Thursday, December 30, 2010
Carrier's Christmas Whoosh, Part 2
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Bevesluis on Desire
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 13, 2010
Critical Review: Shaking the Unshakeable
Josh McDowell has been a name around for awhile in Christian apologetics and now his son Sean has entered that same area. Together, they have written a book called The Unshakable Truth. I have no doubt that the truth is unshakable, but I have great doubt as to whether the presentation given by the McDowells is unshakable.
The book is laid out to present one with twelve great truths. Each truth is covered in four chapters. The first chapter is to explain what that truth is. The second is to give evidence of that truth. The third is to tell what difference that truth makes. The fourth is to give ways of applying that truth.
I have no problem with that layout. It is my belief that too often most churches have solely application. However, to simply have arguments I don’t think works in our day and age either. I believe we not only need to know, for instance, that God is triune, but why it matters anyway.
My problem then is the content. Most in the book is basic. That’s fine to an extent as there needs to be a place to begin, but there are far better presentations that can be found in the works of people like Lee Strobel. There is very little scholarly effort in the material. Most deal with individualized thinking about the truths of the Bible and those who think they have an unshakable truth here are likely to be chewed up in the blogosphere and on internet forums.
Consider the bibliography. I count six references in there to Wikipedia as a source. They are to the age and size of the universe, the brain, pantheism, deism, the caterpillar, and the Salvation Army. My disappointment was great upon seeing this. It gives the image of one sitting at the computer not knowing what to say about a topic and just looking it up on Google. This is especially the case with pantheism and deism. I certainly would not want to read a book by an atheist attacking Christianity and read that his source for understanding my worldview was Wikipedia.
I cannot help but wonder why the McDowells did not just go to a library and check out a book on each of these topics? Would the reader not have better information? What are we to say when that Wikipedia article gets changed by, well, whoever?
Josh McDowell has been said to place a large emphasis on personal testimony and that is the same in this book. There’s a section on how to give your testimony. I recall an atheist on TheologyWeb saying he can’t stand it when Christians give personal testimonies. I can understand that. I think testimonies have their place, but only after firm truth has been presented. It would do us better to spend more time understanding the apologetics arguments instead of understanding our testimony.
An instance of this being used comes with another problem the McDowells have. Verses are not given from translations. They are paraphrased. I found this extremely bothersome. Of course, we all will give interpretations of verses and at times paraphrase is acceptable, but this was a constant refrain. The time this happens in conjunction with testimonies is Philippians 3:3 which is said to say, “We put no confidence in human effort. Instead, we boast about what Christ Jesus has done for us.” (Page 253) The NIV translates the verse this way: For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— The problem with this is that this is not the kind of testimony that most people would look down on that Paul gives. What does he say? He was zealous with keeping the law before Christ came. That means he did not commit adultery! He did not lie! He did not steal! He honored his parents! He was faultless in righteousness! Imagine now being told “I used to be faultless in righteousness, and then I became a Christian!” He even states in verse 4 that he has all reason to boast.
Revelation 12:11 is also cited as an example since it mentions the blood of their testimony. This verse has nothing to say about having a personal testimony. Instead, it is referring to those who are willing to face persecution for the cause of Christ and their righteous living before the Roman Empire. The emphasis on this leads to a view that is centered on the individual. It is about how God relates to the individual rather than how the individual relates to God. God is not defined by His relationship to us. Instead, we are to be defined by our relationship to Him. This comes at a great expense.
At times, I felt sorry for God reading this. Why? Because I get the picture of a God who is just so broken-hearted by people nor loving Him and how much He just wants to have a relationship with us. It’s giving the impression that we need to do this so God will be happy. This is one reason I am a strong believer in impassibility, that God does not have emotions. Can my sin really make God sad? Can I somehow make God happier? By no means! God does not desire that I sin and God does delight in righteousness, but those are eternal unchanging realities. His delight is in that which corresponds most to Himself. If I do not worship Him, it is not God who is at a loss. It is myself who is at a loss.
This focus on the self is best seen in the constant refrain given of Exodus 34:14 paraphrased as “He is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you.” The NIV translates it this way: Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. The verse says nothing in it about the nature of the people. It instead tells them how they are to relate to God. The McDowells have it as it is a verse about how God relates to His people. In an ancient context, jealousy would mean that God has exclusive rights to His people and because of that, they are to be faithful to Him. For an example today, as a married man, I can rightly have jealousy for my wife in that she is to exclusively have a marital relationship with me and no one else. She could say the same about me of course.
This book is already on Google books so I got curious and typed in part of the paraphrase the McDowells have. I got no fewer than eleven pages as hits and I know on some pages it is repeated more than once. I wonder about the reader who wants to use this verse to someone who’s a fan club of someone like Oprah and is instead told “That verse says God is jealous! What kind of petty God do you serve that gets jealous?!” The focus on the self will not serve our generation well. It will only make us look more to ourselves.
I am increasingly concerned with a generation that believes they have to have a feeling of passion or desire in order to act. Feelings and emotions are good things, but they are not to be what pulls us along. Christians are called to serve God regardless of how they feel. They are not to wait and pray for a great desire to serve Him and then to serve Him. They are to serve Him regardless of the desire.
As for defenses of some topics, there is great lack. I do not believe objections are really treated as seriously as they should be. I count few references to non-Christian works in the notes. I would be surprised if there were fifteen. This is an objection I have concerning atheistic literature. It is a shame I have to make the same of Christian literature.
An example of this would be the defense of the church. Absent from the chapter is any mention of the multitude of denominations that an unbeliever will raise. There is no mention of the Crusades or the Inquisition. The budding apologist who thinks he has a defense of the church to give to his atheistic friends will quickly be torn to shreds. Let’s hope there’s some scholarly material they can get their hands on on church history lest they think that the McDowells have given the best.
I really did not like writing this review because I genuinely don’t delight in being critical of Christian authors. I do appreciate the candidness Josh McDowell had about his growing up life that was revealed, but I think for a good work on Christian apologetics, more is needed. I consider that it was almost like the McDowells just wanted to put together a book as quickly as possible and send it off, hence Google research and little interaction with atheistic material.
In an age where the new atheists are becoming more and more prominent, we do need skilled apologists to rise up. Such would be better off however focusing on argumentation rather than the constant appeal to how God desires to be with you. A lowering of God will result in a lowering of the defense we have for Him. If our defense is mainly our personal testimony, then we are going contrary to the biblical style and making God all about what He does for others, instead of making others all about what they can do for God.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The Dumbest Generation, Part 2
No one should be surprised by what Bauerlein reveals about the way modern computer technology has been turned into a vast enabler of socially immature persons seeking endless entertainment and self-reflection. I’m sure the ink wasn’t dry on Gutenberg’s first project before it occurred to someone that the printing press would be a great way to also distribute pornography. The conversion of technological advances in communication for the purposes of diversionary activities is just a repeat pattern I’m sure we’ll see again and again after Twitter becomes a fad and the last Facebook page lies dormant.
I saw this coming, in a sense, back in the 80s when I worked as an evening switchboard operator at the Orlando Public Library. The VCR was the new toy for the socially immature of the day, and every night, OPL enabled these benighted souls by allowing them to call in requests for specific titles to be held for them to pick up the next day. Thursday was the worst night for this, of course, since Friday pickup was for weekend viewing. I got to know by voice dozens of people who called in every Thursday night to order their tapes. (I got so sick of it that when I worked on Sundays, I always asked to take Thursday off as compensation.)
There’s a rather critical difference in this cycle, though. The Internet has many more fingers than Gutenberg ever did. The data can flow faster and more readily than it ever could before. What that means in practical terms is that it’s a great deal easier for the dumbest generation to become, and remain, dumb and self-absorbed. It’s like offering a cocaine addict an endless line of his drug with no police in sight.
Critics who respond by pointing to the potential educational benefits of the Internet are missing the old adage that given a choice between fruits and vegetables on one hand, and Hostess Ding Dongs on the other, most people are going to lunge for the Ding Dongs. That’s evident in real life, from the survey of those reported by Bauerlein who cannot even recite basic facts such as the names of any of the current Supreme Court justices. Of course, if that’s beyond their abilities, it’s fair to assume that making an informed choice as a voter is even more out of reach. Power has been placed in the hands of the misfits, whether it be the power to vote or the power to (mis)inform in venues like Wikipedia.
Just as distressing to me as an information professional is that so many in the dumbest generation refuse to read books, reasoning that if they need information, there’s no need to find or retain it now; they can always find it on the Internet. But as Bauerlein points out, it is the retention of information that allows a person to form connections between seemingly unrelated bits of data and form new conclusions. What may be of no use now may offer insight later when paired with something else. The dumbest generation can’t do original thought like this, because all that’s in their head is the latest news about who is dating whom.
And of course, who can resist a medium in which it is possible to endlessly self-promote 24/7? You don’t need to be a narcissist to appreciate a venue that allows you to draw attention to yourself, to be continually validated by peers.
As Bauerlein points out, democracy can’t thrive on such a badly informed, self-centered citizenry. The next few years do not bode well for the nation in that respect; but they also do not bode well for the church. Christianity demands discipleship and self-sacrifice, and this is vastly at odds with the priorities of all-fronts ignorance (except when it comes to socializing) and attention-getting. Reaching the Dumbest Generation with the gospel won’t be an easy task.
Convincing them with apologetics will probably be nearly impossible.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Dumbest Generation, Part 1
I am currently 30. Based on what time of the year The Dumbest Generation was published, I was either 27 or 28 when it came out, which includes me as being a part of the Dumbest Generation, as no one under 30 is to be trusted. While I regret that is the way my generation is seen, unfortunately, Mark Bauerlein makes his point exceptionally well leaving me with the desire to change my generation.
I will state at the start that I do not believe I am your normal man of my age. I am diagnosed with Asperger’s and thus my information processes, particularly in the social area are not the same. I also happen to have a large library here at my house which can lead to my wonderful wife worrying about what will happen if I get any more books. Of course, there are ways I am like others. I do happen to have a number of video game consoles, I am on Facebook, I am regularly on the internet. For TV viewing however, I watch only House, Monk, and especially Smallville, and every now and then a DVD or movie at the theater. However, there was a time I was not like this until apologetics came along and gave me fulfillment. I quickly became an avid reader. Before that, none of my subjects in school ever really challenged me. I was elected Most Studious of my class, but it was an odd win since I never studied. I’d just come home and play video games until it was time to go to bed. Of course, I did some reading, such as mysteries be it Hardy Boys or Mary Higgins Clark.
Now as one who does seek the greater things in life, I understand the writer’s concerns. I also understand them more recently having recently undergone debates with people on the blog site of a member of the Rational Response Squad. My opponents were Christ-mythers and a number of them made comments documented in the Screwballs section of TheologyWeb asking why we should read books when everything is on the internet?
Ah yes. The fear of books. That’s one of the places where it all starts.
Now in saying this, no one is saying everything on the internet is bad. After all, this review is on the net. My own blog site is on the net as is JPH’s web site. The problem is not the use of sources on the internet but the uncritical use of such sources and the lack of books. Living in Charlotte, I recently heard two bookstores in the area were closing, and it was something that brought great sorrow to me to hear. How a society views knowledge and the quest for truth will show what really matters to it. I can’t help but think that we are moving closer and closer to A Brave New World. (That’s a book for those of you unfamiliar with the literature.)
Bauerlein deals with objections that maybe it’s lack of time or lack of income that are keeping people from reading. It’s neither. The bottom line while not specifically given seems to be that we are too hedonistic a society looking only for pleasure and not really caring about truth. Everyone lives for the moment. Bauerlein makes a strong case that social approval is sought for. If anyone reads a book, it is because they need to be in the know as to what goes on in it to interact with their friends. In fact, Bauerlein says that this is what was going on when Harry Potter book sales were skyrocketing. The kids enjoyed the books, but they also gained social approval by reading the books. Enter phenomena such as texting and Facebook. Kids are more interested in doing this to be accepted by their peers than they are in interacting with those older than them to be accepted by them.
Early on in my apologetics career, I saw Ravi Zacharias as the man I wanted to be like. Today, the up and comer in a field would say that they are the one they want to be like. It doesn’t matter who is respectable in the field. What matters is the respect of friends. The Internet has sadly helped to perpetuate what has gone on. I don’t see the Internet as a tool for evil in this. The Internet is a tool like any other tool that can be used for good or for evil. When used correctly, it is an excellent resource medium. There is also nothing wrong with the social interaction. I do think youth should be spending time with their friends as well and doing a number of social activities. However, there must be moderation in all things.
While on Facebook, I don’t make it all about me and rather enjoy getting into heated debates on the site. Bauerlein recommends that our youth get educated. Learn what’s going on in the world around you and also what went on in the world before you. Even if you’re reading fiction, read good fiction. Find an area of interest and learn all you can about it. Know what the great thinkers thought. Naturally, none of us can be specialists in everything, but we should have at least a rudimentary knowledge.
A criticism of this book is that I don’t think Bauerlein goes into the cause of this enough or what to do about it. My stance is that it is not that the church abandoned thinking because the world did. I think the world abandoned thinking because the church did. The church should be the intellectual forefront in the world and when it abandons the areas of logic and truth, we can be sure that the world will follow. It will also help to get past this view of religion that it is all about us. We often make the gospel about us instead of about God. Of course, it involves us, but it is not that God is participating in our story. We are in fact participating in His.
Much of the individualism in society today caters to a world where personal feelings are of utmost importance and what is true is of secondary importance. It doesn’t matter if what you said is true because what you said is offensive. I hope that people today will restore our intellectual bearings. If you are not part of the dumbest generation, find someone who is and mentor them. If you are, educate yourself. No one really wants to be seen as dumb. The stakes are high. As Bauerlein says on the back of the book about the dumbest generation, “They may even be the generation that lost that great American heritage, forever.”
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach
Since I have a dental appointment today, I'm handing the reins over to ministry associate Nick Peters for a review of Mike Licona's new book on the Resurrection. I might have a closer look at this book myself later; in the meantime, here's Nick's take.
Gary Habermas has for years been the name in evangelical Christianity on defending the Resurrection. His prize student in this field has been Mike Licona. Together, they wrote The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus. I happen to know Mike Licona very well and I know that whatever he does, he does seriously. I also know that he is one who has dealt with doubt on many topics so he wants to make sure he’s right. What would it be like then if he alone wrote a book to demonstrate how he went about verifying the Resurrection of Jesus?
I no longer have to wonder that. He has released such a book and it is a gold mine of information. Licona has changed the face of studies in the Resurrection of Jesus with this book. From now on, any scholar who wishes to say that Jesus did not rise from the dead, will have to address the content and the methodology that is put forward in this book.
I say content and methodology because Licona deals with both of them. The first third of the book nearly is spend on methodology alone. What is history? What does it mean to do history? How does one do history? This is not just in fields of religious studies but information that could apply to any area of study.
I find this part incredibly important due to people not knowing how to do history. It’s not just looking at the data and saying, “Well that sounds true.” It involves looking at a list of criteria and knowing the best way to evaluate the content of your sources and knowing which sources are ones that are worth using. Do we want to use the testimony of Paul, or do we want to use Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” Both of them testify of the Resurrection as a historical fact, but one is more relevant.
Can we even know history? Postmodernism raises up a challenge. Can it be dealt with? Yes, it can be. Licona deals with that position as well citing a number of postmodern historians. There can be little doubt that Licona has done his homework which should be no surprise since the book is based on his dissertation. (Naturally, there are some updates.)
Licona also addresses the question of miracles in the second chapter and whether history can answer the question of if a miracle can take place. Licona is right in saying that to draw inferences from the miracle is to do theology. We can demonstrate that Christ rose from the dead and likely it was a supernatural agent, but when it comes to the nature of that agent, then we are doing theology.
Do you want to answer Hume? Do you want to answer Ehrman? Licona deals with each of them. Licona warns us following what he said in the first chapter that we need to be aware of our horizons. What presuppositions are we bringing to the events that we are studying? Are Christians too often letting their theological bias color the way they interpret the evidence? Are atheists letting their atheistic ideology color the way they interpret the evidence?
Indeed, this is an important point and the objections are usually quite weak. For instance, what difference does science really make? Are we to say that we don’t believe in resurrections because we live in an age of science? Could the one who says this please show me when it was that science discovered that dead men don’t naturally come back to life? The reason people buried Jesus is because he was dead and they knew the dead don’t naturally come back to life. (Of course, many believed God would raise the dead, but that’s a far cry from saying they naturally came back to life. They knew it was a miracle because they at least had a rudimentary understanding of the universe.)
When it comes to content with Jesus starting at chapter three, Licona addresses the major controversies and sources. He looks over each and places them on a scale that he has earlier stated referring to how reliable the source is and the information that we can get from the source. Of course, atheists thinking scientifically need to realize that saying “probable” is not the same as it is in scientific circles. History cannot confirm its hypotheses the way science can. To say something is probable is to imply that there is really no evidence to the contrary and thus no reason to question it.
Licona documents all his claims and the footnotes will be especially helpful. There are even two pages where the footnotes are of immense value. In one, he has a list of statements by scholarship on the Christ-myth hypothesis. (One could argue that a footnote would be too much for that idea, but when one meets those regularly who espouse such an idea, it is helpful.) The other is a list of scholars stating the date they believe the creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-7 goes to.
Finally, when it comes to the Resurrection, Licona not only gives his hypothesis that Christ did indeed rise, but deals with others such as Vermes, Ludemann, Goulder, Crossan, and Craffert. Licona is quite generous with each one, wanting to represent them as best he can and ably deals with where they are deficient while granting the areas where they are sufficient.
When he deals with his own view, he presents it under the exact same categories that he has presented prior views under and works out how well the Resurrection hypothesis works. Of course, some readers could always claim bias on his part, but now the claim will not be enough. They will actually need to interact with the material. There can be no doubt that Licona knows it well.
As a bonus, the end of the book has a response to Dale Allison and his views on the Resurrection of Jesus. Readers familiar with Allison will appreciate this, though it will take awhile to get to as overall, when it comes to content, the book has 641 pages of information. As I carried this book with me, a number of people thought it was comparable to a dictionary.
A criticism of the work, however, is that Licona does not interact with the idea of honor and shame. Of course, many today aren’t really looking at the social sciences, although in the look at Craffert’s hypothesis, Craffert does refer to Malina and Pilch. Still, mentioning such aspects as the shame of crucifixion and how no one would preach a resurrected victim of crucifixion unless they really believed it was historical and could not be denied played an important factor.
Despite that, what Licona has is excellent and if someone wants to be a serious student of the doctrine of the Resurrection, they need to get and be familiar with this important volume. I do believe it has changed the face of Resurrection studies from here on out.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Resurrection Debunked in Eight Easy Steps? Part 4
Reports that Jesus’ disciples were martyred prove nothing.
Legal experts like Simon Greenleaf have composed detailed arguments based on the honesty and motives of the apostles. As he puts it, “they are entitled to the benefit of the general course of human experience, that men ordinarily speak the truth, when they have no prevailing motive or inducement to the contrary.” Moreover, one cannot deny that martyrdom is a heavy price to pay which requires an explanation of motive.
Martyrdom does not “prove nothing” – it proves something, and the critic needs to show what that something is.
Regarding Joseph Smith, it is said that he was “probably a charlatan.” Note people alive at the time cited proof that Smith was indeed a charlatan. The same cannot be said of the evangelists, so the parallel cannot hold closely.
Claims that this or that individual couldn’t possibly have hallucinated are nonsense.
To make a statement like this requires either expertise in the field of psychology, or consultation with such experts. Hallquist is definitely not of the former, and this simple statement of course offers no evidence of the latter. Speculation of hallucination is never enough to make the case.
Even if there were several people in Paul’s day who would have claimed to have all seen the risen Jesus at the same time, their testimony might not have stood up to scrutiny.
Here, it would merely be reiterated that sheer speculation such as this is not evidence – one must at least form a hypothesis upon which to rest a speculation (eg, put together evidence and piece it together to reach a reasonable conclusion). Elements like the testimony of disciples, the empty tomb, Jesus’ reputation as a miracle worker, lack of contrary testimony, and so on much be explained. Hallquist’s approach is scattershot and piecemeal, which makes it all the less effective as he must contrive a different explanation for each phenomenon.
So it is. So what do we know about Hallquist? What credibility does he have?
He has a degree in philosophy. He is not an authority in any other field.
He fails to apply the standards of jurisprudence in the testimony of the evangelists.
He is not an authority in the analysis of legal-historical evidence.
He argues from ignorance, from assertion, and from speculation, and almost never relies on evidence.
Hallquist, in his own words, is "uncredible."
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Resurrection Debunked in Eight Easy Steps? Part 3
There is no evidence for the resurrection outside the Bible.
Yes, there is. It's called the empty tomb. We can also added the existence of the Christian movement as a whole (which is part of my TIF thesis). Perhaps if this means, “there is no literary evidence” it is correct (and also, if it expands “Bible” to mean also “Christian testimony,” eg, the church fathers).
Of course, the Skeptic will have alternate explanations for these things, but properly speaking, they are called into court as “evidence” for the Resurrection in any case made for it. The critic must also deal with the fact that hostile parties do not testify against the Resurrection: By this summary point, “there is no evidence against the Resurrection in any text” is just as strong an assertion.
There is little evidence that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, or based directly on eyewitness accounts.
The “eyewitness” appeal has an inherent self-refutation: The critic is not an eyewitness to the composition of the Gospels and is therefore not in a position to dictate what happened 2000 years ago. The only alternative is to loosen the stringent demand for “eyewitness” testimony as the only valid form of testimony.
Relatedly, the critic here is using the word “anonymous” to describe the Gospels. Since the authors are named on the documents, and by others, the word they really want is “pseudonymous”.
This means that the Gospels can’t be trusted as evidence for miracles.
By the standard of law, however, guilt must be proven and innocence presumed; without testimony or evidence to the contrary, those who claim the miracles can be trusted. The first two points were of course an effort to prove guilt, as it were.
It is also said that “the stories could just be legends.” But allegation is not proof. The critic can cite no one, alive at the time, who claimed the evangelists reported legends.
One of Paul’s letters provides evidence that a number of people claimed Jesus had appeared to them after his death. But this isn’t proof of a miracle.
But again, what this requires to move beyond bombast is evidence of falsity. None is presented in this summary point. All that is presented is an analogy to the Mormon church which tries to impose upon the presumed bias of the Christian against Mormons.
Other points that could be developed: The alleged miracles (or the golden plates?) were not done in the presence of hostile eyewitnesses, as in the case of the miracles performed by Christ and His apostles. The Book of Mormon alsofails the Ancient Documents Rule and is therefore unacceptable as evidence in a court of law.
We’ll offer reflections from Tophet on points 5-8 tomorrow, but I wanted to close with an answer to a reader inquiry. It was noted that I had said in an earlier post here:
In the case of the Resurrection, it is not hard to see why it would not be reported by non-interested parties. A historian like Tacitus, with his prejudices against Jews and Christians, upon hearing the story would dismiss it as superstitious nonsense – with no further investigation warranted. Note that this would be his reaction whether the Resurrection had truly occurred or not. The same could be said of other potential witnesses whose works are left to us, like Lucian.
However, in my article on Tacitus’ testimony to the existence of Jesus, I said:
First, a likely cause for investigation erupted right in Tacitus' backyard, so to speak, in Rome c. 95 A.D. Emperor Domitian's niece Domatilla, and her husband Favius Clemens, were accused of "atheism," related to "being carried away into Jewish customs." Judaism of course was a recognized religion, so it is quite likely that the "Jewish custom" referred to is Christianity [Benk.PagRo, 15-16] . Here, then, was a perfect motive for Tacitus to investigate the movement historically: Some of Rome's highest-placed people seem to have joined the movement.
I know of certain shallow atheists who will claim this is contradictory, but it needs to be kept in mind that this is a matter of scale. In the latter instance I am only talking about Tacitus investigating enough to satisfy honor, so to speak – to be sure that Jesus existed, led a movement, and was executed. There is nothing in these basics that would offend his sensibilities as a Roman, in contrast to the Resurrection.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Doubting Tarico’s "Trusting Doubt"
Valerie Tarico is a name Tekton readers could be familiar with since JPH has reviewed a book of hers before and since she was in the past a blogger for John Loftus at Debunking Christianity. While she’s no longer writing for Loftus, she hasn’t stopped writing for herself. Her latest book, Trusting Doubt, is a look at evangelicalism and why she left it behind.
Notably at the start, Tarico has a way of writing that gives the reader the impression that they really don’t know anything about evangelicalism and Tarico is here to show them what they’ve missed. Tarico writes from the perspective of one who grew up in this environment and wrestled with doubts and then finally just gave up. The book reveals more about Tarico however than it does about evangelicalism.
To her credit, Tarico does say she read books like Evidence That Demands A Verdict and The Problem of Pain, but she says she did not find them convincing. Why? We are not told. It is something however that indicates that her doubt was more emotional than it was factual. This is apparent since Tarico throughout the book pictures evangelicalism as a force that doesn’t allow for questions to be asked and looks down on doubt. On the contrary, I as an evangelical wish more people would ask questions and have doubts. Those are the ones I know are taking it seriously.
To be fair also, the leaders she talked to didn’t help. One gave the answer of “Pray.” He then told her Matthew 17:20 says that if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain “Move from here to there” and it will move. This is definitely a recipe for disaster. This youth minister was treating the passage as if it was a blank check. Such a fundamentalist way of thinking did not help Tarico. Unfortunately, she never questioned the methodology.
In fact, for her, this is the only way to approach it. She refers throughout the book to a position of literalism held by evangelicals. In the back of her book even, she lists four books as evangelical defenses of literalism. Those are Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, The Case for Christ, Reasonable Faith, and That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith. Tarico also does not see the wide array of beliefs allowed in evangelicalism. She says we demand allegiance to a very specific set of beliefs on pages 12-15. These include a belief that human beings are inherently evil even though they’re in the image of God and a strong literalism with end-times prophecy. (Though not specifically stated there, she does throughout the book demonstrate no knowledge of Preterism and instead refers to the rapture.)
It is doubtful if Tarico is aware of real scholarship on issues. For instance, she speaks of a line of theologians and evangelists on page 20 saying “From the Apostle Paul to Thomas Aquinas to Martin Luther to Rick Warren.” I don’t think Rick Warren would even want to be included in such a line-up. Even if I was a fan of Warren’s, I would not include him up there with Paul, Aquinas, and Luther.
Objections Tarico raises throughout the book are weak and numerous articles at Tekton can deal with them or at least reference other sites that do. The objections she raises are predictable, such as disagreements with science, attitudes concerning slavery and homosexuality, the problem of evil, and genocides in the Old Testament. Strangely enough, she never directly goes after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Throughout all of this, she will also not refer to evangelical responses to her criticisms. Tarico takes a shotgun approach and her goal is to grip the reader emotionally hoping the reader is unaware of scholarship on the issue and how apologists for centuries have answered such questions. The sad reality is that much of her readership probably is unaware.
Absent also is Tarico’s own worldview. Towards the end, she seems to say that she does not believe in any deity, but the terminology is ambiguous. I see Tarico as simply wanting to have the beliefs that come naturally with a theistic worldview, such as objective morality and reliability of reason, without having that extra annoying baggage (to her) that comes with it, such as God.
Tarico makes statements as well that are just unbelievable. I have been an evangelical for years and never heard such things. For instance, on page 115, she says that Jesus would have given restitution if he had done something while alive so good to repair all the past evil. In a note below she says “Evangelicals try to say that this is what the crucifixion did. It was so good of Jesus to suffer for us, it was so loving and generous that it transformed all of the evil into good. But this misses the nature of blood atonement.” I would love to hear the evangelical who says that. I have heard several atonement theories, but I have never heard anything like that before, but that doesn’t stop Tarico. Without a source, she goes on expecting her readers will stop and think “That’s ridiculous.” I agree. It is ridiculous. It is also something that I do not believe and I know of no evangelical who does.
On page 135 in a section talking about Heaven and Hell, Tarico shares a talk with her daughter.
“Are those soldiers in Iraq Christians?”
“Most of them. Why?”
“That’s really bad! They think those Iraqi people are going to hell, and they kill them anyhow and send them right there anyway!”
What could I say?
Um, Valerie? You could have said several things. By this logic, no Christian should be a policeman since that would mean we’d have to kill criminals at times. Absent from Tarico’s thinking is any idea of the deservedness of Hell. Absent is any idea that these people have already rejected Christ personally and are willing to kill others and lead others astray. Absent is that this is not a religious war but is a war under the orders of a government, and I do believe in Just War theories. Absent is any mention that the soldiers we have are trained to avoid civilian casualties at all cost. Absent is the notion that the soldiers are not responsible for the unbelief of their enemies. Whenever someone arrives in Hell, they won’t have the justification of saying “But someone killed me before I could believe!”
This is not to deny the importance of the question. Children will ask questions like that and we need to answer them. Tarico sees this as the ultimate defeater. I see it as a dilemma at best. Yes. There is the sad reality that people die in war and we all wish we could avoid that, but we fight wars that are just for a greater good and not because we want to send people to Hell.
On pages 140-142, Tarico writes about children and death and the age of accountability. She asks why any parent would allow their child to pass the threshold age. Why not just kill them beforehand? It would be a great sacrifice on the part of the parents. It has been done, as she documents. She asks if she’s sounding facetious. She’s not. She’s just following the logic where it leads.
Yes. That’s exactly where it leads. We are to commit murder for the sake of goodness. Only in Tarico’s mind does such an idea make sense. It is a wonder how we could be holy while God is holy while at the same time murdering our own children.
On pages 167-8, she looks at the topic of prayer and how she thinks it’s selfish what we pray for. She pictures a church where a minister gives thanks that a little girl in the congregation is healed. A girl she calls Petra stands up however to challenge the minister. “What about little Joey who was in the hospital? He got prayed for and his church prayed for him and he died.” After telling us of how the minister will sidestep the question, Petra turns to the congregation and tells them how they believe God is intervening to help them win football games or score big on the SAT. She asks how many will go home and thank God for dinner without wondering why he didn’t give it to someone in Africa who needed it more. If we really believe God is interested in football games and such, what are we doing about the suffering of the world? Can we tell someone about the healing of our child when their child has just died of cancer?
Never mind that Tarico has no problem with someone being indignant in the congregation during a sermon. For her concern for people’s feelings, one wonders what the parents of the little girl who did have healing would think of this outburst? We can agree with some parts, such as praying for football games and such, but even then not entirely. There’s nothing wrong with praying that you’ll be the best you can be at something and realizing that if you’re a good athlete, that’s a gift from God. Also, it would not do good to look in the eyes of someone who just lost a child from cancer and talk about how your child was healed if that happened. That doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge when appropriate the healing of your child. At that point, it would be best to talk to the grieving parent about the reality of the resurrection. A Christian can give thanks for a meal that they have because they realize that if they have something, it ultimately does come from God. Does that mean they don’t care about people in Africa?
Somehow, I suspect Tarico lives in a home with air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and electricity. If she’s thinking we’re so selfish for acknowledging the blessing of God, maybe she ought to consider selling all she has and getting away and going to Africa. Of course, that would mean she’d have to give up writing books against evangelicalism, which would really be a blessing. She’d also then have to see real Christians in Africa who live in poverty and give thanks for everything they have and maybe get a feel for what the biblical culture was like instead of reading her culture into it.
Ironically, on page 174, Tarico does get some things right. She talks about how evangelicalism has taken in some of the culture such as Individualism. Many of her critiques we’d agree with. What’s ironic about it is that Tarico herself doesn’t realize she bought into the same beliefs and is reading the Bible as if it was written in a culture of literalism and individualism. Going over church history, she gets many facts wrong which can be documented here at Tekton, such as the claim that during the Inquistion, the Cathar genocide took 500,000 victims. Such a claim is more dealt with here. Other historical claims including thousands of witches burned and the destruction by Christians in the New World can be found here.
Tarico also expresses outrage, as we stated earlier, at the conquest of Canaan and of course, she goes to the favorite of skeptics everywhere, Numbers 31. I would just love it for one skeptic to state where the virgins spared in the text were raped and/or taken as sex slaves. She refers to William Henness, an evangelical minister, turned skeptic, who said that the soldiers probably didn’t separate virgins from non-virgins by asking. Tarico insteads pictures the Israelites as lining up the girls and giving them an embarrassing physical examination. Tarico is unaware that no such test would be needed. Virgins in the ancient culture were identified by some mark or type of clothing. Tarico is unaware as well of the history that led up to that attack. More on that can be found here. (JPH note: I cannot help but be appalled by this reference, inasmuch as it is the same one I called Tarico down for in the article linked far above. Obviously she is not in the least interested in correcting her mistakes, for there is little doubt that she is aware of my critique.)
Readers of Tekton will enjoy how Tarico writes in the end about how we live in an age now where we can amass knowledge. We have information online via living documents. For her, the great example of this on pages 240-241 is Wikipedia. Looking at her book, it wouldn’t be surprising if she had done all her research on Wikipedia. A look at the problems with Wikipedia can be found here.
To conclude, Tarico’s approach is a shotgun approach that doesn’t interact with the opposition. Indeed, reading her book, you’d think the opposition didn’t really have any works out there addressing Tarico’s claims. Tarico takes a light approach to all topics and assumes there can be no answer and moves on. Light thinking like this is good for skepticism. It is deep thinking that wrestles with the hard questions that leads one to the truth however and especially to the person who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)