Tough Questions Answered

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  • Which Came First, Polygamy or Monogamy? Part 1

    Posted By on October 1, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    polygamy Which Came First, Polygamy or Monogamy? Part 1According to William Tucker, in his book Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human Which Came First, Polygamy or Monogamy? Part 1, human beings were hunter-gatherers for thousands of years before settling down in larger population groups and becoming agricultural societies around 10,000 years ago.

    Over the last couple hundred years, as anthropologists have discovered and studied ancient hunter-gatherer people-groups that still exist today, the evidence is over-whelming: they are monogamous. Tucker writes:

    As explorers pushed farther into the forgotten corners of the world, however, they discovered a few remaining tribes that were still practicing hunting-and-gathering— the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, the Pygmies of Central Africa, the Aborigines of Australia. This led to an astonishing revelation. All turned out to be monogamous!

    The monogamy of hunter-gatherers leads to an amazing egalitarian ethic among their groups. Tucker quotes Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson:

    In general , hunter-gatherer people evince some of the most delightful and admirable ethics found anywhere. They may possess only a few rough and worn objects and little food beyond what is about to be eaten, but whatever one individual has is usually shared. People cooperate, and they promote cooperation. When one man tries to make himself better than his fellows, he is scorned, so that no one can become the “big man” or a petty tyrant over others. Hunter-gatherer societies are capable, anthropologists agree, of an “extreme political and sexual egalitarianism.”

    So how did polygamy arise among human populations?

    Apparently, it was the invention of agriculture and the accumulation of property and permanent wealth that had caused primitive agriculturalists to take up polygamy, as wealthier men began to acquire more women. By the 1930s, European anthropologists such as A. R. Radcliffe-Brown were arguing that polygamy was in fact a backsliding, arriving only after hunter-gatherer norms had broken down. With the loss of communal hunting, male members could now be excluded from the tribe without great consequence.

    When wealthier men no longer needed to collaborate and cooperate with less wealthy men, they started taking more women. Polygamy was the result.

    In part 2, we will take a more in-depth look at what caused the demise of the hunter-gatherers and why the practice of monogamy came under attack.

    Why Monogamy?

    Posted By on September 29, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt

     Why Monogamy? Why Monogamy?
    My friend, Wes, has again recommended to me a great book which I just finished. The book is called Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human Why Monogamy? and is written by William Tucker. Here is Tucker explaining what he is going to tackle in the book:

    The premise from which we will work is simple. Human monogamy— the pair-bonding of couples within the framework of a larger social group— is not entirely a natural institution. This is attested by the observation that 95 percent of all species are polygamous. Where monogamy has been adopted in nature, it usually involves pair-bonded couples living in isolation in a challenging environment.

    Birds pair off within a larger group, which is why in matters of romance we often feel more affinity with them than we do with our fellow mammals; while 90 percent of bird species are monogamous, 97 percent of mammal species are polygamous and individual pair-bonds are almost unknown. Only the beaver and a few others practice monogamy.

    Monogamy, then, is not the rule in the natural world, but is the exception. So why was monogamy ever adopted by human beings when most of the animal world is polygamous? Tucker explains that

    in almost all species, males spend most of their time fighting among themselves for access to females. The unique social contract of monogamy— a male for every female , a female for every male— lowers the temperature of sexual competition and frees its members to work together in cooperation. It is at this juncture that human societies— even human civilizations— are born.

    Tucker spends much of his time in the book defending the hypothesis that monogamous human societies experience greater peace and less violence than polygamous societies. He notes, however, that there is an ever-present danger that monogamy will vanish.

    Unfortunately, monogamy does not sustain itself “naturally.” It requires rules —rules that must be continuously enforced by the members practicing it. Moreover, the benefits of monogamy are not distributed equally. There are clear winners and losers, and there will always be pressure against the system from individuals who are dissatisfied with it. Yet any society that responds too enthusiastically to these grievances or decides that the system is no longer worth defending will find itself slipping back into an older social order where male competition is far more intense and the peace of civilization is difficult to maintain.

    Why is it that monogamy fosters peace while polygamy fosters violence?

    All this can be illustrated with some simple arithmetic. In any animal or human population, there will always be approximately the same number of males and females. When it comes to mating, then, there should be a male for every female and a female for every male . Without the restrictions of monogamy, however, the more powerful males will collect multiple females, leaving the lowest status males with none.

    When this happens in nature, the unattached males usually wander off alone to lives that are “nasty , brutish, and short,” or else congregate in a “bachelor herd” where they engage in endless status competitions until one or more emerge as strong challengers to the reigning alpha males. A titanic battle then ensues and if the challenger wins he takes over the “pride,”“pod,” or “harem” of females (there is a name in almost every species). He becomes the new alpha and gets to sire progeny.

    So the results of polygamy are that lower status males will be unable to mate because the females have all been claimed by the higher status males. What happens if monogamy is practiced?

    Monogamy presents a different picture altogether. If every male is guaranteed a mate, then the losers are high-status males. Their breeding opportunities are curtailed. The winners are lower-status males, who are no longer thrust into exile but are given the opportunity to mate.

    There are winners and losers on the female side as well. The winners are high-status females who now have exclusive access to a high-status male instead of having to share him with other females. This is particularly important if the male is a provider. A high-status female who can lay exclusive claim to the efforts of a high-status male provider tremendously increases her chances of raising successful offspring.

    At the same time, the fortunes of low-status females are severely constricted by monogamy. They no longer have access to high-status males, either genetically or provisionally, but must be contented with the resources of an inferior, low-status male.

    These same lessons can be applied to human civilizations, argues Tucker.

    Although all this may seem transparent, its application to the workings of societies both contemporary and historic produces remarkable insights. First of all, it poses the question, how did monogamy ever evolve if high-status males are the biggest losers? After all, it is usually high-status males that dominate a social group and set the rules.

    Second, it explains why the predominant pattern in many former civilizations—that of Ancient Egypt or Imperial China, for instance— was polygamy at the top while monogamy prevailed among the common people. The rulers of most ancient civilizations were unabashed in taking multiple wives and consorts— even whole harems. In a few instances— the Ottoman Empire, for example— this stark inequality became so pronounced that the society became basically dysfunctional. On a smaller scale, the same pattern holds in Islamic societies today.

    The important point is this. Although monogamy is manifestly a more equitable and successful way to organize a society, it is always under siege and forever fragile. It requires rules that must be upheld by its members. If a society becomes lax or indifferent about upholding its norms, the advantages will quickly unravel— as we are plainly witnessing in the America of today.

    Tucker continues, in his book, to provide loads of evidence and argumentation about the pros of monogamy and the cons of polygamy, as illustrated by a variety of human societies, large and small. In future blog posts, I will dig out some of the key arguments and evidence from the book. Stay tuned.

    Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 2

    Posted By on September 26, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    c11583ce18977fb3a4ad0b8edbd2537b Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 2In part 1, we started looking at how we misread Jer 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” In part 2, we pick up with the second way we misread this verse.

    What is the second way we misread Jer 29:11?

    Herein lies the second way Western readers misread the passage: we unconsciously turn the us into me. We understand the object of the sentence, you, to mean “each one of you individually.” We then read Jeremiah 29:11 as, “I know the plans I have for you, Brandon.”

    But remember that Israel was a collectivist culture. They understood the object of the sentence, you, to mean “my people, Israel, as a whole.” If God meant each Israelite individually, then the promise is nonsense before the words are fully out of God’s mouth.

    We must teach every new student that the “plans to prosper you” involved the killing and enslavement of thousands of individual Israelites (2 Kings 24-25), who might dispute the promise “not to harm you.” Moreover, Jeremiah 29:4-7 indicates that God’s blessing extended to Israel’s enemies, the nations in which the Israelites were living as exiles.

    Yet through all this, God prospered Israel. He didn’t spare them from exile. He prospered them in spite of their condition of exile. Certainly many individuals languished without prospering, without the prospect of a bright future. Enslavement and suffering were their plight. The promise may not apply to me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to us.

    Given the context, it’s clear that Jeremiah is not promising each individual Israelite that they would not suffer. He is promising something different. What is the third mistake?

    Third, we Westerners tend to microwave this verse. That is, we fast-forward the outcome. God does indeed prosper his people. About seventy years later, they are returned to the land with blessing.

    Most Western Christians who quote this verse would not be happy to acknowledge that the plans God has for his people may not be clear for two generations. Worse, the two intervening generations may endure all manner of hardship. To acknowledge this is to admit that the payoff doesn’t include me and renders the text irrelevant to me. It also offends our sensibility, discussed in a previous chapter, that promises (rules) must apply to everyone equally all the time.

    So how should we apply this verse to our lives today? The authors offer an answer to that question:

    To avoid misapplication, we should determine what the text meant then before we try to apply it to ourselves now. We suggest a better interpretation of Jeremiah 29 runs something like this: even though Israel is in the condition of exile, God will prosper them by prospering those who enslave them (Jer 29:7). Someday he will deliver them from exile, but that will happen well in the future. Until then, Israel is to rest assured that God is at work for their deliverance, even when he does not appear to be.

    The application of this interpretation is broader and profounder than our typical misreading. Remember that the New Testament describes Christians as living in a state of exile. We are “foreigners and exiles” (1 Pet 2:11), members of “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (Jas 1:1), whose “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Like the Israelites in Jeremiah 29, the church is “God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout” the world (1 Pet 1:1).

    A more likely application of Jeremiah 29:11, then, is that God is working to prosper his church. Though at times it appears the church cannot resist its enemies—whether hostile governments or worldviews or the unfaithfulness of its own people—God is committed to making it grow, like the mustard seed. He has promised the total consummation of his church. But until that day, we labor faithfully, knowing that God is working his purposes for his church, of which each of us is a part but not the focus.

    Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 1

    Posted By on September 24, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    c11583ce18977fb3a4ad0b8edbd2537b Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 1One of our favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Unfortunately, we typically wrench this verse totally out of its original context and misapply it to ourselves.

    E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien attempt to set us straight with a careful analysis of this verse and its context. Below is their extended discussion of this verse from their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible Does God Have Plans to Prosper You? Part 1.

    The context of the passage is undisputed. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were on the brink of disaster. The Babylonians were knocking at the door. Death and slavery were best-case scenarios. God had miraculously delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrians about a hundred years earlier: “That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!” (2 Kings 19:35).

    Some self-proclaimed prophets were predicting God would do this sort of thing again. God sent Jeremiah to set the nation straight, to break the bad news. There would be no miraculous rescue this time. Even so, God did add that he had plans to ultimately prosper and not to harm his people. That is usually as far as our students get.

    So what is the problem? Didn’t God have plans that he did indeed accomplish?

    Your authors are 100 percent certain that God had plans and he accomplished them, just as he intended. The passage itself reminds the reader, “Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command” (2 Kings 24:3). But we think that this verse is commonly misread in three ways.

    First, Western readers tend to ignore the context. The city of Jerusalem was captured, looted and burned. The king, Zedekiah, didn’t fare better. “They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7).

    It may be that we ignore the context because it doesn’t apply to us. We noted above that we are prone to ignore passages we consider irrelevant to us. What could be less relevant than the fate of Zedekiah and his sons? Surely we shouldn’t expect a similar fate. The general context of exile, too, seems irrelevant.

    To us, the context of Jeremiah 29:11 feels like little more than a plot detail or filler to highlight the main point, which is a direct promise to us. And this promise is indeed most relevant. For what is it that we want? We want direction: wisdom in choosing a career or finding a spouse or handling an unruly child or an uncooperative colleague.

    I (Randy) bought a house just months before the housing collapse. My wife and I prayed about it. Surely, God has a plan to prosper us and our (underwater) house.

    So the first problem is that we read this verse in isolation instead of in the context of the surrounding passage. As Greg Koukl likes to say, “Never read a Bible verse!” Always read the passages that come before and after, in addition to the single verse you want to read.

    We will look at the second and third ways we misread this verse in part 2. We will also find out how we should apply this verse to our lives today.

    What Was Dividing the Corinthian Church?

    Posted By on September 22, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    51K6jzBQyUL. SY344 BO1,204,203,200  What Was Dividing the Corinthian Church?We’re all familiar with the verses in 1 Cor 1:10-12:

    I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

    Most of us assume that the Corinthians were following particular personalities or dividing over a theological issue. The authors of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible What Was Dividing the Corinthian Church? suggest another possibility.

    Paul begins his first letter to the Corinthians with a plea for unity. “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, . . .” he writes, “that all of you agree with one another . . . and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor 1:10). We might ask ourselves what caused the divisions in Corinth.

    All we know is what Paul tells us: “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Cor 1:12).

    What likely goes without being said for us is that the church was divided either theologically or over devotion to different personalities. These are two common causes of church divisions in the West. We tend to fall out along doctrinal lines or because we are drawn to one charismatic pastor over another. It is possible, though, that the divisions among the churches in Corinth were not theological.

    If not theological, then what?

    We may be failing to note ethnic markers that Paul sprinkled all over the text. Apollos was noted as an Alexandrian (Egyptian) Jew (Acts 18:24). They had their own reputation. Paul notes that Peter is called by his Aramaic name, Cephas, suggesting the group that followed him spoke Aramaic and were thus Palestinian Jews. Paul’s church had Diaspora Jews but also many ethnic Corinthians, who were quite proud of their status as residents of a Roman colony and who enjoyed using Latin. This may explain why Paul doesn’t address any theological differences. There weren’t any. The problem was ethnic division: Aramaic-speaking Jews, Greek-speaking Jews, Romans and Alexandrians.

    To me, this is a fascinating and quite plausible take on 1 Cor 1. Something for the church to consider.

    What Doctrines Are We Asking Mormons to Reconsider?

    Posted By on September 19, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    potw mormons1 What Doctrines Are We Asking Mormons to Reconsider?The editors of the excellent book, New Mormon Challenge, provide a nice summary of what doctrines Christians are asking Mormons to reconsider. There are many areas of commonality between Mormons and Christians, but there are also numerous, important areas of difference. Francis Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen ask for Mormons to focus on some key issues that divide them from Christians at the end of the New Mormon Challenge.

    What, precisely, are we asking the LDS community to consider afresh? Here we can only sketch some of the areas where we believe traditional Mormon theology needs to change in order to better conform to Scripture and reason:

    (1) We believe the doctrine of the eternality of matter is fundamentally incompatible with biblical religion. Ideally, we would like to see the LDS Church embrace the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo. At the very least, we would encourage the LDS Church to consider the possibility that the world was created out of preexisting but not eternal matter.

    (2) We believe that the doctrine of monotheism is essential for any true and religiously valid knowledge of God. We would encourage the LDS Church to reject the notion of an infinite regress of gods as it has been traditionally articulated and to reconsider doctrines that necessitate a form of theological finitism. The monarchotheistic Mormon view is a step in the right direction, but it must be combined with the belief in the contingent nature of the universe. God must be recognized as ontologically unique, not merely as superior in status over all other reality.

    (3) We believe that the doctrine of the literal eternality of human persons is inimical to Christian faith, for central to a biblical worldview is the idea that we are created beings whose existence is contingent on the creative and loving will of our God. If the preexistence of spirits cannot be given up entirely, then we would encourage the LDS Church to consider a weakened form of this notion, in which the human spirit is viewed as preexistent but not as ontologically eternal (except perhaps in the ideal sense of eternal existence in God’s mind).

    Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen continue:

    There are other areas where we would like to see Mormon theology change: the doctrine of the materiality of spirit, the doctrine of divine embodiment, and the LDS form of the doctrine of the Trinity. But the three issues outlined above are absolutely fundamental and nonnegotiable.

    We do not feel that the status of Mormonism in relation to Christianity can ever change unless there is a willingness within the structures of the LDS Church to reconsider those issues. In short, we want our Mormon friends to reconsider the nonnegotiable beliefs of historic Christianity.

    Christians in general—not just evangelicals—confess that there is but one eternal God, who created all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. This One God is revealed in the One Lord Jesus Christ, who became incarnate for our salvation and whose presence is shed abroad among the people of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. It is this Triune God who is the only fitting object of religious devotion. He alone is the Living God, and it is to the praise of his glorious grace that the humble efforts of this book are adoringly offered.

    One could argue whether additional areas should be added to the list, but there is no doubt that the 3 doctrines listed by the editors are certainly bedrock. For Mormons to move in the direction of the historic Christian faith, those 3 areas must be dealt with. I, personally, hope to see this happen.

    Did Paul Think Jesus Is God?

    Posted By on September 17, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    st paul apostle Did Paul Think Jesus Is God?There are many indications in Paul’s writings compiled in the New Testament that Paul thought Jesus was God. Perhaps one of the most famous texts would be Philippians 2:6-11. Referring to Jesus, Paul writes:

    Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    Paul Owen, in the New Mormon Challenge, provides a very helpful commentary on these passages below.

    Perhaps the most striking example of [Paul indicating Jesus' divinity] comes from Philippians 2:6-11, which is widely acknowledged as a Pauline citation of an early Christian hymn. This passage contains some striking statements regarding the divine status of Jesus: he possessed God’s nature (2:6a), and he was equal with God (2:6b) prior to his incarnation (2:7-8). The divine one who became enfleshed was subsequently exalted by God to the highest possible heavenly status (2:9a). God made the name of Jesus equivalent to the divine name YHWH (2:9b).

    What is perhaps most striking, however, is what is found in 2:10-11: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

    This is an astonishing adaptation of one of the clearest monotheistic texts in all the Old Testament—Isaiah 45:22-24: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.”

    In an astonishing exegetical move, Isaiah 45:22-24 has been read to refer to the eschatological vindication of Jesus Christ, when God the Father compels all creation to acknowledge the lordship of the Son. Whereas Isaiah depicted every knee as bowing to Yahweh and every tongue confessing him as LORD, Paul understands this prophecy in terms of the confession and acknowledgment of Jesus’ universal lordship.

    Every earthly and heavenly power will one day acknowledge that Jesus has been exalted to the highest place—which can only mean God’s own heavenly throne—and that the divine name YHWH and Jesus’ name are to be revered as one and the same (Phil 2:9). As Richard Bauckham writes: “The Philippians passage is therefore no unconsidered echo of an Old Testament text, but a claim that it is in the exaltation of Jesus, his identification as YHWH in YHWH’s universal sovereignty, that the unique deity of the God of Israel comes to be acknowledged as such by all creation.

    What we have in Phil 2:6-11 is an early Christian hymn that was being repeated within a short time after Jesus’s death and that was clearly equating Jesus with the God of the Old Testament. Did Paul and the early church think Jesus was God? It seems so.

    Do Biblical Texts Leave Room for the Mormon View of God?

    Posted By on September 15, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    book of mormon Do Biblical Texts Leave Room for the Mormon View of God?Mormon scholars and apologists argue that there is significant ambiguity in the biblical texts when it comes to the nature of God. Because of this ambiguity, Mormon views on the nature of God are at least as likely to be true as non-Mormon views. After all, the Bible, according to Mormon scholars, leaves room for many interpretations of God’s nature.

    Is this true? Is there a lot of confusion among biblical scholars about what the Bible says about God? After a detailed analysis of the Mormon interpretation of numerous biblical texts that touch on the nature of God, Jim W. Adams, in the New Mormon Challenge Do Biblical Texts Leave Room for the Mormon View of God?, draws some interesting conclusions:

    At the beginning of this chapter it was observed that Jews, Christians, and Latter-day Saints claim that their most basic understandings of God, creation, and humanity are rooted in the texts of the Old Testament. Yet curiously, the traditional LDS view is radically different than the view held in common by Jews and Christians. What is to explain this discrepancy?

    Jews and Christians debate among themselves and with each other about many doctrines and over the proper interpretation of many biblical passages, yet there is little dissent when it comes to most of the fundamental issues about the nature of God and the created status of the cosmos and humanity. The great majority of Jews and Christians find themselves in basic agreement about what the Hebrew Bible says on these issues. It would be absurd, then, to attribute the discrepancy to ambiguity in the biblical texts.

    Adams makes an important point. For thousand of years, there was great unanimity on the doctrine of God among Jews and Christians. Then, in the early 1800’s, Mormons turned much of this biblical interpretation upside-down. What happened?

    Stephen E. Robinson states, on behalf of the Latter-day Saints: “We accept the Bible (the LDS use the King James Version) as the inspired word of God—every book, every chapter, every verse of it—as revealed to the apostles and prophets who wrote it.” So far so good.

    But then Robinson adds: “We also hold the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price to be the word of God.” Therein, I believe, lies the source of the discrepancy.

    These other books that the LDS consider as the word of God, along with their interpretations and midrashic expansions of the biblical texts, at many points contradict the view of God, creation, and humanity found in the Old Testament. Even more contradictory are the later teachings of Mormonism’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith.

    Adams concludes:

    In some significant ways the traditional LDS positions hark back to the pagan views of ancient Israel’s Near Eastern neighbors—views that the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists intentionally rejected in light of the revelation they received from the one true and living God. This is an unfortunate conclusion to reach, and one that Latter-day Saints will surely be uncomfortable with. However, it seems unavoidable in light of the evidence. It is hoped that LDS theology will develop further in the direction of the biblical revelation and that one day such a conclusion will not have to be drawn.

    Why Must You Read the Other Side’s Arguments?

    Posted By on September 10, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

     Why Must You Read the Other Sides Arguments?Recently I had some dialogue with a person on the blog, and it became obvious quickly that this person had almost exclusively read material written by one side of a debate. Not only was he not aware of arguments and evidence on the other side, but he was way overconfident in the conclusions he had drawn from his reading.

    While I was attending seminary, the idea that we must read the other side in an argument was drummed into us constantly. One of my seminary professors even told us that he would read atheist writers as devotional material in order to constantly remind himself what atheists think.

    It turns out that there is a good psychological reason to do this as well. Our minds have a strong tendency to jump to conclusions with little evidence. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes this tendency in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow Why Must You Read the Other Sides Arguments?. The first problem is that our minds tend to only offer up ideas that are fresh in our memory.

    An essential design feature of the associative machine is that it represents only activated ideas. Information that is not retrieved (even unconsciously) from memory might as well not exist. System 1 excels at constructing the best possible story that incorporates ideas currently activated, but it does not (cannot) allow for information it does not have.

    Recall from earlier blog posts that System 1 is the part of the human mind that is automatic and unconscious. It is constantly working behind the scenes to support System 2, which is the part of our mind that actually does intense thinking and analysis. Kahneman continues:

    The measure of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story it manages to create. The amount and quality of the data on which the story is based are largely irrelevant. When information is scarce, which is a common occurrence, System 1 operates as a machine for jumping to conclusions.

    Without reading the other side in a debate, System 1 will simply serve up coherent stories from the data it has from one side and jump to conclusions.

    And there also remains a bias favoring the first impression. The combination of a coherence-seeking System 1 with a lazy System 2 implies that System 2 will endorse many intuitive beliefs, which closely reflect the impressions generated by System 1. Of course, System 2 also is capable of a more systematic and careful approach to evidence, and of following a list of boxes that must be checked before making a decision— think of buying a home, when you deliberately seek information that you don’t have. However, System 1 is expected to influence even the more careful decisions. Its input never ceases.

    Because System 2 is lazy (we don’t want to think if we don’t have to), System 1 just keeps on serving up conclusions based on the one-sided evidence it has received. Kahneman offers up an abbreviation for this phenomenon:

    Jumping to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence is so important to an understanding of intuitive thinking , and comes up so often in this book, that I will use a cumbersome abbreviation for it: WYSIATI, which stands for what you see is all there is. System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of the information that gives rise to impressions and intuitions.

    Why are we humans programmed with WYSIATI?

    WYSIATI facilitates the achievement of coherence and of the cognitive ease that causes us to accept a statement as true. It explains why we can think fast, and how we are able to make sense of partial information in a complex world. Much of the time, the coherent story we put together is close enough to reality to support reasonable action.

    However, one of the problems WYSIATI causes is overconfidence.

    As the WYSIATI rule implies, neither the quantity nor the quality of the evidence counts for much in subjective confidence. The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little. We often fail to allow for the possibility that evidence that should be critical to our judgment is missing— what we see is all there is. Furthermore, our associative system tends to settle on a coherent pattern of activation and suppresses doubt and ambiguity.

    This is why we must read the other side. Without doing so, we become overconfident in our views and we actively suppress doubt and ambiguity. One of the great lessons to be learned in life is that we have to learn to be more humble in our viewpoints, and we have to live with less confidence and more ambiguity.  Otherwise, we are simply jumping to conclusions.

    Why Did Paul Tell Women to Cover Their Heads?

    Posted By on September 8, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    headcovering1 Why Did Paul Tell Women to Cover Their Heads?In 1 Cor 11:5-6, the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that a woman should cover her head when praying or prophesying at church assemblies. Some churches today still adhere to this command, but should they? What was the context of Paul’s statement?

    Authors E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien provide a possible answer to this question in their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible Why Did Paul Tell Women to Cover Their Heads?.  They write:

    Paul tells women in Corinth that they must have their head covered when they worship (1 Cor 11:5-6). It is not immediately clear to us what the problem is, so we may assume something went without being said, which is a good instinct.

    So perhaps we assume that a woman’s hair was somehow sexually alluring to ancient people and that therefore a Christian woman needed to cover hers. We may then reason that since hair today is not a sexual turn-on, it is okay for a Christian woman to wear her hair down.

    We are correct that something went without being said, but we are wrong about what that was.

    If Paul was not talking about sexual modesty, what was he talking about?

    Paul is indeed talking about modesty. In our culture, if male ministers are talking about what a Christian woman should be wearing, we are almost always discussing sexual modesty or the lack thereof, so we typically assume that’s what Paul is doing here. We feel affirmed when Paul mentions that it is disgraceful if a woman doesn’t cover her head (1 Cor 11:6).

    Likely, however, Paul was admonishing the hostess of a house church to wear her marriage veil (“cover her head”) because “church” was a public event and because respectable Roman women covered their heads in public. These Corinthian women were treating church like their private dinner parties. These dinners (convivia, or “wine parties”) were known for other immoral activities including dinner “escorts” (1 Cor 6), idol meat (1 Cor 8–10), adultery (1 Cor 10) and drunkenness (1 Cor 11).

    The issue was modesty, but not sexual modesty. These women were co-opting an activity about God for personal benefit. They were treating church as a social club.

    Thus Paul was interested in a broader kind of modesty than sexual modesty. He didn’t want the Corinthian women treating the worship assembly like their private dinner parties, dinner parties that typically went along with being wealthy. Economic modesty at church gatherings was also an important issue for Paul.

    Since covering a woman’s head is no longer a cultural indicator of economic or class status, this command by Paul no longer applies to us (in the 21st century America). However, there are certainly other ways that Christians signal their economic and class status that Paul would equally frown upon today.

    Church is not a place to emphasize class and economic status. It’s not a country club. It’s a place to worship God.

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