: Jim meets Bob and offers to buy him lunch.
  • World 2: Jim meets Bob and does not offer to buy him lunch.

Both of these worlds are possible. If Jim has libertarian freedom, he can choose either way. However, prior to creating anything, there is a counter-factual that is true about any world containing Jim. It goes like this:

  • If Jim meets Bob, he will offer to buy him lunch.

This counter-factual tells God what Jim would do if he met Bob. Now, if that counter-factual is true, then God obviously couldn't actualize World 2 because that would lead to a contradiction. Any world in which Jim meets Bob will be a world in which Jim offers him lunch. It's up to Bob what choice he makes, but God has some limited control over what happens because God can actualize states of fairs, and he can do so according to his knowledge of all the counterfactuals of human freedom.

So it may just be that given all the counter-factuals God knows about all the possible people that could come into existence, there just is no world that he could actualize that doesn't contain some evil. And this may be the optimal one that gets the greatest number of people saved.


Under Calvinism, God is absolutely sovereign over everything that happens. That means that for everything that happens, God intended it to happen because God has a purpose it. Most Calvinists are compatibilists. A compatibilist is somebody who thinks that free will and determinism are compatible. They reconcile free will and determinism by defining free will differently than libertarians. Whereas under libertarianism, there are no conditions prior to and up to the moment of choice that are sufficient to determine what that choice will be, under compatibilism, our choices are determined by our antecedent desires, motives, inclinations, biases, preferences, intentions, etc. So under compatibilism, God can have complete control over every choice that every person makes since he has some control over the antecedent conditions that determine those choices.

Not all Calvinists are compatibilists. Some Calvinists subscribe to libertarian freedom under some circumstances and compatibilism is limited to the choice of whether to accept or reject Christ. But in either view, God is sovereign over everything that happens. God has a detailed plan for the whole history of the world that he meticulously brings about, and that includes the fall of Adam and Eve.

Calvinists deal with your question in a number of ways. One way is simply to say that God has an overriding morally good reason for allowing history to unfold the way it did. He has a purpose in everything, though we may not know what that purpose is. But it's a good and holy purpose.

Some Calvinists take it a step further and identify what his purpose is in disposing the world in such a way that evil was inevitable. It's because God's ultimate motive in creating the world was to glorify himself, and God's glory consists of all his holy attributes. God didn't just want to have certain attributes, and leave them dormant. He wanted to express them, exercise them, display them, etc. Since God is the greatest possible being, all of his divine attributes are great, and since his divine attributes are great, then a world in which they are all expressed is better than a world in which many of them lie dormant.

Some of God's attributes can only be expressed in a world containing evil. For example, God is merciful and forgiving, but he is also just, and he hates sin. God can't forgiven unless there's something to forgive, and that entails that there must be sin. Likewise, God can't express his wrath toward sin without the existence of sin.

So under Calvinism, God is glorified both in the judgment against sinners and in the salvation of sinners. That means the greatest possible good can only be fully expressed in a world containing evil.


I think the key to explaining why God created man, knowing he would introduce evil into the world, is to know what God's motive in creation was in the first place. But a person doesn't need to know what God's motive was in order to maintain a reasonable belief in God in spite of the difficulty. Suppose we don't know why God created a world with evil. Our ignorance doesn't tell us anything about whether God actually has a reason or not. If an almighty God who knows everything has some reason for doing things the way he did, there's no reason to expect that creatures as limited as ourselves would necessarily know, or be able to figure out, what that reason is without him revealing it to us. As long as it's possible that God has a morally sufficient reason for creating a world containing evil, the existence of evil shouldn't pose a problem to somebody who is disposed to believe in God. Before one could make a sound argument against God from the problem of evil, they would have to rule out that possibility.

For further reading

"A quick and dirty response to the problem of evil"

Sunday, August 18, 2019

No True Christians (or Scotsmen)

I wanted to make a clarification about the No True Scotsman fallacy because I've seen a lot of people on the internet recklessly accuse people of committing this fallacy whenever they say something that merely resembles a "no true Scotsman" statement. Here's the no true Scotsman fallacy in a nutshell.

Jim: No Scotsman puts pineapple on his pizza.

Bob: Wait a minute. Dan is a Scotsman, and he puts pineapple on his pizza.

Jim: Well, Dan isn't a true Scotsman, though.

Bob: Why do you say that?

Jim: Because he puts pineapple on his pizza. No true Scotsman would do that.

Jim is committing the No True Scotsman fallacy. He makes a claim about all Scotsman, and when presented with a counter-example to his claim, he merely redefines "Scotsman" in such a way as to rule out the counter-example. Unless not putting pineapple on your pizza is part of what it means to be a Scotsman, this is an illegitimate move on Jim's part.

And therein lies the mistake a lot of people make when accusing others of committing this fallacy. Whether it's a fallacy or not depends on whether Jim is making a generalization that may or may not be true, or whether Jim is giving a definition, which would entail that it's true of necessity. Some people have a knee jerk reaction whenever any claim resembling, "No true Scotsman" is made. I've heard people say things like, "You're in No True Scotsman territory," and their use of territory seems to be a way of hedging their accusation in case they've misidentified an occasion of the fallacy.

But let me give you an example of a No True Scotsman-Like statement that does not commit the fallacy so you can see what I'm talking about.

Jim: All archers shoot bows.

Bob: Wait a minute. Dan is an archer and he doesn't shoot a bow.

Jim: Well, Dan isn't a true archer.

Bob: Why do you say that?

Jim: Because Dan doesn't shoot bows. All true archers shoot bows.

Obviously Jim hasn't committed any fallacy because shooting a bow is an essential part of what it means to be an archer. An archer is somebody who shoots bows. It's Bob who has made the mistake here because he thinks somebody is an archer who doesn't shoot bows.

As a side note here, you may quibble with the fact that I said, "all archers" instead of "no archers." But these are horns on the same goat. To say, "All P's are Q" is logically equivalent to saying, "No P's are Not-Q." So if all archers shoot bows, then there are no archers who do not shoot bows.

This confusion about the No True Scotsman fallacy comes up in the context of Christians sometimes. One person will make a claim about all Christians, somebody else will come up with a supposed counter-example, and the first person will dismiss the counter-example on the basis that the person isn't a real Christian. Now, it could be that in a lot of these cases, the No True Scotsman fallacy really is being committed. Here's an example of when the fallacy is being committed.

Jim: All Christians vote Republican.

Bob: Dan doesn't vote Republican.

Jim: Dan isn't a true Christian.

Bob: Why not?

Jim: Because he votes Democrat. No true Christian would vote Democrat.

Jim commits the No True Scotsman fallacy because whether you vote Republican or Democrat (or whatever) isn't part of what it means to be a Christian. Nor does voting for one party or the other exclude one from being a Christian. But consider this conversation:

Jim: All Christians are followers of Christ.

Bob: Dan is a Christian, and he doesn't follow Christ.

Jim: Well, obviously, Dan isn't a real Christian. All real Christians follow Christ because that's what it means to be a Christian.

In this case, Dan is just confused about what it means to be a Christian. That's how he managed to misidentify somebody as being a counter-example to Jim's claim. Jim wasn't telling Bob something that just happened to be true about all Christians. He was telling Bob what it means to be a Christian. He was giving Bob a definition of "Christian."

Now, there is some gray area here. Consider a case in which some property may not be part of the definition of a class of people, but it is nevertheless how we usually identity people of that class. For example, we usually identify Mormon missionaries as people who wear Latter Day Saint Elder name tags while they're out and about doing their missionary work. Now consider this dialogue:

Jim: All Mormon missionaries wear name tags when out witnessing.

Bob: Dan doesn't.

Jim: Well, Dan isn't even a Mormon missionary.

Bob: Why do you say that?

Jim: Because if he was a Mormon missionary, he'd be wearing a name tag. No true Mormon missionary goes door to door without their Latter Day Saint Elder name tag.

Has Jim committed the No True Scotsman fallacy? Maybe and maybe not. Wearing a name tag isn't what makes somebody a Mormon missionary, and it's at least possible for a Mormon missionary to go door to door without their name tag. That would indicate that Jim has committed the No True Scotsman fallacy. On the other hand, the name tag is one of the primary ways we identify Mormon missionaries, and since it's practically unheard of for one of them to go about witnessing without their name tag, the fact that somebody isn't wearing one is a good indication that they're not a Mormon missionary. If Mormon missionaries happen to be really good about remembering their name tags, and if there happen to be imposters out there, then the lack of a name tag is a good indication that somebody isn't actually a Mormon missionary. So maybe Jim isn't committing the No True Scotsman fallacy after all. He's just giving a piece of evidence to indicate that Dan is probably not actually a Mormon missionary.

There can be gray areas in the case of Christians because Christians disagree amongst themselves about what is essential to Christianity and what excludes somebody from being a Christian. For example, most Christians think belief in the resurrection of Jesus is essential to Christianity and that if you don't believe in the resurrection, then you're not a true Christian. Other people disagree. There are what's called "liberal protestants," who consider themselves Christians but who may or may not believe Jesus literally rose from the dead. Here's Jim and Bob again.

Jim: All Christians believe Jesus literally rose from the dead.

Bob: John Shelby Spong doesn't believe in the literal resurrection, and he's a Bishop of an Episcopal church. Obviously, he's a counter-example to your claim.

Jim: Mr. Spong is not a true Christian. He's a fake.

Bob: Why do you say that?

Jim: If he was a true Christian, then he'd believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus.

Some people are going to think Jim committed the No True Scotsman fallacy, and some aren't. It depends on whether you think belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus is essential to being a Christian or not. If it is, then Jim isn't committing a fallacy. If it's not, then he is committing a fallacy. I happened to be one of those who thinks the literal resurrection of Jesus is essential, so I don't think Jim is committing any fallacy. I have no qualms whatsoever in identifying John Shelby Spong as a fake Christian on the basis that he claims to be a Christian but denies the literal resurrection of Jesus. The same thing is true of John Dominic Crossan, though I have a lot of respect for Crossan as an academic. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians but who aren't. There have been since the earliest days of Christianity.

The resurrection is a case where the definition of "Christian" is the deciding factor, but the case that usually comes up has more to do with identifying people as Christians by looking at their behavior. For example, people sometimes will cast dispersions on Christians in general based on the behavior of some people who called themselves Christians. The defense against these accusations is to say, "Well, those people weren't true Christians, and we know that because of their actions." This is a gray area because, on the one hand, all Christians sin, and being a Christian doesn't mean you'll never sin. But on the other hand, a person who has been regenerated by God will be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and as a result should exhibit the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, patience, kindness, self-control, etc. So there is a degree to which one can observe somebody's life to determine whether an actual conversion has taken place or not. And this is important because there have been times in history when claiming to be a Christian was expedient even if one was not actually a Christian.

The case of Adolf Hitler is a good example. He was attempting to become a leader of a predominantly Lutheran country. As a typical politician, we should expect him to say things that are friendly to Lutheranism. But apart from that, when you look at his life, there's no reason in the world to take his Christian claims seriously. He obviously wasn't a Christian because no true Christian would behave the way he did.

But how bad can a person be before it's obvious they're not really a Christian, in spite of their claims? I don't know. I've done things that made me question my own Christianity. I do think that when people doubt other's Christianity on the basis of their behavior, they are in No True Scotsman territory, but whether they've actually committed the fallacy or not is sometimes hard to tell.

Further reading

"Epistemological and ontological assurance of Salvation" This is about how behavior can serve as evidence of whether somebody is really a regenerated Christian or not.

"ad hominem, no true Scotsman, and arguments from authority" This one has a little more on the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Review: Logically Fallacious by Bo Bennett

Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies by Bo Bennett

Here is a book I've been recommending to people for a while. I started recommending it to people without having finished it, though. I was initially impressed by the fact that it contained so many fallacies, gave all the various names that each one goes by, and especially by the fact that Bennett explained the exceptions to informal fallacies, which a lot of other authors don't do, and which I think is very important.

I put the book down along time ago, but I picked it up and finished it recently. Now I regret having recommended it so much in the past. I knew Bennett wasn't a Christian and that he occasionally used Christian talking points as examples of logical fallacies, but that little bias didn't bother me that much since I figured as long as he's teaching the fallacies correctly, that's the most important thing. But as I read through the book, I began to realize that the book isn't really about logical fallacies. It is packed so full of straw man versions of typical Christian defenses, that it's actually just a biased straw man attack on Christian defenses masquerading as a collection of logical fallacies. Either Bennett is blinded by his bias against Christianity, or it was an intentional means of manipulating the reader by creating a bias in them.

Here is my Amazon review:

This book was a big disappointment. It was recommended to me by an atheist who assured me that although Bennett did use religious examples that the book was nevertheless fair and that I could learn a lot from it. But the bias in this book was so strong that Bennett committed many fallacies of his own. In many cases, the Christian examples he gives are straw men. Bennett could, of course, defend against that accusation by saying that he's heard somebody give these bad arguments at one time or another, but the impression a person gets from reading this book as a whole is that "Christians consistently make really bad arguments." And you get that impression from the fact that Bennett has cherry picked his examples. Cherry picking is a fallacy.

Bennett could defend against the cherry picking fallacy by claiming that of course he has to use examples of bad reasoning if he's trying to show logical fallacies. But the fact that he uses the book, not so much to teach logical fallacies, but to cast Christianity in a bad light, makes that defense vacuous. If it's not the cherry picking fallacy he's guilty of, then at the very least, it's poisoning the well. Anybody who reads this book who hasn't actually read much literature from Christian academics is going to come away from it with a strong bias against Christian apologetics. I run into atheists all the time who cannot hear what I am saying because they have been so indoctrinated to recognize the straw man version of what I'm saying that they can't help but hear the straw man instead of what I'm actually saying. I'm afraid Bennett's book will only serve to perpetuate that habit.

Bennett should call this book what it actually is. It's a "case against Christianity" book or a "case against Christian apologetics" book disguised as a book on logical fallacies. It's a clever gimmick, and I'm sure a lot of ambitious young atheists, eager to win arguments with Christians, will fall for it. If Bennett was actually trying to improve the critical thinking skills of atheist apologists, maybe he should've used a few examples of the bad arguments atheists make.

Some of the "fallacies" aren't even fallacies. They're just conclusions that Bennett thinks are wrong. A fallacy is a mistake in reasoning, not a wrong conclusion. Toward the end, Bennett even admits that some of the "logical fallacies" he lists are not, strictly speaking, logical fallacies.

One last complaint I have about this book is the lack of organization. He simply lists the logical fallacies in alphabetical order, not in any logical order, and he makes no distinction between formal fallacies and informal fallacies. He should've at least grouped those together. And he should've explained that there are classes of fallacies and examples of each. For example, the red herring fallacy is a broad category of fallacies that include any kind of distraction. The ad hominem fallacy an example of a red herring. At one point, he even lists the "non sequitur" fallacy as if it were a separate and distinct fallacy. But "non sequitur" just means "does not follow." All reasoning fallacies are non sequiturs!

The book isn't all bad, though. There's some really good stuff in there. One of the things I liked about this book is that when it came to informal fallacies, Bennett explained exceptions to them. A lot of books on informal fallacies don't do that, and their failure to do that results in people misidentifying occasions of fallacies. When it comes to formal fallacies, Bennett always says that there are no exceptions, and he's correct. That's one of the key differences with formal fallacies--there are no exceptions to them.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review: Hidden In Plain View by Lydia McGrew

This is the same review I left on Amazon.

Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts by Lydia McGrew

I really enjoyed this book. I had heard about undesigned coincidences before, and I wondered why, in light of the fact that there were supposedly so many of them, the same ones kept being brought up in talks, blogs, and interviews by various people. Now I understand. It's because there's only a handful of them that actually amount to undesigned coincidences. The rest of them seem to have more to do with the creativity of the author (whether Lydia McGrew, William Paley, or whoever) than with there actually being an undesigned coincidence.

Let me give two examples. One is a compelling undesigned coincidence, and the other doesn't seem so to me. These are right next to each other in the book.

The first is on page 85. In Matthew 10, the twelve apostles are listed in pairs, e.g. Simon and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, etc. Mark 6 says that when Jesus sent the apostles out to preach, he sent them out in pairs. Lydia thinks this is an undesigned coincidence because Mark explains why Matthew lists the apostles in pairs the way he does. If this argument is sound, then supposedly Matthew pairs them up according to who traveled with whom. But this seems like a stretch to me, and I see no reason to think the sending of the twelve in pairs has anything at all to do with why Matthew lists the twelve in pairs. Granted it's possible, but I think you need more than mere possibility to use this as historical evidence of some real event. You'd have to have some good reason to think one thing actually IS the explanation of the other thing before this argument would work.

But suppose I'm wrong, and it does indicate some historical reality. What would that reality be? That Jesus sent the apostles out in two's? Or that the pairings in Matthew correspond to who traveled with whom? I don't see how. Maybe the apostles were paired up for some unknown reason, and if we knew that reason, it would explain both why Matthew would list them in pairs and why Mark would say that Jesus sent them out in pairs. But we can't really know what that historical reality is, so even if this is an undesigned coincidence, we couldn't draw any historical conclusions from it, at least not with any confidence. You can't say that A explains B when there's a possible C that explains both A and B independently of each other, especially when it's far from obvious that A is actually the explanation for B.

The other undesigned coincidence is on page 87. In Matthew 14, Herod hears news about Jesus and tells his servants that he thinks Jesus might be John the Baptist risen from the dead. Then in Luke 8 we find out that one of Jesus' followers is the wife of one of Herod's servants. So that explains how we know what Herod said to his servants. What makes this an undesigned coincidence is the fact that Luke was not trying to explain anything about what was said in Matthew 14, yet it's hard to think of a better explanation of how this information ended up in Matthew. How could anybody have known what Herod said to his servants in private unless his servants relayed it to other followers of Jesus?

That strikes me as being a good example of an undesigned coincidence. Now the question arises whether Lydia's book has more examples like that first one or like the second one. I didn't keep count, but my guess is that it's about 50/50. So I rounded up and gave Lydia 3 stars. Besides, I think it's a very valuable book even if not everything said in it was persuasive. I gave her an extra star because the book is really well written and a pleasure to read.

Lydia said somewhere in the book that we shouldn't expect every example to be compelling. Her hope was that the cumulative effect would present a strong case for the reliability of the gospels and Acts. But I don't think examples like that first one contribute anything to the cumulative case. As William Lane Craig once put it, "Two bad arguments don't make a good argument." With enough creativity, I think somebody could probably come up with all sorts of examples of undesigned coincidences that aren't really there, but the only way they really count in a cumulative case is if we have good reason, and not mere speculation, that one thing explains another thing in an unintended way. We do have that in the second case above, but not in the first case.

Thanks for writing this book, Lydia. Somebody needed to write this book. I hope that through the process of natural selection (or peer review if you prefer), we'll weed out the bad arguments and hone the good ones.