Archive for the ‘ Cutting Edge ’ Category

Outsourcing Privacy

In some ways, globalization isn’t a bad thing. One of my favorite experiences thus far in life has been running IRC channels/networks with a global population. On the other hand, the globalization – especially corporatization – of online social life has been a decided negative experience. Having to deal with behemoths like Google, Amazon, and Facebook just to socialize with dispersed family isn’t anything to write home about. The cognitive dissonance of massive corporations whose sole purpose is to surveil you in order to sell the products of that surveillance to advertisers also being the ones who have come to define the meaning of privacy online to an entire generation (and redefine it, for my generation backwards) is truly something to behold. I used to volunteer for an organization which sought to protect the vulnerable from cyberstalking in the earlier days of the internet. These days, the ability to stalk people has grown exponentially – and usually on the backs of platforms which have grown around the express purpose of tracking their users everywhere they go.

How did we get here? The same way we’ve arrived at most of the places we’re currently at, as Western consumers – by way of convenience. One-stop-shopping has been a plague on our habits since it was introduced, and the more it has invaded our social lives, the worse it has become. We’ve centralized everything because it is most convenient. With this centralization has come a relinquishment of control – of myriad aspects of our lives. What else we need to realize, though, is that while these corporations are indeed creepy – they aren’t the real problem. The real problem is us. We are the ones who made them behemoths. We are the ones who sacrificed quality, locality, privacy and personality on the altar of convenience. We have no one to blame but ourselves. Just like the problem came from us, the solution comes from us as well. We have to choose to act differently.

Instead of ordering from a company’s Amazon storefront – order from the company itself. Instead of looking globally for things you need – look locally. It takes more work to find, sometimes, yes – but it also provides more work to people who live near you. I just planted 4 fruit trees in my front yard. I have a paper route, where I deliver a secondhand goods paper to a variety of local businesses. While on that route, I bought the trees from a local feed store, a rake from a hardware store – and since I was delivering papers to a different hardware store at the time, picked up some gravel to fill in holes in my driveway. If you’re going for convenience, go to places that are actually convenient to you. Local places, that are on your way to wherever you are going. On the other hand, sometimes what you need is only available at big box stores – or if you order it. I broke down and went to Home Depot to get some foldable sawhorses yesterday. Where they get you is when you see that they also have red mulch on sale for 5/10$… but I digress 🙂 What I should have done was find a small business that sells foldable sawhorses – but I didn’t think of it at the time – because I’d already looked at all the hardware stores on my route, and none of them sold what I wanted. The other thing I could have done was buy the lumber and make my own sawhorses… but I’ve made a good half dozen sets over the years, and they never last – and they’re a pain to store.

In my Mancave post, I talk about how I’ve shopped local for the building supplies I needed for this project. What I haven’t done as well with is shopping specialty for my equipment. It was so much easier to just make a wishlist on Amazon, populate it, and pick up practically everything for the project from there. I’ve decided that this is the last project I’m doing that way. I’m proud that I’ve been able to support my local businesses (like Jack’s Hardware and Alexander Hardware and Supply) with the building materials, but I really could have done better with the equipment. This is getting a bit afield of the point, though. Where Home Depot is better, marginally, than Amazon, is that they rely (primarily) on having a large stock of items in a central location that you can actually look at and go to. The same thing goes for an Auto Zone, or a Harbor Freight, or other “chain” stores of that magnitude. That is supply chain thinking. Amazon has taken “supply chain thinking” and made it gargantuan – and has mostly eliminated the local option. They are supply chain in the cloud.

With places like Amazon, though, we have outsourced our privacy to gain convenience. Amazon “knows” what we want, and can “suggest” things we might also want by means of number-crunching comparisons to both our purchase history, and that of millions of other people. Facebook and Google do the same thing with our browsing history – and sell the results of that number-crunching to advertisers, to better “target” us. They’re so good at surveilling us that their platforms are also outsourced by government agencies for surveillance tasks. Not only that, they have created “sweetheart deals” with other large corporations to circumvent things like DMCA laws through AI-driven content managers like YouTube’s ContentID. ContentID scans every video uploaded to YouTube, and scans it for copyrighted content. When that content is “flagged” as something a corporation has copyrighted, YouTube forces the uploader to prove that it isn’t copyrighted – to prove a negative. The corporation on whose behalf it was “flagged” is the only court of appeal for that content. Tell me that isn’t backwards! As a church tech/sound guy, I’m in charge of our service recordings. At least two hours of my week, every week, is spent appealing obviously public domain songs that were flagged as copyrighted – because some company, somewhere, has a performance of said song copyrighted. As a result, and after spending some time talking with some others at my church, I’m working on a way to move us off of YouTube – because it has crossed the line into harassment – into cyber-stalking. Big Tech’s relentless drive to know everything about us – the price for using their “free” services – has got us almost convinced that this is normal.

This is not normal. This is not right. I’d much rather go to the expense and trouble of hosting my church’s videos myself, rather than fighting with a Google subsidiary (and her music industry sweethearts) over whether public domain music is actually in the public domain. Outsourcing privacy to Google costs too much. They don’t actually offer privacy – just a fig leaf. The prospect of ads (over which we have no control) during a church service is appalling – and that is the consequence of losing an in-house appeal to a company who has a vested interest(!) in saying that public domain music is not public domain – and there are zero legal consequences for doing so, since Google has circumvented the legal process in place for companies to enforce copyright(s) by using this system. Your privacy has been outsourced in a similar fashion to a variety of companies who have a vested interest in seeing that your private affairs don’t stay private. They have a vested interest in knowing everything about you. Not only that, but they have a vested interest in telling other companies everything they know about you – in fact, that’s their business model. Not only that – but we’ve handed these companies everything about us – because they have told us “we care about your privacy.” They do care – just not in the way we take it to mean. We trust them with our outsourced privacy – and they violate that trust each and every day.

We have nobody to blame but ourselves. Do you want your privacy back? You have to change your behavior. Stop using Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. As far as you can, use less Microsoft & Apple products. If we want the status quo to change, we have to change – because the status quo follows our behavior.

Locality – Virtually

Look, we all have told ourselves to “shop local”. We mean to do it, we really do. We don’t like how massive corporations have taken over practically every facet of our lives. We like the helpfulness of local business owners, and the idea of supporting our friends and neighbors. Then we’re on the lookout for something specialized, and… our local businesses don’t have it. This isn’t specific to small town life, either. Sometimes, we have very specific needs, and nobody even remotely nearby has what we’re looking for. So, where do we go? Amazon.

Why do we go there now? First and foremost, because Amazon has worked very hard to become uniquely ubiquitous. They have rolled a fairly large percentage of their profits, for a great many years, into diversifying – and cornering the market on online shopping. They are a video provider, book publisher, and also provide the hardware to support their various endeavors. They not only have Amazon Prime, but Prime Video, Prime Wardrobe, and Prime Music. They not only have FireTV, but the FireTV stick. They not only have Kindle, but the family of Kindle readers. They have Whole Foods, Twitch, IMdB, Amazon Music, Audible, Goodreads, Kuiper Systems, Alexa, Echo, Ring – their own appstore to compete with Google Play and Apple – and their Basics brand offers cheap(er) knockoffs of just about anything you could want – along with the real thing, of course. They also have their own logistics tail (including Maritime shipping!), warehousing, and of course, their massive online storefront – which has proceeded to incorporate a massive amount of third-party sellers. This doesn’t even count Amazon Web Services, which power a significant portion of the cloud market – about a third of it. In short, they have become ubiquitous – and not in a good way.

Nobody needs a history lesson about how Amazon came to dominate the online market – and thence the brick and mortar market – but it is illustrative of just how much convenience trumps sanity in today’s world. The fact that Amazon keeps buying subsidiaries and capitalizing them isn’t the issue – the issue is that we are the reason Amazon is what it is. They keep steamrolling businesses – large as well as small – because we’ve enabled them to. Whenever we use Amazon because it is easier, we’re giving Amazon business at the expense of local companies – or even other, larger corporations. Now, this isn’t a fault of Amazon – it’s our fault. Don’t get me wrong – it’d be great if other companies invested in infrastructure proportionally – but one business advantage Amazon has is, quite simply, the fact that it doesn’t have to duplicate their logistics tail for each of its subsidiaries. The other is that we have traded convenience and price for control of the markets. It is entirely behavior driven – by our behavior. I confess that I am guilty of this as well.

Amazon does what it does well – practically unexceptionally. That isn’t the problem. That is a feature of the business model they use. Efficiency as the means of cornering the market. Of course they are efficient – and usually cheaper, to boot. The problem is that when they do so, they intentionally drive their competitors into the ground as a feature of their business model. This is free-market capitalism, true – but it only works if we are willing to assist them in so doing. We don’t have to min-max our lives like an MMO raiding guild does with their characters. No matter what the markets say, if we choose to use something a little slower, a little more expensive, and local – we should – because those local businesses are run by people with families, and employ people with families we know. We should, because we want people to work for places other than, well, Amazon – who are famously terrible employers in order to make their business model work. In other words – whenever and wherever you have a choice, choose the option that doesn’t intentionally undercut your friends and neighbors’ ability to do business. If you need hardware, wood, or tools – go to your locally owned and operated hardware store instead of a box store – or Amazon. If you need specialty goods – find a supplier that *isn’t* a box store – or Amazon. It might be someone *else’s* local business – but that’s fine! It might even be a bigger business that caters to that particular specialty – but if it keeps that business from being eaten by the Amazon machine, isn’t that all to the good?

Don’t just shop local, either – live locally. Those ties to small businesses are part of what make communities. The more we live globally, the less ties we have to where we live, and who lives there. It creates an artificial distance between people. It’s fine to have communities where you unite around a common interest – that isn’t the point. The point is that those should be ancillary to communities in your locality. Churches, schools, sports all create local communities within the places where we live. Divorcing our purchasing from those communities drives much of the reasons for living in a particular place, having common interests, and common places of employment into the background – and denudes our lives of an ontology of place. Consumerism can’t provide much in the way of commonalities. Service employers and food service are important, but manufacturing and distribution are also key elements of creating communities that aren’t migratory. If our only choices for employment boil down to which chain of big box, global franchise, or behemoth online megalith we can work for – how much stability and sense of permanence does that offer?

In a similar fashion, outsourcing our communal lives to social media corporations is a bad idea. For the same reason we should stop feeding the Amazon machine so much of our money, we should stop feeding the Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter machines our social lives. Yes, COVID-19 was bad, and the ability to use the ephemeral imitation of society that Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, and Twitch offers was a virtual lifeline – but we mustn’t forget that they are ephemeral imitations – and ephemeral imitations that are only there to provide advertisers with targeted data about us, so that they can more efficiently sell us things. That is the precise and specific purpose for the existence of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, and a host of similar corporate networking and social platforms. They take what you share about yourself – and sell it to advertisers – full stop.

Here’s something else to think about. Do you remember when “cyberstalking” was a big issue? I do. I used to volunteer with a group who addressed cyberstalking (CyberAngels)- especially of women and children. Online privacy was a very big deal for a decade or more. Once all of these big corporate social media companies got into the mix, however – most of that buzz just… disappeared. The big tech empires basically do everything we used to tell people was cyberstalking. They encourage all of the behaviors we discouraged in people’s online habits. Sharing personal information, photos with clear location data, photos of children… practically every single thing we advised that people stop doing – they want you to keep doing – and use their services to do them. They then have the audacity to ask you to trust them.

How the Internet is Supposed to Be

For those of you old enough to remember when there wasn’t an internet – you probably also remember its infancy. Back in BBS days where you had to dial in to someone’s computer, or to a usenet service – then later to providers like AOL, Prodigy, or Compuserve. As the internet grew older, there were always a couple of competing philosophies – whatever the most insistent FOSS advocates remember.

There have always been the decentralized, individualist proponents – and have always been the corporations trying to centralize as much as humanly possible under their brand. AOL was a giant, comparable to Facebook today for the time and then-current userbase. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and its war with Netscape (which was often bundled with dialup giant software!) was a fascinating struggle – comparable to the modern corporate throwdowns today.

It’s no accident that Apple and Microsoft are still players. Their forays into the incipient internet were largely due to the fact that their products ran a sizable portion of the computers that all the corporations vied to capture as customers. The corporate opportunism displayed by Google, Twitter, and Amazon is nothing new. In fact, it seems to be part and parcel of internet history for companies to repeatedly (serially and in parallel) attempt to capture large swathes of the internet. The argument for distributed and decentralized internet is not that corporations shouldn’t do what corporations do – but that the construction of the internet ensures that corporate entities can’t take it over, and definitely not for long – unless we give it to them wholesale.

There might well be a danger, currently, of large corporations “owning” large channels of distribution. However, that danger is largely due to our own complaisance – and complacence. Nobody made us sign everything over to Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon. We did it ourselves. I’ll offer up a reason for this: we’ve become accustomed to handing over large chunks of our lives to big companies for convenience’s sake. We did this in the 90s, the 00s, the 10s, and we continue to do it today. The same thing happens on a smaller scale, with companies like Steam, Epic, Spotify, Adobe, or a host of others like them. Companies always try to get you into their walled gardens. That’s what they do. The cool thing about the internet is that those walled gardens last only as long as we decide to put up with them. AOL, for example, crashed and burned precisely because we were done putting up with their walled garden. Their DSL offerings had nothing to recommend them over other ISPs – and in fact, charged for services they overlaid that other ISPs offered for free. Other companies had similar problems. Where is Yahoo! these days? Compuserve?

Look familiar? It should. Facebook can buy up WhatsApp and Instagram – AOL could buy Time Warner. They’re making the same mistake, and setting up the same sort of walled garden. The CEOs of these bright new internet startups that seem to have taken over the internet are suffering from the same caretaker syndrome that the second generation of CEOs of the original startups suffered – for much the same reasons. Why did AOL crash and burn? They crashed and burned because people realized that they were paying to be manipulated and advertised to. These companies create problems that they try to sell themselves as the solution to.

We’ve never needed them. We all know that. It’s just easier to let someone else do the work, give up a little bit of privacy and control – and “use it for free”. It’s easier to use the all-in-one shop than it is to do the traveling and research things for yourself. The “swiss army knife” operating system is a lot easier to work with than any of the specialty jobs that the Linux community offers. There’s a reason that Ubuntu is the only one of them with any sort of significant market share – and even that is infinitesimal in comparison. Ubuntu can’t do everything that Windows or Apple does – and we’ve become used to the idea that it should. Some of the things that are done by Windows or MacOS aren’t things they should be doing.

That is neither here nor there – just offered as a comparison. There are, I think, three (somewhat) separate issues with the tech giants that need to be addressed. 1) Ease of use/familiarity 2) Ubiquity 3) Privacy. I’ll use Facebook as an example here.

Ease of use

While nobody will call Facebook’s interface truly user friendly, it is easy to use – and easy to seamlessly plug things into. Like any CMS, it is purposely modular, and meant to give the administrators a myriad of ways to plug in content in discrete blocks. This modular design is well-suited to Facebook’s swiss-army-knife philosophy. Grandma both can and does use this platform – and so do her grandkids. Hate it or not, it *is* easy – but no more so than any CMS.

Ubiquity

Again, hate them or not – everyone and their Grandma uses Facebook. Pretty much literally. It is the very definition of ubiquitous. It doesn’t have to be good – it just has to be everywhere. Since it is everywhere, it has what Facebook (the business, remember!) really wants – reams of data, to sell to advertisers – and an absolutely killer market share. They are, by any measure, the largest and most popular social network in the world, with over 2.7 billion users.

Privacy

We’ve grown used to everything happening “in public”. Everything. This was not always the case. Every thing in your life is now fair game for sharing. Our lives are content. We are all part of The Everscroll. Our digital lives are primarily composed of scrolling, endlessly, through other people’s lives. What they choose to share of them. What they – and we – choose to share, though, is practically everything. Why do we do this? We do this because we are incentivized to – through notifications, likes, comments – the entire social media ecosystem hamster wheel. We can talk about dopamine, about habit-forming, about a large number of things – but it all boils down to “they designed it that way, and we’re eating it up just like we eat up tabloids and reality tv.” If you didn’t eat up tabloids and reality tv before – you do now. It just comes in your endless scroll.

The Real Problem, Summarized

I remember what things were like before there was social media. Before Amazon. Before Google. It was a lot like it is now, just without nearly as many people on the internet – and way more glued to their network TVs. Soon after, Cable (and syndicated programming, let’s not forget) blew open the TV biz – and internet streaming has blown it up even more. Since that is true – why did we once again have Netflix owning practically all the streaming content? Well, we didn’t have all the other networks opening their own shops. Now that they have, what do we see now? Streaming everywhere. All the things. Streaming. Constantly. Netflix is still a powerhouse, but it doesn’t own streaming anymore. iTunes owned music content for a while. Not anymore. Why? Competition. Alternatives.

While it’s annoying that streaming is fragmented over a bunch of networks – much of the annoyance is over the fact that we have to choose now. Everyone has streaming. Everyone has platform-exclusive shows or movies. Remember what we said earlier about walled gardens? Companies always try to get you into their walled gardens. That’s what they do. While it is annoying, the fact that there is is competition is a good sign – that the corporations are going to be busy fighting each other like monsters in a Kaiju movie. In the space that leaves for thinking things over – there’s an opportunity for reflection.

What if your choice was not between which corporate behemoths to give all your personal data to – but between telling the corporate behemoths to go take a long walk with their creepy corporate surveillance culture and using community-or-family sized alternatives with a vested interest in your interest? Like I said at the beginning – there have always been two simultaneous internet cultures. Somebody made all the cool alternative stuff you used to think was cool, back before social media. Newgrounds, Strongbad, all those awesome (but mostly stupid) flash games… most of those were made by random dudes and dudettes – and were posted to communities. Those guys that used to host BBSs started making their own websites, and hosting IRC servers, building community forums. The internet of the 90s and 00s was weird – but there were so many quirky things that would get lost in today’s mindless everscroll. Virality is fleeting – and monetizing virality, more fleeting still.

We can do a bit better than IRC servers, a forum, and a website now. Of course, we can still do all of those – and many do. I’m an IRC server admin myself. You’re reading this on my personal website that I’ve maintained since 2003 – using the internet handle that I’ve used since the early-to-mid 90s. This website has changed software at least 4 times, and themes a dozen or more times – but it is just as recognizably “mine” as it was back then. If you want to grasp how identity and privacy should work – that’s a start. Further, the internet itself should work similarly. Your primary identity service should be yours. If anyone wants to know who you are, they should ask your stuff (your personal identity server) – which shares precisely as much as you wish to share, and no more. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not Amazon – and certainly not Google – you. Any “central” datastore about you should be in your hands, and no one else’s. Using other people’s services should be a matter of verification with you of your identity – just like any other identification is – not a carte blanche to share whatever they feel like with whoever they feel like – about you. No service is worth that.

Ubiquity should devolve to how ubiquitous you choose to be, not how promiscuous your social media platform chooses to be with your identity. Ease of use is no excuse for being creepy. Google, Facebook, Amazon and their ilk know too much about us, and we give it all to them by our behavior – because we do too much stuff on their sites. If you want things to change, you have to change. You have to change your behavior, your habits, and where you do things. We all whine about Walmart and Target, and talk about how we should “shop local” – but it is our shopping behavior that drove their competition into the ground – drove our neighbors into the ground, because that is who runs those local businesses competing with the big box stores. Amazon is driving all the specialty box stores into the ground – and all the specialty shops too – unless they bite the bullet and become part of “the ecosystem”.

There is a problem – we’re too centralized. It’s our problem. We created it, we perpetuate it, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves for how much of our lives Big Tech has taken over. Once we recognize that here is a problem, we have to commit to change. Pick one Big Tech company to wean off of – and start moving. There are alternatives for each and every service we have learned to not live without in these all-in-one companies. You can start somewhere.

There are alternatives.

Sometimes, however, you don’t want an alternative.

I’ll be honest with you. There’s nothing else quite like Facebook. That’s not really a bad thing, in my estimation. Facebook shouldn’t be a thing. At least not in sense of the ginormous everything-to-everyone behemoth that it has become. Facebook still has your grandma, or your kids, or your best friend from 4th grade. If you want to move off Facebook, you’re going to have to get together with those people and start making plans on how to continue keeping in contact – and having this same conversation with each of them, to fill the specific needs for your friends & family list. You might need something for birthdays and events. You might need something for groups. You might need some sort of social media hub that you can all keep in contact with. You might need chat. You might need video calling. All of those exist, all can be done – but only at the cost of work, and possibly expense on the part of your group. If you’re already doing that sort of thing, like I am, you probably have the infrastructure for doing a good portion of the above. You probably also have the know-how to help others learn how to manage their own identities, away from Big Tech. If you don’t, and you’re reading this entire article with a bit of alarm about how scathing I am about Big Tech in general, and you trusted these big companies – be aware that I am actually understating how bad the situation is, for the most part. Ask your techie family member or friend about those companies, and see what they tell you. You might be surprised to learn that the only reason they are still on Facebook is because of you – and people like you. Don’t take that the wrong way – it shows they care about you enough to use something they hate – just for you. Let it be a wake-up call for you – all of these companies are using your relationships as fodder for selling information to advertisers – and tracking your every move from the epicenter of your usage of their services. It’s what they do. The reason they exist is to target you as accurately as possible, so that someone can sell you exactly what you want.

That might be convenient – I won’t say it isn’t – but it is also dystopian to an extreme usually seen only in scifi until recently. What price does that sort of convenience actually have? If you want things to change, you have to change. You have to use these companies’ stuff less – and because they have also sucked all of your friends and family into the same black hole’s gravity well that you’re circling, you’ll have to convince them of the same thing. Not only that, but you’ll have to use the same thing(s). Preferably something that isn’t a walled garden just like the one you’re leaving – only not quite as big. How you build your communities is up to you – but build them you must – unless you want some big company to continue doing it for you – and vacuuming everything about you into their big server farms.

You can do it – but you’ll have to give up some familiar things – our goal, though, is to keep the familiar people. I’ll post more about ways to detox from surveillance capitalism and the Big Tech ecosystem next time. In conclusion: The internet has always been corporate and individual – but in structure, it has always been decentralized – no matter how many walled gardens are constructed. Those walled gardens last only as long as we decide to put up with them. Decentralized is how the internet is supposed to be.

Bahnsen and Bare Possibility

Historically, when David Hume and Immanuel Kant exposed the invalidity of the theistic proofs, apologists generally balked at returning to revelation as the basis for their certainty of God’s existence. They elected, rather, to maintain status in the the blinded eyes of the “worldly wise” by attempting to prove Christianity’s credibility by means of arguments that hopefully pointed toward the probability of God’s existence and Scripture’s truth. They settled for a mere presumption (plus pragmatic assurance) in favor of a few salvaged items (i.e., “fundamentals”) from the Christian system. Refusing to presuppose the sovereign God revealed in the Bible as the source of all material or logical possibility, and hence failing effectively to challenge or internally criticize the very feasibility of knowledge, logic, factuality, interpretation, or predication as based on the boasted autonomy of “free-thinkers”, apologists found their defenses razed by those who (likewise) postulated that bare possibility was a principle more ultimate than God. … By appealing to probability, apologists saw Christianity relegated to the museum of of mere religious hypotheses (i.e.. “possibilities”) rather than embraced as the actual truth of God.

~Greg Bahnsen (Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended; ch 1, pg 5)

Enough said. Don’t you think?

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Dear Dr. Caner

I appreciate you taking the time to write your statement earlier today, as well as the irenic spirit you assayed in it. I want you to know that I appreciate that you did so, as a Southern Baptist – and that I do appreciate the work you do, despite our disagreement in many matters.

While I am appreciative, I think it may be useful – for you, and for the brethren, to clarify a few matters.

Item 1): The “motive”, to borrow your own phrase, was not to question your conversion. In fact, your conversion, as far as I know, was never referenced or questioned in the vast majority of the *Christian* articles/blogs that negatively referenced your comments on The Pastor’s Perspective, the discrepancies in your testimonials, or your recollections of life as a Muslim. I, for instance, do not question at all that you were raised Muslim, or that you converted to Christianity. What was rendered suspect was whether you were a *devout* Muslim – especially the discrepancy noted with the Shahada.

Item 2): To most of us, the pronunciation issues were a minor head-scratcher, but nothing more. In fact, one of the team bloggers at AOMin.org – TurretinFan – publicly defended you on those allegations on the most public Christian post leveled at that topic. As you may know, Muslims, Roman Catholics, atheists, and others often tout their conversions from “Protestantism,” and often inflate their level of devotion and knowledge – we call it “conversion story syndrome”. Yusuf Estes, Tim Staples, and Dan Barker are good examples of this tendency. While this may not be the case for you – there were many of the hallmarks of similar cases implied by the discrepancies noted – and it caused concern.

Item 3): You state: “Being called a “liar,” however, is a serious charge, especially when it is made by Christians. That would indicate that (1) the accusers can know the motives of the accused person’s heart, and (2) the accused person intentionally misled people.”

With all due respect, by those standards, no man can ever be called a liar, save by God. Also with due respect, by any objective standard, I would hold forth the following statements: “Calvinists are worse than Muslims” and “Formal debates have been taken over a lot by myopic Reformed guys, uh, they try to turn it into these little, uh, show ponies, it’s like the Jerry Springer Show, basically, and there’s really not any real discussion going on, there’s rolling of eyes, its huffing and passive/aggressive garbage.” Dr. Caner, both of these statements may be your opinion – but they are hardly the truth. Since they are not the truth, what else may we call them? Couple that with your statements on hyper-calvinism, and we can take nothing out of that series of comments but that we are being systematically misrepresented.

I do not offer these criticisms lightly, nor do I offer them glibly. I’m honestly commenting with the intent that it may be evident that I offer them to further your understanding of why you are being criticized by those who hold to Reformed doctrines and a Reformed apologetic method. Above all, we seek to be consistent – theologically, and apologetically. If we do not question the facts presented by those on our side as we do those opposing us, we cannot help but be inconsistent, and rightly criticized by our opponents on that basis. While I understand that you appear to fully belief what you state about Calvinists – understand that what you criticize as “hyper-calvinism” is simple, historic Reformed belief. What is recently called “moderate” Calvinism by folks like Dr. Geisler is nothing like the historic Calvinism of ANY of the Reformed branches.

I am “Reformed” – one of the group you criticized – and I’ve had one moderated debate – whether it was “formal” is debatable, as it was online. Nonetheless, Dr. White, and other Reformed debaters are being classified as engaging in nothing but “passive-aggressive garbage”, “no real discussion”, and “the Jerry Springer Show”. I’m sorry, but I’ve watched a great many debates – and debates like Dr. White’s with Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, or Shabir Ally were anything but “no real discussion”, or “huffing”! I don’t think I was engaging in “eye rolling” or “no real discussion” when I engaged a young atheist man on the topic of “The Triune God of Scripture is the grounds for all knowledge” – as is clearly stated in Col 2:3!

Enough criticism, however. So that you can know that there are areas of agreement – I completely agree with your position concerning the CAMEL method. For nearly identical reasons. I support you 100% in your statement of opposition to it, and thank you for your public statement concerning it’s dangers. I appreciate many things about your ministry, and service, despite our theological differences.

In closing – let me again thank you for your statement, and the attempt to mend a breach. It IS appreciated, despite the criticisms offered above, and I don’t want to detract from that. My earnest desire is that this is taken constructively, and that there might be an honest attempt to mend fences with your Reformed brethren in the SBC and without. You aren’t going to change our mind about the glorious doctrines of God’s sovereign grace – but please be aware – we aren’t questioning your salvation, or your conversion by questioning your consistency. We’re as likely to question one of our own on those grounds as we are anyone else. We do not do so to cast aspersions on their character – but to safeguard the reputation of the God we serve and love – as, I believe, do you, however mistaken we believe you to be concerning what you defend at times.

For your edification, I’d encourage you to look at the following: “Open Letter to Ergun Caner.”

Open Theism and Pacifism?

Molinism advocate and apologist Wes Widner quoted Open Theist Gregory Boyd earlier today, concerning non-violence. The quote was as follows:

Any peace achieved by violence is a peace forever threatened by violence, thus ensuring that the bloody game will be perpetuated.

This is cited (but not in the tweet, for obvious reasons) from Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation, pg 27. (Excerpt of the book linked here) As no context was provided by Wes, I asked him, via Twitter, the same format I saw the quote in.

In the meantime, while waiting his reply, I performed a cursory search of his site. In November, he mentioned that self-defense was, in fact, justified.

Unfortunately, many people completely miss this point and, instead, tend to believe that where the Bible commands us to love our enemies1 and turn the other cheek2 it also forbids us from self-defense or the exercise of justice insofar as we, imperfect though we may be, can exact here on earth.

If so, we have an issue. First, why is he quoting an open heretic? Second, why is he quoting someone who is clearly opposed to his views not only on the issue of Open Theism (or so I’ve gathered, given his adherence to Molinism), but on the subject of the proper role of violence?

I received his reply: “Yes, it was from Boyd’s ‘Myth of a Christian Nation'”.

So: Wes is, indeed doing what I suspected. Citing from an Open Theist, in the context of pacifism, approvingly. However: Wes may have been unaware that Gregory Boyd is an Open Theist, or a pacifist. This goes to show, however, that theology truly does matter. If you’re going to cite an author approvingly, should it not be understood that the author is writing from a certain context? If the context in which the author is quoting is different from your own, should that not be noted?

I understand that he was merely tweeting this comment. What this doesn’t explain is why he would be tweeting this approvingly. Gregory Boyd is a heretic, quite simply. Denying the nature of God is no trivial matter. I won’t belabor that point, as Boyd is very famously the chief proponent of the Open Theology movement. Pacifism is no trivial matter either, however.

Take this article from Gregory Boyd’s blog: Jesus’ Repudiation of Old Testament Violence

A small excerpt, but you can read the rest for yourself.

Is it possible that some divinely inspired material is not supposed to reveal to us what God is like but what he is not like? Is it possible that some material is inspired precisely because God wants us to follow Jesus’ example and repudiate it?

Really? Check the context out, here:

What’s interesting is that Jesus himself repudiated the violence of the Old Testament — despite his belief that this collection of writings was inspired.

Catch that?

Now, how does that resolve itself with the quote from Wes above? Or this, from the same article:

Small wonder, therefore, that when Peter drew his sword in self-defense — acting in accordance with Old Testament norms — Jesus rebuked him.

Now, quite frankly, is this the God that Christians worship? Does this bear any resemblance to Christian theology? I highly suggest, yet with great trepidation on my own part, that we examine those whom we quote with approval.

While I’m not positive as to the nature of what he is approving of in this quote, a read through the section in question leaves me scratching my head. On the next page, there is a discussion of Peter’s debut with the sword, and it states that

“Jesus rebuked the disciple and demonstrated the nature of his unique heavenly kingdom by healing the soldier’s ear (Luke 22:50 – 51), showing that his kingdom would advance not by destroying the enemy who seeks to destroy you, but by loving, serving, and hopefully transforming the enemy who seeks to destroy you.”

On his website, he gives the explanation I posted above – that Peter was acting in self-defense. Now folks, I don’t know about you, but Peter isn’t always the sharpest tack in the drawer. He attacks – (the word used is “strikes”) and cuts the ear off of a servant. First, Peter obviously isn’t all that awesome. Second, he’s obviously not really interested in attacking soldiers or guards. He attacks a slave! (Or, re: 1, he just stinks.) Third, self-defense? What? He attacked.

Boyd’s handling of this passage is poor, in any case. Additionally, I invite you to examine the book and see WHY Boyd says what he says in the approved quote. According to Boyd, Christians are not to involve themselves in politics because that is power “over”, not power “under”. I invite you to examine his exegesis of the texts he handles there, and compare them to The Shack’s discussions of power and the nature of God. (Incidentally, Boyd is very complimentary to the author of The Shack, Paul Young. I recently addressed The Shack, and it’s manifold theological deformities, in the apologetics class I recently taught for my church.)

Wes recently addressed the theological issues with The Shack himself.

One sentence in that article struck me, as it pertains to this issue.

…it is really just another example of how many Christians in America are more willing to embrace the existential, heterodoxical, and (often) heretical views of our present day15 rather than spend the time to study and listen to the orthodox views or fathers, grand fathers, and great grandfathers in the faith handed down throughout the ages.

Is Wes arriving at the conclusion he approves of above in the same context as Boyd is doing so? If so, there is a serious theological problem to be addressed. Was he quoting this author without checking into his background, or the context of the quote? If so, this may be something we all can learn from – the believers in Berea searched the Scriptures to see if these things were so. In the same manner, it behooves us to know those whom we are quoting, to see what context we are quoting. If we fail to do so, we may lead others astray. Most importantly, we must realize that inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument – or a failed worldview. If we can affirm a statement from a context we disagree with, from a viewpoint we cannot affirm as Christians, we are being irresponsible as Christians. We represent our Savior, and as such, we cannot afford to give God’s enemies a reason to mock. In my experience, and in the testimony of Scripture, the greatest slurs to God’s name come from the inconsistencies of His followers. May we show ourselves workmen that do not have to be ashamed!

My humble suggestion to Wes is that he re-examine his own statement above in the light of Dr. Boyd’s open, repeated commitment to various heresies – and to recall that in all parts of life, theology matters.

The Possibility of Middle Knowledge

I’m going to include the transcript of a discussion I had (along with several others) with a Middle Knowledge proponent that frequents AOMin’s chat channel. The reason I do so is in order to give an example of how the argument I advanced recently functions in an actual discussion.

The discussion was fairly wide-ranging, but I think demonstrates the ability of a consistent return to the nature of God as the foundation of a reply to the assertions advanced by proponents of MK and other similar philosophical systems, over against the Biblical conception of God’s nature and the modal collapse I feel this outlook necessitates.

Discussion linked below.
Read the rest of this entry

God is Sovereign over Possibility

God is Sovereign. He ordains all things, whatsoever. He is unconstrained by anything; yet by Him, all things are constrained. God is eternal. He did not begin, He did not end. He is outside of time. God is unchanging. No aspect of God is subject to change. He does not alter in any fashion.

A popular (and approaching universal) conception of possibility entails there being a multiplicity of hypothetical possibilities to be selected from. In the case of God, it is often advanced that God is selecting from amongst multiple possibilities which He has to choose from. My design is to show that such a conception is completely at odds with who God is. First, Scripture.

which He will bring about at the proper time– He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him [be] honor and eternal dominion! Amen. ~1 Tim. 6:15-16

also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will – Eph 1:11

Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; [I am] God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned [it, surely] I will do it. ~ Isaiah 46:9-11

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him [be] the glory forever. Amen. ~Romans 11:33-36

Even from eternity I am He, And there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it? ~Isa 43:13

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, {Too} little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity. ~Micah 5:2

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. ~Rom 1:20

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, {be} honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. ~1Tim 1:17

how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? ~Heb 9:14

{Abraham} planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. ~Gen 21:33

The eternal God is a dwelling place, And underneath are the everlasting arms; And He drove out the enemy from before you, And said, ‘Destroy!’ ~Deu 33:27

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, From everlasting even to everlasting. Then all the people said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD. ~1 Chr 16:36

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, From everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen. ~ Psa 41:13

Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. ~Psa 90:2

Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting. ~Psa 93:2

Trust in the LORD forever, For in GOD the LORD, {we have} an everlasting Rock. ~Isa 26:4

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. ~Isa 40:28

But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, And the nations cannot endure His indignation. ~Jer 10:10

Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct. ~Hab 1:12

Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind. ~1 Sam 15:29

The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek. ~ Psa 110:4

For this the earth shall mourn And the heavens above be dark, Because I have spoken, I have purposed, And I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it. ~ Jer 4:28

For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. ~Mal 3:6

My covenant I will not violate, Nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. ~Psa 89:34

Jesus Christ {is} the same yesterday and today and forever. ~Heb 13:8

Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow ~James 1:17.

for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. ~Rom 11:29

Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark, because I have spoken and will not relent, I have decided and will not turn back. ~Jer 4:28

Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. ~Psa 102:26

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. ~Heb 6:17-18

Note first: This is the consistent view of Scripture. God is Sovereign. God is Eternal. God is immutable. God is also self-sufficient, all-wise, infinite, holy, trinitarian, omniscient, faithful, perfect, loving, self-existent, just, merciful, good, and omnipresent. All of these attributes are interrelated. Therefore, if an imperfect conception of one of God’s attributes is held to, the rest are compromised.

For the concerns of this post, I will concentrate on the first three mentioned, but will refer to all of God’s attributes, to show how the argument I am making violates none of God’s attributes as listed above, while showing how the popular conception of possibility violates many, if not them all.

When we think of God, should we think of God as thinking linearly? Where every one of his thoughts follows a linear progression? To do such a thing requires that God be *changing* – having *new* thoughts. This is unacceptable, when matched against Scripture. So, how must we think of God’s thinking? Well, God is eternal. Would His thoughts not also be eternal? God, being omniscient, knows all things. God, being eternal, knows all things simultaneously. God’s knowledge of all things is also related to His ordination of all things – His sovereign decree. As God decreed all things from before the foundation of the world, He therefore knows all that He has decreed. Does God “know” that which He has not decreed? What content does a hypothetical “something” not decreed by God have? In these other supposed worlds, not decreed by God, what is the content of them? Not-real, not-decreed non-things? Such a concept, when examined, seems quite a bit akin to “God knows something about nothing”

Further, there cannot be possibility apart from God – as He is self-sufficient and self-existent; since He is, He is the only grounds that can exist for any other existence, and the only thing in existence that can provide that grounds, in His self-sufficiency. If God is perfect – and nothing exists (including concepts, I’d argue) that does not have God as it’s Creator, then this concept involves God having well-nigh infinite numbers of imperfect conceptions of His creation! Not “a creation that is imperfect” – but an “imperfect conception of creation” – almost infinite numbers of them!

When we think of God’s thoughts, should we not think of them as eternal thoughts? Do God’s thoughts escape Him? Do they go away? Are they, unlike everything else about Him, NOT from everlasting to everlasting? If God’s thoughts are, therefore, eternal – “as high above as the heavens are above the earth” – do we *really* expect all of these imperfect conceptions, and as *eternally existing* conceptions? If God’s thoughts are eternal, if they are perfect, if they are sovereign, if they are good, if they are holy, if they are immutable; etc, etc. If they are all that, God would think exactly as He intends, without changing, for all eternity, with utter control, about everything He has decreed will take place. In other words – God thinks exactly as He intends to, without error, and without change. He thinks it for eternity, with sovereign control, and with utter holiness. There IS no possibility apart from the ordination and will of the Holy, Eternal, Sovereign, unchanging God.

A possibility apart from God’s control of it is an affront to His sovereignty. A concept which is imperfect has nothing to do with His perfection. It is NOT good. It is NOT holy. Linear thoughts are not the thoughts of an eternal God. A process in which God chooses from all of the “possible worlds” in which men make “free choices” is not loving – as men are fallen, and *cannot choose God,* and neither are they free. It is also absurd.

If God chooses from among “possible worlds” – what makes them possible or impossible?

If it is God – are the ones not chosen “possible” at all? Why use the term?

If it is NOT God – what puts a condition on God? Is God then sovereign? Is He self-sufficient? Is He truly self-existent? These are things I don’t see ways around, from Scripture, and the revelation of God’s nature to us.

If God is sovereign over all things, He is sovereign over possibility, and always perfectly sovereign.
If God is eternal, His thoughts are eternal. They always have existed, always are existing, and always will exist.
If God is immutable, He cannot change His intention, His mind, His conceptions, His determination of possibility.
If God is perfect, neither His thoughts nor His actions can be imperfect, and this can never change.

We could go on and on with combinations of God’s attributes – but we MUST think linearly, as God has created us to do so; so it is hard for us to contemplate all of God’s attributes at once. Impossible, probably. We do not have that capacity. When we attempt it, however, we find it hard to reconcile these ideas. I’d welcome feedback on these things.

In summary, the concept of all possible worlds cannot be compatible with the Scriptural picture God gives us of Himself.

Suggested Reading:
Whate’er My God Ordains: A Biblical Study of God’s Control
Always Ready, Dr. Greg Bahnsen – esp. Chap. 16, Worldviews in Collision
Revisionary Immunity, Bahnsen (1975)
Science, Subjectivity And Scripture, Banhsen (1979)
At War With The Word – The Necessity Of Biblical Antithesis, Bahnsen (1990)
The Problem of Knowing the “Super-Natural”, Bahnsen (1991)

Let’s say you’re trying to compile a program – “Christian Living v1.0”, using the programming language “God’s Word”. You consult many manuals, but you just can’t seem to get it. Every compilation you attempt results in a crash. Every attempt you make at solving it just gets you into bigger and bigger messes.

Well, back to the drawing board, and back to those manuals! The more you read in these manuals, the more you realize that your system just doesn’t meet the requirements for compiling the program! It doesn’t have the right hardware, the right software. Something wrong here, something’s wrong there… and you decide that you just have to buckle down and upgrade your system, before this program will compile.

That analogy breaks down at some point – the user is separate from the software and hardware, after all. Further, we don’t upgrade ourselves. We have to be brought to the manufacturer for this to be accomplished. I think it’s a good illustration of why we can’t expect perfect understanding of Scripture, however. The problem does not lie in the author of Scripture. It does not lie in Scripture itself. The problem lies in us. First, it lies in our nature. We do not think or act correctly about anything. We are sinful, fallen creatures who cannot properly operate in terms of perfection. Second, we cannot, due to that nature, properly understand that which we are required to understand. Third, we cannot act in accordance with it.

In a conversation earlier today, the objection was made that God’s Word lacked sufficient clarity, since men were always arguing over what it meant. Second, the objection was made that if Scripture was sufficiently clear, we would not need teachers in order to properly understand it. My first response was to ask “By what standard do you think it lacks sufficient clarity?” and my second was to ask “By what standard *should* it have sufficient clarity?” He didn’t “get” the attempted push to reveal the worldview presuppositions, so I hit on a mention of “programming languages” that was mentioned. “If, like you say, there are hardware and software constraints for the compilation of programs, why would you think there is any difference when someone is trying to run, or to compile, say, a life requiring hardware/software they do not have?” I then went into Romans 12, and it’s admonition that we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Also, I referenced that humans, in their fallen state, do not have the capability of recognizing the precepts of Scripture apart from the demands of their own nature. For this to be accomplished correctly, there needs to be a change in them.

The objection was then raised that he was talking about Christians. Very well. Even in Christians – are we to be understood as saying that the renewal of sanctification is immediate and total? I cannot think that Scripture would back this up. Our sanctification is progressive. We do not instantly grasp all things, nor should we be expected to. Further, I mentioned, the Spirit, the author of Scripture, indwells believers. The Spirit uses means to accomplish His end of our sanctification. That same Spirit is who apportions the gifts to believers – including that of pastor, and teacher. These gifted men use the entirety of Scripture and bring it to bear on any given passage – teaching us to conform ourselves to it – through his gift of the Spirit, and through the work of the Spirit in us, which confirms the truth of their teaching and renews us accordingly.

We aren’t instantly and completely changed into perfect expositors and exegetes. We are brought along by the Spirit, and the means of grace which He has provided – for, as Scripture says:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Tim 3:16-17

So, in closing – remember. Scripture isn’t unclear. Men “see through a glass darkly”.

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