Friday, June 15, 2018

A Tribute to Elliot Miller

A few weeks ago, we received the sad news that a dear friend and colleague had passed away. Elliot Miller was the chief editor of the Christian Research Journal, and for many years he was an active presence in apologetics for the Christian Research Institute. Elliot was also a good friend of mine, and he and our wives would get together at least twice a year in person to enjoy our shared interest in natural wonders and hiking at state parks. He and his wife were also among the only people we knew who also enjoyed visiting museums and other informational exhibits. 

We met this past weekend with his wife to see her one last time before she moved back to California (though we also plan to visit here there in coming months). He and Corinne had moved to Florida some years ago, to semi-retire, which is how we started the tradition of meeting twice a year. They lived down on Florida's southeast coast, a two hour drive away from us. 

Elliot had a great sense of humor. I showed him a few of my TektonTV videos, and he always got a hearty laugh out of them. I remember he especially enjoyed the one where I used the fiction of a time machine to bring together versions of Hal Lindsey from various decades (70s, 80s, 90s, and 2010s) who then confronted each other with their own errors. Like me, he had little patience with the constantly erroneous end times salesmen who kept changing their tune each time their predictions went awry. He was also a prolific writer, and his volumes of research work, especially on cults and Eastern mysticism, will continue to provide value for seekers in the years to come. And of course, he was an able juggler of the many responsibilities that went into editing and publishing the leading Christian apologetics journal in the world.

I offer this tribute as a way to say goodbye to him as a friend and colleague, but also to say that there's a certain torch I have pledged to take up for him, and that will be gladly occupying my time for a while. I'll release more details when they become available. 

  We will miss you, Elliot. See you again soon.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Stewed Tomato Trap

As Jesse Duplantis begs for $54 million to buy a jet plane, let's remember this little ditty popularized by Josh McDowell (though I am sure he didn't originate the basic idea):

For example, suppose a student comes into the room and says, “Hey-I have a stewed tomato in my right tennis shoe. This tomato has changed my life. It has given me peace and love and joy that I never experienced before.” It’s hard to argue with a student like that if his life backs up what he says. 

Yes, it's hard to argue with a student like that, but it's not because his life backs up what he says.  It's because we long ago fell into this trap where subjective experience trumps objective fact.

In an objective sense, you could run that student in circles with arguments on why the stewed tomato isn't that cause of his peace. The most obvious point is that it has the bearing of the tail wagging the dog. But the real reason you can't argue with this student is because all the relevant data is locked away in his skull behind a wall of what some politely call confirmation bias. You can't argue with it if the student wants it to be true.

The corollary point to this is where we segue into Duplantis' $54 million excursion into foolishness. This is just the latest of so many examples. (Who remembers Oral Roberts saying God would "call him home" if his followers didn't pony up $8 million? Oral's people were getting a relative bargain.) It is also the fruit of the stewed tomato trap. Under the assumption that you can't argue with experiences of peace, love and joy, it follows as a corollary in the minds of critics that you also can't argue with expressions of greed, selfishness, and dissatisfaction. Christianity (the stewed tomato) has changed Duplantis' life this way? No thanks. Directions to the nearest Buddhist temple, please.

McDowell used the stewed tomato analogy a lot in his time. It was no surprise then that when I asked him some questions many years ago, he said that he never started with apologetics when talking to people and that his apologetics works were not meant to be evangelistic tools. He said as much as well in Evidence That Demands A Verdict: His goal was to use apologetics to answer questions so he could get back to presenting the stewed tomato.

Attitudes like this are no aid to apologetics, and foolish excursions like the one Duplantis is on only make the job of apologetics harder. Thanks to the stewed tomato trap, it is hard to argue against it.