2.24.2014

Christians and Creation: My Take

A couple things have made the creation issue a popular one right now.  On February 4, famous creationist, Ken Ham, had a public and widely watched debate against Bill Nye the Science Guy.  You can watch the debate here, though this post is not necessarily responding to stuff that happened in the debate.  Quite a lot of discussion popped up after that, with virtually every news outletChristian magazine or ministry, and internet message board having something to say about it.  Also, on March 8, Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson will be starring in a movie called "Noah," an account of the Genesis story of a catastrophic worldwide flood.  For the record, I think the movie looks great and have every intention of seeing it.  I suspect even more discussion on these issues will pop up upon the movie's release.

As I discussed the debate on Facebook and pondered putting my views on my blog, I thought back to my time as a believer in Young-Earth Creationism (also known as Fiat Creationism, but hereafter, simply "YEC") during my high school and early college years.  
I was quite staunch.  I argued with my science teachers in high school, watched all kinds of videos, and read books by guys like Duane GishHenry and John Morris, Ken Ham, and Kent Hovind.  Over time I realized I was wrong for a lot of reasons, some of which will be discussed below.  I've come to the conclusion that the two biggest factors in my staunchness with regards to that belief were (a) an inability or unwillingness to think critically about or to criticize those Christians who had persuaded me of their/my views, and (b) an inability or unwillingness to research and understand, in their strongest forms, the views of other Christians offered in opposition to mine.  I really want to emphasize "in their strongest forms."  At least with me, when I believed YEC I was only familiar with opposing arguments by way of second-hand knowledge.  That is, I was familiar with caricatures of opposing arguments as presented by people who disagree with them (whichever creationist teacher that happened to be).  Here you're getting the views of a Christian who has a high view of scripture's authority who believes in a universe that is about 14 billion years old and an earth that is about 4.6 billion years old.

With this in mind, I would ask that if you believe in YEC you would do two things.  First, I would greatly appreciate it if you read all the posts I make on this topic.  I know it'll be very long by the end, though, so I won't fault you too much if you don't.  Please be willing to think critically about both your own views and the views I present.  Second, I would ask that as you read you do not take any preconceptions about my views with you into reading the arguments.  

So why address the topic?  As I watched that debate, it was quite obvious to me that the men debating were so far apart on the issues that they had nothing to say to each other.  Ham's views are based on his interpretation of scripture first, then he fits his understanding of science to meet his interpretation of scripture.  Nye, on the other hand, made it quite clear that he has a very low view of scripture.  I really think that the opposition to Ham on the stage should have been from a Christian who views scripture (and science) differently from him.  Then there are things to talk about!  In this debate, Ham got to use Genesis however he wanted, with Nye unable to respond (and uninterested in doing so, anyway).  Those of us who deny both YEC and naturalism had no representation.  I'd like to represent, as best I can, the views of those of us who are somewhere in-between.


Initially I wanted to do kind of a "what strategy Christians should take when approaching creation issues" type of post.  Then I realized that would be worthless and would benefit no one (not that this will be any different).  I may as well actually give real thoughts and conclusions instead of wasting everyone's time saying nothing and taking essentially a neutral stance.  The reality is that I'm not neutral, so I may as well tell people why.  I think this post is of benefit to two or three groups.  First, the young earther, by giving her insight into the mind of a non-YEC Christian.  Second, the non-Christian, by giving her real reasons not to think all Christians who are honest about the Christian faith tradition are or should be young earthers.  Finally, perhaps there are a couple non-YEC Christians out there who aren't familiar with the theological arguments against YEC.  This is a good opportunity for all parties who aren't already familiar with these issues to familiarize themselves.

There are a lot of Christians who believe in an old universe who nevertheless deny the theory of evolution, endorsing a view of Old Earth Creationism.  Others endorse macro-evolution, but claim that God guided it in order to produce his end goal of creating humans (theistic evolution).  I'm not going to defend macro-evolution, nor am I going to argue against it, though as a bonus I may say a word about it at the end.  My primary concern here will be with the Genesis account and with universe/earth age.  In what follows, I'm only defending the idea that Christians should prefer the universe and earth age estimates of modern science  (14 billion and 4.6 billion yrs respectively) to those of Young Earth Creationists (6000-10,000 yrs) for both theological and scientific reasons.  

I've decided that if I want to do the issue justice I can't fit it all into one post.  What I'm going to post is a list of the ten best reasons Christians should opt for an old-age view of the universe both for theological and scientific reasons.  I will break these reasons up into ten different posts, which I will post a few days apart for several weeks.  I'll just add each subsequent point on to the end of this same post, so at the end it will just be one post which will compete for the longest in the history of the internet.  This is a blog, so I won't be posting detailed footnotes or a bibliography.  Where possible, though, I will include links from the great interweb.  If you're really curious, you're more than welcome to ask me about good, non-internet sources and I'll be happy to provide them.

Since I know the theological aspect of this debate takes priority for most Christians, my first six reasons will all be theological, my next three will be scientific, and my final one will be kind of a combination of the two.  It also makes more sense for me to do it in this order because I have no expertise in any scientific field, while I do have at least some in theology.  So with that all said, here are what I believe to be the top ten reasons Christians should not be young-earth creationists.

1. Many great thinkers with high views of scripture who are almost universally respected by modern Christians, denied a literal interpretation of Genesis even before the advent of modern science.

common retort from Creationists on this is that these people are simply accommodating modern science, and are making a mockery of the Bible by doing so. This is simply false. This article from ICR claims that the first mentions in science of an ancient earth are from 1779.  I'm no historian of science, so I'll just take their dates for the present purposes.  If it can be shown that Bible believers denied a literal interpretation of Genesis prior to 1779, it should be considered good evidence against the idea that the only reason to interpret Genesis in this way is to twist it to conform to modern science.

First, what did Jewish thinkers have to say?  Surely they had an extraordinarily high view of the Hebrew Bible in general and the Torah in particular.  One should even say that their view of the Torah was considerably higher than the view of it taken by early Christians.  Well, first let's consider Philo of Alexandria, who was a 1st century Jewish philosopher, and held views similar to those of Augustine a few centuries later. He said, "we must think of God as doing all things simultaneously, remembering that 'all' includes with the commands which he issues the thought behind them.  Six days are mentioned because for the things coming into existence there was need for order." (quoted in Hugh Ross, "A Matter of Days")  Philo even cites other examples from antiquity where writers (Hippocrates and Solon) use sequences of seven as a means to communicate entirety and completeness rather than an exact, literal number of events.

Of course, Philo isn't the only important Jewish thinker to deny that this aspect of Torah should be taken literally. In fact two of the three most important rabbis of the medieval period, Maimonides and Nahmanides, agreed that the narrative should not be read as a literal account (the other being Rashi, who apparently interpreted it exclusively literally).  Maimonides preferred the view that the purpose of the creation story was as cosmology rather than cosmogony (that is an explanation for creation rather than a story about how creation happened).  Nahmanides is often even cited as having drawn Big Bang cosmology from the Hebrew text around 800 years ago.  Based on grammatical differences he noticed between the description of the first day and each subsequent day, he said:

"At the briefest instant following creation, all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small place, no larger than a grain of mustard.  The matter at this time was very thin, so intangible, that it did not have real substance.  It did have, however, a potential to gain substance and form and to become tangible matter.  From the initial concentration of this intangible substance in its minute location, the substance expanded, expanding the universe as it did so.  As the expansion progressed, a change in the substance occurred.  This initially thin, non-corporeal substance took on the tangible aspects of matter as we know it.  From this initial act of creation, from this ethereally thin pseudosubstance, everything that has existed, or will ever exist, was, is, and will be formed." (Ramban [Nahmanides] on Genesis 1 as quoted by Gerald Schroeder in "Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of Harmony Between Modern Science and the Bible")

Again, in case you missed it above - this is from an extraordinarily famous orthodox Jewish rabbi, extrapolating from the grammar of Genesis 1, roughly 800 years ago.  Feel free to read that again.

Incidentally, there were also some rabbis from the Talmud who recognized the grammatical difference in Genesis 1 between the first day (Hebrew literally: "Day one" [yom echad]) and each subsequent day (Hebrew literally: "an x day").  In Genesis Rabbah XII.4, R. Nehemiah claims that all things were created simultaneously on the first day.  He also uses Gen. 2:4 to bolster this claim, since it says, "these are the generations of the heaven and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven." (From Cohen's "Everyman's Talmud")

I'm sure some of you have no interest in Jewish theologians, though, so let's move on to what pre-scientific Christians had to say on the matter.  Let's start with Origen, one of the ante-Nicene church fathers, who lived in the late 2nd to early 3rd centuries. Speaking of the creation days and the God/Adam narrative in the garden, he claimed, “I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”  Similarly, St. Irenaeus, the great 2nd century church father, said that Adam's having died on the same day in which he was born made sense because he lived less than 1000 years and to God "a day is to 1000 years as 1000 years is to a day."  St. Justin agreed in his "Dialogue with Trypho" that the "day" could mean an "epoch."  Clement of Alexandria wrote that he agreed with Philo that the purpose of the seven day week was to establish an order and priority within creation, not to communicate an actual duration of time.  Other fathers like EusebiusSt. Basil, and St. Ambrose all agreed. (Again, Hugh Ross discusses these in more length in "A Matter of Days")

More importantly, though, we move on to St. Augustine who, in the 400's AD, was
committed to the view that God created everything with one creative act.  In "The City of God," Augustine says, "what kind of days these were is extremely difficult, if not impossible for us to conceive."  In his work, "On the Literal Meaning of Genesis," he notes that separating the single creative act into six distinct pieces made no sense for God to have done since God is timeless and all his actions happen at once.  This led him to say, “at least we know that it is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar.”  He even cites St. Paul in defense of his position that the days are allegorical, since Paul points to the fact that the two becoming one flesh should be seen as an allegory for Christ's relationship with the church.  Further, Augustine proposes that it was not God specifically who spoke the words, "let there be light."  Instead he says that since by this time God had already "created the heavens," and heavenly beings were likely considered part of the heavens, God must have used a created being to utter the words (this was part of Augustine's effort to uphold his philosophy of time and God's relationship to it.  If God had uttered the words himself, they would have been said in time and thus "subject to change."  But God's words are unchangeable, so he must have had a heavenly creature do the talking).

Next is probably the most important thinker in Christian history – St. Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th century. In his Summa Theologica  he says:

On the day on which God created the heaven and the earth, He created also every plant of the field, not, indeed, actually, but 'before it sprung up in the earth,' that is, potentially...All things were not distinguished and adorned together, not from a want of power on God's part, as requiring time in which to work, but that due order might be observed in the instituting of the world.”  

He remarked that Augustine's view that all creation was simultaneous is, "more conformed to reason and better adapted to preserve Sacred Scripture from the mockery of infidels," and that Augustine's view, though in the minority, had his preference.

I think, then, that it is quite clear that it did not take some desire to conform theology to meet scientific opinion in order to lead one to a non-literal reading of Genesis.  But anyway, let's move on to the modern world. I've yet to meet a Christian who doesn't possess a healthy respect and even love for C.S. Lewis. We love to quote Lewis and it often seems that any opinion of his is given reverence just shy of scripture. Apparently, though, not when it comes to creation issues.  Lewis certainly would have disagreed with the likes if ICR and AiG in regards to both the nature of creation and the issue's importance among the various Christian doctrines. He makes it clear in  “The Problem of Pain,” “Miracles,” and a number of other works that he has no problem with an ancient universe and doesn't indicate that he sees a problem with it being juxtaposed with his Christian faith. In “The Problem of Pain,” for instance, he says, “the origin of animal suffering could be traced, by earlier generations, to the fall of man – the whole world was infected by the uncreating rebellion of Adam. This is now impossible, for we have good reason to believe that animals existed long before men.” Again in "The Problem of Pain," he says:

"that man physically descended from animals, I have no objection...For centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself...The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man...[I]n the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism...a new kind of consciousness which could say 'I' and 'me,'...which knew God...[and] could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness..."

In “Miracles” when Lewis is discussing our ability to reason and infer certain facts from data, he casually mentions that “all sorts of special trains of inference lead us to more detailed conclusions. We infer evolution from fossils: we infer the existence of our own brains from what we find inside the skulls of other creatures like ourselves in the dissecting room.” So Lewis clearly had no problem with modern science's claims about the age of the universe.

Many of the heroes of Evangelicals like Billy GrahamCarl F.H. HenryFrancis
Schaeffer, G.K. ChestertonB.B. WarfieldBill BrightWalter Kaiser, Chuck ColsonChuck SwindollJames DobsonRavi Zacharias, and R.C. Sproul have all openly admitted that they see no need for a literal interpretation of Genesis. Other Christians - theologians, pastors, and leaders like Alister McGrathBernard RammN.T. WrightJ.I. PackerTim KellerJohn PiperJohn R.W.StottLee StrobelJack HayfordHank HannegraffPat Robertson, and Dinesh D'Souza all agree as well. Almost every Evangelical leader (nevermind Catholic, Orthodox, or mainline protestant, which are even more univocal on this) you can think of (that isn't a member of a creationist ministry or named John MacArthur or Josh McDowell) denies the necessity of interpreting the Genesis days literally (here's a list of a few more). There are many, many that I simply don't have the time to list.  I love theology of all kinds, but the variety I'm most familiar with is philosophical theology.  I will say that while it is possible that a few Christian philosophers believe YEC, I'm not familiar with any of them and they are few and far enough in-between as to say that the community is virtually unanimous in its rejection of YEC.

Am I saying that all the people above are right simply because they all agree? No. I'm saying that the average creationist has read or listened to a sermon by at least one (but probably many) of the above.  They probably even agreed with it and respect whoever it was. With that in mind, I hope it should inspire any creationist reading this to approach points 2-10 with an open mind.


2. The early chapters of Genesis should be interpreted as poetic literature rather than historical narrative.

Why does this matter? When approaching any piece of literature, essential to understanding the text is reading it in the way it was meant by its author to be read. If I pick up “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton and read it an historical narrative, I will not be impressed by how riddled with historical inaccuracy it is (such a park does not, after all, exist). Similarly, if I pick up an historical text like, say, Shirer's “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” and read it as poetry, I'll be disappointed by how emotionally unmoved I remain (not to mention the complete lack of rhyme or meter). All literature needs to read as the genre the author intended. The YEC camp has been quite consistent in its claim that the early chapters of Genesis should be read as history. I believe this is mistaken.  If I am right, then it should be read as poetry.  This would give the reader no need to draw scientific conclusions from the text and would leave allegory as a possible alternative.

Poetic literature has a few defining characteristics, some of which we are all familiar with, such as identifiable stanzas or repetition of words or phrases for emphasis.  Ancient poetry, though, had some more unique defining characteristics, the most common of which is called parallelism, where there is a repetition of phrases, sentences, or paragraphs that give the same meaning but say it in different ways (Proverbs is riddled with this, probably the most famous being “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”). Some creationists have bewilderingly claimed that none of these aspects are present in the narrative of Genesis 1. For instance, James J.S. Johnson, writing for ICR, says:

There is no poetic parallelism anywhere in Genesis 4, with the possible exception of the wicked 'song' of Lamech the polygamist recorded in Genesis 4:23-24. Nor is there any poetic parallelism in Genesis 1, 2, 3, or any other chapter in Genesis. Why? Because Genesis is history. Virtually all of Genesis illustrates what we expect from historical narrative: careful attention to sequenced events (this occurred, then this occurred, then this occurred, etc.), as well as inclusion of time-and-space context information (when such is relevant to the narrative) and a noticeable absence of Hebrew parallelism.”

Well, it's one thing to simply assert this, but a casual look at the text tells you immediately just how false this claim is. How immediately? Well, Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Immediately in v.3 God begins creating...again. Didn't he just create the heavens and the earth in v.1? Why is the next chapter simply a more detailed repetition of v.1 if not serving the purpose of parallelism? Moving on, Genesis 2:4 begins yet a third account of how God created the world. V.5-7 are a complete recounting of everything that had been made in ch.1 (twice). If this doesn't count as parallelism, I don't know what would.

But traditional poetic forms are also present in the narrative. Many works of poetry, both ancient and modern, use the repetition of phrases as a poetic tool. Here are a few examples from other biblical poetry: Psalm 4, repeats the question “How long will you...” back to back. Isaiah 24:16, “I pine away, I pine away...treacherous betray...treacherous betray.” Isaiah 51:9, “awake, awake...awake”. Song of Solomon 1:15, “Behold, how beautiful...behold, how beautiful...” It should be no surprise, then, that Genesis 1 possesses this very characteristic. Each stanza of creation begins with, “and God said, 'Let...” Each stanza of creation ends with “and there was evening and there was morning, the Xth day.”

Verse 27 has the most obvious poetic form of the chapter. “So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”

This verse very clearly demonstrates two distinct poetic tools. First, the repetition is quite apparent with the phrases “God created...he created them...he created them” back-to-back-to-back. The second is a tool called “chiasmus.” Chiasmus is the reversal of the order of words or phrases in parallel literary structures. A couple examples are Psalm 22:9 and Psalm 19:1:

1 “Indeed, you are the one who drew me from the belly;
2 you made me secure on my mother's breasts.
3 I was cast on you from the womb;
4 from the belly of my mother you have been my God.”

1 “The Heavens declare the glory of God;
2 and proclaims his handiwork, the firmament.”

In 22:9 above, notice line 1 has the form of “you” (speaking of God) then “from the belly.” Line 2 has an “on” phrase. This is exactly reversed in the second half of the stanza. Line 3 has an “on” phrase, then line 4 has “from the belly” followed by “you.”

Similarly, in 19:1 line 1 has “The Heavens” followed by “the glory of God.” This is reversed in line 2 by starting with the glory of God, this time called “his handiwork,” then ending with the heaven, this time referred to as “the firmament.”


You get the point. Again, this is a common poetic structure found in the Bible. Now let's look at Genesis 1:27.

1 So God created mankind in His image,
2 in the image of God He created them

Here we have line 1 beginning with “God created” followed by “in His image.” Line 2 then reverses this by beginning with “the image of God,” followed by “He created them.” This is an obvious chiastic structure within Genesis 1.

I think the case for Genesis 1 being poetic in nature, then, is fairly clear. But for a moment, let's suppose it is not, in fact, poetic (after all, the case for ch.2 being poetic is not nearly as strong). I think there can be so much discussion on what genre the creation narrative fits into that a very obvious question can be missed: suppose Genesis 1 is standard historical narrative. Would the YEC interpretation be obviously correct in this case? My answer is no. Many places in ancient near eastern literature (including the Bible) statements are made in historical narratives that are not intended by the author to be interpreted literally. I'll give a couple examples of this, then explain why I think Genesis 1 would qualify as such a narrative even if one does not accept the poetry arguments above.

The book of Joshua is certainly historical narrative. But we see statements that are clearly in the context of historical narrative that are obviously not meant to be interpreted exactly literally. Speaking the destruction of the Canaanites, Joshua 10:40 says:

So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.”

But even within the same book we can see that the literal interpretation of this text is not intended, rather Joshua was speaking in hyperbole. Thus Joshua goes on in 23:7 to warn the Israelites against bowing down to the gods of the Canaanites who still dwell among them. Above it says, “Joshua subdued the whole region,” but in 18:3 Joshua asks, “how long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD...has given you?” How could this question be asked if 10:40 was a literal historical statement?

The same situation can be seen in the story of Israel's destruction of the Amalekites. 1
Sam. 15 tells us that Saul's army completely destroyed the Amalekites (with the exception of king Agag) according to God's command. But 1 Sam. 27:8 shows David doing battle against none other than the Amalekites again. How could this happen if they were made extinct via Saul's genocide?

Should we call the texts claiming obliteration wrong? Are they contradictions? Of course not – remember, the verses showing us they aren't meant literally are from within the same books and written by the same authors from which we get the initial accounts. The author, though writing history, never intended for the statements to be read literally and it was expected that the readers in that day would recognize that this was intentional exaggeration used to convey victory.

So “historical” does not automatically guarantee “literal.” The rest of the data should tell us which way the text is to be read. That “rest of the data” includes both what Aquinas called “special revelation” (that is exegesis of the text itself and other biblical texts) and “general revelation” (that is truths God reveals to us through reason and the senses; science). The next three points will concern special revelation and the final five will concern general revelation.


Scheduled for next week: discussions of translating “yom” in Genesis 1 and antediluvian death.

***I will be adding each successive point on to the end of this same post over the next couple weeks.  Please check back or watch for updates on Facebook for the rest!

11.23.2013

Songs For Thinkers

A number of years ago I posted about a list of the top conservative rock songs of all time and gave some suggestions for new ones that should be on the list.

I recently found a new list over at Faith & Theology that was quite entertaining (if disappointing in spots).  The list was an effort to pick a rock song to represent the thought of 40 philosophers.  Here's a link to the list.  These were my 10 favorites - the ones I think the list gets most right:

Plato - "Cave" by Muse
Epicurus - "Let's Live for Today" by The Grass Roots
Augustine - "Time and Love" by Laura Nyro
Rene Descartes - "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley
Thomas Hobbes - "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses
Gottfried Leibniz - "Wonderful World" by Sam Cooke
George Berkeley - "It's All in My Mind" by George Jones
Ludwig Wittgenstein - "Vienna" by Ultravox
John Rawls - "Long Black Veil" by The Band
Harry Frankfurt - "Rock N' Roll Bullshit" by Against Me

It's hard to find pictures related to this post, so here's a funny comic instead!

Now, I'll admit that some of the others I probably don't get because I'm not familiar with everyone's work.  And some are probably connected by lyrics in the song that I'm unfamiliar with.  But some are just blatantly wrong.  He gave Karl Marx the song "Money" by Pink Floyd.  Preposterous.  Yes, the song talks about a few of the negatives of money, but mostly just talks about what money gets you and its role in modern life...which, of course, Marx hated.  I would have thought "Money" would be a perfect song for someone like Weber, Hayek, or Friedman.  Another horrible selection was "Uncle John's Band" for John Locke.  Seriously?  You just picked that because it has the name "John" in it.  So this is apparently the theme song for everyone in the world named John.  Such a lazy pick.

This list claims to be "rock songs" but a quick glance through makes it pretty clear that "rock" is being defined quite liberally here.  George Jones?  Since when is George Jones "rock"?  Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, the Bee Gees...these are all pretty questionable for the title "rock".  So instead of limiting my list to "rock" I'll limit it to songs in my library.  Here are some I came up with.  Some are new for philosophers not on the list and some are different options for guys that are on there already.  There are a few who aren't technically "philosophers" but they are at least closely related to philosophy and the songs fit, so I included them anyway.

...And another (from xkcd.com)

Parmenides - "One" by Metallica
Karl Marx - "Imagine" by John Lennon
Ayn Rand - "The Trees" by Rush
Ludwig Wittgenstein - "Vicious Circles" by Aaron Lewis
Peter Singer - "Dirty Deeds" by AC/DC
William James - "Because I Got High" by Afroman
Maimonides - "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" by Weird Al Yankovic
Jacques Derrida - "Ramblin' Man" by The Allman Brothers
Clark Pinnock - "Flavor of the Week" by American Hi-Fi
Sun Tzu - "Art of War" by Anberlin
David Lewis - "If I Could Turn Back Time" by Cher
John Locke - "Fight for Your Right" by The Beastie Boys
Richard Dawkins - "Loser" by Beck
Thomas More - "Shangri-La" by Believable Picnic
Aristotle - "Heaven is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle
Gaunilo - "Antisaint" by Chevelle
David Chalmers - "Zombie" by The Cranberries
Bill Joy - "Armageddon It" by Def Leppard
Bertrand Russell - "White Flag" by Dido
Montesquieu - "Dear X (You Don't Own Me)" by Disciple
Voltaire - "Ordinary World" by Duran Duran
Plato - "My Immortal" by Evanescence
John Duns Scotus - "Everybody's Fool" by Evanescence
William of Ockham - "Razor" by The Foo Fighters
J.L. Schellenberg - "Unanswered Prayers" by Garth Brooks
Cornel West - "Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta" by Geto Boys
Thales - "Liquid" by Jars of Clay
Thomas Kuhn - "Jump" by Kris Kross
Edmund Gettier - "Don't Know Much" by Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville
Gorgias - "I Alone" by Live
Nelson Pike - "Fatalist" by Monarch
Blaise Pascal - "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers
Friedrich Nietzsche - "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears
Peter van Inwagen - "Freewill" by Rush
Emmanuel Levinas - "Epiphany" by Staind

Hope you enjoyed!

10.29.2013

A New Problem for Open Theists?

As many of you are well aware, perhaps my favorite theological topics are the problems of divine foreknowledge/providence and human freedom/future contingents, especially as they pertain to free will and God's status as a morally perfect being.  For those of you unfamiliar with these problems, I'm sorry, but I simply lack the time or space here to explicate them.  A good summary can be found here if you're interested.  In the interest of full disclosure, I consider myself to be a Molinist (which I've written about a little before: here), but if I were to be persuaded of its falsehood I'd default Open Theism.  I can't even imagine a world in which Calvinism, Thomism, or any other Augustinian-style view is correct, for many reasons, which I won't go through here.

Lets get to the subject of this blog post.  I've been reading through a book by Thomas Flint called, "Divine Providence: The Molinist Account".  While I was reading a section on the inadequacies of the Open view with respect to prophecy I was hit with what I think may be an original thought.  I'm as skeptical about its originality as you are, don't worry.  I tend to think that truly original thoughts are exceedingly rare and, in any case, when they do occur their occurrence is not in my brain.  That being said, I have at least never heard (nor read) the following thoughts from anyone else.  I wanted to get the thought out in the open while I still remember it and so I may be told by someone reading if (a) the thought isn't actually original or if (b) it's stupid.  And with that, let me set the table for my argument contra Open Theism.

On Open Theism, God lacks complete, definite foreknowledge of the future.  If He had it, our actions would
Even though I'm no Open Theist, I might really want this shirt
not be truly free.  Obviously it would be unjust of God to punish us for actions we had no choice but to perform, and God is just, therefore we must be free and He must lack foreknowledge.  Now, the Christian Open Theist has some work to do to square this view with scripture.  It's easy enough to square the view of free will.  D.A. Carson, for instance, lists no less than nine categories of scriptures that imply significant free will.  Those with a traditional view of providence, however, have pointed out that the Open view of providence is much more difficult to square with scripture.  God, for instance, gives prophecies about how the future will turn out.  The writers of the texts seem to think we should be impressed by this ability of God's to tell us the future.  But the Open Theist views these as more like very well-educated guesses - something I suspect is far less impressive than what the biblical writers had in mind.  I think in general the Open Theists come out behind on these arguments, but I don't find the case to be absolutely slam-dunk.  Anyway, I won't rehash all those arguments here.  I want to add my own.

This can be viewed as an offshoot of the "prophecy doesn't square with Open Theism" argument, but with a philosophical/ethical twist that I think may make it more persuasive than the straight-scripture versions mentioned above.  Here goes:

Throughout scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, warnings are given against falsely prophesying.  Deut. 18 lists the punishment for falsely prophesying as death.  A prophecy's non-fulfillment is listed as a sign that the prophet is false (v.22).  The New Testament, too, is riddled with warnings against false teachers and prophets.  We see Paul cursing one and the false prophet subsequently being blinded.  Jesus calls them "evildoers".  I'm not going to turn this into a Bible study on false prophecy because I think the following facts will be generally accepted by all parties involved: (a) the Bible is univocal in speaking ill of false prophets; (b) prophesying about an event that does not come to pass qualifies one as a false prophet; (c) some sort of punishment of false prophets is prescribed to those who recognize the false prophet; (d) false prophecy is seen as a morally wrong action (i.e. one is sinning when one is falsely prophesying).

Ok, now back to the Open response to the issue of prophecy.  Richard Rice, in his discussion of the biblical issues surrounding Open Theism in the book, "The Openness of God," gives three ways the Openist may interpret prophecy in order to to make it compatible.  (1) "A prophecy may express God's intention to do something in the future irrespective of creaturely decision." (2) "A prophecy may...express God's knowledge that something will happen because the necessary conditions for it have been fulfilled and nothing could conceivably prevent it." (3) "A prophecy may...express what God intends to do if certain conditions obtain."  
It is prophecies of the first type above that concern me.  True, God may intend to take one action or another irrespective of creaturely decision, but what creatures will be doing, where, when, and why will all be guesswork for God when planning his future actions.  It seems to me that it would be very difficult for God to plan such things so far ahead of time if the creatures are free with respect to their actions between the time the prophecy is made and when God performs his prophesied act.  William Hasker, a renowned Open Theist himself, admits there is guesswork involved when he says that these types of prophecy are judgments based on current trends and tendencies.  In fact, many Open Theists would eschew the picture painted by Rice of a God who would NEVER give a false prophecy because they view God as a risk-taker (John Sanders even wrote a book called, "The God Who Risks") and see this as a positive trait in Him.  For there to be no possibility of false prophecy would fly in the face of the idea of a risk-taking God.

So I think the honest Open Theist will admit of at least the possibility of a divinely-generated false prophecy (in the case of a probabilistic prophecy where the probabilities don't work out).  And here's where the problem comes in.  Say God gives a person a prophecy.  One would say, certainly with the example of Jonah in mind, that the person given the prophecy has a serious moral responsibility to let the words from God be heard (lest she disobey and end up eaten by a fish).  Further suppose this prophecy was a "risk" on God's part (a prophecy of the 1st variety above - made on the basis of high probabilities, trends, and tendencies).  Perhaps this prophecy comes to pass at a 99% rate for God.  What if this time is the 1%?  Certainly God cannot condemn her for falsely prophesying, so she cannot be said to have done anything morally wrong.

However, those who heard her are commanded to pass judgment on her.  They are commanded to test what she said and declare her a false prophet if the prophecy did not come to pass.  If she lived in the BCE time period, her punishment would be death.  CE?  Who knows...people will scowl at her?  Perhaps she'll be excommunicated, depending on the church.  I suppose in some eras CE she may have been put to death as well.  At the very least she will be perceived by others as having sinned (and rightfully so, since they are commanded to test her on this).  This result, I think can be seen as an evil - something that is actually bad.  After all, she will undoubtedly feel hurt emotionally by the scowls (not to mention the possible death).  She will begin to doubt her sensitivity to the voice of God and believe that perhaps she made it up.  Her relationship with God and her church will likely suffer.  Who's to blame for this pain/evil?  The prophet?  Surely not - she did exactly as God commanded.  The church who condemned her?  Surely not - they did exactly as scripture commanded.  The only party left to blame is God.

By conceiving of prophecy in a way that would have God giving probabilistic prophecies to people who are at risk of being judged a false prophet, Open Theists have put God in a position to be blamed for evils experienced by true prophets who will inevitably be judged false in this inevitable scenario described above.  Of course, making God the "author of evil" is one of the horrors Open Theists are trying to escape by claiming His lack of foreknowledge.  I think the only escape available is for the Open Theist to claim that no probabilistic prophecies actually exist and all are of either the (2) or (3) variety above.  This, of course, will be much harder to square with scripture given how many prophecies either (a) predict so far ahead that there's no possible way all the necessary conditions could already be met, or (b) don't seem to have any conditional elements to them.

I'm interested to hear if anyone has heard an argument similar to this presented anywhere.  Do you think it's good at all?  I'm sure it could be refined quite a lot, but I'm not going to take too much time doing that.  I think the point is clear enough.  As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!  Thanks for reading.

8.23.2013

New Year's Resolution (in August)

I know it's far too early to be thinking about New Year's resolutions, but in this case I'm going to need all the time I can get.  I've decided to compile a list of the 50 most important thinkers in Christian theology of the 20th century and read one of each of their books by December 31, 2014.  I thought about going with 100, but that's just not realistic.  I'm not really sure if even 50 is realistic, but it's worth a shot.



The challenge, of course, is coming up with a good, accurate list that represents a variety of genres within the world of Christian thought.  Here are my criteria for making the list:


  • With the exception of Heschel (because Judaism is close enough), the thinker must write specifically about Christian theology or philosophy.  There are plenty of great Christian thinkers out there in the fields of psychology or physics or genetics or archaeology or English or a million others.  I don't really care about those fields and don't have much desire to read about them within the context of this project.  I also don't want a bunch of pastoral and Christian self-help stuff either.  I want great works of theology here.
  • The thinker must be extraordinarily influential within his or her field.  In some sense, the contours of Christian thought need to have changed as a result of whoever makes this list.  Someone may have been brilliant and perhaps hugely influential to me or you as individuals, but that's not enough to make the list.  They must have been influential on a very broad scale within their fields.


Initially I wanted to make this a list of exclusively orthodox Christian thinkers, but I've changed my mind. There are certain gigantic figures that simply, if left off the list, would have made it deficient.  Those of you familiar with theology will notice that my list is probably unreasonably heavy on the mid-late 20th century. This is largely because of three reasons.  First, there was just more Christian scholarship in the back half of the 20th century.  Second, I'm young, and am thus more influenced by and familiar with late 20th century thinkers.  Third, I include more Christian philosophers than most people would in a list of Christian theologians.  Distinctively Christian philosophy didn't really take off (again) until the late 60s and early 70s, so obviously the philosophy additions to the list will tend to be more from the later parts of the century.

Ok, so here is my 50.  This is my first edition of the list and it is subject to change.  I'm not sure yet if I'm going to rank them in the final version.  The reason I'm posting this on my blog is that I'd love some help.  I'm sure that I'll forget some extremely important people, so if you can think of someone who needs to be on the list, please let me know.

Barth, Karl
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich
Bruce, F.F.
Brueggemann, Walter
Brunner, Emil
Bultmann, Rudolf
Carson, D.A.**
Cone, James H.
Craig, William Lane
Crossan, John Dominic
Dunn, James D.G.
Fee, Gordon
Gutierrez, Gustavo
Hartshorne, Charles***
Hauerwas, Stanley
Hays, Richard B.
Henry, Carl F.H.
Heschel, Abraham Joshua
Hick, John
James, William
Kung, Hans
Lewis, C.S.
MacIntyre, Alasdair
Moltmann, Jurgen
Niebuhr, H. Richard
Niebuhr, Reinhold
Pannenberg, Wolfhart
Pinnock, Clark
Plantinga, Alvin
Rahner, Karl*
Ramm, Bernard
Robinson, J.A.T.
Ruether, Rosemary
Sanders, E.P.
Schaeffer, Francis
Schweitzer, Albert
Stott, John R.W.
Swinburne, Richard
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre
Tillich, Paul
Torrance, T. F.
Van Inwagen, Peter
Van Til, Cornelius
Volf, Miroslav
Von Rad, Gerhard
Weil, Simone
Wojtyla, Karol Jozef (Pope John Paul II)
Wolterstorff, Nicholas
Wright, N.T.
Yoder, John Howard

Again, this is a very preliminary list.  Pretty much just the ones that came to mind.  I'd really appreciate some help from some of you out there who are fellow lovers of theology.  I'd be happy to change a few of these if I have a good alternative, but obviously a few are quite immovable.

On a related note: if Vegas were to put odds on my completing this task on time, what would they be?  As of right now (and not including the rest of today in my total), I'd have to finish one book every 9.88 days.  Crap.  This isn't going to happen.  Ok - 25 by the end of 2014 and 50 by the end of 2015.  That gives me 17.18 days per book.  Much more realistic.  The good news is that I have already read a number of these authors, so that makes it much more realistic.

Here are some areas in which I recognize this list is probably deficient: Old Testament theology, narrative theology, feminist theology (and female theologians in general - Marilyn McCord Adams narrowly missed the list in favor of some more classic theologians).  There may be others.  Please help!  I'd like as high-quality a list as possible as I embark on this theological journey than which none greater can be conceived.

*Karl Rahner replaced Alister McGrath - thanks to Derek Pierson for catching this startling omission.
**D.A. Carson replaced William P. Alston - again, Derek Pierson reminded me - I planned on putting Carson on, then he just slipped my mind when I actually created the list.
***Charles Hartshorne replaced Meredith Kline - O.T. studies is already well-represented between Brueggemann, Von Rad, and Heschel, and there aren't any other process theologians on here.  Again, thanks be to Derek for the suggestion.

8.17.2013

Debunking the Debunkers: Zombies

This is going to be a new topic for the blog, but I thought it'd be fun to switch things up from the philosophy and theology I've been boring everyone with lately.  Before I get to the real meat of this post, though, I thought I'd share a fun fantasy football fact with you all (and I do hope you appreciate my professional use of alliteration there and below).  A couple years ago I started a new tradition with my fantasy teams: I name them after philosophers.  Not just any philosophers - philosophers I like.  Philosophers I like having various dastardly or dominant traits (exactly what one wants from his fantasy team).  Team names used thus far:

Ascendant Anselmians
Terrible Thomists
Ravaging Rawlsians
Marauding Molinists
Plundering Plantingians (Only in an ESPN league - Yahoo won't allow enough characters)
Loutish Lockeans

A friend of mine took Platonic Pulverizers, which would have been an excellent addition to the collection.  Feel free to pass on suggestions for future years.  The only requirement is, of course, alliteration between the quality and the thinker.  Well, that and that I actually like the thinker.  I will not be a Deriding Derridian or a Nefarious Nietzchean.

But on to the real purpose of this post.  Some of you may know that a number of years ago a few friends of mine and I had a blog about zombie survival.  Now defunct, it was fairly popular at the time.  It was even linked to by Kirk Hammett of Metallica, which helped the traffic flow immensely.  Anyway, some of the things we liked to do was pretend that (a) zombies were/are a real possibility and (b) we were scientific in our approach to zombies.  This led us to the strategy of picking fights with other zombie survival sites and blogs that were inferior.  We'd post about what they had to say and tell everyone why they were idiots and why they should pay attention to us over them.  

All of this led one poor soul from the U.K. to send me an email explaining why I was an idiot for thinking zombies do or could ever exist.  He, of course, gave his credentials as a med student to bolster his claims.  The ordeal was simultaneously hilarious and annoying.  Hilarious because this guy took himself so seriously that he felt the need to give me a resume to debunk something that needed no debunking.  Annoying because this a-hole accused me of actually believing what I was saying.  So, naturally, I felt the need to post his email on the blog, list his email address, and invite any and all readers to email him a piece of their minds.  All good fun.

Anyway, the blog has been inactive for a number of years now, but I read an article today that reminded me of this little kerfuffle: 7 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Outbreak Would Fail (Quickly).  Seriously?  Who does this?  Is there anyone out there who really believes a zombie outbreak is possible?  

Here's the thing: the article's not even that good.  In reading it I got that same feeling of annoyance that I did with the fellow from the U.K.  The obstinate part of my soul welled up and I knew I needed to debunk this debunker.  I will go through each of the seven "scientific reasons" and explain why one's hope for the zombie apocalypse should not be deferred by said reasons.

Objection 1: They have too many natural predators.  Some large (dogs, bears, lions, etc.), most small (insects, bacteria, etc.).

Response: In zombie movies and literature three things typically happen to the large predators.  (a)
They are eaten immediately by the zombies (because zombies travel in hordes and are quite strong, it's difficult for the predator to attack one without being attacked.  See also: water buffalo).  (b) They die from the disease they contract by attacking zombies.  Some diseases out there are transferable between species, so this seems plausible (see also: AIDS).  (c) The predators choose not to attack because they know they will become diseased and die (see also: poisonous tree frogs).

Onto small predators.  The simplest solution to this is just to say that since zombism is caused by a virus, it's reasonable to expect that the virus could and would attack and kill the bacteria causing the rapid decay discussed in the article.  As for the insects, they would probably suffer the same fate as the large predators - be eaten or become sick and die.

But here's the biggest point: it's actually possible that the insects would work contrary to the article's claim.  Take mosquitos for example.  They may not attack anyway, given the lack of live blood and blood flow...so maybe take them or another insect.  If they attack and aren't killed by the disease, the odds are actually pretty good that we could have a malaria-type situation on our hands where insects eat the diseased blood, then carry the disease to other, healthy humans, and thus help spread the disease.  Objection 1 sufficiently debunked.

Objection 2: They can't take the heat.  Heat causes one of two things to happen to corpses: they explode or they mumify - either way the apocalypse is over before it starts.

Response: First, this is a bit misleading.  The explosion is not really a violent enough explosion to expect the brain to become damaged.  Since zombie lore makes the claim that it's the brain that keeps the corpse animated (somehow), there's no reason to expect such an explosion from bloating to kill a zombie.  Since they're portrayed often as surviving with guts hanging out (and after having suffered massive bloating), this is a pretty weak objection.

The mummification objection is much better.  Still doesn't work, but it's much better.  Here's the thing with mummification: even under perfect conditions (certain organs removed, salts added to make the process happen properly, dry, hot climate) mummification takes about 70 days.  A 70 day period during which a corpse can wreak havoc is more than enough time to make an apocalypse a possibility.  First, during these 70 days the zombies presumably will be making new zombies, thus essentially starting the 70 day clock over for each new zombie.  Say a zombie infects someone on day 50.  That's 120 days.  Say that one infects someone on day 60.  That's a half a year.  Even if you think they'll be so solid by day 50 or 60, that they'll be too frozen, then drop the figure to 40 and multiply by a couple million times.  I think it's fairly clear that humanity will be more or less extinct before they are saved by mummification.

Objection 3: They can't handle the cold.  Zombies are dead, so they will freeze solid in the cold.

Response: The vast majority of the world's population lives in warm climates, so this objection will be largely irrelevant.  Have a gander at this little visual aid:


How much of that circle is in a warm or relatively warm climate?  Roughly 90%.  And as you can see in this next image, the northernmost parts of that circle are not the most dense (the circle had to be made that large to fit both western India and southern Indonesia - not to include Mongolia/southern Siberia).

But have a look at this second map.  Notice how many people live in more or less temperate climates.  Not too cold, not too hot.  Most of the North and South American and virtually all of Europe.

Max Brooks actually makes a great point about the "cold" issue in World War Z (the book).  A lot of people tried to use the cold to their advantage, as this objection would suggest they should.  What happened?  Millions of people had the same idea, they quickly ran out of food and began starving to death.  The population was then thinned out by surviving humans rather than zombies, but the effect remained the same.  I think this scenario was one of the most plausible original thoughts Brooks had in the book.

Objection 4: Biting is a terrible way to spread a disease.  Traveling by air, sex, and fleas is a much better plan for a virus.

Response: Hey wait a minute...did you say fleas?  Like the black plague?  Yes...oh, and in objection 1 didn't you say insects would be a big threat to zombies?  You did?  Ok.  Thanks for that.

Here's some news: when fleas pass along a disease they do it by biting.  Ditto mosquitos.  It's only an inefficient way to spread a disease if the ability to bite the uninfected is in some way inhibited.  So insects are an option here for slow, Romero-style zombies.  Also, more recent versions of zombies have taken this objection seriously and created fast zombies.  The Dawn of the Dead (remake), World War Z (movie), Warm Bodies, 28 Days Later - these all utilize fast zombies.  

The amazing thing in each is that each dramatically OVER-estimates people's ability to shoot accurately (especially where a head shot is required - so, in all except the 28 Days/Weeks Later movies).  This is not just a bold statement - this is the sober truth: if zombies were to exist and they were fast, humanity would have almost no chance of survival.  What most people know of shooting comes from the movies, and the movies are wrong.  The vast majority of shots miss and head shots at running targets will run less than a 1% success rate, especially when multiple assailants are involved (as would obviously be the case with a zombie horde).  Even when shooting at humans, the majority of shots are not fatal, so to expect that to change when head shots are required is pretty far-fetched.  For fast zombies, then, biting just may be the single MOST efficient way of spreading a disease.

Objection 5: They can't heal from day to day damage.  With all their clumsiness they will be toothless, limbless, and all their bones will be broken.

Response:  So?  Aren't they that already in the movies?  It only takes one tooth to bite.  People can still walk around with broken bones.  One doesn't need a limb to bite.  So long as their brains remain in tact the zombies would still be a threat, just slightly minimized with increasing body damage.  But how long would it take for all, or even the majority, of zombies out there to get serious enough damage that they're no longer a threat?  I'm willing to bet it'd take longer than the food and water supply in your house will last.  What do you think?  Honestly - how long could you survive with what you have at home?  The article suggests you watch all the seasons of "24" back to back and by the time you're done you'll be safe.  Poppycock.  In movies, for the most part zombies know not to walk off buildings unless they're chasing someone.  There's not a lot of reasons for them to break bones walking around as slowly and methodically as they do.  I just don't see why anyone thought this would be a persuasive objection.

Objection 6: The landscape is full of zombie-proof barriers.  Mountains, high-rises, bridges, rivers, canyons, etc. spell the doom of zombies by making them easy targets for shooters and causing vast injuries.

Response: First, the author, David Dietle, is clearly not very familiar with the fact that zombies traditionally have been able to survive water (Brooks suggests that the Solanum [the name of the virus] somehow protects them from the corrosive effects of the water), so falling into a river or lake is nothing more than a softer landing than concrete to a zombie - certainly not a death sentence.

But the most glaring problem with this objection is precisely that it would require the would-be survivors to use these natural barriers as hold-outs.  Dietle writes, "In cities, people would likely congregate in the upper levels of high-rise buildings, where the invasion can be held at bay with simple security doors. Also, the streets themselves would keep the undead corralled in straight, easy-to-aim-down lines where they could be picked off by snipers, or just bored office-workers waiting out the quarantine by dropping office supplies onto the undead from the top floors."

Yes, he actually uses this picture as an example.  I don't know about you, but I'm not super crazy about the prospect of living on this rock for weeks on end.

Where to begin!?!  First, if there are enough zombies below to drop stuff on them to kill them, then the outbreak has been going for a while now and would appear to be quite successful.  Second, how much ammo do these snipers have?  How many "snipers" are there?  Say there's a thousand zombie horde running (or staggering) toward you at, say, 300 yards.  How many head shots would a sniper have to deliver to remain safe and at what rate?  We're talking a few hundred consecutive Lee-Harvey-Oswald-speed head shots while having to stop to reload.  The plausibility factor is lacking in this "scientific" reason to think the apocalypse couldn't happen.  There just aren't enough snipers in the world to take advantage of this situation on any regular basis.  Those of us who actually shoot guns know how dramatically implausible it is to think that non-professional marksmen could be counted on to provide this many consistently accurate shots or to even think that we'd have anywhere near the ammo supplies needed for such a task.

Lastly on this: how are the people "congregate[d] in the upper levels of high-rise buildings" going to survive for even a week?  How many of us have worked in a high-rise?  I have.  I can guarantee you one thing - there are not enough food and water supplies up there to last a day with that many people.  You better be damn sure this outbreak isn't going to last, because if it does you are out of luck, my friend, if you thought a high-rise was a great idea.

Objection 7: Weapons and the people who use them.  There are 14 million hunters in the U.S.  An armed force the size of L.A.  The apocalypse would end before it started.  Also the military.

Response: How many of these hunters actually live in L.A.?  Or Chicago?  Or D.C.?  Most nations have far stricter gun laws than the U.S., so how many hunters are there in Tokyo?  Or Beijing?  Or Mexico City?  Or Paris?  51% of the world's population lives in cities where gun owners are few and far between.  In the U.S. it's 79%.  The gun owners that exist in places like L.A. or Chicago are largely unskilled and/or unable to shoot anything at long-range (because the gun owned is a pistol).  How are all the gun owners/hunters in Montana and Nebraska going to help those poor souls in New York City and Boston?  This objection is unfathomably stupid.  Just have a look at this handy little map showing gun ownership percentages in the U.S.


So Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, the Dakotas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and West Virginia will be fine.  This represents roughly no one when we consider where the majority of the population is located.  If you live in NYC, L.A. San Diego, New Jersey, Baltimore, San Francisco, Honolulu, Chicago, D.C. Boston, or Miami you're positively screwed.

Dietle goes on to suggest that the military and police could handle it.  .50-cals, air support, and MOABs should do the trick.  Yes, because a MOAB is likely an option that will be used on Boston BEFORE things have gotten completely out of control.  These sorts of measures would not even be considered if the zombie apocalypse had not already proven itself a major threat to humanity's existence.  By then it would likely be too late.  Shooting a zombie with a .50-cal isn't much better than shooting one with a .30 cal.  It's actually probably not as good (far less accurate when firing automatic with a .50 from a helicopter than one round at a time with a rest with a hunting rifle).  Combine that with the fact that at any given time about 170,000 active duty troops are deployed worldwide, making it difficult to deploy them immediately against a zombie threat, and this job will be left to the National Guard.  No offense to the National Guard, but they aren't the Marines.  Many of the active duty troops here at home are non-fighting troops, at least for purposes of the zombie battle.  For instance, the Navy won't help much in inner-city Chicago.  Ditto the Coast Guard.  The Air Force can only do so much until the civilian population is entirely overrun and the battle is already being lost (in which case, obviously, the outbreak is/was possible).  You see my point.  Just the mere fact that military assets exist says nothing about their ability to wage and win a war against zombies, especially in the early stages prior to the population having been completely overrun.

Further, the U.S. has one of the most sophisticated and capable military forces in the world.  What happens in other countries that can barely defend themselves from themselves?  What happens in Egypt, where there's already upheaval or in Japan, where there is no standing military?  At the very best, this objection solves for the zombie outbreak in highly advanced nations with extremely capable militaries.  That is to say that it does nothing for the vast majority of the world.

Well, that should do it.  My long-awaited foray back into the world of zombie writing.  Hope you all enjoyed it and, as always, comments are appreciated.