Thursday, December 30, 2010

Carrier's Christmas Whoosh, Part 2

The Ticker will take the next three days off for the holiday weekend. To close 2010, Tekton ministry associate Nick Peters is addressing one of Richard Carrier’s rather poor parodies of theistic proofs.


To begin with, let's look at what Carrier calls the "Christmasological
Argument." I'm skipping the parody of the ontological argument as I do
not believe that argument works.

Anyway, Carrier frames it like this:

The Christmasological Argument

Either the universe had a beginning or has always existed.
Both science and logic entail the universe had a beginning.
Therefore the universe had a beginning.
Everything that has a beginning has a cause.
Therefore the universe had a cause.
Every cause must be either personal or mechanical.
But every mechanical cause is by definition a part of the universe,
and therefore no mechanical cause can have preceded the universe to
cause it.
Therefore the universe must have had a personal cause.
Santa Claus is a personal cause.
Creating the universe is the greatest gift conceivable.
The greatest gift conceivable can only have been given by the greatest
gift giver conceivable.
Santa Claus is by definition the greatest gift giver conceivable.
Therefore, Santa Claus caused the universe to exist.
Therefore, Santa Claus exists.

For the first eight, I really think Carrier basically has it right.
That is Kalam and fortunately, Carrier has not made the mistake some
atheists do of saying the argument says that everything that exists
has a cause. This is not what we say.

However, Carrier seems to then bring in the ontological argument from
this. Why? That is for his own reasons I'm sure, but there's no
connection I see between them unless Carrier thinks the ontological
argument is necessary to prove the definition of the kind of God that
creates the universe.

Carrier in this argument ends with a personal cause being the cause of
the universe. At this point, I am reminded of how some atheists will
take the arguments for theism and misconstrue them as if they must be
arguments for Christian theism. For instance, Dawkins in "The God
Delusion," (Sold in the humor section of your local bookstore) says
about the first three ways of Aquinas that,

"Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a
terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because
we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator
with any of the properties normally ascribed to God; omnipotence,
omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such
attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins, and reading
innermost thoughts." (Page 101)

Let us go with the first part looking at this. It speaks of conjuring
up a terminator to an infinite regress. Well if we have a terminator
to an infinite regress and it's a personal being, even if a finite
one, then it seems atheism has a problem still. Have we yet got to the
point of proving all that Dawkins says in this? Have we proven that
God is omnipotent, omniscient, etc. by this argument? Not at all. Nor
were we supposed to. (One can tell Dawkins has not read Aquinas
himself as Aquinas spends the rest of the doctrine of God
demonstrating all the attributes that Dawkins says the argument
doesn't show.)

Carrier thinks however he can go to a personal cause and then base
that personal cause on function instead of essence. When Anselm made
the ontological argument, while I agree that it is faulty, he did it
based on nature instead of function. Even if God had not created the
world, Anselm would still say he was the greatest possible being.

For instance, Santa is the greatest gift giver conceivable? Is he
really? How great a gift giver can that be? Suppose I find ten books
under my tree on Christmas morning.That's a good gift giver. I can
conceive of one however who leaves one hundred books under my tree.
Since I did not get one hundred books, then there is a greater gift
giver. However, I can keep upping the number of books to no end.
(Hence, my problem with perfection existing in that which is

If we were using modal logic, which I do not, would Santa be the
greatest gift giver in all possible worlds? What about worlds where
there are no children? What about a world where Santa was the only
rational being that existed. Would he still be the greatest gift giver
if there was no one to give gifts to?

The whole thing sounds absurd and frankly, I think it does because,
well, it is absurd. (See a parallel argument in Stephen Parrish's "God
and Necessity" about the Greatest Possible Bowler.) For me, the
problem with this argument is that it starts with a subjective reality
and thinks it can reach an objective reality from that. Starting with
thought, you will end up in thought. If you want to know about the
real world, you have to take in knowledge of the real world.

Carrier also says the universe is the greatest gift conceivable. I
consider it a great gift, but I would not agree. People in Hell will
have had the gift of the universe for instance. Salvation is the
greatest gift.

While parodies are funny, it is hard to tell if Carrier believes this
really does show the Christian argument to be absurd or not. He can
think it false, and that is one thing, but to think it absurd is
another. For that reason, it is hard for me to even laugh because I
cannot tell if Carrier thinks he understands the arguments or not.

My advice to Christians is to not get caught up in the false premises
of the atheistic arguments, such as Dawkins saying that the arguments
don't prove the attributes of God or Carrier's turning Kalam into the
Ontological argument. The argument is meant to prove what it is meant
to prove. Nothing more and nothing less. I do not believe you can by
general revelation alone get to doctrines like the Trinity or the
forgiveness of sins in Christ. You could even demonstrate historically
that Jesus rose from the dead, but that would not prove theologically
that he did so for our salvation.

We'll look more later on at the other arguments.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December 2010 E-Block

Hey, here’s an idea. When I issue a new E-Block, I’ll do a post telling about the contents. Isn’t that what having a multimedia empire is all about? (Guffaw.)

Anyway, the December 2010 issue was put out yesterday…here’s what we have:

The fourth in what I call the Emergent Gurus series. This time we have a look at a fellow named Doug Pagitt. I’ve never seen anything by him before now, but I didn’t miss much. He’s just like Brian McLaren, but with less documentation. (And McLaren had little enough of that as is.)

A profile of the Quakers. A reader requested a look at this group a while back. Did I find anything unusual? No, not really – nothing you won’t find that’s “out of order” elsewhere in the orthodox church.

Except that they use oatmeal cookies in communion.

No, just kidding there.

A look at A Course in Miracles. This supposedly “dictated” 1000+ page manual was all the rage some years back, and a reader requested a look at it. Substancewise, it could have done with about 995 of those pages and been just as useful. The rest of it might as well have had Eckhart Tolle’s name on it.

The sixth in what I call the Ghosts of End Times Past series, in which we look at past promoters of various end times theories. The subject this time is a fellow name Bob Fraley, whose sees America all over Biblical prophecy, in a most wild way. How wild? Try this: The “deadly wound that had healed” on the head of the beast in Revelation is: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Yep. Wait til you see what the “false prophet” is…

Last: The Christian Inmates Myth. Ever had someone throw at you the claim, “Most of the people in prison are professing Christians”? On this one, I draw on my research and my experience as a former prison employee to dispel that myth. (A reader of the E-Block also wanted to share a similar study he did in his home country of New Zealand; see link below.)

You can subscribe to the E-Block here.

The reader’s study on New Zealand prisons is here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Broken Vector's Christmas Whoosh

I’ve noticed something about critiques of the doctrine of the Trinity, whether they come from Skeptics or from members of other religious groups: Inevitably, they never get the doctrine right and end up critiquing some deviant variation of it.

Case in point. Richard Carrier offered up a satiric Christmas post (note to Carrier: don’t drop your career for one in comedy) in which he offered a number of parodies of various Christian arguments and doctrines. I’m leaving some of those to Nick Peters to deal with, since they’re attempted parodies of theistic proofs, but I’ll tackle the part that is supposed to be (“supposed” being a key word) a parody of the Trinity.

Santa Claus is defined by Scripture (that precious corpus of psalms and tales of His glory) and by natural reason as the Holly Trinity: He is One Being in three persons. He is the Santa Claus incarnate, the red-coated, bearded, fat-bellied jolly Man who becomes flesh every year to dispense His rewards and punishments on all (even the unbelieving--for even if you don't believe in Him, rest assured, He still believes in you). He is also the Christmas Spirit, which enters all our souls this time of year to communicate to us and move us to join in unison in celebrating the love of giving and cheer. And He is the Three Ghosts of Christmas, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Yes, at this point it gets complicated. Nonbelievers insist that that makes two more persons, so really Santa is five persons in one, and they mock us for our irrationality and inability to do basic math. But they are the ignorant ones. For clearly according to Scripture (Christmas Carol 9:21, 18:11, and 24:8) the three Ghosts are really temporally santificated incarnations of one and the same Ghost, and thus they, too, are three persons in One Being, and thus are One, and thus Santa is three persons in One, not five. Obviously.

Say what?

As I said before, Carrier won’t want to drop his academic career for one in comedy – even if he does manage to get a “Jesus didn’t exist” book going, and ends up without a career in academia because of it.

We can lay aside the abuse of Dickens; two of the three Ghosts (Past, Future) were meant to personify Scrooge’s own experiences at Christmas. The Ghost of Christmas Present, in contrast, could be said to personify Father Christmas; but is clearly meant to have a much broader ideological representation (eg, he says he has 1800+ brothers, one for every year, presumably since the time of Jesus) rather than narrowly representing an individual Santa Claus figure.

I also have yet to see any equation of Santa Claus with the “Christmas Spirit.” In any event, I know of no variation of the Trinity (not even a heretical version) that contains five total elements.

Then there’s this bit about “the three Ghosts are really temporally santificated incarnations of one and the same Ghost, and thus they, too, are three persons in One Being, and thus are One, and thus Santa is three persons in One, not five.” I have to wonder if that one was composed while Carrier was enjoying the eggnog a little too intimately. It again resembles no variation on the doctrine of the Trinity that I know of. The orthodox doctrine accepts two temporal incarnations (Word and Spirit). What Carrier offers here comes closest, perhaps, to the modalistic heresy.

Perhaps at this point Carrier would say we’re taking his analogy too seriously. His point, perhaps, is that he finds the doctrine of the Trinity incoherent, which is what his Santa analogy was supposed to express.

Well, perhaps he does find it incoherent, but his lack of comprehension then becomes the real punch line here. It also makes the parody a failure, of course: Weird Al is in no danger from Carrier, that's for sure.

As I point out in the article linked at the end of this post, the doctrine of the Trinity is conceptually no different than ideas held in the same cultural milieu having to do with personified/personal attributes of deities (to use the technical word: hypostases). It’s just not that hard to comprehend. Plato’s logos, the Egyptian Ma’at, and Jewish Wisdom are all cut from the same basic cloth, but I have yet to see any critic of Christianity target Plato with inane parodies in which they mock the alleged incoherence of the logos.

Of course, part of the fault lies in the fact that many Christians don’t even have a grasp of the doctrine either. When one of our “big names” like T. D. Jakes can’t even get it right, we don’t give the world outside a very promising picture. In that sense, I can’t blame many critics for their misinformed critiques, or those like John Loftus who are not well informed, and think Carrier is offering solid gold. (Those with Carrier’s supposed level of education, however, are another matter.)

Bottom line though – it’s all the more an example of why we need more solid teaching and discipleship (see last post on the “Leavers”). At the very least, we ought to be prepared to recognize error when we see it.

Article: here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Leave It to The Leavers

I told you so.

In an article entitled, “How Critical Thinking Saves Faith,” (link below) Nancy Pearcy relates exactly one of the things I have said and believed about ministry to youth in these difficult times. Distilling the report of an item by Drew Dyck in Christianity Today titled “The Leavers,” Pearcy notes:

“…when talking to someone who has left the faith (or is thinking about it), Christians rarely engage the person’s reasons for doubt. Typically they ‘have one of two opposite and equally harmful reactions’: Some ‘freeze in a defensive crouch and fail to engage at all.’ Others ‘go on the offensive, delivering a homespun, judgmental sermon.’” Pearcy relates the stories of two of her students whose parents refused to engage their questions, and who now no longer consider themselves Christans.

A study of teenagers who leave their faith, by Fuller Seminary, decided that “the single most significant factor in whether young people stand firm in their Christian convictions or leave them behind” is “whether students had a safe place to work through their doubts and questions before leaving home.” Inclusive of this is having adults who guide them through challenges to their faith.

In contrast: “Instead of addressing teens’ questions, most church youth groups focus on fun and food. The goal seems to be to create emotional attachment using loud music, silly skits, slapstick games -- and pizza. But the force of sheer emotional experience will not equip teens to address the ideas they will encounter when they leave home and face the world on their own.”

My local ministry partner and I knew all of this long ago. That’s why one of our primary projects is offering what we call “apologetics boot camps” for youth (see link below). These are designed to be the sort of “safe place” youth can ask questions. It’s also why I’m so disparaging of youth pastors and teachers who go the “pizza and fun” route and refuse to even let apologetics into the door.

Pearcy’s article here

Dyck's article here

Information on our “apologetics boot camps” here (Word document)

Thursday, December 23, 2010


A reader asked me to have a look at something I’d rather have not seen: The Wikipedia page on the historicity of the book of Acts.

Yes, of course: It’s a perfect example of why I call Wikipedia, “the abomination that causes misinformation.” Not just because it has outright errors, but because ideology can readily slant any of its pages when someone comes along with a bug in their nostrils.

In this case, it is fairly clear that someone has come along who has been reading all the standard liberal commentators (eg, Haenchen) and thinks they’re gospel. Nearly all of the objections raised are old hat; I’ll put links to answers below, just for the sake of completeness. For that sake as well, I’ll answer here the only one I did find that was new to me (and it is a good one, since it only makes it more clear why I disdain Wikipedia as a source).

Acts 6:9 mentions the Province of Cilicia during a scene allegedly taking place in mid-30s AD. The Roman province by that name had been on hiatus from 27 BC and was re-established by Emperor Vespasian only in 72 AD.

Actually, the word “province” isn’t in the text. If anyone errs here, it is translations like the NIV for inserting the word “province”. Here “Cilicia” would more likely have a more informal designation used by those who lived in the region; they hardly would simply give up the name just because the provincial designation had been put on hiatus (something the average peasant probably might not have known or even cared had happened until 72 AD!). Indeed, the very fact that the province was reinstituted with the same name shows that it stuck in people’s minds all that time.

At any rate, back to Wikipedia. In a few cases it is clear that some folks have tried to add in answers to some of these objections. For example, regarding Acts 4:4, it gives an objection about Jerusalem’s population, which is then answered. In other cases what we have may as well not even be there. As of this writing, a section titled “Acts 24: Paul’s Trial” has nothing under it but:

Paul's trial in Acts 24 has been described as 'incoherently presented'.

And that’s it. Why anyone would think this would warrant a section of its own is hard to say. It also doesn’t belong under the section name, “Passages of alleged historical inaccuracy,” as coherence of presentation isn’t even a “historical accuracy” issue.

In any event, all we have is a sound bite culled from a single scholarly work dated to 1963 (without, as Wikipedia notes, even a page number offered!). I looked up that work, which is available online, and the questions presented by the scholar to allegedly demonstrate incoherence amount to questions of inscrutable personal motivation (eg, “Why did Paul not wait for a decision instead of appealing to Caesar?”) that do not logically demand a verdict of historical inaccuracy. (The answer to that question, by the way, is that Paul likely anticipated an unfavorable verdict – or else that he sought some sort of honorable vindication from the Emperor’s court.)

It doesn’t get much better after that. Someone else later got the bug of the darkness at the crucifixion in their nostrils, and, though the article is about the reliability of Acts, inserted a complaint about the allegedly unreliability of Luke, in reporting that darkness. Gibbon’s stale objections are specifically resurrected for this purpose.

There’s a lot that would need to be done to bring this Wikipedia entry up to any sort of reputable standard. As it stands, it is a hodgepodge of random objections, mostly poorly formulated, few given any sort of adequate treatment, some added on to with answers, some of those good and some not so good…and so on. In other words, it is just what we would expect from a page that is authored by everybody and assigned responsibility by nobody. And this is just one page out of millions Wikipedia has running.

How long would it take to fix this mess, on just this one page? I could pop in there with plenty of material, taking a few hours to do so – only to find it erased next week. Or to find some fundy atheist has added some new and outdated objections which I would then have to fix. And so on. I could start a whole new ministry dedicated to fixing Wikipedia.

It is sorely tempting for me to try an experiment with Wikipedia as an object lesson, much like the one performed by Shane Fitzgerald (see link below). I have access to all sorts of obscure databases listing all sorts of obscure books, most of which are not readily available anywhere. It would hardly be difficult at all to find some obscure title on some important topic, post some reputed “fact” about it on Wikipedia, and cite that obscure book as a source. Who would be the wiser? Skeptics everywhere got away with listing the fabricated Pope Leo X quote, and some even added a reference to Encyclopedia Britannica to substantiate it. How hard would it be to fool Wiki’s mostly average-Joe volunteer editors the same way?

Not hard at all. I could easily out-Fitzgerald Fitzgerald on that score. And that’s something to think about.

The Ticker will now take some time off for the holidays…here are those links in close. A Merry Christmas to all, and to all…a Wikipedia-less night. (story on Shane Fitzgerald)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lessons from a Mattress

I’ve done a lot of work lately on how the so-called “Dumbest Generation” regards the Internet as the end-all resource. For today’s entry, we’ve been given permission to share a reader’s experiences that reflect exactly why the Dumbest Generation is misplacing their faith in that regard. Our reader says:


I remember when my wife was pregnant this time last year, the topic of SIDS came into one of our nightly discussions. We were, of course, interested in causes as well as prevention, but it was nothing I had ever thought about or worried about. However, my wife was worried over the topic and a worried pregnant woman quickly becomes a crying one. So I was curious to do some quick research on the topic. (I'm sure you'll spot the sarcasm but this is honestly something we did together.)

Well, according to Google, 99% (NOT an exaggeration) of the search results confirmed it - the #1 cause of SIDS, of course, is the chemicals used in most mattresses. They leach harmful toxins that the baby breathes, and eventually the baby dies. It was clear my wife and I needed to order an organic mattress (from the same websites!) to avoid SIDS. One guy actually had a theory related to dreams and sleep, but otherwise it was conclusive. Saddened after thinking about the $80 we already spent on a mattress, I didn't know what to do. Skeptical, I turned to Wikipedia - the most objective source available on any topic. I didn't want to have to buy another mattress! Certainly they could offer me some other arguments of scientific merit.

Reading Wikipedia, I was glad to know there were at least multiple theories on the matter. Although I was still depressed, as I learned that, at best, people disagree on the theories and no particular theory has really been accepted. So to be safe, we needed to order that organic mattress.

Of course, the reality, as my wife and I knew, was that there is one piece of the puzzle missing from Internet searches - the results of medical journals and scientific studies. Not a single internet site offered any information of this nature because, as REAL "intelligent" people know, when you spend loads of money through experiments to figure things out, it helps to publish your results and get money back from your hard work. And published material is often also protected (copyrighted) or at least not indexed through Google. I thought of this because I remember learning to use a library in my high school years to access medical journals. My wife realized it, too, because she is a medical professional with a PhD. Of course, it probably isn't something heavily researched either because, as much worry as young women put into it, SIDS only happens to like 2 % of newborns within the first 2 months.

The most important point to take from this: Things like medical journals, which are expensive to produce, are not found on the Internet. No one wants to give away their hard-earned research for free. Yet journals and such are also often the best place to find depth, cutting edge research. If the Dumbest Generation succeeds, then, as Keen reflects in Cult of the Amateur, academic journals may end up slowly dying out, as fewer and fewer people support them and turn to them for answers.

Our reader, by the way, reports that their baby is almost 7 months old now, and still sleeping on their "hazardous" $80 Serta mattress!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bevesluis on Desire

For today's entry I once more pass the pen to Tekton ministry associate Nick Peters, who has written a critique on John Beversluis' analysis of Lewis' argument from desire. An important caveat is that Nick's critique is directed towards Beversluis' arguments as presented in his time as a Christian (that is, Beversluis') when he wrote the first edition of C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion.

At a later date we'll look at what changes, if any, Beversluis made when he addressed the claims as an atheist, writing for Prometheus Press. It should make for an interesting comparison. For now, here's Nick....


Beversluis has started off with a distinction between God in a more general theistic idea in the thought of Lewis and the specifically Christian God as well. (Pages 5-6) For instance, an argument like the Kalam Cosmological Argument can demonstrate the existence of a deity. Whether this is the god of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or maybe even some unknown god we don’t know, that cannot be established by Kalam. A valid Kalam does not prove that God is a Trinity or that Muhammad is a prophet. General theistic arguments however can be used by any of the three Abrahamic faiths easily.

To know that the Christian God is the true God cannot be a matter that is established by reason alone. The great Christian thinker Thomas Aquinas agreed stating in Question 1, Article 1 of the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologica that:

It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: "The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee" (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation.

Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man's whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.

What Aquinas is saying is that supposing we did not have special revelation, few of us would get to the truth about God and even then, it would be only truths that could be discovered by reason alone. How hard would it be? Just picture this: How many thinkers can reach the level of someone like Aristotle? That’s how hard. Aquinas does not deny that much can be known via general revelation, but it takes special revelation to know God is the Christian God.

Why do I bring this up? Because Beversluis makes this mistake when he critiques the argument from desire. What is this argument? It is not saying “I want there to be a God, therefore there is a God.” That would be an argument that would be foolish and one Lewis would condemn immediately. The argument from desire goes much deeper.

I want you to imagine a time you have been truly incredibly happy in your emotional state and yet, it was at a time you knew you were lacking something. However, this emotion did not cause you pain. Even though it was unfulfilled, you would love to have that feeling again that you did have. These moments are few and far between for most of us and when we get them, we seek them again only to find we cannot catch them. They seem to jump up on us unaware.

Lewis sees this as a natural desire that we have and probably his best proponent of this is the modern philosopher Peter Kreeft who wrote the book “Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing.” An MP3 and written version of the argument from desire can be found at Kreeft’s web site. (Interestingly, in the audio, he refers to Beversluis’s book as the worst biography he has ever read of C.S. Lewis.)

For instance, on page 18 of Beversluis, he makes the point that Lewis says that since we all have hunger as a natural desire, it demonstrates that we all have food. Beversluis says that this is not so, but I wonder upon what grounds he could say this. Kreeft would ask us to imagine such things as a world of creatures with stomachs and no food or a colony of ants with several Romeos and no Juliets. Even as I try to picture them, the concepts are just bizarre.

Lewis also realizes that for each natural desire that we have, there is a fulfillment of this desire. If we desire food, well there is food. If we desire sleep, then there is rest. If we have thirst, there is drink. We have sexual desire and there is sex. What if I have all these natural desires fulfilled except for one? Could there be a fulfillment for that one?

I believe Beversluis confuses this with an artificial desire such as fear in a graveyard meaning there is something there. The problem is that we are not all born with fears of graveyards nor do all have a fear of death necessarily. A Christian also would not say that fear is natural to man, but rather a result of fallen man for a fallen man would have lived in relationship with God and trust with him.

Beversluis also wants us to wonder how Lewis could know that every natural desire has an object and thus joy has one? The way is quite simple and as Kreeft points out, a first semester logic student could point it out. Ask yourself this question. Barring the return of Christ, do you know that you are doing to die someday? Do you know that all around you are going to die someday? How?

You have not done any scientific tests to prove this, but you have great evidence. Every human before you has died and you are a human, therefore you rightly believe that you will die. (Unless you think for some reason you will be the next one like Enoch or Elijah) This is inductive reasoning. It is perfectly valid to believe this desire has fulfillment because all others do.

Beversluis asks however why Lewis would be so scared to come to God if God was the object of his desire? At this point, I do not believe that it is Beversluis’s theology that is the problem so much as his psychology. Is he going to tell me that he has never wanted something that he has been at the same time frightened of?

All Beversluis needs to do is talk to most any married man about the day of his wedding. I know I barely got any sleep the night before. I was looking forward to what my life would be like, but at the same time, I was also very frightened because of all the inadequacies I saw in myself and still see. Indeed, this is where we get the joke about cold feet coming from.

There is no contradiction in desiring something and being afraid of it at the same time. Most of us can easily think of situations in our lives where that happened. It could be marriage or taking on a new job or moving to a new city or maybe some purely fun endeavor such as skydiving or bungee jumping.

Beversluis wonders why if this is the God of Christianity, why do so many really not will Him? I would answer and I’m sure Lewis would agree, that they do, but they don’t know it. God is goodness, but that is not all that He is. He is justice as well. He is a God who punishes sin. He is a God who is so good He refuses to leave us as we are.

Lewis makes the point in other works such as The Weight of Glory that we are far too easily pleased. The trouble is not that our desires are too strong, but that they are too weak. They are so weak that we settle and we fail to look past them to see what the reality is behind them.

Lewis asks us to imagine a boy who is very young and thinks the greatest thing on Earth is candy. His older brother tells him that sex is a far greater joy. The boy asks if you have candy during sex. The older brother cannot begin to explain that lovers caught in this moment of pleasure do not think of candy because they have something much more enjoyable on their mind. The boy however has the idea of the ultimate good as candy and cannot think of how something can be good that does not include that. For many in our culture of course, sex would be that ultimate good. (In a sense, they are partially right however. See my article on “A Theology of sex” here.)

The reason we do not will God completely is that our wills are too weak. Those of us who are Christians know this to some extent as we constantly chase after things at times we know won’t satisfy and end up not giving God the time that he deserves. We can have our minds easily distracted in a church service. (Of course, it could be the fault of several churches for giving us shallow teaching)

The only reason however anyone can will anything is that they think it is good.

This does not just have to be moral goodness. Imagine for instance waking up in the middle of the night and you wonder if you should get up and go to the bathroom or not. That will be based on one of two ideas. You either think you must relieve yourself lest you not be able to concentrate on anything else, or maybe you can hold it in so as not to risk waking the person you’re sleeping with.

If you’re at the grocery store and you see two items for sale, you can choose to get one of them and if you choose one, you are choosing it because you believe it is a greater good to choose that one. If you do not believe me on this, then I ask you to just watch yourself for the next few days and ask when you make a decision “Why am I doing this?” and see if there is not a good you believe you are pursuing.

Now you might ask “But Nick, what about the holocaust or rapists or murderers?” Each of these are also pursuing something. It is a perceived good. I believe Hitler wanted to perfect the human race. That is a good goal. He just had a bad way of doing it. A rapist can want pleasure and/or power. Neither of those are bad things. He’s just choosing a wicked way. A murderer can want justice. Justice is not bad. He just needs to realize he doesn’t determine who gets it and who doesn’t.

The trouble with wanting some goods in the wrong way is we can want them in an immoderate amount or want them on the wrong terms. Wanting pleasure is good but hedonism that treats pleasure as the highest good is not good. There is no wrong in wanting sex, but wanting sex outside the bounds of matrimony is not good.

So is it true that some people are really running from God? Yes. Why? Because they do not see Him as He is. They believe God wants to keep them from their fun, which are the lesser goods. This is not the case however. God is not anti-pleasure. The joy of the things we enjoy such as food, drink, friendship, beauty, sex, etc. should demonstrate this to us. Any parent should know this as well. The reason you don’t give a child everything he wants is not because you want him to be miserable but you want him to have true happiness.

This is a contrast that all Christians know of. Francis Thompson had it well in “The Hound of Heaven.” One runs in fear from the hound not really realizing that the hound does not wish to harm but to help. That might mean he needs to cut, but that cut will heal. One can think of the man with the lizard on his shoulder in The Great Divorce with the angelic being asking “Can I kill it?” and when finally done, the lizard ends up becoming a beautiful horse.

Beversluis makes it a point that Lewis was a theist before he was a Christian. Yes. He had not found his fulfillment yet. I do not believe we know much about his theistic beliefs prior to becoming a Christian, but we know he found what he was seeking in God. Yes. Beversluis is right that Lewis was a reluctant convert, but then we can think to how many young men are scared before their wedding and see that the two actually go together.

In closing, let us look at one more point. Why do we desire God? Because God is the greatest good that there is. He does not just possess goodness. He is goodness. God is the exemplar cause of goodness in other things. All other goodness is based on his goodness in other words. Nothing else could be good unless there was a God who was goodness first.

The good is that which is desirable for its own sake. That is something found in the object. It is not an idea we impress on it as if having an idea in our minds alone could ever give us a knowledge of reality. Consider the parallel with beauty. I have heard many an atheist say that when you say the sunset is beautiful, you are saying something about how you feel about the sunset. If only they could find one person like that. For me, when I hear someone telling me a sunset is beautiful, they are not describing an emotional state they throw on the sunset, but they think they are describing it itself. (See Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man.”) Just tell the atheist “I am fascinated that you are admitting there is no beauty in your wife but that that is an idea you are throwing on to her” and see how long his subjectivism lasts.

What all desire is really perfection. They desire the best of the best and that is found in God who cannot improve in His being in any way. He is desired, yes. However, like many great desires, He is also feared. Both are essential.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Aresko Factor

My debates lately with a YouTube Skeptic of the ”fundy atheist” variety included one on this statement from Gal. 1:10:

For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

The word “please” is aresko. The Skeptic had charged Paul with inconsistency on this point, supposing that he had had Timothy circumcised in Acts to “please” the Jews in Lystra and Derbe. My response, following Witherington, was that aresko has connotations of what we would call “bootlicking” or “sucking up” – and that Paul here was indicating that he was not arguing the way some poor rhetoriticians did, who rather than persuading people with arguments, used flattery.

The Skeptic responded rather poorly, of course, though he did have the presence of mind to look up aresko in a concordance and ask if that was what it also meant in other passages. YouTube’s 500 character limit doesn’t really give a chance to discuss this sort of thing adequately, so this is offered as a supplement in which we look at all uses of aresko in the NT (only 19 times in 16 verses, and many will be covered with the same explanation) to see how this bears out.

The caveats here are threefold though.

First, we have to keep in mind that in ancient languages, a few thousand words had to do the job that more than a million do in English. To simply equate aresko wholesale in every verse with the modern practice that we call “bootlicking” with all of its negative connotations, as the Skeptic tried to do, is the fallacy of illegitimate totality transfer. (It also means that it is ridiculous to object, as the Skeptic did, that more complete explanations are a case of arguing that the Bible “doesn’t really mean what it says” in English!) Context is needed to decide if the connotation is positive or negative.

Second, and relatedly, connotation for such actions is often in the eye of the beholder. One man’s “bootlicking” is another man’s respectful obeisance to rightful authority (which is why, when I answered the Skeptic in YT comments, I put “bootlicking” in quotes). The Skeptic regarded aresko towards God automatically as a bad thing, precisely because they think of the Biblical God as an unethical monster unworthy of worship, and of Christians as uncritical sheep. But perception alone does not fill out the meaning.

Third, and most importantly, aresko has certain relevant functions in a collectivist society that it does not have in our modern, individualist society. The irony is, as I pointed out to the Skeptic (but which he ignored), by the standards of the Biblical world, we aresko authorities all the time. If you praise the President’s policies, you are doing aresko. (These days, of course, per point 2 above, a staunch Republican would say you are bootlicking.) Biblical people, though, would wonder why we’re doing all this aresko and not getting anything in return.

That’s a key point: Aresko has to be placed against the template of the social value of reciprocity in the Biblical and Greco-Roman world. We’ll explore that as we now look at the Biblical uses of the word.

Matt. 14:6 (par Mark 6:22): But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.

This was one the Skeptic used, and it was an easy one. Yes, Herod was being flattered and bootlicked – because the whole point of Herodias’ daughter’s dance was to get a favor from Herod (the dispensing with of John the Baptist). This is a case of reciprocity in action. The negative connotations are achieved because the nature of the act was insidious: to get to kill John the Baptist. (Of course, Herodias and others who hated John would not see it that way!)

Acts 6:5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost…

The multitude here is pleased because they find wisdom in the instructions of the apostles with reference to ministry. It is here where we have our first example of a more positive connotation. The atheist would say it was bootlicking; but it is something else for the church, accommodation. We’ll discuss this, though, with examples from Romans, since this is the best one of the set for this type of usage.

Romans 8:8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

This one was used by the Skeptic too, and it is one of several places where there are references to offering aresko to God (also 1 Cor. 7:32, 1 Thess. 2:15, 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:4, though implying any superior as well). Let’s discuss these all at once now.

In a socially stratified society like this one, aresko was an important social ritual. Praising (or as the Skeptic would say, flattering or bootlicking) the authority was a way of showing required respect for that authority and expressing one’s fundamental unity with the aims of that authority. It also gave the ruler, under the terms of reciprocity that was the glue of the collectivist society, a means whereby subjects could be shown favor in return.

The Skeptic here saw nothing but a case of sheep flattering God’s immense ego. But not only is that merely a point of view issue, it also neglects the aspects of reciprocity and unity as functions of a collectivist society, in which one of the essentials of survival and order is the mutual interdependence of all persons in that society. (And as a reminder, modern Westerners are the odd ones out on this; 99.9% of all people who have ever lived have lived in a society like the Biblical one, and 70% of people today still do.) The Skeptic’s evaluation is that of an individual who owes no loyalties to God.

A critical point here: Aresko delivered to a superior served a specific function that was different than when it was delivered to an equal. (It would not be delivered to an inferior at all.) Let’s now look at how delivery of aresko changes on those terms:

Rom. 15:1-3 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please [his] neighbour for [his] good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.

Aresko is used three times here. The Skeptic expressed astonishment at the idea that the Christian was supposed to flatter or bootlick neighbors. That sentiment is appropriate – for one on the outside looking in, from one in a society of the individual looking at a society that functioned based on mutual interdependence. In reality, this is a case of unity and support among equals that held that society together and made it function and survive.

In specific context (see Social Science Commentary on Paul’s Letters, p. 286) Paul is urging community self-sacrifice towards one another on specific issues of behavior. But the broader context here is the social unity that undergirded a collectivist society. To establish a mutually beneficial relationship with others, simple acts of praise towards the other was a good beginning. It did have to be done carefully – too much layered on, and it might be construed as a challenge; too little, and it might be construed as an insult.

Note as well that Paul qualifies aresko with “for good” to make the positive connotations clear and indicate that he is using it in a way that the audience may not expect given his prior usage with reference to self-pleasing (where it has a negative connotation).

If this seems unlikely, let me call on one of my native witnesses here – our guest writer A. J., who wrote for me in an E-Block article of a specific form of abuse of this concept in her native country:

If a guest to a home brings their own children, then that guest's children will be showered with praise and flattery, as if they were miniature angels dropped out of the sky into your arms -- in total contrast to their own rebellious, ill-mannered, and undisciplined children who are like little devils that popped out of the ground!

The flattery doesn't come cheap, though. The praise isn't being doled out unconditionally. Something is expected in return. The guest is expected to deprecate their own children, just as the host deprecated theirs, and praise the host's children for being far superior to their own. Esteem was given so esteem could be gotten.

The reader will note the conceptual similarity this has to what we described above with reference to God. The difference here is that this is reciprocity among relative equals. The non-abusive form of this would dispense with the bad comments, and merely use the praise and flattery as a way to establish a healthy relationship of mutual dependence and simple friendship. Aresko in this sense – among equals – is a positive thing (at least to insiders, as opposed to outsiders with no axe to grind!).

The same sort of reciprocity among equals is also expressed in 1 Cor. 7:33-4 and having to do with husband and wife, and with Paul and those he evangelizes in 10:33 and in 1 Thess. 2:4. Now let’s return to Gal. 1:10:

For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

Isn’t this reciprocity among equals, though? No, not exactly. The defining context here, as I noted in my initial reply to the Skeptic, was the practice of rhetoric. A rhetor was supposed to be proving his point with arguments. Offering aresko instead was an illicit subbing in of flattery where argument should have been presented – in essence, not making an argument at all. It is this which makes aresko here have a negative connotation, one that all (except maybe the rhetor and his supporters!) would agree is negative. That is what makes this “bootlicking” whereas the other examples do not deserve that word, save perhaps in quotes (to reflect the fact that some, like that bigoted Skeptic, would indeed call it that).

So in sum: Aresko was a specific sort of action, which according to purpose or means could be construed as positive, negative – or both. In that sense, it well suits the domain of our words “bootlicking” or “flattery” (from the negative side) and “accommodation” or “pleasing” (from the positive side).

And in terms of accusing Paul of inconsistency – it’s a failure for the Skeptic.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Appeal to Authority Resort

An exchange with a YouTube Skeptic of the "fundy atheist" variety gives me occasion to remark upon a tactic I have not seen in a while. It runs like this.

We offer some fact or argument, and note that it was offered by a certain credentialed scholar in the field of the argument subject.

The atheist shoots back that we are committing a fallacious “appeal to authority” and therefore refuses to answer the argument, which should (they say) stand on its own merits.

Of course, this is clearly an evasion that is as much an admission that the critic can’t answer the argument and needs a way out. If the argument or fact had been presented without reference to the scholar, then the critic would never know that was the source and be left without any way to claim a fallacious appeal to authority was being made. (Of course, too, they would then demand to know where we got our information, as though we just made it up.)

But that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that “appeal to authority” as done above isn’t a fallacy at all. This is an abuse and misunderstanding of what that fallacy actually is.

If the critic is right, and this is a fallacy as stated, then the implications are rather drastic. Academic journal articles and books littered with supporting notes are nothing but long-winded fallacies. Expert witnesses in court settings should be dispensed with, as the use of them is fallacious. Not even a nightly news program can be believed, since we believe what they say based on the authority of the reporter as a witness and as a (supposedly) intelligent human being with competent powers of observation and analysis.

The reality is that the fallacy of appeal to authority does NOT apply to citations of genuine authorities. The main expression of this fallacy is when an irrelevant authority is cited – eg, to deliver some point on nuclear physics by quoting Michael Jordan. Here are representative explanations, one from the nizkor website which collects information on logical fallacies:

This fallacy is committed when the person in question is not a legitimate authority on the subject. More formally, if person A is not qualified to make reliable claims in subject S, then the argument will be fallacious.

So likewise, the Skeptic’s Dictionary online says, approaching the matter from the other direction and explaining what the real fallacy of appeal to authority is:

The appeal to authority is a fallacy of irrelevance when the authority being cited is not really an authority. E.g., to appeal to Einstein to support a point in religion would be to make an irrelevant appeal to authority.

These are representative of many other online and print resources on the subject.

Of course, I am not saying that there is not any discernment involved when an authority is used; these reference sites give plenty of caveats as well, and I’m aware of these in my work. So for example, when I use an authority, I do so having already figured out that the person is a credible authority who deserves attention, that they are not biased to the point of distorting information and arguments, and that their views are solid enough to challenge or overcome opposing views. At such points, the burden is on the critic to meet the challenge – and merely yelling, “argument from authority” isn’t meeting that challenge.

I used the example of an expert witness above. It’s a good one: Use of scholarly sources is, in effect, a testimony by an expert witness in the court (though in this case, the court of reader opinion). Under such circumstances, the critic needs to call their own witness, as it were, if they can’t answer the point made. It will not be sufficient to offer, “Objection! Fallacious appeal to authority!” Rather, in court, it is the responsibility of opposing attorneys to either provide their own expert witness, or by some means try to discredit the opposite side’s expert witness.

Of course, whether they might try to do so legitimately, or dishonestly, is another step in the process. For Skeptic critics, it is often enough (for their audience!) to simply say that a person is religious, so they must be biased and therefore untrustworthy. Or, it may be broadly suggested that because religion is so controversial, no expert witness can be accepted. (The Skeptic's Dictionary above offers this tactic.) That’s not a serious evaluation, though, because it is just as easy to reply that an irreligious person is biased, or that atheism is controversial as a worldview. Stance alone does not indicate bias; nor does controversy alone disqualify authority. Unfair treatment of fact and argument is what matters. Other than that, I don’t see that Skeptical opponents are much into digging up curriculum vitae, or looking up publication records, to decide if a scholar is a credible authority. The easy way out is, well….easier!

Bottom line – the critic who throws out “appeal to authority fallacy” and does no more than that is just showing that they can’t handle what you have to offer – and using that throw-out line as a way to avoid engaging the actual argument or fact presented.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reads for Fun: Jon Latimer's "1812"

Continuing with my thick books on American history kick, I picked up this one on a war that modern Americans generally know little about (other than maybe that it was against Britain, and that a battle in it inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner).

Latimer writes from a British perspective, and some may argue he’s too biased for his side (something I'm not going to look into, since this reading IS for fun), but even the objective material he presents tells the story of the War of 1812 as one that would have been preferred to have been forgotten by both sides.

One of the keys Latimer thinks has not been stressed enough is that at this time, Britain was at war with Napoleon on the continent. On the one hand, this meant that their best and brightest could not attend the war in America. (Think what might have happened had the Duke of Wellington been able to take part over here.) On the other hand, there wasn’t a whole lot of enthusiasm for the war in America among those that did come over, or among our own people. Both sides made plenty of bungles, and it is perhaps thematic that the last great battle at New Orleans (a decisive American victory, led by Andrew Jackson) was only fought because slow communications didn’t bring news of a peace treaty that had already been signed over in Europe. On the American side, unity wasn’t the theme either: New England was essentially a holdout from the war in many ways.

Key events in the 1812 war such as the sacking of Washington and the defense of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry (where Key was inspired) tend to obscure the fact that much of the fighting was done in the Great Lakes region on the border with Canada. It’s hard to think of places like Lake Champlain or Lake Erie as the scene of great naval battles, or to think that what was then Detroit was captured and held by the British for a time, or that the Niagara Falls region was the scene of fighting - and that soldiers were close enough to the falls to hear them. I have to wonder what some of these people would think of the fact that places like these (or Gettysburg, for a later example) have become places of leisure. On the one hand they might celebrate what their efforts have wrought for us, but I think they’d be more likely to wonder at the frivolous nature of our present lives.

Latimer’s book is rich with detail which the military buff would especially find intriguing. I found his style a little plodding but it’s definitely a good source for learning more about what some call (in Latimer’s arguments, wrongly) a second American Revolution.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Critical Review: Hans Atrott's "Jesus' Bluff"

I have to admit that I did not read more than a fifth of the pages in Jesus’ Bluff (hereafter JB) by Hans Atrott, because it was pretty clear it was not necessary to read more. Tekton Research Associate “Punkish” suggested that I have a look at it, and there was some good reason to do so since Atrott refers to my Christian Crimelime rebuttal a handful of times – maybe 5 times at most – though he only really tries to answer one argument from it. More on that below.

Let’s start with a few problems this book has in terms of comprehensibility. It is fairly clear that English is not Atrott’s native language and that he has a long way to go before he will be competent in English at much more than asking for directions to the restroom. Commas and ellipses, for example, are randomly scattered about as though dumped from a pickup bed into the text. Many words are enclosed in quote marks for no discernible reason. Many sentences are simply incoherent. (“It is a joke wanting to trick reason by Christian ‘New Testament’.” – 15-16) JB is a self-pub job, so we should be a bit more generous than we might be otherwise, but in terms of competence in English, Atrott is far worse than even Solomon Tulbure was.

Adding to the difficulty is that Atrott’s primary mode of expression is the sustained and incomprehensible rant. Paragraph upon paragraph is devoted to accusatory unpleasantries towards Christians en masse; divvying out the actual arguments (which, if collected together, would perhaps comprise a 5 page pamphlet) would require an inordinate amount of leisure time which only persons on permanent disability might legitimately possess.

There are a few techniques of argument that are frequently repeated. One is to simply take for granted that certain deviant documents date early, while the canonical Gospels date late. There is nothing like a sustained argument for this anywhere; we are not treated to a course in how to date ancient documents, nor given an accounting of such things as manuscript evidence or the use of internal and external testimony of authorship. There are a few bare hints that Papias does not refer to canonical Matthew [69] and that is the most detailed “not early” argument there is.

In terms of late documents, the most detailed argument offered is that the Toledeth Yeshu (TY) should be dated earlier than the 6th-12th century because Celsus reports a handful of the same claims in the second century. That the TY instead imitated Celsus (or some brokering source in between) doesn’t seem to be on Atrott’s radar. Nor are objective criteria for dating and authenticating documents.

Another prime tactic is to place negative (and frequently incomprehensible) spins on various NT passages. Some of the usual appeals are here (eg, Luke 14:26); in other cases, Atrott takes passages with positive messages for disciples (eg, those that say they are “sons of God”) and interprets these as flatteries to inspire megalomania. He seems particularly hooked on Luke 5:31-2, in which Jesus says, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners." By some indiscernible means [41] Atrott concludes that Jesus intends for us to understand that he wants to be followed only by “sick” people who stay sick and perform evil acts. Patently ignored is the obvious implication in these words (to say nothing of Jesus’ own initial sermon in the synagogue) that Jesus calls these sick specifically to heal them. In any event, Atrott quotes or alludes to this passages at least once every 5 pages thereafter, using the same idiosyncratic reading as a basis for objection.

There are many other idiosyncratic readings as well. Galatians 5:15, for example (“But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.”) is said to show that Christians practiced cannibalism. [64] Matt. 12:1, in which the disciples pick grain, is pointed out as an example of Jesus and his disciples stealing grain [78]; apparently Atrott has missed the OT provision allowing such plucking (Deut. 23:25). It is hard to take Atrott seriously when he makes so many egregious errors of this sort and uses them as a basis for extended rants about alleged Christian perfidy.

The centerpiece of JB, however, and the strongest indication that it is not to be taken seriously, is stated on the back cover as follows – this is the “bluff” of the title:

Jesus is a cripple (blind in one eye, limping and dwarfish). He did not die on the cross, but gulled Judas Iscariot into dying on the cross in place of him. He laughed up his sleeve at the crucified one. The “official” part of Judas Iscariot as the purported “betrayer” escorting the troops to the delinquent also was screened by another double: Simon of Cyrene. At least two times more he escaped from the death penalty by a stuntman.

Since the verdict of death penalty still was pending on him, he contrived the legend of “Saul ” and “Paul ” under which he secretly lived, while supposedly in heaven. He is the fomenter of the conflagration on Rome in the year 64 as “Last Judgement,” “Doomsday ” or “Armageddon ” he “predicted” for the lifetime of his generation. Who says that he is a wrong prophet...?

By the way, Jesus got Judas to take his place by turning him into “a zombie” with some unspecified drug on the bread Jesus handed him, engaging some sort of “hypnosis” [130] to complete the act. Now there’s a twist on the swoon theory we’ve never heard before. Mix it with Cavin's "evil twin Jesus" hypothesis (multiplied twice) and there you have it.

Sadly but not surprisingly, there’s not much offered to support this theory, which makes Roman Piso look like peer reviewed mastery. One of the very late (but presumed early) deviant gospels is appealed to for a story of how a shipmaster who somewhat resembled Paul was accidentally arrested in Paul’s stead. From this, Atrott reaches for a conclusion that “escaping the death penalty by a stuntman is a general Christian trick.”[23] That’s lunatic enough logic that I hardly need to say any more save what I promised above.

I mentioned that Atrott goes against my answer to the Crimeline here and there. Not much was expected of this and not much was gotten. Like most of this clique of history by paranoid conspiracy, Atrott has the Inquisition burning nearly 50% of the population of Spain at the stake [35] (3 million – the Spanish Inquisition only executed 2000 in its whole history); his ultimate source is not a serious historian like Kamen, but one of Dave Hunt’s unfortunate anti-Catholic diatribes.

We are also told in the notes that Atrott will only quote texts found on a certain website ( because “scriptures published by this society are not withdrawn from the web if opponents or enemies of Christian sects quote from them. This happens too often when quoting from editions of ‘official’ Christian sects…” I imagine most of these editions were airlifted off the web by black helicopters piloted by Bigfoot, too.

In terms of my answer to Crimeline itself, Atrott notes that I described a couple of events as politically rather than religiously motivated; Atrott’s only reply is to proudly point out that I don’t deny the number killed (so?) and to assert blandly that the political designation is “fake”. How this is so is not explained. The only thing close to a depth answer is where, when I said in my reply:

36-67 Peter: Peter allegedly establishes first church and spreads Christian faith from Jerusalem to Rome where he is allegedly crucified in 67; no evidence proves he existed. Vague generalization. We want to know what criteria are used to determine the existence of private persons. The secular historian Michael Grant, who wrote a book on Peter, certainly does not agree with "no evidence".

36-65 Paul of Tarsus: Paul (Saul) of Tarsus allegedly orders destruction of Israel Christian church before converting to Christianity; no evidence proves Paul existed. Ditto. to the above. We would like for "crimeline" to prove to us that Plutarch or Cicero existed.

Only the portions in bold are quoted, though, and Atrott answers rather strangely, saying that this is “indirectly” an admission that there is no evidence for Paul, which it is not, and then incomprehensibly counsels that “it is to doubt if it is impossible to prove the existence of the concerned” (Plutarch and Cicero), which seems to be saying that yes, we can’t prove Plutarch and Cicero existed either!

Atrott thereafter goes off the beam, pointing out that with Cicero and Plutarch, there are no associations of claiming miracles, and no being “obsessed with the wannabes’ top credos,” [452] neither of which has anything to do with establishing objective criteria for knowing if a person in antiquity existed. In the end, the ”logic” is that if one can make claims of such things as resurrections that never happened, it is easy to make up that a person like Paul existed. Once again, history via the means of paranoid conspiracy-mongering.

There’s no need to say much more -- except that if the National Mental Health Association is looking for a spokesman, they should probably scratch Atrott off the list as soon as possible.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Ignorance Objection

The barren wastes of YouTube have brought back an objection of the sort I have not seen in a while, something I can call the Ignorance Objection. A YT user styled “CMrace” put it this way:

I mean honestly, pretending to know what idioms were in common usage 2000 years ago, what metaphors people used, ignoring slang, pretending you know what common usage of greek was 2000 years ago.You don't know those things because no one knows those things. You even pretend to be a scholar when you are just an English/Lit (minor, major maybe) All this just so you can say your book is 100% true.

You don't like this opinion 'non-sense' because it hits home, just like my last post. I like french fries. go ahead refute that argument. You can't? then it must certainly be true.

CMrace of course repeatedly ignored the fact (though it was pointed out to him repeatedly) that I used the works of credible scholars to make my arguments and did not rely merely in my own authority. But let's get to the main objection=, which I call the Ignorance Objection.

Inevitably, the Ignorance Objection is little more than an admission that the objector does not have the resources (whether in terms of information, or in terms of mental horsepower) to answer the arguments given. Accusations that the answers are simply made up, or merely reflect the apologist’s “opinion,” are the contrived constructions of one who has not only lost their way, but never knew where they were to begin with.

Does the Ignorance Objection have any force, though? Not at all. For one thing, it is self-refuting. To state categorically that we cannot know for sure about such things as cultural practices and idioms could only be factually defensible if the objector has done sufficient research to know that uncertainty is all that is available. But to argue this would require the arguer to have a birds-eye view, as it were, in which they know at what point certainty has been achieved. And if they know where this point is, then they have achieved the very level of certainty that they deny is possible.

I find it doubtful that Ignorance Objectors like CMrace have actually done enough research to make such claims, though. It is much more likely – since they provide no data to prove that uncertainty exists (eg, contrary readings of data each with sufficient support) – that this is little more than a white flag indicating incompetence in the subject matter.

Second, although scholars will acknowledge where and when uncertainty exists, there is enough information for us to have varying degrees of certainty on varying matters. Case by case is how these things must be considered, but to use the example of idioms, we have a great deal of data – a good number of texts, and comparative data on the uses of language in oral societies that persist to this day. So if we suggest that a certain passage offers an idiomatic reading, we can provide arguments based on this data. The critic’s burden is then to defuse those arguments by explaining why that data is inapplicable. They must also provide a sound epistemology for the identification of idiom which can compete with the ones that scholars have established, and show they their system “works” – that is, that it does not exclude known idioms and correctly identifies idioms otherwise.

But do we really expect the likes of CMrace to do things like this? Not at all. And that is because, as I have said, the Ignorance Objection isn’t made out of knowledge of ignorance – it is made as a way to avoid engaging arguments well beyond one’s capability to address.

Something tells me I’ll be seeing this one again from people on YouTube.