Religions

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Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- a Christian reflection on the most recently completed Star Wars series

sw-fotjStar Wars is not normally where I go to begin discussions about worldview. The most recently completed mini-series, however, “The Fate of the Jedi,” was full of material for discussing worldview perspectives. Here, I will only touch on a few of the many themes the series brought up. Some of these include world religions, objective morality, and theism. Of course, there will be HUGE SPOILERS for the Star Wars universe prior and up to this point. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM POSTING COMMENTS FROM OTHER STAR WARS STORYLINES.

I’ll not be summarizing the plot of the Fate of the Jedi series, which you may find by following the links for the individual books here.

World Religions and the Force

A huge part of the early stages of Fate of the Jedi involved Luke Skywalker and his son, Ben, traveling around the galaxy and visiting other various Force-using schools. These different Force-using schools paralleled, in many ways, various world religions. For example, the Baran Do Sages held onto a kind of gnostic way of knowing, where secret knowledge was preserved by a select group of masters to pass on from generation to generation. Another example is found in the Mind Walkers, who try to separate body from soul in order to walk in a completely different reality. Not only does this also seem gnostic in its bent, but it also reflects the notion of the extinction of the self found in some Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. There are a few other schools that the Skywalkers visit throughout their travels, and each has aspects of at least one world religion reflected therein.

Of interest is that the way the series approached the various parallels to world religions is that many of them appeared to be fairly obviously wrong. That is, they had a feel of wrongness to them, but they also seemed to get aspects of reality wrong. The Mind Walkers, for example, allowed their bodies to waste away while they experienced their own way of entering into the Force. One cannot help but sense a kind of aversion to this belief system, in which the body is so totally denigrated. Some of their comments also reflected a lack of concern for distinctions between good and evil. Yet again, this is a distinctive of some Eastern religions, and it is a way in which they are factually mistaken. Those who fail to make distinctions between good and evil, between reality and the mental life; they are operating under a mistaken view of reality.

The Fate of the Jedi, then, does not teach a kind of religious pluralism. Instead, it eschews pluralism for showing that some belief systems do not work. They simply do not line up with reality.

Redemption and Betrayal

The character of Vestara Khai is an extremely interesting figure. She may be the most complex character since Mara Jade. A Sith, she is captured by the Skywalkers, who initially do not trust her whatsoever (and for good reason). Yet, in a kind of typical story of conversion in the Star Wars universe, they begin to turn her to the Light Side of the Force. She realizes that her own life has not been based upon good, and she also acknowledges a distinction between good and evil. Her realization is centered around her relationship with her family and friends (such as they are). For a little while, it seems that Vestara is a true convert.

Yet the reader knows throughout that although Vestara has changed her whole way of viewing the universe, she is not entirely a convert. She still puts herself first. In fairness to her, she does so thinking that she is putting others first, and she often does seem to prioritize the needs of Ben–whom she’s come to love–over herself. But when push comes to shove, she betrays the trust of the Skywalkers in the most dire possible way, by giving away the secret identity of a loved one and dooming her to a life of dodging the Lost Tribe of the Sith. A commentary on the darker side of human nature, Khai’s life in the books also begs the question of where one goes from there: what redemption may be in store for someone who seems to have ruined all chances at salvation?

Prophecy and the Celestials

The notion of prophecy is found throughout the Star Wars universe. There was the prophecy of the “Chosen One”; later, prophecies revolved around the Sword of the Jedi and the Unification of the Force. Each of these prophecies were expected to be fulfilled. In the Star Wars universe, prophecy is the product of the Force. One wonders, however, how this plays out with what is an essentially impersonal force. It seems that in order to give revelation, there must be some kind of personal reality; for prophecy relates to the actions of persons.

Ultimately, readers encounter the Celestials–a group of beings (Father, Son, and Daughter… and later Mother) of extreme power. These beings are tied into the whole plot of the expanded universe books of Star Wars in some ingenious (and sometimes a bit questionable) ways. Although these beings may appear to parallel a kind of pantheon, it becomes clear that they are not. They may be seemingly eternal, but they are also contingent: it was entirely possible for them to be destroyed. Again, it is not these beings who drive reality; it is the Force. The Force is the power in the universe, the ‘all in all’ of the Star Wars universe. Yet, as I’ve argued above, it is hard to envision the force as entirely impersonal. It delivers prophecies and sometimes even answers the call of those in need. The “Trinity” created and driven by the Force ultimately drive the Force themselves in many ways.

Conclusion

The Fate of the Jedi series explores a huge number of issues related to worldview. I didn’t get to nearly all the major issues, let alone the minor ones, which come out throughout the series. Of interest is how the series clearly brought up world religions in such a way as to avoid pluralism, but rather provided ways to distinguish between truth and falsehood in religion. Prophecy begs for a personal being, yet the allegedly impersonal Force provides it. It was great to experience the Star Wars universe in such a way as to have it bring up so many issues of worldview in often thoughtful and, frankly, thought-provoking ways.

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!

“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

Troy Denning, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- Apocalypse (New York: Del Rey, 2012).

Disclaimer: The images in this post are copyright of the Star Wars universe and I use them under fair use. I make no claims to ownership of the images.

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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Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?

ibg-wcIt is amazing, even before Freud’s psychoanalyticial theories were discredited as such, that this idea was ever accepted as anything but an utterly groundless fabrication. (134, cited below)

Oddly, a challenge I still sometimes see to Christianity (and indeed religion in general), is the notion that somehow it is merely cosmic project of some strange psychological phenomena. Although the idea didn’t originate with Freud, his theories seem to be the most popular. Freud’s idea for how religion came to be was essentially a wish-fulfillment of his own: he turned humanity’s religion into a kind of Oedipus complex.

For Freud, religion clearly often involved a father figure. Thus, he reasoned, religion must have come about over some conflict with a father figure which later caused guilt and the lifting up of a kind of father in the sky- God. The conflict, he proposed, came about due to the notion that the dominant male was the only one allowed sexual access to the women in the primitive family (I’m not making this up!). Winfried Corduan’s latest book, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism, analyzed a number of aspects of origin of religion theories which are relevant to this thesis. Freud’s theory does not survive empirical analysis.

First, Freud’s notion of shared sexuality and group sex among alleged primitive societies was a popular theory at the time, but one utterly unfounded and based upon essentially no observable evidence. Corduan noted the notion of group marriage was largely derived from presuppositions about how the origin of religion and social institutions “must have happened” (114-115). The theory itself was put forth by L.H. Morgan and not based upon observation but rather “his support of evolution and Marxist-like social theories in which he construed ordinary social conventions… as late inventions in human history” (116). Some anthropologists in the field bought into the theory and thus allowed their observations to be directed by the theory, rather than using their contradictory observations to revise the theory. In fact, their theory-driven research resulted in confusion over the actual social constructs which they were observing (116ff).

Second, Freud’s analysis of the way religion developed is itself mistaken. The climax of Freud’s story is the cannibalistic totem feast upon the Father figure as a way to honor the Father and begin the worship thereof. But Freud’s story is again bereft of observational evidence. Freud acutally used the concept of the totem feast to try to discredit Christianity with its teachings on the Lord’s Supper (communion/Eucharist). However, totem feasts are, themselves, extremely rare in totemistic societies (133-134). Totem feasts were observed in  only a few societies, but then–as Corduan noted was often the case–the irregular was applied generally and so reporting on the various societies began to rely upon the rarity rather than the norm (if indeed a “norm” can ever be said to apply to wildly diverse practices). Moreover, there is simply no record whatsoever of a cannibalistic totem feast. The very notion was invented by Freud to discredit Christianity.

Freud’s generalized application of an extremely rare and unusual practice to a theory made up through psychoanalysis of peoples who left no record and no longer exist is unfounded. His use of his theory to attempt to discredit Christianity seems to actually teach us more about Freud’s psyche than the actual origins of Christian practice.

Anyway, I’m finding this book highly informative. I highly recommend it. I have found it to be extremely thought-provoking. It is interesting to see how many things we have simply assumed to be true about the origins of religion stem from unchallenged (and unsupported) theories proposed around a hundred years ago. Perhaps it is time to revisit these theories. So far as Freud goes, it seems his bell has tolled.

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

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 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.

“How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” – John Warwick Montgomery on Conversion

religious-symbolsI had the opportunity to hear John Warwick Montgomery speak at the Evangelical Theological/Philosophical Conference in 2012. He was one of the most engaging speakers I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Here, we’ll look at his presentation alongside the journal article that he discussed. The topic was “How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?”*

Conversion and Evidence

Montgomery began by discussing the possibility of a position which had so much evidence that it becomes difficult to not believe it. Despite this, people do not hold that position. The reason, he argued, is because reasons other than evidence play into one’s conversion. Moreover, we live in a pluralistic age, which means that there are a vast array of options available to people looking for a worldview. This pluralism necessitates a drop in conversion rates because there are more worldviews presenting their evidence to each individual. Thus, it is important to look into the issue of the burden of proof alongside the issue of the standard of proof.

Burden and Standard of Proof

Here, Montgomery turned to his experience in law to explore the notion. Simply put, the burden of proof can also be seen as the burden of persuasion . Montgomery noted that the prosecutor does not always carry the burden of proof because the defendant often provides a positive defense, and so has their own burden of proof. For example, if someone says “I could not have done x because I was doing y at the same time at location z” then they have made a positive claim which itself requires a burden of proof. Or, as Montgomery put it, “The person who wants to make a case has the burden of proof.”

But it is important to note that the burden of proof is not the same thing as a standard of proof. When people object to Christianity based upon a supposed lack of proof, they are not addressing the burden of proof but rather the standard. Montgomery acknowledged that Christianity must assume the burden of proof but makes several points related to the standard of proof.

First, proof “depends on probability–not on absolute certainty or on mere possibility” (Montgomery, 452, cited below). He appealed to the “Federal Rules of Evidence” to make this clear. The key is to note that probability ,not absolute certainty, is at stake. Why? Epistemologically speaking, absolute certainty can only be set out in formal logic or mathematics. It is unjustifiable to require absolute certainty for every fact. “Where matters of fact are concerned–as in legal disputes, but also in the religious assertions of historic Christianity–claims can be vindicated only by way of evidential probability” (Ibid).

Second, and more importantly for the current discussion, there are differing standards of proof. The legal system is again a model for this notion. In criminal trials, there is a higher standard of proof than for civil matters. The criminal standard is beyond reasonable doubt, while the civil standard is “preponderence of evidence.” Montgomery argued that religious conversion should be seen as bearing a standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” (453).

Third, competing religious claims must each assume their own burden of proof. They cannot simply say “prove my religious claim false.” One must meet the standard of proof in order to have legitimate entry into the competition between worldviews.

Extraordinary Claims Need Extraordinary Evidence?

Often, the claim is made that religious claims, because they are extraordinary, need extraordinary evidence. I have written on this exact topic at length elsewhere, but here will focus on Montgomery’s argument. He argued “The notion that the ‘subject matter’ should be allowed to cause a relaxation or an augmentation of the standard of proof is a very dangerous idea…. No one would rationally agree to a sliding evidence scale dependent on the monetary sum involved [in a crime]–nor should such a scale be created… The application to religious arguments based on the factuality of historical events should be obvious. Of course, the resurrection of Christ is of immensely more significance than Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, but the standards required to show that the one occurred are no different from those employed in establishing the other” (Ibid, 455-456).

The notion that the import of a claim makes a sliding scale of evidence is made to be absurd because historical events have more importance across cultures and so would, on such a view, be radically different in their acceptable standards of proof.

The Existential Factor

Finally, Montgomery focused on the existential side of conversion. Here, he offered what he admitted as a somewhat crude argument which was derived from Pascal’s wager. Assuming that the standard of proof is met for a religious system, one still must deal with the existential factors of conversion. Thus, Montgomery argued, one’s commitment to a truth claim should be weighed by the benefits divided by the entrance requirements: C=B/E.

Because the entrance requirements for Christianity are extremely low, and its benefits infinite, one should, assuming the standard of proof has been met, be highly committed to Christianity. Montgomery noted that some may argue the entrance requirements are very high (i.e. setting aside adulterous relationships). Against this, Montgomery argued that the benefits vastly outweigh the finite bliss one feels by such sinful actions.

eps-cc

Applications

The subtlety of Montgomery’s argument should not be missed. It has application in a number of areas. First, Montgomery is as thoroughgoing an evidentialist as they come. His argument about the standard of proof being probabilistic is unlikely to gain much credence among those who favor a presuppositional approach to apologetics.

Yet it seems to me that Montgomery’s argument in this regard is correct. We must take into account the evidence when we are looking at various religious claims, and also acknowledge the existential factors which play into conversion.

Montgomery’s argument does much to clarify the issue for apologists in general. Our task is to clear barriers and present convincing evidence to those who argue that Christianity has not met the standard of proof. But our task does not end with that; we must also present the existential challenge of Christianity to those who believe the standard of proof has been met. This includes the preaching of the Gospel.

Montgomery was also careful not to discount the Holy Spirit in religious conversion. He made it clear that he was speaking to the notion of conversion in the abstract. People must be renewed by the Holy Spirit; yet that renewal may come through evidence and standard of proof.

It seems to me that Montgomery’s arguments were insightful and sound. He presented an excellent way to look at religious claims and evaluate them in light of evidence, while also taking existential factors into account.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

Montgomery’s use of evidence in law to look at religious truth claims reminds me very much of J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity. Check out my review of that fantastic book.

Extraordinary Claims need… what, exactly?- I argue that the claim that religious claims need extraordinary evidence is mistaken.

I have written about numerous other talks at the EPS Conference on an array of topics. Check them out:

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth- I write about a debate I attended on the age of the earth.

Caring for Creation: A dialogue among evangelicals- I discuss a lecture and panel discussion on caring for the environment.

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?- Here, I outline a fascinating talk I attended about gene enhancement and gene therapy.

You can read my overview of every single talk I attended: My Trip to the Evangelical Philosophical/Theological Society Conference 2012.

Sources

*Unless otherwise noted, the information herein was discussed in John Warwick Montgomery’s EPS 2012 Conference talk entitled “How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion? Some Thoughts on Burden and Standard of Proof vis-a-vis Christian Commitment”

John Warwick Montgomery, “How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” in Philosophia Christi 13, #1 2011, 449-460.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

The Crusades: Wanton Religious Violence?

gb-starkThe Crusades are often cited as the prime example of the evils of religion and of Christianity specifically. The picture is often painted of an innocent world on which Christians came in violent fervor, raping and pillaging as they went. But this picture of the Crusades is inaccurate on a number of levels. Here, I’ll explore the historical context of the Crusades with an eye towards seeing why they occurred. I’ll wrap it up with a discussion on violence and religion.

The Historical Context of the Crusades

The Crusades were not just some bubbling up of violence latent within all religions. Instead, they were part of a history of conquest across the Asian and European continents. Prior to the Crusades, there was a sweeping conquest by the Muslims of territory formerly possessed by various Christian nations.

Muslim invasions had pressed in on all sides. Rodney Stark, in his extremely important work on the Crusades, God’s Battalions, notes the conquests which had pressed in on Europe from all sides. After surveying a number of Muslim conquests, he notes:

Many critics of the Crusades would seem to suppose that after the Muslims had overrun a major portion of Christendom, they should have been ignored or forgiven… This outlook is certainly unrealistic and probably insincere. Not only had the Byzantines lost most of their empire, the enemy was at their gates… (32-33)

Prior to the Crusades, it is absolutely essential to note that the invaders were, quite literally, at the gates. Constantinople was threatened in the East, and Spain was overthrown in the West. Europe was under assault. The map below illustrates the situation in the time during and before the Crusades well.

The question of the Crusades must be understood within this historical setting: much of the land which European countries had controlled had been taken, by force. Furthermore, those who had taken these lands were knocking on the very gates of Europe, having already crossed into Europe in many places. Stark’s words, therefore, seem to ring true: is it really genuine to assume that these invaders should have been ignored or forgiven? Is that the reality of “secular” nations? It seems to me the very fact that so much land had been lost, as well as so much wealth, would lead many to war for “secular” reasons rather than religious reasons.

crusade-map

Regarding the beginning of the Crusades, Stark writes:

[T]hat’s when it all [The Crusades] started–in the seventh century, when Islamic armies swept over the larger portion of what was then Christian territory: the Middle East, Egypt, and all of North Africa, and then Spain and southern Italy, as well as many major Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, and Sardinia. (9)

So the Crusades were not unprovoked mass murders of innocents. But they were indeed quite brutal, and involved no small amount of very un-Christian activities. Raping and pillaging has no part in the Christian worldview. But Stark once again has a sobering point: war was hell. “[I]t was a brutal and intolerant age” (29). The criticism of brutality equally applies to both sides, but it is also equally anachronistic about the realities of that time. This is not to say that the horrors which occurred were not awful; it is to say that to criticize the Crusaders or Muslims as though they were doing something extraordinarily brutal for their time period is extremely short-sighted.

The Crusades as a Polemic Device

The Crusades were not all-good or all-evil affairs. Like virtually any part of human history, both good and evil intentions and outcomes were involved. To view the Crusades as either an entirely evil affair showing how religion is ultimately prone to violence or as a benevolent attempt by loving people to liberate lands that were rightfully theirs is to grossly oversimplify the historical reality. Unfortunately, modern looks at the Crusades have largely leaned towards the former of these positions, without any acknowledgement of the historical context as noted above.

Instead, the Crusades were a complex of historical events which were often brutal, often provoked, and never motivated for just one reason. To say that the Crusades are a typical example of the violence of religion is, frankly, ahistorical. Was religion involved? Yes. Were there even “religious reasons” involved in the motivations for the Crusades? Clearly. But the general movement with recent attacks on Christianity has been to argue that the Crusades were purely religious instances of religious brutality. The historical perspective provided above provides evidence against that limited perspective.

The Crusades have been used as a kind of polemic device against Christianity. Whenever it is argued that Christianity is reasonable, someone inevitably brings up this historical period. Readers will note that this historical perspective has not attempted to explain away the Crusades. Instead, I have argued for the notion that these events were historically complex, involving a number of factors beyond purely war for the sake of a faith.

As Keith Ward has noted:

It is… beyond dispute that the Crusades were a major disaster… The Crusades can be seen as justified defense… but their conduct and continuance rapidly became unjustifiable on any Christian principles. (68-69, Is Religion Dangerous? cited below)

The point is simple: there were many motivations behind the Crusades, some of them justified. Yet in carrying out the Crusades, many horrible actions were taken which were unjustifiable. Does this somehow disprove Christianity? Not on Christianity’s own principles, on which we expect to see people acting as sinner-saints in the process of sanctification.

Crusade The Taking of BeirutReligious and Secular Violence

Apart from the historical outline given here, there is another, equally important point: the dichotomy between religious violence and secular violence is simply a myth. The reason for this is because human actions are far more complex in their motivations than a simple dichotomy of one or the other reason. In our everyday experience, we know that the decisions we make are very rarely made for only one reason.

Oddly, Stark is able to note that “many historians have urged entirely material, secular explanations for the early Muslim conquests…” (13). This, in contrast to the many historians and new atheists who continue to press that the Crusades were entirely religious in their provocations. The unfortunate truth this reveals is the very human tendency to simplify history beyond the point of breaking. Human actions, particularly corporate human actions, have extremely complex motivations behind them. They are not all-or-nothing affairs which happen due to one reason or another. Very often we make decisions for a combination of reasons of differing strengths, weighing options against each other whether we realize it or not.

By utilizing the Crusades as a rhetorical device–a polemic weapon–many have done damage to the historical events themselves. Worse, they have engaged in faulty reasoning and attacked the religious other due to their own emotional hatred. The Crusades were not all-good or all-evil affairs. They were affairs of human history. To forget that is to drown them in a sea of obfuscation. Let us get beyond simple polemical attacks on the “other.” Let us instead engage in honest history and dialogue with our neighbors.

Links

The Myth of “Religion”: Constructing the Other as an enemy- I explore the notion that religion is violent and argue that one of the major difficulties with this notion is that the distinction between secular/religious is a myth.

For an interesting exploration of some aspects of Muslim Philosophy, see my book review: The Closing of the Muslim Mind.

Essential reading: Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Pacifism, Matthew 5, and “Turning the other cheek”- Glenn Andrew Peoples discusses pacifism in the Christian tradition and some of the arguments in its favor. Ultimately, he finds these arguments wanting.

Sources

Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Keith Ward, Is Religion Dangerous? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006).

Image Credit:

The image of the map is from this page with free resources for instructors. I do not claim credit for this image, nor do I claim that the makers of this resource in any way endorse this post.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

The Presumption of Pluralism: How religious pluralism devalues all religious persons

Everyone has their own truth.

What’s true for you is true for you, what’s true for me is true for me.

All religious backgrounds have a piece of the puzzle.

All roads lead to the same goal.

Pluralism is rampant in our society. People want to affirm everyone’s belief. Tolerance is the buzzword. Few want to talk about the differences in worldviews. It’s easier to affirm everyone’s beliefs as having a place in the interchange of ideas.

Pluralism is the position that all religions are true. This can be qualified in a number of ways. Often, the views are not well-thought out and amount to little more than saying that all ways get to heaven. However, there are thoughtful pluralists with highly developed structures for affirming their professed pluralism. For example, John Hick, a well known proponent of pluralism, writes:

[T]he Transcendent in ‘its’ inner nature is beyond human description or comprehension… it is ineffable or, as I would rather say, transcategorical, beyond the scope of our human concepts. It is to this ultimate transcategorical reality that the religions are oriented and to which they are human responses. (Hick, 163, cited below)

Thus, for Hick and most other pluralists, all religions are oriented towards some kind of Ultimate or Transcendent, from which they derive all of their beliefs. Thus, these pluralists can affirm the notion that all religions are “true” in a qualified sense.

The problem with pluralistic claims is that in their gusto to affirm all religions as true, what they’ve actually done is said that all religions are false. Again, Hick realizes a problem inherent in qualifying religions–and specifically Christianity–such that they can all be true. The problem is that some claim to have stated actual truths about  transcendent reality. In other words, when a theologian claims that God is Triune, they are making a claim about objective reality. But Hick’s proposed solution is to simply place such theological claims into the reports of experiences about the “Real”: “according to our hypothesis, the different traditions are not reporting experiences of the Real in itself, but of its different manifestations within human consciousness” (171, cited below). Unfortunately for pluralists, what this has done is create what I find to be the real problem for pluralists.

The problem is that the pluralist is the only one whose claims about the Real/Transcendent are true.

The presumption of pluralism is that it assumes the invalidity of all religious claims. Only the pluralist can see that all religious claims to exclusivity are false. The exclusive claims of individual religions are dismissed offhand. After all, if all ways are true, then none can be exclusive.

Again, look at the reasoning from Hick: the claims of theologians are not actually claims about the Real itself. Rather, the claims of the theologian apply only to the Real-as-experienced in human consciousness. In other words, those making truth claims about individual religions are only expressing claims about their own subjective experience of an objective reality: the Real.

Thus, the pluralist undermines the truth claims of all religions, while simultaneously trying to affirm them. Only the pluralist is able to look beyond the truth claims of religion and see that when the Muslim claims that Allah is the only God, he is mistakenly reporting his experience as opposed to a claim about reality. Only the pluralist can see that the Christian who claims that Jesus is the only savior, she is only reporting her conscious experience of the Real. The Buddhist who says there is no God is similarly mistaken: perhaps there is? Who knows? Only the pluralist can see that all of these contradictory claims about religious reality are in fact merely the reports of conscious experience of a supra-reality: one which stands above all religions and is the true religion.

The bottom line is that the pluralist has become the exclusivist. Only the pluralist knows the true way. Thus, their system must collapse in on itself. It either relegates all religious claims to become mere reports of human consciousness and thus affirms itself as the only true religion, or it must affirm blatantly contradictory claims like “God exists” and “There is no God” or “Shiva is a god, Vishnu is a god, etc.” and “There is no God but Allah.” The pluralist has presumed much.

If all ways are true, then none are. Pluralism has failed.

Links

Can we evaluate worldviews?- I discuss how to evaluate rival worldviews and outline some criteria by which to do it.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions- I outline a vision for Christians interacting with believers of other faiths. Integral to this approach is understanding others’ beliefs.

Source

John Hick, The New Frontier of Science and Religion (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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: “The Closing of the Muslim Mind” by Robert Reilly

One can tell from the outset that Robert Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mindwill be highly controversial. The title alone will spark anger and conflict. Yet when one gets to the content of the book, what will be found therein is a thought-provoking discussion about the consequences of particular beliefs.

The central point of the book is “the story of how Islam grappled with the role of reason after its conquests exposed it to Hellenic thought and how the side of reason ultimately lost in the ensuing, deadly struggle” (1). Reilly contrasts this with how the West dealt with some of the same issues: “The radical voluntaraism (God as pure will) and occasionalism (no cause and effect in the natural order) found in them [Muslim theologians in the 9th-12th centuries] were not seen to any significant extent in the West until… David Hume began writing in the eighteenth century. By that time the recognition of reality had become firmly enough established to withstand the assault… Unfortunately, this was not true in Sunni Islam, where these views arrived much earlier” (7).

Reilly maps out the history of the development of Muslim thought. Initially, once Islam came into contact with western philosophy, there was a great amount of interplay (11ff). One early struggle was between man’s free will and fate. This struggle was over the meaning of key verses in the Qur’an as well as a debate over whether the Qur’an is temporal or eternal and uncreated. The notion that the Qur’an is eternal and uncreated, in turn, restricted rationality from evaluating the meaning therein (19).

The development of Muslim reflection on the Qur’an and Allah’s will led to the replacement of reason with rationality (45-46). Similarly, because the Qur’an was Allah’s will, and it did not explicitly endorse kalam (a branch of Muslim philosophy and theology), this rational discourse was to be abandoned (47). Furthermore, this entailed the destruction of the notion of the “autonomy of reason.” Only within the structures of revelation could reason operate effectively (48).

Furthermore, creation itself has no inherent reason. Each moment is merely a “second-to-second manifestation of God’s will” (51). While one may be tempted to say Christianity is exactly like this (and some branches may indeed hold to this teaching), there is an important distinction between the two views, for on the Christian view of God, God’s action is driven by His nature, and so He will operate within His promises as well as within the boundaries He has set for himself. God, on most Christian views, is inherently rational and so will operate in rational ways. So while creation indeed subsists moment-by-moment because of the will of God, God does not arbitrarily change His will (56ff). On the Muslim view, Reilly argues, God’s will is absolute (as opposed to His nature) and so there is absolute voluntarism. At any time, Allah could will that which before Allah did not will (51-53). Furthermore, one cannot say one “knows” God because God is pure will. As pure will, there is no reason for any particular action, and so God is inherently unknowable (54ff).

Another consequence of viewing God as pure will is that good and evil are essentially vacuous terms. “If Allah is pure will, good and evil are only conventions of Allah’s–some things are halal (permitted/lawful) and others are haram (forbidden/unlawful), simply because He says so and for no reasons in themselves” (70). Allah is therefore above morality and the problem of evil is made meaningless, for evil is merely that which God forbids. Essentially, the system is voluntaristic theism (71ff).

Reilly argues that these theological positions have had dire consequences for Islam in the political realm as well. These positions undermine the inherent worth of human beings and posit the primacy of power over reason (128); democracy is the answer to a question the Muslim world has not asked (130), for if God is pure will, then His regents on earth are operating merely under his whims, and can be just as arbitrary in their decisions (131); “Man’s only responsibility is to obey” (131); finally, “there is no ontological foundation for equal human rights in Islam, which formally divides men and women, believer and unbeliever, freeman and slave” (133).

The consequences reach farther, however, and touch the sciences as well. For if Allah’s will is that which causes all things, then to say that there are “natural” explanations is to insult Allah. Instead of saying that hydrogen and oxygen yield water, people are instructed to say “when you bring hydrogen and oxygen together… by the will of Allah water was created…” (142). Of course, the denial of secondary causation touches upon more pragmatic areas of life as well. After all, if Allah wants something to happen, then it will; if not, then it won’t.

Reilly presents a number of contemporary sources demonstrating how these aspects have been radically undermined in the Muslim world, where often anything can pass as a news story and anything can be stated as true (147ff). Furthermore, the Muslim world trends towards underdevelopment and illiteracy. Reilly maintains that some of this is due to the consequences of the theological views outlined above.

Historically, the dilemma within Islam over reason vs. voluntarism came to a head when the Muslim conquests began to be turned back. When defeats happened, Muslims had to ask why it was that they were losing when, presumably, Allah desired them to win (165ff). Some viewed it as a consequence of the stagnation of science and intellectual development in the Muslim world. Others, however, viewed it as a need to go back to the roots of Islam and become even more radical. The world, therefore, according to Reilly, is faced with a crisis: can reason be re-introduced into the Muslim theology and trickle down into every aspect of life, thus freeing the Muslim world from the shackles of voluntarism? Or, will Islam continue down its path and overemphasize the radical occasionalism of nature and God, while undermining reason? Such is the crisis.

It is striking how well Reilly has supported his theses with quotes from the writings of various Muslim  theologians and philosophers. Throughout the work, he quotes numerous scholars from both modern and ancient sources. What these quotes reveal is that his points are not found in a vaccuum–rather, the notion that the absolute, determinating, arbitrary will of Allah underlies everything that happens does indeed undermine rationality.

It is interesting here to reflect briefly upon the notion that some of these same themes are found within certain branches of Christianity. Whenever God’s will is placed as the ultimate source of all activity on earth (voluntarism/occasionalism) rather than as a providential will which guides such activity, reason and rationality can be jettisoned just as easily as they were in the development of Muslim thought. Similarly, if Scripture is seen as above any kind of rational inquiry to determine its meaning, one can replace man’s cognitive abilities with blind faith. Reilly’s book can therefore serve as much a warning for Christians engaging in doctrinal reflection as it is a call to Muslims to restore rationality to their faith.

Reilly’s work, The Closing of the Muslim Mind should be seen as required reading for those interested in interfacing with the Muslim faith. Reilly ties together compelling chains of thought which have led to the current Muslim crisis and demonstrates how current thinking is a result of the past. It is a thoroughly researched book and those opposed to his conclusions will be hard-pressed to show the cracks in his theses. I highly recommend this work. Once one gets past the title, which may be seen as  inflammatory by some, Reilly presents well-reasoned, compelling, historically grounded argument about how the theology of Islam has led to the destruction of its intellectual capacity.

Robert Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind (Wilmington, Delaware: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions

Christian Apologists seem to only rarely focus upon world religions. Perhaps that is because many Christian apologists feel uncomfortable interacting with other religions. It is easy to be weighed down by fears that one might say something wrong and be deemed either ignorant or bigoted. It may also be simply that Christian apologists don’t feel they have the expertise do operate in this area. It is my goal in this post to paint in broad strokes and provide areas of development for Christian apologetics and theology regarding world religions. Because I’m painting in broad strokes, I’ll be raising many questions I’ll leave unanswered for now. I’ve included links at the end of the post for those interested in reading more.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics and World Religions

It has been said that evangelicalism needs a theology of religions. What does the existence of other religions mean? Do they have truths? How do we interact with them? These questions must be addressed by Christians who desire to explore the reality of their faith. Christian apologists, in particular, must be learned enough to know what position they take on these issues before they seek to defend their faith.

The study of another religion should not be done superficially. It is a good start to have a general volume on “world religions” and then read each religion’s respective section, but it is not nearly enough for the Christian apologist to do if the apologist desires to interact with believers from these other religions. A study of another religion, particularly for those interested in witnessing to them, must be more in-depth. The holy book(s) of the other religion is(are) necessary reading. But one cannot stop there. Few religions are based upon one book. Christians can readily acknowledge this, having had much thought and belief defined through tradition, apostolic and patristic. Similarly, when a Christian studies another religion, he or she must be willing to delve into the religion, to understand it from an insider’s perspective.

It is not enough for the apologist to read books about other religions, seeking to find fast and easy ways to refute them. Rather, the Christian apologist must engage with believers of other faith, acknowledging shared truths where they exist and seeking to understand the differences. Certainly, apologists must know the areas of weakness in other religions so that they can point these out as they debate and dialog on the religions. What I’m suggesting is that this cannot be the only thing Christians know about other religions. They must not be satisfied merely by knowing a series of arguments against those from other religions. Rather, they must be willing and able to engage with those in other religions.

Thus, this vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions is a vision not just of debate but of dialog; a vision of give-and-take. The Gospel will not be heard where it is beat into people. It will not be heard where the only avenues for its witness are arguments. Paul wrote,

Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. (1 Corinthians 9:19)

The attitude of the apologist is a servant’s heart–one that seeks to understand. In understanding, he or she will win many. Thus, when apologists approach another religion, they must understand that religion enough to engage with those who believe it and who live it. The Christian apologist must not deceive, but rather seek to understand. In understanding, Christians will understand more about their own faith, and be better able to spread it to those of other faiths.

There are five major things to keep in mind when doing apologetics regarding world religions:

  1. Know what the other believes. Never assume you know their faith as much as they do.
  2. Read their book. Nothing will open up avenues for discussion as much as the knowledge that you have read the books they find holy.
  3. Know Christianity. If you don’t know what you yourself believe, how are you to share that with others? As you engage with people of other faiths, you must continue to learn about your own faith and its answers to the questions others pose.
  4. Preach the Gospel. The goal should not only be to rebut the others assertions and beliefs. It should be to guide the other towards Christ crucified and the salvation provided for by God.
  5. Build a Genuine Relationship. It isn’t enough to simply engage in dialog; one must show they are interested in what the other has to say and what they believe. They must also be more than an occasional debate partner; they must build a relationship and become a friend. I’m not suggesting deception here, the relationship must be genuine. By showing a Christlike life to others, we can show them the intimate joys of Christianity.

Going forward, it is time to turn to a method for Christian Apologists to learn about other religions.

Studying a Religion: A Method of Learning for Christian Apologists

  • Read general discussions about the religion. A book on world religions is a good place to start, but be aware that these are, by necessity, generalized.
  • Read what other Christians have said about the religion. Neighboring Faiths by Winfried Corduan is a simply phenomenal resource which surveys the world religions from a Christian perspective.
  • Read the holy books of the religion with which you are going to interact. If you wish to engage a Muslim, read the Quran. If you want to interact with a Taoist, read the Tao Te Ching. As you read these books, keep in mind that you will find truths in other religions due to God’s natural revelation to all people.
  • Seek out believers from the religion, and engage with them in discussion. Ask them what they believe, but don’t allow your questions to be that general. Instead, focus on specifics. For example, “If I were seeking to learn more about your religion and beliefs, how would I go about doing so?”; “What is[are] your favorite passage[s] from your holy book, and why?” Questions like these will show them you’re not seeking to attack but to understand.
  • Read web sites dedicated to explaining other religions to those seeking. In this way, you will get a basic introduction to the religion while also viewing it from an insider’s perspective.
  • Read other Christians who have engaged these religions in dialog and mission work.
  • Consider responses from scholars within the religion to Christians working in that field. Be familiar with arguments for and against the positions you seek to put forward.
  • Above all, read God’s word. Only by being familiar with the Bible will one become an effective apologist and missionary. Jesus’ words will draw people from all backgrounds, and the Bible’s richness and truth will gain a hearing from all nations.

This list is, of course, not comprehensive. It merely provides avenues for research.

What to do with the knowledge?

Christians must engage with those of other faiths. Seek out those who are willing to discuss their faith with you. You will find that many interesting discussions will follow and you will learn much about yourself and Christianity in the process. Never stop seeking truth. All truth is from God. If someone from another faith says something which challenges you, seek the answer. There are thousands of years of Christian writing out there just waiting to be tapped. Not only that, but simple searches online will turn up innumerable apologetic resources. Do not let the discussions turn into debates only. Debates are good when there is an audience of people who may be swayed one way or the other, but in individual conversation, your goal should be to spread the Gospel, not to win an argument.

Become a prayer warrior. Do not let a day go by where you do not pray for those with whom you are engaged in discussions about the faith.

Tap your fellow resources. There are many other Christians working in the areas of religions, and they are willing to help. Do not be afraid to ask for it when needed.

Conclusion

The vision for Christian apologetics and world religions I’ve put forth here is admittedly vague, but I hope it will provide a way forward for those interested in dialog with those of other faiths. This vision has followed five primary thoughts: know the other’s faith, read their book, know Christianity, preach the Gospel, and build a genuine relationship. The most important thing to remember is that as a Christian it is your duty to spread the Gospel. Do not let yourself come in its way.

Resources

Some argue that there is no real way to tell whether any religions are true. That is not the case. There are some very real ways to determine truth in a religious paradigm. Check out this post: “Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.”

What about the truth found in other religion? How do we relate that to Christianity? Kenneth Samples is an amazing writer in this area. Check out this post in which he provides a way forward for thinking about other religions from a Biblical perspective: “Thinking Biblically About the World’s Religions.”

I highly recommend Winfried Corduan’s book Neighboring Faiths. Check it out here.

What about some of those unanswered questions–what about the unevangelized? This is matter of considerable debate and there are numerous books on the topic. I would recommend “What About Those Who Have Never Heard?” for an introduction to these views. For those wanting to explore inclusivism further, see No Other Name by John Sanders. Those interested in exclusivism/particularlism, see Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald Nash.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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.

Mormonism and God: A Philosophical Challenge to Mormonism

Central to discussions about God is the very concept of God itself. What does one mean when they refer to “God”? Suppose one is debating about the existence of God and in the course of that debate, one finds out that the other, when using the term “God” is thinking of a contingent, powerful but limited, and embodied deity; yet the other person has been trying to argue for the God of classical theism–infinite in power, wisdom, love, etc., omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, transcendent, and the like. Clearly, there is a difference over who “God” is. Now talk about God can be meaningful between these two because they can choose to use “God” as a title, similar to that of “King” (this is suggested by Paul Moser in The Evidence for God, 22ff).

That said, for this post I will not assume that “God” refers exclusively to the God of classical theism. Rather, I’m going to turn to the Mormon concept of God and examine its coherence. If Mormonism’s concept of God is incoherent, then Mormonism faces a serious philosophical challenge. (As has been argued elsewhere, coherence is a central test of a religion’s truth claims.)

It is important to note that there is no single “Mormon concept of God.” As with Christianity, there is an array of beliefs about specific attributes of God. Thus, for this post, I’ll focus on just two concepts of deity within Mormonism.


Monarchotheism (Also Known as Henotheism)

Explication

Stephen Parrish and Carl Mosser take Mormon teaching to expound the concept of God known as Monarchotheism, “the theory that there is more than one God, but one God is clearly preeminent among the gods; in effect, he is the monarch or ruler of all the gods” (Parrish and Mosser, 195, cited below). This concept of God is embodied (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith cited in P+M, 201). Furthermore, this God is contingent, the organizer of a world that was originally chaos, and one of many gods (Ibid, 201). Furthermore, Joseph Smith himself taught that this “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…” (TPJS 345, cited in P+M, 202).

Critique

There are many difficulties with this Mormon concept of God. Perhaps most crucial is the inclusion of contingency in the concept of God. If God is contingent, then it does indeed beg the question “Who Made God?” Consider this against classical theism, which holds that God exists necessarily. Classical theists can respond to this question by simply saying, “No one made God, because God, as necessarily existent, never came into being.” Yet Mormons who hold God is contingent must answer this question.

That’s not the only difficulty with God as contingent either, for holding that God is contingent removes several of the reasons to believe that such a deity exists. Consider one of the classical arguments for the existence of God: that contingent things have all come into being, so there must be something which has always existed in order to terminate the infinite regress. Of course, if this deity which terminates the regress is, itself, contingent, then one must continue the regress to the next step. Thus, this Mormon concept of God provides no grounding for the universe itself.

Further, this Mormon concept of deity has no way to ground objective morals. While Mormons tend to hold that God is all good/omnibenevolent, they have no way to ground this goodness in God Himself. Rather, because God is contingent, there must exist some measure by which God is judged, and so one is left with all the difficulties of grounding morality without God. If, instead, morality is still to be based upon God, then it could only really be some form of extreme occamism/voluntarism–whereby things are moral just because God says so. The difficulties with such a view are extreme.

Of course, once more classical theism can explicate objective morality by grounding them in the nature of God. Because God is necessarily the greatest possible being, God is necessarily the source of all goodness, and therefore the grounds of morality are found in God.

Finally, there is the question of the problem of evil. Classical theism has a number of answers to this problem, but none of them are effective upon a monarchotheistic view of God. First, because there can be no grounding for objective morality on Mormonism, there remains the difficulty of explaining how actions could truly be evil to begin with (Parrish and Mosser, 215, see similar difficulties with naturalism here). Second, because evil is part of the universe and God himself is part of the eternal universe, evil can be seen as a natural part of the order of the cosmos (ibid, 215). Third, and most poignantly, because God is contingent and part of the universe, it seems that there is great difficulty with the notion that God would one day overcome evil. Because evil is part of the universe, and has therefore existed eternally rather than as a corruption of the goodness of nature, it seems that there is no way to finally overcome evil. Thus, the problem of evil is exacerbated exponentially on Mormonism (ibid, 216).

So, to sum up, monarchotheism appears to be one plausible interpretation of the Mormon concept of God. This concept is expounded by Joseph Smith in his Teachings and is also found in various theological works of Mormons (cf. McMurrin, Theological Foundations; Ostler, “Mormon Concept of God”; Paulsen, “Comparative Coherency”–these are noted in P+M, 457). However, this concept has been shown to be riddled with difficulties. It cannot explain many of the central features of our world, such as the existence of objective morality. Furthermore, it undermines reasons to believe in the existence of a God. Finally, this Mormon concept of God fails to even explain the existence of the universe itself. Thus, it seems to me this concept of deity is incoherence.

Polytheism

So much for Monarchotheism. But what about other Mormon concepts of God? There is one other concept which is attested in Brigham Young’s writings along with other Mormon writers. This view can fairly be referred to as polytheism.

Explication

Once more we find that the eternal existence of the universe is central to this view of Mormonism. Matter is eternal. God the Father organized the universe, but at least some laws of nature are outside of god’s control (see the discussion in  Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall, 99ff, cited fully below).

Furthermore, the notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

The rest of this concept is similar to the Monarchotheistic view, although rather than God the Father being a “monarch” over the others, he is more like one of many. As already stated, he is just one of a string of “Fathers.”

Critique

The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities (for some problems with the actual infinite search “infinite” and check out the problems Craig points out in his Q+A’s section).

Now, polytheistic Mormonism would also seem to have to deal with all the difficulties of Monarchotheism, for this concept also carries with it the contingency of deity and eternity of the world.

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity. While on Monarchotheism, the infinite regress was merely hinted at (and still extremely problematic), polytheistic Mormonism has infinite regress at its heart and soul. Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe. Polytheistic Mormonism, it seems, fares even worse than its Monarchotheistic counterpart.

Addendum: The “Standard Works” and Classical Theism

It is worth noting that those who wish to adhere to a strict “Standard Works only” approach to Mormonism may object to the critiques I’ve given above. The reason being that in the Standard Works, it seems like a view much closer to classical theism is expounded. For example, God is referred to as “Lord God Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:5 [and "Lord Omnipotent" in 3:17-18]; Mosiah 5:2). Further, God’s infinite goodness and mercy are affirmed (Mosiah 28:4, Moroni 8:3, 2 Nephi 1:10).

It is indeed the case that were one to only operate from this explication, one might come to believe in a God very similar to classical theism. There are three responses I would offer: first, I’d be very happy to welcome any others who do affirm mere classical theism. In that case, I’d like to discuss the finer points of differences between Christianity and Mormonism.

However, I think it is the case that many who object by showing a Standard Works reading of Mormonism do not themselves hold to a “Standard Works only” belief. Any who holds that, for example, humans can be exalted to godhood must accept the implication that God the Father would therefore be contingent, and would then most likely fall into one of the categories listed above. Second, I already noted how in Abraham 4 and 5 it seems quite apparent there are many “Gods” (any who disagree, feel free to simply read the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 4… literally any verse between 5-31; it explicitly states “the ‘Gods'”). Because classical theism holds that there is only one who can occupy the title “God,” this places even the Standard Works alone reading outside the realm of orthodoxy regarding classical theism.

Finally, I’ve already quoted Brigham Young and Joseph Smith in other writings outside the “Standard Works” both affirming that God the Father is an exalted man and that God the Father was preceded by another Father. If Mormonism is to be conceived in a form akin to classical theism, Mormons must reject these writings, and with it discredit their prophets.

Conclusions

Central to the Mormon faith is God, just as God is central to any theistic religion. Yet, as has been seen, two of the major explications of the Mormon concept of deity fall victim to insurmountable philosophical problems.   The third, closer to classical theism, must contend with the fact that other Mormon writings (and indeed, even the Pearl of Great Price) are contrary to their position. The fact that Momonism’s concept of God is incoherent strikes a major blow to the truth claims of the Mormon faith. Without coherence in that which is central to the religion: God, the entire theological system falls apart.

Links/Sources

Check out other posts in my series on Mormonism:

The Book of Mormon: Introduction and Importance- This post is pretty self descriptive.

Genetic Evidence and the Book of Mormon: Did any Native Americans come from the Middle East?- Argues that the Native Americans are not Middle Eastern in ancestry. Because the Book of Mormon claims they are, the Book of Mormon is false.

Sources

Stephen Parrish with Carl Mosser, “A Tale of Two Theisms” in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement ed. Beckwith et. al, 193-218 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002).

Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall: Four Rivals to Christianity (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997).

[I have edited this post to put back in several references to Mormon scriptures that I initially omitted for length. Further, I modified it to make more clear the difference between "finite" in mathematical terms and "contingent" in philosophical meaning.]

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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.

Genetic Evidence and the Book of Mormon: Did any Native Americans come from the Middle East?

The Book of Mormon’s veracity hinges on the claim that the lost tribes of Israel came to America, settled there, and wrote their history on gold plates which Joseph Smith later translated. Such claims at the time of Joseph Smith seemed irrefutable; they simply couldn’t conceive of technology which could test these propositions. Today, however, such technology is available. Unfortunately for Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church, the evidence runs contrary to what the Book of Mormon claims.

Archaeological evidence has long favored the hypothesis that Native Americans crossed into the Americas during the Ice Age from Siberia across a frozen Bering Strait.[1] The Book of Mormon, by contrast, asserts that “…Israelites accomplished at least two marathon oceanic voyages to the New World in approximately 600 B.C… By about AD 400, the descendants of these lost Israelites had multiplied into million-strong civilizations and spawned other migratory groups that went on to colonize additional territory in the Americas…”[2] The Latter Day Saints’ introduction to the Book of Mormon states that:

[t]he record [in the Book of Mormon] gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.[3]

These claims can now be analyzed utilizing DNA evidence. Contrary to the claims of the Book of Mormon, this evidence has shown that there are four major genetic lineages for the peoples of the Americas which are of Eastern Asiatic origin, along with a fifth that is possibly Caucasian.[4]

In order to support the claim that Israelites came to America, the DNA evidence would have to reflect their Israeli genetic lineage, which “resemble[s that] of Europeans.”[5] The only European genetic heritage in America, however, came with Columbus and the European settlers who followed him.[6] Furthermore, Mormons frequently assert that it was the Mayans and Olmecs who parallel the civilizations of Nephi and the Jaredites.[7] This evidence simply doesn’t match the genetic history, which demonstrates that traces of European (and therefore possibly Israelite) origins have been found in the North American peoples and not with the Mesoamerican Olmecs and Mayans—as would be necessary to support this Mormon theory.[8] The assertion that Native Americans descended from the lost tribes of Israel is groundless. The Smithsonian Institute wrote that “The physical type of the Native Americans is basically Mongoloid, being most closely related to that of the peoples of eastern, central and northeastern Asia.”[9] This evidence leads Simon Southerton to conclude that “The ancestors of Native Americans were Asians who unknowingly became the first Americans as they walked across Beringia over 14,000 years ago… Regardless of coincidental cultural, linguistic, or morphological parallels with the Old World, the peoples of the Pacific Rim who met Columbus and Cook were not Israelites.”[10] Native Americans descend from Asia, not Israel. Therefore, the Book of Mormon is strongly undercut by prevailing scientific evidence and genetic data.

Mormonism’s response to this DNA evidence has been threefold. The Mormon apologist counters by arguing that Christianity is undercut by scientific evidence,[11] that science can’t disprove the Book of Mormon anyway,[12] or that the conclusions drawn from the DNA evidence are stronger than such studies warrant.[13] There is little need to argue against the first rebuttal, as it amounts to little more than a tu quoque. It serves only to try to push the burden of proof off the Mormon apologist. Furthermore, it seems very strange, considering the lengths to which many have gone to argue that Mormons are Christians.[14] The second response also has little to recommend it. In an article curiously titled “BYU professor refutes Book of Mormon DNA Claims,”[15] Mark Nolte writes “[Michael] Whiting [a BYU scientist] said the Book of Mormon was not written as a scientific book, and therefore cannot be wholly proved or disproved using scientific methods… it is no surprise that DNA analysis could not find a genetic marker that links American Indians to a Middle-Eastern population.  [Whiting said,]‘I would be skeptical of someone standing up and saying, ‘I have DNA evidence that the Book of Mormon is true.’”[16] The assertion seems to be that the Book of Mormon is theology, not science, and therefore cannot be evaluated scientifically. Examining such claims fully is beyond the scope of this work, but it seems like this whole response is glaringly dismissive. The Book of Mormon does claim that the Native Americans are descendants of the Israelites, as Whiting acknowledges,[17] so evidence which demonstrates they are not disconfirms the Book of Mormon.

The third claim warrants further examination. Essentially, Mormon apologists argue that we simply can’t know enough to determine whether or not Israelite DNA is present in Native Americans.[18] The problem with this claim is that the evidence is not at all inconclusive. In fact, the evidence demonstrates that 99.6% of Native Americans are of Asian descent. The .4% of non-Asian Native American lineage is found in those genetic pools which interacted with the early colonizers.[19] Not only that, but even if the .4% of non-Asian genetic lineage could be Israelite (which it is not), the Book of Mormon claims that the Israelites in America were huge civilizations.[20] Why, then, would their genetic footprint be so small? Furthermore, the claims that such methodology is problematic or that we have limited data[21] is also demonstrably false. The genetic data is conclusive, and studies which utilize other methods for determining heritage (such as dental, osteological [study of bones], and molecular studies) confirm that the descent of the Native American is Asian, not Israelite.[22] According to Stephen Whittington, “Archaeologists and physical anthropologists have not found any evidence of Hebrew origins for the people of North, South and Central America.”[23] Genetic evidence therefore provides a strong defeater for the veracity of the Book of Mormon.

We have seen that the Book of Mormon is integral to the faith of Mormonism. If this book is factually incorrect, then there is no reason to suppose its theological message is true. Joseph Smith once said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” I hope that Mormons will indeed receive the truths found in genetic and archaeological evidence.


[1] Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature, 2004), 73.

[2] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 117-118.

[3] The Mormon Church, “Introduction to the Book of Mormon”, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. http://lds.org/scriptures/bofm/introduction?lang=eng (accessed February 1, 2011).

[4] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 89-90.

[5] Ibid, 129.

[6] Ibid, 129.

[7] Ibid, 83.

[8] Ibid, 129.

[9] Quoted in Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, 215 and  Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? 97.

[10] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 130.

[11] David Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon.” The Latter-Day Saints Foundation for Apologetics Information and Research. http://www.fairlds.org/Book_of_Mormon/DNA_and_the_Book_of_Mormon_2.html (accessed October 29, 2010.

[12] Mark Nolte, “BYU Professor refutes Book of Mormon DNA claims.” Brigham Young University. http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/41852/ (accessed October 29, 2010).

[13] Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon”; see also, Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 184f.

[14] A simple search on google for “Are Mormons Christians” turns up 610,000 results (at the time of this writing), many of which argue the affirmative, from a Mormon perspective.

[15] Emphasis mine.

[16] Nolte, “BYU Professor…”

[17] Ibid.

[18] Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon”; see also Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 188.

[19] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 187, 192.

[20] Ibid, 117-118. For just one example within the Book of Mormon itself, see the Book of Alma [one of the books in the Book of Mormon] 51:27, which states “And thus had the Lamanites obtained, by the cunning of Amalickiah, so many cities, by their numberless hosts, all of which were strongly fortified after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni; all of which afforded strongholds for the Lamanites.” The language suggests huge civilizations: “many cities”; “numberless hosts”.

[21] Stewart, “DNA and the Book of Mormon.”

[22] Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 191.

[23] Quoted in Ibid, 191.

This post was derived from an essay I wrote for my graduate studies at Biola University. 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.

Think about it this way: worldviews are supposed to be reality. If a worldview does not match reality, how can it be reality?

I recently began a series on the truth claims of Mormonism. In that post, I asserted that there is positive evidence against the truth of the Book of Mormon. However, there is an important step to take before offering arguments against other religions. Namely, one must establish that evidence against the truth claims of a religion should rationally lead one to abandon that religion. (A related but similar point would be the positive evidence for religion leading to rational belief.)

Thus, before I continue to offer critiques of other religions, I offer some epistemic groundwork.

Truth Claims and Worldviews

First, it must be noted that worldviews are not mere matters of feeling, regardless of what the supporters of the varied views claim. For example, if one says “You can’t analyze what I believe, it’s just a matter of faith” they are making a claim about reality–that their faith cannot be analyzed. Similarly, if one claims “Israelites sailed to the Americas from the Middle East,” [Mormonism] or “There is no God” [atheism] they have made a claim about reality.

Such truth claims are capable of analysis, by definition. Statements are true or false. All worldviews make claims about reality, which are therefore true or false. Simply stating that one’s belief is “just faith” or “obvious” does not exclude it from making claims.


How Do We Evaluate The Claims of Worldviews?

One’s beliefs should conform to reality, if one seeks to be rational. Certainly, one could say “To heck with the evidence, I’m going to believe x, y, and z! I don’t care if I can’t support the belief and that there is strong evidence against x, y, and z.” But if one were to say this, one would abandon their reason. Their heart could believe, but their mind could not. Ultimately, all truth claims can and should be put to the test.

Testing the claims of varied worldviews is no easy task. There must be objective criteria, otherwise one view will be favored over another. One cannot simply make their own view the default and argue that only by filtering truth claims through their position can truth be attained. Atheism, by no means, provides a neutral basis for evaluating religions, as I’ve argued elsewhere. In fact, atheism must past the standards for truth claims, just as any religion must. If one remains an atheist despite positive evidence to the contrary (or despite reasons to disbelieve the claims of varied atheistic worldviews like materialism), one abandons reason just as if one clung to a false faith.

Testing Worldviews as Hypotheses

In his monumental work,Christian Apologetics, Douglas Groothuis argues that worldviews can be proposed as hypotheses. Worldviews present themselves as answers to explain the phenomena we experience (Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 49). Groothuis therefore presents criteria for evaluating worldviews as though they were hypotheses about the world. Kenneth Samples similarly draws out nine tests which can be used to determine whether the claims of a worldview are true in his book A World of Difference (page numbers from that text, citation below). From these proposed methods, we can derive tests to evaluate competing worldviews:

1) Coherence- if a religion is contradictory, it simply cannot be true. For example, if a religion claimed that “Person Z is god, and person Z is not god,” that religion would be incoherent (Samples, 33). Furthermore, “If a worldview’s essential propositions are coherent… it is more likely to be true than if its essential propositions are not related in this way” (Groothuis, 55).

2) Balance- “A valid worldview will be ‘neither too simple nor too complex.’ All things being equal, the simplest worldview that does justice to all aspects of reality deserves preference (Samples, 33-34).

3) Explanatory Power and Scope- Does the worldview explain what we experience in enough detail? If a worldview does not explain our world, or it cannot account for certain phenomena, then it is lacks explanatory power (Samples, 34). Worldviews which make propositions which they cannot account for lose credibility (Groothuis, 53).

4) Correspondence- Does the worldview match the facts we know about the world to our experience of the world? If we know that the worldview in question promotes claims we know are false, it does not match reality (Samples, 34-35). Think about it this way: worldviews are supposed to be reality. If a worldview does not match reality, how can it be reality? We are able to test factual claims through empirical and scientific methods, so if a worldview continually is able to establish its essential claims by means of these methods, it is more likely to be true (Groothuis, 55).

5) Verification- Can this worldview be falsified? Worldviews which cannot be found to be false cannot be found to be true either.

6) Pragmatic Test- Can we live by this worldview? This test is less important, but still has credibility–we must be able to live out the worldview in question (Samples, 35-36). But worldviews should also be fruitful in the development of greater intellectual and cultural discoveries (Groothuis, 57).

7) Existential Test- Like the pragmatic test, this one is not as important as whether the view is factual, but it is still helpful. If worldviews do not account for inherent human needs, it is possible the view is false (Samples, 36). Again, this is not necessary for a worldview, but it helps measure a view’s completeness.

8 ) Cumulative Test- Does the worldview gain support from all the previous criteria? If a worldview is able to satisfy all the criteria, it gains credibility (Samples, 36-37).

9) Competitive Competence Test- If the worldview satisfies the previous criteria with more evidential power than other worldviews, it gains credibility over and against them (Samples, 37).

10) Radical ad hoc readjustment- Groothuis presents this as a negative test for worldviews. “When a worldview is faced with potentially defeating counterevidence, an adherent may readjust its core claims to accommodate the evidence against it. Various theories and worldviews can legitimately refine their beliefs over time, but radical ad hoc readjustment reveals a deep problem…” (Groothuis, 57). There is, as Groothuis pointed out, a line between refining belief and simply readjusting belief in an ad hoc way. If, for example, it were discovered that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity would be false (more on that below). If, however, one simply adjusted Christianity to say “Jesus spiritually rose from the dead,” that would constitute a desperate, ad hoc measure to preserve the worldview and count as discrediting Christianity.

These tests present objective criteria for testing worldviews. If, for example, one wished to deny their worldview had to be coherent, they’d have to affirm that which they denied, for in denying that criterion, they were attempting to make their view more coherent. The testing of worldviews is a legitimate task, and indeed one in which people should engage. Some things, if falsely believed, are harmless (for example, if one believed it rained yesterday when it did not). Worldviews, however, if falsely believed, are damaging on any number of levels. If one believed God didn’t exist when, in fact, He did, then one would be doing a great evil by not acting upon the truth of God’s existence (and the contrary). Thus, the testing of worldviews is no task to be skimmed over, but one which should be approached with fear and trembling. The criteria outlined above allow people to engage in this task and evaluate the realm of ideas.

Christianity Encourages Exploration of Reality

What I find extremely interesting is that Christianity, unlike many world religions, doesn’t discourage the discovery of truth, nor does it evade evidence by claiming that it is merely a faith or feeling. Rather, the founders of Christianity explicitly stated that it is based upon certain truth claims, and that if those claims are false, then Christianity is worthless. Paul, for example, wrote “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). The truth of Christianity rests exactly upon a testable claim: Jesus rose from the dead. If He did not, Christianity is false. Christianity’s scope and explanatory power are superior- it can account for the existence of contingent objects, persons, consciousness, life, and the like. Christianity corresponds to reality, satisfies existential and pragmatic needs, is simpler than many other explanations, its coherent, and it matches all the criteria. Christianity expects its adherents–and outsiders–to test the faith and discover whether it is true. I have found, personally, that it pasts these tests over and over.

Conclusion

Whether one agrees or not, it is simply the case that religions make claims about reality. These claims are, in turn, true or false. Not only that, but they must match with reality in several important ways. Christianity not only adheres to these tests, but it encourages them. It also passes these tests. Does your worldview?

Sources

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011).

Kenneth Samples, A World of Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007).

Image Credit

I took this picture at Waldo Canyon near Manitou Springs, Colorado on my honeymoon. Use of this image is subject to the terms stated at the bottom of this post. The other image is the book cover from Samples’ book.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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. 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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