J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.
J.W. Wartick has written 608 posts for J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"

“Family Guy” is no friend of atheists

creation-of-adam-detailI used to watch almost every episode of Family Guy in the first season or two. I thought it was sometimes a clever show, but as it went on it seemed to devolve into a series of flashbacks and random, drawn-out asides which broke apart the coherence of the story. I recently saw most of an episode of “Family Guy” in which it was revealed that Brian, the family’s dog (who talks and is essentially part of the family), is an atheist. The episode is called “Not All Dogs Go to Heaven.”

My first observation is that despite the apparent intent to make people more aware of the demonization which happens with atheists, the episode does not portray Brian in the best light by any means. For one, Brian’s reasons for remaining an atheist are revealed to be a bit absurd to say the least. When Meg–the daughter who is often the butt of jokes on the show–asked Brian why he doesn’t believe in God given “all the evidence,” he responded with an argument that made my jaw drop. To paraphrase him, he said that Hubble Space Telescope has been taking so many amazing pictures of the wonders of the universe but has never found some old man with a white beard “out there” somewhere. It then cut to an aside with an old man with a beard riding on something with some sweet music in the background [see my comments on the show being a bunch of asides and flashbacks].

Seriously, that is apparently one of Brian’s main reasons for rejecting theism, according to the episode. Really? I don’t know if this is really a reflection of what Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) believes about Christianity; but if it is he needs to perhaps reflect upon his own rejection of it. The notion that God should be found somewhere in the physical universe by something as simplistic as the Hubble Space Telescope (or anything, for that matter) and would be seen as an old man with a beard is… well, obscene. If that were my picture of what Christians believed, I’d be an atheist too. But Christians don’t believe this. Instead, they believe that God is spirit and one cannot artistically make anything which looks like God. The old man with a beard was popularized by some Christian art which, for the sake of depicting deity, chose that image to portray God. That doesn’t mean Christians actually believe God is an old man with a beard cruising through space somewhere.

The worst part about this scene is that it seems like Brian is supposed to get points for his response here somehow. That is, it’s like the viewer can feel a running tally going and apparently they’re supposed to check one off for the atheists. But gross misrepresentation of others’ religion does not mean that one has made a good point. Sure, people can sit around laughing at the notion that God is some old white guy–I’ll join them!–but to think that Brian said anything constructive is absurd. I realize it is a TV show, and a fairly shallow one at that, but I expected more. Mea Culpa, I suppose.

So it seems Brian’s atheism is based upon a farce. But that’s not the only reason I think this episode is actually unfriendly to atheists. In a later conversation with Meg, who has newly found a rather zealous faith, he confronts her belief directly with what is apparently some kind of knock-down argument because it destroys her faith:

Meg: “You are not gonna turn me from my faith, Brian!”
Brian: “Ok, fine. Then let me just ask you this. If there were a God would he put you here on Earth with a flat chest and a fat [butt]?”
Meg: “I’m made in his image…”
Brian: “Really? Would he give you a smoking hot mom like Lois and then have you grow up looking like Peter [her odd looking brother]? …And what kind of God would put you in a house where no one respects or cares about you?”

That is essentially the extent of the comments on Brian’s reasoning for atheism. Apparently, for Brian [and perhaps MacFarlane, depending upon if he is actually sharing his view], God’s entire purpose should be to go around making everyone’s life the best possible life ever. God is some kind of cosmic vending machine, and if you don’t win the lottery, you should doubt the existence of that vending machine. What was most horrifying about this sequence, in my opinion, was the fact that the “image of God” was reduced down to having a hot body. Ridiculous! Being made in God’s image does not mean that everyone is going to be physically perfect. Such a notion completely misrepresents what is meant by the “image of God” which historic Christianity has long held refers to the intellect, soul, reason, etc.; not physical perfection or even physical form.

Brian’s last retort seems to seal the deal for Meg. After all, why would God put people in homes in which they aren’t cared for? Well, I don’t know, why would God put Joseph in a home in which his brothers sold him into slavery? Oh… right. You see, anyone who thinks that is an objection to the existence of God presumes they know better than God. That is, they know how to run things; they should be in charge. But I’m sorry to anyone who thinks that: you don’t. Moreover, why assume that we should know the reasons for this, or even that there are reasons? Again, I am stretching the philosophical muscle of the show quite a bit [understatement of the millenium], but the whole episode seems disingenuous.

The episode did do some good things, however, in showing the absurdity of mistreating and abusing atheists due to their lack of shared belief. I agree with this. We should not say atheists are automatically terrible people or that we wouldn’t want to live next to them. Anyone who does endorse mistreatment of atheists is acting in a decidedly un-Christian manner and should repent. Period. My point in this post is simply that this episode of Family Guy doesn’t do atheists any favors. It misrepresents Christianity in order to abuse it, but it also presents atheism in an extremely shallow way. Rather than spurring discussion, the episode merely seems bent upon mutual ridicule. I hope my atheist friends would choose, instead, to engage in dialogue rather than resorting to this kind of nonsense–and the same goes for my Christian friends as well.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Explained

pw-jj…I realized that Pascal’s Wager is a much stronger argument than I had thought.

Let’s get it out of the way: Pascal’s Wager does not have much “street cred.” It’s much-maligned as nothing more than rolling the dice, and doing so for no good reason. After all, on which deity should one wager?

Here, I’ll take a look at one formulation of Pascal’s Wager, then very briefly offer a way to perhaps circumvent the “many gods” objection. I’ll be relying heavily upon Jeff Jordan’s book, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God, in what follows.

One way to lay out the Wager may be as follows (quoted from Jordan, 23, cited below):

1. for any person S, and alternatives, a and b, available to S, if the expected utility of a exceeds that of b, S should choose a
2. believing in God carries more expected utility than does not believing
3. Therefore, one should believe in God

Now, this is a pretty straightforward argument. 3, the conclusion, follows via modus ponens. Thus, it is up to the one who wants to deny 3 to deny one of the premises. Let’s examine each in turn.

Premise 1 seems to be logical, but it has actually garnered just as many objections as the second premise. Some have argued that one should not reduce belief in God to a “gamble” or some pragmatic choice. Others have argued that one cannot simply choose to believe and argued that the Wager results in Doxastic Voluntarism–the notion that one may simply change beliefs at will. In order to combat each objection in turn, one would have to show that it may be permissible to choose pragmatically even in religion. Jordan argues to this effect at length, but for the sake of argument I think it may be enough to just say that generally, we do make choices which we think will benefit us, and this is not an objectionable path of reasoning. Moreover, the Wager does not reduce to doxastic voluntarism, for one may indeed change one’s disposition toward something, but not at will. This is a complex argument, and I think we may set it aside for now because there is nothing in Premise 1 which would demand doxastic voluntarism.

Premise 2, of course, is highly contentious as well. Some allege that belief in God prevents the joys of hedonistic living; others allege that one would not know which deity to choose; still others would argue that there could exist deities that would reward unbelief.

Again, dealing with each in turn would take quite some time, so I’ll simply offer a few comments. First, hedonistic living in one life would not outweigh the benefits of eternity with a benevolent deity. Second, the Wager may simply be used to prefer theism generally–after all, if one does not wager on any deity, there would be no possibility of infinite (or nearly limitless) expected utility from one’s wager. Third, inventing fictions to attempt to rival established religious traditions which have, presumably, been believed by our epistemic peers (to use the term of Jordan, 80-81) does not put them on par.

Now, it should be fairly clear that even an incredibly low probability for God’s existence may have much higher expected utility than unbelief, for the overall possible gain is much higher. Jordan elaborates on this and answers many objections (such as the notion that “betting” on something which is highly improbable is necessarily irrational). For now, I simply leave this statement hanging because it helps my purpose, which is to demonstrate to those interested that the Wager is worth investigating further.

Because of the above, another of the strengths of the argument may be found in its usefulness to the apologist. Pascal’s Wager, Jordan argued, may be viewed as a kind of “last ditch” argument for apologists and theism (24). After all, suppose one were to come up with an argument which convinced you that the truth of theism is quite unlikely indeed. In that case, Pascal’s Wager provides a rational reason to continue to believe in God. For, even if it is unlikely that God exists, the utility of believing that God exists has a potentially infinite reward and thus trumps the utility of not believing that God exists.

Remember, though, that this functions for any possibility of God existing that is greater than zero. It was at this point in the book that I realized that Pascal’s Wager is a much stronger argument than I had thought. Not only may it be adequate to ground theistic belief, but it also may serve as a kind of bulwark against anti-theistic arguments as well.

I have argued that Pascal’s Wager may be formulated in such a way that one should believe in God. Now there is, of course, much more nuance and many more objections to each premise. Interested readers should check out Jeff Jordan’s Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Question of the Week: Wagering Much?- In this post, I asked the question of apologists about whether or not they used Pascal’s Wager. The feedback I got was diverse and interesting. Check out the post, and let me know your own thoughts.

Source

Jeff Jordan, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (New York: Oxford, 2006).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Is God in Control of Disasters?

Chance_comps.inddEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Is God in Control of Disasters?

I’ve been reading through Chance and the Sovereignty of God by Vern Poythress recently and I’m really interested in the topic. It’s one I have considered for a PhD thesis so I was really interested to dig in and see what Poythress had to say (I have reviewed the book here). One interesting part was Poythress’ comments on disasters and sovereignty:

The main alternative is to say that God is not thoroughly in control. It says that some disasters “just happen,” apart from God’s control. This alternative is superficially attractive, because it appears to protect the goodness of God… further reflection shows that it is not satisfying–in fact it is spiritually devastating… If God is in control… we have a consolation such as the Bible provides… that God is able to bring good out of evil.

…[W]hat if we say that God is not in control of the disaster? God might still do something good in the response. But the disaster itself is still out of control, and inherently unredeemable. There is no comfort to be had for it. We are left with fear for the future. (Kindle location 738, cited below)

What do you think? When a disaster strikes, like Hurricane Katrina, it is inevitable that some will stand up and say it was God’s judgment on a town. Others quote Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-5 and say that these disasters come seemingly at random. Are these mutually exclusive claims? What are your thoughts on Poythress’ comments: do they show that it is better to say God is in control than not?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote- If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Book Review: “Chance and the Sovereignty of God” by Vern Poythress- Check out my review of this interesting book about chance and God’s control over all events.

Source

Vern Poythress, Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

SDG.

Question of the Week: Where do you stand on gender?

question-week2Each Week on Saturday, I’ll be asking a “Question of the Week.” I’d love your input and discussion! Ask a good question in the comments and it may show up as the next week’s question! I may answer the questions in the comments myself.

Gender

It’s no secret on this blog that I support egalitarianism–the view that men and women should serve God through giftedness instead of by gender (read on this topic here). However, I’m curious to see what spectrum my readers have on this important topic.

What do you think is the correct biblical view of the relationship between the genders?

It is worth noting that the dichotomy between full egalitarianism/full complementarinism is a false one. There are those who hold that women may be leaders in the church but not the home (and vice versa), along with a spectrum of other beliefs among these. So I’m curious to know what you think. Let’s not start a theology war here; this post is intended merely for sharing your position.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Question of the Week- Check out other questions and give me some answers!

SDG.

Really Recommended Posts 7/25/14- Lewis, Jesus Myth, the Bible, and more!

postAround the ‘net we go, where we stop, I guarantee a good read! Check out this latest round of recommended posts, on subjects like C.S. Lewis’ apologetics, the need to read the Bible, the Jesus myth, and more! Make sure to drop a comment at the sites of those whose posts you enjoyed, and let me know what you thought her!

The Telephone Game and Biblical Transmission- Is the “Telephone Game” really an analogue for how the Bible was transmitted over time? Short answer: no. Check out this post to find out many problems with this analogy.

C.S. Lewis and the Language of Apologetics- I cannot emphasize how great a read this post is. It discusses how Lewis’ apologetic is able to penetrate even secularized countries like the Czech Republic. It is imperative to realize that the Gospel is to be presented in different ways to different people. I discovered this post through The Poached Egg, which is a site well worth bookmarking for its constant stream of quality apologetics links.

How do you respond to Conquests in the Old Testament- The problem of “Holy War” in the Bible is one which many feel acutely. Here, some of the most interesting responses are briefly summarized. I found this to be a helpful introduction to the issues.

Why Mythicism Should Not Be Taken Seriously- Nick Peters looks into some of the issues with the “Jesus Myth” movement. In particular, he examines the historiographic approach of those who are trying to show that Jesus never existed. It’s a fascinating read about a strange topic.

Open the Book- Here is an exhortation: open the Bible and read it! This post is worth a read too, as it gives a brief history behind how we got the Bible in our hands today.

7 Things Christian Parents Can Learn from the Tim Lambesis Story- Here, some very good insights into the need for apologetics and solid grounding in theology are taken from the story of Tim Lambesis- the lead singer of a band who has recently said he rejected his Christian faith but kept the label in order to sell records. Check out these great insights. See also my post On Christian Music.

 

Ken Ham Rescinds Alien Damnation?

mars-1I wrote very recently about Ken Ham declaring aliens eternally doomed. Now, however, Ken Ham is claiming that headlines like my post (or those declaring aliens are going to hell) are mistaken. I just want to briefly look at this claim. In his most recent blog article, he states:

So, “is there intelligent life in outer space?” After reading the Huffington Post article and the other items on secular websites responding to my article, my answer is this: “there doesn’t seem to be much intelligent life left here on earth—let alone to find any in outer space!”

Well, that’s all well and good, but I’m curious as to how someone could say that I would be mistaken for thinking that this would somehow make invalid the analysis I made of his site regarding aliens being doomed. But it seems Ham is responding by simply saying that there are no intelligent beings elsewhere, and so we are supposed to conclude that that somehow means aliens would not be doomed (because there are none). But that doesn’t really meet the analysis of some of those who are critiquing Ham’s position.

What it comes down to is Ken Ham’s own words:

You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.

Thus, according to Ken Ham himself, if aliens do exist, “they can’t have salvation.” I’m not sure exactly what distinction is to be made between this and going to hell, but it seems that Ham’s only answer is that there are no aliens, so this doesn’t apply. Again, that doesn’t meet the critique I’ve already leveled against his view.

But, perhaps I’m mistaken and Ham is merely trying to assert that only certain headlines are mistaken. He cites these specifically: “Creationist Ken Ham Says Aliens Will Go To Hell So Let’s Stop Looking For Them”; “Creationist Ken Ham: Aliens are going to hell so just stop looking for them.” I think it’s fair to say that these headlines are not exactly accurate representations of Ham’s view. Instead, Ham seems to be saying 1) Aliens don’t exist; 2) Because they don’t exist, we shouldn’t bother to spend time looking for them; 3) a theological reason for thinking they don’t exist is that they “can’t have salvation.”

It is point 3 which I took issue with in my post, but the headlines Ham cites seem to combine all 3 points into one without any clarity. Thus, I appreciate Ham clarifying his position. The points I brought up in my critique, however, still stand.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Ken Ham Declares Aliens Eternally Doomed- I analyze Ken Ham’s statements about aliens and the possibility for their salvation.

Alien life: Theological reflections on life on other planets- I engage in some [highly] speculative theology related to the possibility of aliens.

Did God Create the Universe for Humans?-Some Thoughts on God’s purposes for creating-  I argue that God’s purposes in creating are needlessly limited when people object that God created the universe [only] for humankind.

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”- I reflect on a science fiction book, Calculating God, which has aliens that believe in God.

 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ken Ham Declares Aliens Eternally Doomed

Constellation_Fornax,_EXtreme_Deep_FieldKen Ham, a prominent young earth creationist and the founder of Answers in Genesis, recently lamented on his blog about the money being spent on the search for extraterrestrial life in space. Interestingly, part of his objection was that aliens probably don’t exist because they would not be saved:

I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.

That’s correct: according to Ken Ham, we can speculate about whether aliens may or may not exist (though both he and I agree that we think it is very improbable), but we can know for sure that aliens cannot be saved. Keep this in mind through the rest of my post: Ken Ham did not say that aliens may not be saved, but rather that they “can’t” be saved.

Space and Cost

Ken Ham was concerned with the notion that we’re spending so much money on space travel: “I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life.”

I would first point out that the money being thrown at this is hardly exclusively dedicated to the search for ET. Rather, much of it goes to new technology like new telescopes, listening devices, etc. which actually bring benefits for the rest of society. Thus, the money is not being spent in a “fruitless” fashion.

One might come back and say: “What if all that money was instead spent on feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, etc.?” I think that’s a valid point and it is one with some initial force. One wonders, though, about the notion of division of effort. There is a real sense in which not all of human effort may be directed towards one end. As a Christian, I certainly desire to aid those in need, but I would not say that means every dollar I spend should be directed towards that end. There are other evils than need in the world (such as abortion) to direct effort towards, and there are also other goods to promote (evangelization would be one I would list). As such, my activity must be divided. Similarly, on a national level, there are numerous ends to pursue, and an argument which reduces national spending to a single issue is simplistic.

I’m open to disagreement here and would love to hear from those who are either pro-space exploration or con. I lean pro- but I think there is some force to arguments against.

153734main_image_feature_626_ys_4Doomed Aliens

The thrust of Ken Ham’s post, however, was that aliens would not be saved. He acknowledged that “[T]he Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space.” Given his nod to the fact that the Bible is clearly not concerned with the broader universe, it is then shocking to find that Ham asserted without qualifications that “[aliens] can’t have salvation.” I wonder: where is that found in the Bible? Where might I find the notion that: “If aliens exist, they can’t have salvation” implied in the Bible?

Ham’s argument was an implicit one: because “The Earth was created for human life” (an example of the single-end fallacy regarding God’s creation which I discussed elsewhere), and “Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.”

The argument depends upon a number of hidden and explicit premises. First, one must ask in what way Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. Does that mean that intelligent aliens instantly became cursed and condemned by the Fall? It seems Ham’s argument depends upon that premise, but there is surely no bibical data to back that up. Rather, Ham is assuming that the Fall means that any other life in the universe would necessarily be sinful and in a state of rebellion against God. Although the Bible speaks of humans being in rebellion against God, and it speaks of “all creation groan”ing awaiting for God’s coming to reconcile all things, it is surely a massive inference to leap from that to the notion that any aliens anywhere are eternally doomed.

Second, the argument assumes that God did not or would not (can not!?) mediate between other sentient beings and God. Surely it is a major assumption to state that God would not operate in a certain fashion about speculative aliens who have speculatively been included in the Fall and are speculatively doomed for eternity! For Ham to turn around and just assert that God would not save these aliens (or again, perhaps cannot, because he states that they “can’t have salvation), is a major theological error.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the question of how Ham reconciles his first premise with his premise that “because [aliens] are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.” After all, the same proof-texts which may be cited to try to imply that all of creation groans under the Fall (Romans 8) could also be taken, when read with the same presumptions, to mean that aliens will be saved or at least have hope of salvation: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God [Romans 8:20-21 NIV].”

Thus, Ham’s argument has a faulty conclusion: if it is true that all of the universe fell through Adam and is therefore doomed, then it equally follows that, according to the same text, it will all be saved through Jesus as the new Adam (not universalism, but rather the “hope of salvation”). There are no grounds for Ham’s assumptions.

Conclusion

Ken Ham has overstated his case to the extreme. Although he may have some force to his argument about the needless spending of money on various space exploration projects (and again, I think these aren’t needless but that perhaps his side has some a priori power), he has committed some major blunders when it comes to speaking of the possibility of alien salvation.

As always, I’d love to have your thoughts in the comments. What do you think about Ham’s statements? Be sure to check out his blog post to get his side of the argument.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Alien life: Theological reflections on life on other planets- I engage in some [highly] speculative theology related to the possibility of aliens.

Did God Create the Universe for Humans?-Some Thoughts on God’s purposes for creating-  I argue that God’s purposes in creating are needlessly limited when people object that God created the universe [only] for humankind.

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”- I reflect on a science fiction book, Calculating God, which has aliens that believe in God.

 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

On the “Fuzzification” of Inerrancy

fff-jwm[Theological a]djustment is achieved through “interpretation”–in theological parlance, hermeneutics… [I]f the loss of the term “inerrancy”… is fraught with sufficiently dire consequences, there will be the strongest temptation to retain these expressions while giving the Bible such “adjustive interpretation” that negatively critical approaches to it can be employed anyway. (Montgomery, 217, cited below)

The definition of inerrancy has been hotly disputed as of late. The infamous Geisler-Licona controversy, which continues to boil over at points, serves as a poignant example of this (see here for a Christianity Today article on the controversy; see also links below for a few discussions of the same). What is meant by inerrancy? Are we in a new era of Bible wars? These are the questions being asked right now.

I remember reading an essay from a book–Faith Founded on Fact–by noted Christian apologist John Warwick Montgomery entitled “The Fuzzification of Inerrancy.” The quote above comes from the essay, and it has gotten me thinking. Have lines been crossed? Where do we draw the lines anyway?

Montgomery defined “fuzzification” following James Boren. It is the “presentation of a matter in terms that permit adjustive interpretation” (217, cited below). Turning back to the quote above, the term speaks of the need to retain a specific idea essentially at all costs. Thus, when a challenge is raised to that idea, the idea is broadened or changed to incorporate the data raised by the challenge. Montgomery, originally writing in 1978, seems at times prophetic. He spoke of a time when one might see a contradiction, source theory, or even possibly an error in the Bible and simply define it as “a question of hermeneutics, not of inspiration at all!” (218); he worried about a time when “the ‘inerrancy’ with which one  is left is an inerrancy devoid of meaningful content”; and he warned of the dangers of “adjustive interpretation” (227).

I wonder, at times, whether his statements have come to fruition. When I survey various works from evangelicals on interpretation or hermeneutics I find a baffling array of ways we are to understand individual passages or how we are to interpret various passages. Turning to Church Fathers, I find a number of passages in which their readings would be unrecognizable today due to the heavy use of allegory in passages we take to be literal or explicitly historical in genre. Moreover, the question of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy looms large. As with any document, questions are raised about what exactly is meant in each clause or in what way individual denials or affirmations might be meant.

It’s enough to make one wonder whether it is time to go back to a baseline understanding. “I believe the Bible is true in whatever it teaches.”*

The question that will be immediately raised, of course, is “What does the Bible teach?” The overriding desire to restrict exactly what it is the Bible teaches and prevent so-called “liberal” scholarship from finding ground to stand on in evangelicalism has led to an incessant narrowing of the definition of inerrancy, such that clause after clause is piled one atop the other to the point that it is hard to operate within such limits. Moreover, it seems some of these definitions actually prevent development within theology and squelch the impulse to question received traditions in light of new evidence.

The danger that some may think is posed by whittling the definition of inerrancy down to something like “The Bible is true in all that it teaches” may perhaps have some of the concern negated by the fact that it gets the dialogue going. If people return to this question: if someone genuinely, with open heart and mind, asks me “What does the Bible teach?” then I think that’s a glorious thing. Moreover, one may wonder at the purpose of inerrancy: is it a way to declare that the Bible is without error (as it seems to be based on the word itself); or is it a way to define how we go about reading the Bible? After all, if it is simply a declaration that the Bible is without error, should not simply declaring it as such be sufficient?

Perhaps it’s time to de-“fuzzify” inerrancy and get back to the basics. We may ask “What is the thrust of the doctrine of inerrancy?” instead of “What rival theological views may I exclude with the definition of inerrancy?”

Perhaps the danger of “fuzzification” from dehistoricizing texts, critical scholarship, and the like has in fact led to a fuzzification of the definition of inerrancy by making it over-determine the limits within which one may operate. I’m not claiming to offer all the answers, nor should it be thought that I am rejecting inerrancy. Far from it.** What I am instead rejecting is a “fuzzification” of the doctrine: when did declaring the Bible to be God’s Word and Truth become so complex that volumes of books were necessary simply to define what that means?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

*This definition has suggested itself to me from a number of sources, including Nick Peters of Deeper Waters.

**I’m sure some people will take any questioning of current discussion about inerrancy to be denying the doctrine. However, this post is clearly written in order to defend the doctrine. What does inerrancy mean? That’s the thrust of this post, not “Inerrancy is false.” I believe the Bible is true in all it teaches.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Review: “Faith Founded on Fact” by John Warwick Montgomery- I review Montgomery’s well-known book on apologetic methodology.

Inerrancy- Check out my other posts on this topic. (Scroll down for more posts.)

The Geisler/Licona Debate- Nick Peters has a number of posts on this controversy if you want to read up on the topic. This post summarizes the debate and offers a thoughtful critique, in my opinion.

The Geisler/Licona Controversy- A quick, easy read on the reasoning behind the controversy.

SDG.

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Sunday Quote!- Creationism and Foundationalism

dbf-osbornEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Creationism and Foundationalism

Creationism (particularly the young earth variety) is a topic I’m very interested in, so I read Osborn’s book Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering with great eagerness. I recently reviewed the book, so you can check that out for my thought on the work as a whole. Here, Osborn is arguing that creationism relies upon modernist notions of epistemic foundationalism (essentially, a view that our knowledge must be based upon some irrefutable or simply necessarily assumed bedrock belief)*:

Creationists have posited a… source of absolute certainty… the firm foundation or base of universal and infallible knowledge on which all truth is said to rest is a “plain” reading of Scripture alone, with particular emphasis on the first verses of the book of Genesis…

Creationism is… not merely indubitable. It is incorrigible–it canot be undermined or altered by any new information… It is impervious to the weight of empirical and historical evidence. (44, 46, cited below)

Here is one of the great insights of Osborn’s book: that Creationism is an epistemology. That is, it is a way of knowing as opposed to simply a position on what is to be known. I have found this to be the case in many discussions with young earth creationists. There simply is no such thing as evidence which can challenge the position. Rather, all things which purport to be said challenges are often seen as either deceptions of secular scientists or results of anti-Bible presuppositions. I think this is a very problematic position.

What are your thoughts? Is YEC falsifiable–is it possible for it to be false? Does YEC turn into a way of knowing?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote- If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Book Review: “Death Before the Fall” by Ronald Osborn- I review Osborn’s book, outlining its contents while also providing some comments on its value.

Source

Ronald Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsit, 2014).

*Yes, this is simplified. Want to dig in? Check out this article on the topic.

SDG.

Question of the Week- The Focus of Apologetics

question-week2Each Week on Saturday, I’ll be asking a “Question of the Week.” I’d love your input and discussion! Ask a good question in the comments and it may show up as the next week’s question! I may answer the questions in the comments myself.

The Focus of Apologetics

I am obviously very interested in apologetics, and one thing I often wonder is where energy dedicated to apologetics research might be most beneficial. In light of that, here’s the Question of the Week:

What would you say is the single most important issue which apologists should work to understand more fully?

Could it be the problem of evil? Natural evil? Textual criticism? Defining inerrancy? Outlining the science/religion perspectives? Something else entirely? Let me know what you think the most important issue is in the comments.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Question of the Week- Check out other questions and give me some answers!

SDG.

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