apologetics

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Move Over, Kalam, Here is the best argument for theism

100_2744Yeah, I said it. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is in vogue, and for good reason. It’s an extremely powerful argument for the existence of God, the first Cause. Nothing I say here should be taken as a condemnation of the Kalam. However, I don’t think it is the most powerful argument for theism. In fact, I don’t think it’s even close. The Argument from Religious Experience wins that prize, and it is a landslide.

Is it so powerful?

The obvious question is this: what makes the Argument from Religious Experience (hereafter ARE) so powerful? Here are just a few reasons:

1. The ARE is malleable and may be used as an argument for a) merely the existence of the transcendent–anything beyond the physical world; b) theism specifically c) Christianity specifically.
2. The ARE does not rely upon anything more than things we already do in everyday life, such as trusting that people are reporting the truth.
3. The ARE has evidence backed from millions of persons across the world and time.
4. It is possible, though not at all certain, to have personal confirmation of the ARE.

Why Not ARE?

Okay, well if it’s so strong, why don’t more apologists use the argument? There are a number of reasons, and some are basic: they haven’t read about the argument in much popular apologetic literature and so are unfamiliar with the argument, they know of it but are unsure of how to formulate it in a helpful way, or they simply haven’t thought about how powerful the argument is. Another reason may be (as I suggested elsewhere) that apologists prefer arguments that are useful in debate formats.

To be honest, though, I think the primary reason is because the ARE has almost an inherent strangeness to it. There is a kind of spiritualism about the argument itself which might turn off apologists who would prefer a purely deductive argument. If one wants to talk about a religious “experience,” there is a kind of feeling to that phrase which an argument like the Kalam does not share. Just admitting that there is a category of religious experience itself admits to a kind of transcendence, and I think that apologists–I include myself in this category–are overly cautious about spirituality. So let’s get over it and start using this powerful argument, okay?

What is the ARE?

As I noted in point 1 in favor of the ARE’s strength above, the argument itself is malleable and may be formulated in different ways (for some examples, see my post on the usefulness of the argument). Here’s a way to formulate it to merely defend a transcendent reality:

1. Generally, when someone has an experience of something, they are within their rational limits to believe the experience is genuine.
2. Across all socio-historical contexts, people have had experiences they purport to be of a transcendent realm.*
3. Therefore, it is rational to believe there is a transcendent realm.

Just consider this for a second. The argument leaves a few spaces to fill in for the sake of making it deductively valid, but we’ll just look at how it stands now. Suppose that 2 is true. In that case, one who wants to deny the ARE’s strength would have to say that all of the experiences of these people have been in error. Frankly, when it comes down to it, that’s a pretty big claim, because reports of religious experience really do come from all times and places.

The argument, though, can be narrowed to defend theism specifically or even Christianity. For more on this, see my post talking about its strength as it narrows.

Now point 2 above suggested the ARE doesn’t rely on anything more than what we do in everyday life. I am speaking, of course, of the principle of credulity: the notion that when x appears to someone in way s, it is rational [barring some epistemic  defeater]** to believe that x is s (or some other formulation). Moreover, we also trust the principle of testimony: when person x tells us that y occurred, it is prima facie rational to believe y. When you read a news story and someone says they saw a woman running from the scene of a crime, it is rational to believe them. Similarly, when millions say they have experienced a transcendent realm, prima facie it is rational to believe them.

religious-symbolsThe Knock Down Objection?

The most common objection is the objection from competing religions. That is, if person x has an experience that purports to prove Christianity, and person y has an experience of the truth of Buddhism, what then? Often it is suggested that x and y’s testimony would just cancel each other out. But of course that’s not the case in any other area of experience. If I am a witness in court testifying about a murder, and I say I saw a tall dark male commit the crime, while another witness says they saw a short pale male, does each testimony cancel the other? Well, suppose the criminal was of average male height and fairly tan. To me, a short very pale man, he would appear tall and dark. To someone who is taller than I and of darker skin, the person would appear short and pale.

The point is that even with religious experience, different facets may be recognized even were the experience the same. Now much more nuance needs to go into this argument, but I think cogent answers have been provided in the relevant literature. The point is that even the most common and strongest objection to the ARE really isn’t that powerful in the end, particularly when weighed against the cumulative force of religious experience.

Conclusion

I readily admit this post has only very briefly touched on issues which could each take entire volumes to discuss. There is so much more to consider, and so many avenues to explore, but I think my overall point stands: The ARE is the strongest argument for theism. Fellow apologists, I suggest you research the argument (see the suggested reading list at the end of this post and also check out my other posts below) and use it! Let’s integrate it into our defense of the faith. Let me know your own thoughts below.

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!

The Argument from Religious Experience: Some thoughts on method and usefulness- a post which puts forward an easy-to-use version of the ARE and discusses its importance in apologetic endeavors.

The Argument from Religious Experience: A look at its strength- I evaluate the different ways the ARE may be presented and discuss how strong the argument may be considered across different formulations.

The image above to the left was a photo taken by me and I claim all rights noted below. The image to the right is from Wiki Commons.

*[thanks to a commentator for correcting this error- see comments]
**In the interest of shortening this post, I glossed over tightening of the principle of credulity and have added this clause to make it more clear.

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.

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“Is Faith a False Epistemology?”- Debate Review: Tim McGrew vs. Peter Boghossian

question-week2Peter Boghossian, whose recently wrote a book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, recently met with Tim McGrew in a debate on the Unbelievable? radio program. Here, we’ll take a look at the debate and what we might conclude from it. The Unbelievable? show is set up like a moderated dialogue, and Justin Brierly often asks thoughtful questions throughout the dialogue. Unless otherwise noted, anything in quotation marks are the exact words of the speakers.

McGrew Opening

McGrew notes that he went into epistemology and philosophy of science due to his interest in evidence for his faith. He shares his chagrin that there doesn’t seem to be any “trickle down” from academic arguments about the faith into internet debates–though he tongue-in-cheek noted that it is “surprising” that someone on the internet might be wrong. He notes that philosophy of religion has given many different reasons to think that faith is grounded in evidence and good reasons to think Christianity is true.

Boghossian Opening 

Boghossian notes his movement of “street epistemology” is not about evangelizing for atheism but rather a call to people to think more rationally. He says he wanted to write a book which was aimed at the kind of conversations people have on the street. Developed theology, he says, is “purposeful obfuscation” which has no respect for. Brierly asked Boghossian what, in his view, would believers reaction be when challenged on their thinking, to which Boghossian answered that people would be “disabused of… superstitions” and must be more careful with how they use the word “faith.” He sees people leaving their faith as a consequence of reasoning. His book, he says, is a way to equip people to dialogue about faith without being uncivil.

Dialogue Highlights

McGrew

McGrew states that Boghossian is defining terms in “irregular ways,” particularly the definition of “faith.” He states that he knows of no one outside of Boghossian and those he has encouraged, who defines faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know” (this is the actual definition Boghossian provides for the word “faith”).

Boghossian

The primary definition of “faith” should instead be seen as “belief without evidence.” He says he’s focused on how people use the word faith as opposed to dealing with definitions. He states that this is how “literally billions” of people define faith (belief without evidence). “Pretending to know what you don’t know” is “a very valid” definition of faith, though “belief without evidence” is to be seen as the primary definition.

McGrew

The vast majority of people do not use faith to mean belief without evidence. Even atheists like “The Good Atheist” are opposed to Boghossian’s definition of faith.

Boghossian

I’m concerned with how “people actually use terms.” When people use the term “faith” they mean there is confidence over and above the value of the evidence. Prominent Christians also use the word “faith” to mean belief without evidence.

McGrew

Boghossian has already changed his definition of faith by now saying that “faith” means “belief with confidence above that which is allowed by the evidence” (paraphrase). These definitions are not the same as belief without evidence. Well below 1% use faith in that same fashion. There may be different conceptions of what counts as evidence, but this does not mean that people think they are believing without evidence.

Faith should be defined as “trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of  difficulties.” McGrew uses an example of a parachute: one who is going skydiving may be apprehensive about jumping out of a plane despite knowing that the vast majority of people make the ground alive when they go skydiving. One can know all of this evidence, but can still say they have “faith” that their instructor packed the parachute correctly. There is a distinction between hope and faith.

Boghossian

People use faith and hope as synonyms, but they are not. But where “does evidence stop and faith take over?”

McGrew

Putting it that way prejudices the outcome of the question, because it puts the question in such a way that faith has to “sometimes make up” evidence for action or belief. But when we act, we are not acting on percentages but rather we are acting or trusting in something on the basis of the evidence we have, despite not having complete certainty.

religious-symbolsBrierly

Justin Brierly eventually cut in and moved to refocus the conversation around Boghossian’s claims that faith should be seen as a mental illness, complete with entire institutions devoted to treating faith as a disease and working towards “interventions” to move people away from faith. Brierly was quoting from Boghossian’s book in this section, and he asked Boghossian to expand on this.

Boghossian

It is “very unfair” to say that I target the Christian faith. “I am deeply hostile to all faiths… My attempt isn’t to demean anybody.” Religions should be seen as possible mental illness, and to exclude faith from treatment as a mental illness is hampering science. Faith “hijacks the thinking process… We need to help people through these delusions they have.”

McGrew

There still seems to be no point of agreement. To define faith in this manner is to “reduce disagreement to derision.” By defining faith as belief without evidence, Boghossian has derided people of faith. Essentially, the definition is propaganda: defining faith as inferior by default and so demeaning those people of faith.

Boghossian

When people have conversations with people of faith, they should not have a one-on-one conversation with name calling. The advocating of putting religion on the DSM (a manual for diagnosing various mental disorders) is not connected with everyday conversation and is so not insulting.

McGrew

Boghossian’s overall body of work defines faith in a way which is demeaning: “pretending to know what you don’t know.” If this is the strategy, this is like “newspeak” in 1984 by George Orwell.

Boghossian

The difference is that in public lectures, one should not do this. Instead, we should have “interventions” with people. People who have faith are “not well.” Apologetics is confirmation bias and is damaging.

McGrew

Boghossian seriously misunderstands the role of apologetics, which is the pursuit of whether a conviction holds up under scrutiny. It is no more necessary to make a detailed scholarly study of every faith before coming to a settled belief that only one is true than to have to read every biography of every person who was alive at the time Lincoln was shot to conclude that John Wilkes Booth shot him. To say otherwise is to “pretend” that one can’t have good evidence unless one concludes one doesn’t have good evidence for other things. We don’t have to rule out all alternatives to a theory, rather, one just has to have good evidence to hold that which they do.

Analysis

It should be fairly clear that Boghossian’s attitude towards people of faith is not one that is friendly, as he apparently claims. When someone says that people of faith need to have “interventions” and be studied as mentally ill, that hardly is a way to respect them. Moreover, he then advocated a kind of split-personality: when someone is one-on-one, they should not bring up the notion that the person of faith is mentally ill because that would be insulting, but apparently it’s not insulting when someone writes a book saying that very thing.

Clearly the biggest issue in this debate was that of the definition of faith. Here it should be seen that once again, Boghossian’s view did not hold up. He ended up actually changing his definition in the course of the conversation, when pressed, to belief beyond the evidence. But he still claimed that “billions of people” use the term “faith” to mean “belief without evidence.” I would simply ask Boghossian: what is your evidence for that claim? Has he talked to billions of people to discover this? Where is his data to back up this claim? It seems to me that Boghossian’s definition of faith is based upon his “pretending to know something he doesn’t know”–namely, that this is how people of faith define faith.

Polemical use of the term aside, I strongly suspect that Boghossian truly does not have evidence for his use of that term faith as backed by “billions.” Moreover, I wonder whether Boghossian defines faith in that way simply because he rejects the evidence for, say, Christianity, and has gone from his own view that there is no evidence for Christianity to saying that Christians must be having faith as “belief without evidence.” But of course disagreeing with someone else’s assessment of the evidence does not entail that the religious “other” believes they are believing without evidence.

McGrew did a fantastic job of continually orienting the discussion around the topic at hand: epistemology. Boghossian’s continued appeal to certainty or the alleged need to explore every faith to know if one is true was thoroughly shredded. As McGrew pointed out, Boghossian could hardly hold a single belief if one truly had to reject every other possibility in order to hold to one as true. Boghossian’s epistemology, it seems, is the faulty one.

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!

“Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician”- A brief look at the e-book by Tom Gilson- Tom Gilson has challenged Boghossian on a number of points, including his view of the meaning of “faith,” in his e-book “Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician.” It is well worth the read, and this review provides a summary of the major points.

Check out Tom Gilson’s live blog of the debate.

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.

Intelligent Design in Fiction – Ben Bova’s “New Earth” and Intelligent Design

bb-neBen Bova is a six time winner of the Hugo Award. His books hit best seller lists, and he is acknowledged as one of the all-time masters of science fiction. I’ve already explored several themes found in one of his latest books, New Earth. Here, we will look at how one might view the book as a fictionalization of the way to discover intelligent design in unexpected places. I should note that I am highly doubtful that Bova intended the book to be viewed through this lens, which makes the discovery of such a possible theme more surprising. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Expectations

When a team from Earth discovered the planet they dubbed “New Earth,” it defied explanation. Between a pair of stars, one of which went nova in the relatively recent past, the timing was off for such a planet to exist. The strangeness of the planet only increased when life was discovered on its surface. Finally, when intelligent life in fairly similar form to humans greet the human visitors in English, the astonishment of the explorers is complete.

But of course that’s not all that is strange about the planet. Under the surface it is actually hollow, with metal mantle that contains a gravity generator. Each of these aspects ultimately leads to the inescapable conclusion: the planet was designed for life, specifically life like that of Earth. The revelation comes from a Precursor–an ancient, sentient machine–the planet was designed to lure humans into first contact so a message of coming destruction could be delivered. The planet and the life on it were indeed designed with purpose. The eeriness of the situation is, in fact, telling.

Finding Design

In New Earth, when things show up with unexpected parameters or where they “should not be,” it is reason for further scientific exploration. Ultimately, this exploration yields the conclusion of design. I must emphasis this aspect of the book: design is not a hypothesis excluded at the outset. Instead, it is the logical outcome of putting the disparate pieces of evidence–unexpected location, age, life, types and forms of life, breathable atmosphere, hollow planet, etc.–together.

Put this in perspective: today one of the major critiques against the notion of “intelligent design” in the origins of life, its diversity, or our universe is that, essentially, one must have an a priori commitment to reject such intelligent causes as some kind of primitive magical reality in which people believe anything. However, in New Earth, epistemic openness to the possibility of design leads to real scientific discovery… of design.

I can’t help but think there is something informative here. The notion that scientific hypotheses must, by definition, exclude design not only would–if consistently practiced–remove any notion of agent causation from any situation (such as a human doing something), but could also hamper actual discovery. Methodological naturalism–the notion that science must operate in such a way as to exclude the possibility of agency–could actually be limiting the scientific enterprise. This is not to say that any unexpected observation should immediately be credited to design. Rather, my point is that if design is the most plausible of competing hypotheses, there is no reason to exclude it from the realm of possibility.

New Earth provides just such an example of how, ultimately, design was a better operating hypothesis than rival theories. When the explorers initially discussed the strange circumstances in the planet (specifically its seeming impossible location), one character remarked that [paraphrased] “It’s here! The models must be wrong!” Ultimately, this exclamation was shown to be incorrect: the models remained correct but did not account for the possibility of design.

Conclusion

One might note that Bova’s work perhaps shows the disjunct between design and naturalistic process. The juxtaposition of New Earth and its unexpected location, age, flora, and fauna against Earth’s more “typical” age and location provides readers with a reduced sense of the wonders of Earth. Moreover, in Bova’s broader canon, even Mars at one point had intelligent life upon its surface.

However, one must look to Earth and consider what we actually do observe rather than simply declaring that Earth “is here” so it must have gotten here through naturalistic means. Does Earth (or our universe) provide evidence for the hypothesis of design? That is, is design a more plausible explanation than naturalistic explanations which are offered? That’s a question which will take much exploration.

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!

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled with Life?- A reflection on Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”- I explore the notion that life should be expected all over the place in a post that looks at some of Bova’s most recent works.

Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God- Here, I present evidence that our universe indeed has been designed.

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale- I take a look at the book Fitzpatrick’s War, a novel of alternative history with steampunk. What could be better? Check out some of the worldview issues brought up in the book.

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

Source

Ben Bova, New Earth (New York: Tor, 2013).

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.

Book Review: “Imaginative Apologetics” edited by Andrew Davison

ia-ad Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition seeks to provide readers with ways to apply their imagination to the defense of the faith. John Milbank, in the foreword, suggests that apologetics may be used to instruct in the faith and also provide access to a transcendent reality through the imagination: “Instead of… a falsely ‘neutral’ approach… which accepts without question the terms and terminology of this world, we need a mode of apologetics prepared to question the world’s assumptions down to their very roots…” (xx). This mode “does not pretend that we have any access to what lies beyond the world save through the world and its analogical participation in that beyond” (xxi). Thus, the imagination may engage with the truth of religion.

The book is a series of essays dedicated broadly to this topic. Some of these are quite on-point. Donna Lazenby’s essay “Apologetics, Literature, and Worldview” is among these. In it, Lazenby engages with various atheists through the use of literature and suggests that non-theistic literature ultimately is left in a void, seeking a greater reality. Graham Ward’s essay “Cultural Hermeneutics and Christian Apologetics” is equally insightful, as Ward applies various critical theories to examining the broader implications for culture and understanding. Alison Milbank’s “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange” shows how the imagination may be engaged in worship and the religious life. These essays alone are worth the price of entry, and there are other bright spots throughout the work which are just as engaging.

However, Imaginative Apologetics is not without some serious flaws. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the book, in my opinion, is the sometime refrain and skepticism against “theistic proofs.” For example, John Hughes, in “Proofs and Arguments” suggests that “the rationalist project of proofs has sold out the Christian faith to deism and turned the God of Jesus Christ into an idol of human reason” (7). Strong words, but I’m not sure they are at all true. In particular, Hughes seemed to broadly label essentially any attempt at natural theology as equivalent to this rationalism. Later, Hughes does give a nod to the project of natural theology but–in a seemingly confused fashion–suggests that arguments like cosmological arguments are merely “more ancient arguments.” I wonder how he would comment on the modern retooling of the Kalam Cosmological Argument… would this be a project of “rationalism” and making deistic idols; or an evidence pointing to the truth of theism? The lack of distinctions being made left the definitions given in this essay (a lead-in for the rest of the discussion) with a decidedly amorphous view of the project of apologetics as a whole.

Later essays emulate this error at times. Craig Hovey’s “Christian Ethics as Good News” (an interesting piece itself) addresses a strange and seemingly false dichotomy of “two different understandings of what apologetics is all about… quasi-legal defences of a certain sort of self-confident Protestant who went around armed with a hundred and one proofs… [or] the early Church’s efforts to defend the faith against misunderstanding from their pagan neighbours…” (98). Hovey expressed some caution: “My unease with the proof version of apologetics stems from my suspicion that… [it may make] the point of being a Christian… to be right or rational” (99). Although he admits he wants to be right and rational too; he says there is more to Christianity than that.

I admit I know of no published Christian apologist today who thinks that “the point of being a Christian” is to be right and rational. Of course, that doesn’t at all preclude the project of proving Christianity to be true. Christianity is about Jesus Christ as crucified and risen Lord and Savior, but of course if that is itself not true, Christianity is rather pointless, isn’t it? Hovey’s comments seem to divorce Christianity from being a historical reality; and this, as I showed above, is a kind of confusion over the project of apologetics which occurs in other places in the book.

As I noted, there are moments of utter brilliance found throughout the text. Ultimately, however, it seems the book does not live up to its title. At times some authors flounder with understanding the meaning and application of apologetics, but more importantly, few essays seem to actually recommend or apply a method of apologetics which engages the imagination [with noted exceptions above, as well as tidbits throughout every essay... and I'd like to note Alister McGrath was, as usual, excellent (though perhaps also off topic with his essay on science and apologetics)]. The book, it seems, is often more about its subtitle (“Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition”) than its title. Although at times interesting, I found it an overall disappointment. Perhaps that is due to my own high expectations going in, but there it is. A few gems make it well worth the read, but I would recommend a critical eye on the commentary on the nature of apologetics and readers should realize that only at times does it focus on the application of the imagination to apologetics.

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: “Think Christianly” by Jonathan Morrow- Interested in engaging the culture on multiple levels? I highly recommend this book by Morrow for those who want to critically encounter the surrounding culture and “think Christianly” throughout their lives.

Source

Alison Milbank, “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange” in Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition edited by Andrew Davison (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011).

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!- Beauty of Creation?

tos-mcgrathEvery 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!

The Beauty of Creation?

I’ve finished rereading The Open Secret by Alister McGrath. It presents a powerful picture of natural theology as touching every aspect of life.

One of the branches of evidence for the argument from design is the notion that the world in which we live is beautiful. However, many have rightly noted that there seems to be a disconnect between this picture of the world as beautiful and loving and the reality that nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Yet Christian natural theology has a more complete view of the world:

…[N]ature as presently observed, cannot be assumed to be nature, as orginally created… The creation stands in need of renewal from a God who will create all things anew… There is a profoundly eschatological dimension to an authentically Christian natural theology… The fading beauty and goodness of the world are to be interpreted in light of the hope of their restoration and renewal. (208; 206, cited below)

Christianity does acknowledge the notion that creation is “groaning” and that nature may show much disorder and vileness alongside beauty and transcendence. The former attributes are results of the fall, but as McGrath noted, Christian natural theology is eschatological: it looks ahead to a future where all things will be renewed and consummated God’s divine plan.

It seems to me this vision of the future is something which gives natural theology within Christianity a broader explanatory scope which may not be matched by other systems. By orienting this world as it is in between a broader historical scheme of creation, fall, redemption, consummation, this vision of natural theology allows for and even expects many of the observed phenomena.

What do you think? What is your view of how the beauty of creation may be balanced with some of its ugliness?

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)

“A New Vision for Natural Theology” A Book Review of “The Open Secret” by Alister McGrath- I review the book discussed in this post. It presents a vision for natural theology and apologetics.

Book Review: “Pig and the Accidental Oink! – Picture Book Apologetics”

pao-pbaWhen I found out about “Picture Book Apologetics” I was intrigued by the notion of bringing apologetics into the realm of picture books. Pig and the Accidental Oink! explores the Kalam Cosmological Argument through a dialogue of characters in the story.

…What? Right, that’s what the book does. But J.D. Camorlinga, the author, doesn’t just throw phrases like that into the children’s book. For this review, I’ll start at the end. The end of the book has two pages dedicated to parents interested in taking the content of the book beyond its pages. One page has an activity suggestion, the other has an explanation of the content in greater detail (here is where the term “Kalam Cosmological Argument” is used–and defined!).

The activity involves chocolate chip cookies (a bonus) and uses them to explain the notion that something does not come from nothing. The note to parents is helpful and provides avenues for further exploration.

The picture book itself is engaging and fun. Two children encounter a pig, who insists that “It makes more sense to believe that everything began by accident” than that God created the universe. The children go home, dejected, but their father explains that things don’t just pop into existence out of nothing; observation in the lives of the children shows that things which begin have causes. Armed with a new strategy for discussing beginnings, the children return to Pig and convince him that he can’t just posit an accident as the most reasonable explanation when his own experience contradicts it. They then run and play together happily.

Though I’m not completely sure about the wisdom of making the skeptical stand-in a pig (a bit too polemical, perhaps?), there is much to commend in Accidental Oink! The story is fun to follow; the characters are interesting, and the art is great. The illustrations are quite good. They’re what looks like colored pencil drawings and they’re vibrant and they avoid the generic look that some children’s books have. There remains a kind of charming style throughout the book that is recognizable on its own. Moreover, it’s definitely the kind of book to start all kinds of great conversations.

Pig and the Accidental Oink! comes highly recommended for children about 5 and up. The concepts are heavy, but the way they are approached is in such a way that they may inspire conversation and deeper thought for a wide range of ages.

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!

Youth Apologetics Network- An interesting site which seeks to provide resources for youths related to apologetics. They are affiliated with Picture Book Apologetics as well. Great resources to explore for those interested in youth ministry.

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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.

Doubts about Evidentialism? C. Stephen Evans and a fideistic problem for evidentialists

GoulburnStSaviour'sCathedralI’ve been reading through a few books related to apologetic methodology and epistemology of late. Most recently, I have finished Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account by C. Stephen Evans. One thing that struck me in the book was a brief discussion of a possible difficulty with evidentialism as an apologetic methodology. Evidentialism is, essentially, the notion that apologetics should be based upon evidences to convince unbelievers of the truth of Christianity.* Evans himself did not direct a specific attack against the method, but some of his work could be perceived as a critique of the method. Specifically, he discussed Kierkegaard’s rejection of evidentialism:

[Kierkegaard] wants to argue that if you want something like an eternal happiness more than anything else, then it may be reasonable to commit yourself wholeheartedly to something that promises to help you obtain it, even if the chances of obtaining what you seek are not high because the objective probability that eternal happiness is truly to be gained in this way is not high either. (Evans, 108, cited below)

The thrust of this point is that one may, perhaps, rationally commit to a belief when the risk/reward is at a certain level. It’s a little similar to Pascal’s Wager, but Evans has more in mind than this: “[I]f your desire for this good is high enough… then even a very low probability would be sufficient to motivate belief” (ibid). The argument is therefore more subtle than a simple risk/reward scenario.** Instead, Evans’ point (or at least his exegetical point regarding Kierkegaard) is that one’s own desires play into commitment to beliefs, and that this is not itself an irrational thing.

Yet this point may seem a bit devastating to evidentialists. After all, evidentialists would generally hold that one should not believe without sufficient evidence, and that theistic arguments are strong enough to convince others to believe. If, however, one may grant that it may be reasonable to hold to beliefs even if there is a very low probability on the basis of one’s desire for a certain end, then it seems that evidentialism may itself be a faulty grasping for rationalistic certainty.

Within Kierkegaard’s own context, he was certainly reacting against rationalism. But evidentialism is not reducible to stark rationalism. Rather, it is a method not only of apologetics but also of epistemic investigation, depending upon one’s usage. Perhaps the evidentialist may acknowledge that one may rationally commit to a position–say, theistic belief–based upon one’s desire for that great good, but that does not preclude evidences for that belief. More importantly, the evidentialist may introduce the concept of a defeater–a belief which may serve to disprove or make another belief more improbable. Once one has been presented with defeaters, one may not rationally cling to one’s belief simply because one desires the truth of it; instead, one must either defeat the defeaters themselves or have sufficient evidence to hold to the belief in spite of possible evidence against it.

It therefore seems to me that arguments like Kierkegaard’s point does not do much to discredit evidentialism. Rather, it merely provides a possibility for people to hold beliefs in the absence of evidence either way. Once one has evidence against one’s belief, however, one should–at risk of epistemic suicide–either ground one’s belief or show that the evidence against that belief is not firmly grounded. Evans seems to acknowledge this as well, for he noted the value of evidence despite the possibility for “properly basic” belief.

Of course the question of whether one “should” think one way or another is itself highly contentious. I’ll leave that debate for another post or, even better, the comments.

*Yes, I do realize I’ve vastly oversimplified here. That’s the nature of writing shortish blog posts! For what I consider the best discussion of different apologetic methodologies, check out Faith Has Its Reasons by Boa and Bowman.

**I also acknowledge that Pascal’s Wager is more complex than a simple risk/reward scenario.

Source

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

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!

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.

Book Review: “How God Became Jesus” edited by Michael Bird

HGBJ-birdBart Ehrman has made a name for himself through critical scholarship of Christianity. His latest challenge, a book called How Jesus Became God, contains an argument that the notion that Jesus is God was a later development in the church and not reflective of the earliest teaching. Interestingly, the book was published alongside a response book, How God Became Jesus, in which multiple scholars argue that, far from being a late development, high Christology was the belief of the church.

The book is a series of essays organized around responding to Ehrman’s book essentially point-by-point. Ehrman’s central thesis, that Jesus Christ was exalted from human to deity over the course of theological reflection and some centuries, is directly confronted in a number of ways. First, Michael Bird challenges the thesis by pointing out some major errors in the Ehrman’s use of angels and other exalted beings. Later, a kind of death blow is dealt to the thesis by pointing out that even within the earliest writings there is the alleged full “range” of development of the doctrine of Christ as divine (136ff). Simon gathercole provides interesting philosophical insight into the use of types of change in relation and actuality (114-115).

Other challenges brought against Ehrman include critical analysis of his methodology (Chris Tilling, 117ff), historical insight into the development of orthodoxy (Charles Hill, 151ff), and insight into Christ’s own claims of deity (Bird, 45ff). These present a broad-spectrum approach to analysis of Ehrman’s arguments and demonstrate the difficulty of maintaining his thesis. Readers are exposed to methodological, factual, exegetical, and other errors in Ehrman’s work.

However, the book should not be seen merely as a response to Ehrman. Although it is structured around just such a response, it is a worthy read in its own right because it provides background for exploration of the deity of Christ found throughout Scripture. It also helps readers place these writings in context by showing the cultural surroundings of the discussions over the deity of Christ. Moreover, by analyzing many of Ehrman’s skeptical claims, the authors provide responses to a broader range of objections to the Christian faith. For example, Craig Evans’ essay on the evidences for the burial traditions provides insight into how crucifixion worked in practice and, importantly, how the Biblical narratives line up with these practices.

Various excurses provide documentary evidence for things like 2nd and 3rd century belief in Christ’s deity. These help to break up the book, which can easily be read chapter-by-chapter or as individual essays.

How God Became Jesus is a great read. It provides insight not only for a response to Ehrman’s thesis but also for a number of other issues that come up when talking about the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. Each essay has much to commend it, and the excurses found throughout provide ways forward to research various other topics. The book is a solid resource for those interested in the deity of Christ.

My thanks to Baker Book House for the book as a gift. Check out their awesome blog to read a number of theological posts a week.

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!

Source

How Jesus Became God edited by Michael Bird (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).

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.

Comic Review: “Samson the Nazirite: Volume 1″

samson-naziriteSamson the Nazirite is the latest installment from Rooted Chronicles, a publisher describing itself as follows: “Our stories, or chronicles if you will, are a visual retelling of the Bible.  We have passion, love, and reverence for the Scriptures, and so we strive to stay true, grounded, and rooted to the Biblical account we are retelling.” Samson is one of my favorite biblical characters, so I was excited to see his story depicted in comic book form. Here, we’ll take a look at it from an apologetic perspective.

Bible to Comic

One difficulty with putting stories from the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) into other forms of narration is that the biblical account is often undetermined. That is, there are rarely many details that we are used to in our novels. Samson’s story is one which has more detail in the narration than many, and the comic plays off of that  by enhancing the narrative elements. It is very true that the comic stays close to the biblical account, while also introducing names and characters not mentioned therein.

The art in Samson the Nazirite is breathtaking. Seriously, this has some simply fantastic artwork. The details, shading, and depth in each panel are astounding. When the spirit of the LORD comes upon Samson, it comes in visual ways (creative license) by shining of Samson’s flesh at times.

The story is as compelling as it has always been to me. An imperfect man is chosen by God to carry out God’s will on Earth. Samson is depicted as I would imagine him: a oft-violent, impetuous, obsessive man. But he also realizes that he is part of God’s plan and his personality is at times tempered by that. I can’t wait to see the conclusion in volume 2.

Apologetic

The visual arts offer compelling ways to relate to the Bible in unforeseen ways. By seeing the story on paper, we are able to conceptualize it in ways not always immediate in the text. in Samson, for example, the angel of the LORD appears brightly as a shining angel. The strangeness of the situation and the fear such an appearance could bring about are made plain on the pages of a comic. By advancing the narrative through this visual medium, the author and artists create an apologetic narrative for the biblical text. The pictures draw us, like the story, to consider meaning beyond the text and images.

The practice of creating art like this comic is itself an apologetic practice. By thinking of imagery which will capture the imagination, the creators of a comic are engaging in a discourse with the text, drawing out its meaning in imaginative ways. The imagination is deeply connected to the intellect (consider the Narnia series, for example). Thus, by engaging the imagination, the creators of Samson also engage the mind in unique ways.

Comics?

I have talked to others about comic books as means to communicate Scripture before, and have been met with some resistance. One major critique is the notion that comics cannot adequately convey the meaning of the text. However, extensive portions of Scripture are grounded in narrative through visual imagery which lends itself to the visual arts. Anyone who has seen paintings of various biblical scenes knows that a single painting can capture the imagination and thus capture the intellect in unforeseen ways. Seeing something depicted through the arts allows one to engage on different levels. Thus, I would argue that comics are an appropriate way to transmit biblical narratives.

Conclusion

Samson the Nazirite offers a compelling way to consider the biblical truths in new ways. Through its engaging art and story, readers are drawn to consider the truths beyond the imagery and called to the text of Scripture. By engaging with the mind, the comic compels deeper understanding and immersion in the story of God’s action in human history. I encourage readers to pick up the comic either at the website Samson the Nazirite in a hard copy or on kindle.

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!

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

Threshold Belief and Evidentialism- Can evidentialism work?

fbr-cseThe evidentialist school of apologetics is essentially based upon the notion that the evidence for Christianity is such as to make it rationally justified to believe (and perhaps even compel one to believe). Note that evidentialists (generally) do not claim that this means the Holy Spirit plays no part in conversion or that people are fully capable to choose God.* C. Stephen Evans, in his book Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account, examined evidentialism in light of Kierkegaard’s critique of the method.

One of the primary arguments Kierkegaard had against evidentialism** is that a human being is incapable of considering the whole range of facts regarding a piece of evidence and so may never be justified in holding evidential belief. Evans characterized this argument (following the terminology of Robert Adams) the “postponement argument”:

The idea… is that historical inquiry is never completed, and thus historical beliefs based on such inquiry must always be tentative. It is always possible, at least theoretically, that new evidence will emerge that will overturn any historical conviction. Thus, if religious beliefs were based on such evidence, they would have to be of this tentative character. (Evans, 108, cited below)

Now–this is key–Evans also noted that “Kierkegaard thinks, however, that religious beliefs should have a kind of finality that differs from this kind of scholarly judgment.” With these quotes in mind, we may examine what seems to be a Kierkegaardian objection to evidentialism.

The objection seems to be that faith requires a kind of certainty which may never be provided by historical inquiry; thus, historical inquiry (evidences) may not provide a justifiable grounding for faith. I think the main problem with this is that Kierkegaard seemingly insisted on an impossible level of certainty for evidence. That is, a dismissal of evidentialism based upon this reasoning seems to be only warranted because Kierkegaard has adjusted the level of evidence needed. It is true that historical inquiry may only ever provide probability, but that does not imply we are incapable of believing anything historical.

Of course, one may argue that I have missed the point Kierkegaard is trying to make. It’s not that all historical inquiry must be subjected to the standard of certainty; rather, only on matters of ultimate import must we have certainty. If this were his claim, I think one may rightly respond by questioning why that would be the case. However, it seems, according to Evans, that Kierkegaard was less concerned with a rejection of evidentialism than he was concerned with maintaining a place for the emotions and subjectivity within faith. On that count, I don’t know of any evidentialist who would argue that one cannot have subjective or emotional reasons for faith either.

Now, to return at last to the quote block above. If all that faith were based upon within an evidentialist system were historical evidences, then it seems the quote is correct regarding the tentative nature of faith. But the evidentialist claim is not that faith may only be based upon evidence. Instead, it is that the evidence is such as to justify or ground faith (some would argue it is enough to compel faith). So perhaps Kierkegaard and evidentialism are not irreconcilable after all.

Perhaps the strongest objection which may be derived from the above comments from Evans and Kierkegaard center around the notion of threshold belief. Evans very briefly hinted at this possible problem for evidentialism: basically, the notion is that for the evidentialist method to work, there must be some “threshold” for commitment to a belief. For Kierkegaard, that threshold is certainty, which is why historical evidence cannot satisfy his criterion. However, for the evidentialists themselves, the question remains as to what that threshold is. If this threshold cannot be pinned down, it may be argued, evidentialism as a system cannot work. I think that this challenge is less an arguments against evidentialism than it is an argument for epistemic uncertainty. However, diving into such an argument is beyond the realm of what I want to hit here. For now, I think that I may answer this argument by simply saying that it does not follow that 1) if we can’t pin down an exact threshold beyond which we must be convinced to commit to a belief then 2) we cannot commit to a belief. The argument is simply off target.

Notes

*I say this so as to avoid lengthy debate, one way or the other, regarding how one comes to be saved. My intent in this post is to investigate the apologetic method, not soteriological details.

**I should note that Kierkegaard should be understood within his historical context, in which he was reacting against overly rationalistic faith. Thus, his (sometimes extreme) reaction against rationalism–while overreaching–is perhaps more understandable. There is also, of course, some anachronism in this statement because “evidentialism” is being used in its specific fashion to reference the method of apologetics, while Kierkegaard was reacting against rationalism. I acknowledge this anachronism but simply point out it is for the sake of simplifying terminology in the post.

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!

Sources

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

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.

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