J.W. Wartick

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Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

Source

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

SDG.

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

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Sunday Quote!- Is God in Control of Disasters?

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

Is God in Control of Disasters?

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

Source

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

SDG.

Ken Ham Rescinds Alien Damnation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

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

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

 

SDG.

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

Ken Ham Declares Aliens Eternally Doomed

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

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

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

Space and Cost

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

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

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

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

153734main_image_feature_626_ys_4Doomed Aliens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Links

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

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

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

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

 

SDG.

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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.

On the “Fuzzification” of Inerrancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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

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

Links

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

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

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

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

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

SDG.

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

Sunday Quote!- Creationism and Foundationalism

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

Creationism and Foundationalism

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

Source

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

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

SDG.

Question of the Week- The Focus of Apologetics

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

The Focus of Apologetics

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

Book Review: “Death Before the Fall” by Ronald Osborn

dbf-osborn

I eagerly anticipated the release of Ronald Osborn’s book, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, as it is a topic of great interest to me. The work is divided into two major sections: “On Literalism” and “On Animal Suffering.”

The first part occupies the bulk of the book (100/179 pages of text). In it, Osborn first offers his interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1. His take on it is that is fairly open to being taken in a number of ways. For example, having creatures come forth “from the earth” may be direct special creation, or a linguistic device aimed at describing the “open” status of creation–its ability to change and self-correct (see esp. 27-28).

After laying out the interpretation, Osborn sets out to show how “literalism” is a mistaken hermeneutic. He argues that literalism has been brought to the forefront due to Enlightenment ways of thinking. That is, biblical literalists are influenced by modernism and their readings tend to be highly reliant on that kind of rationalist epistemology (42ff). A major difficulty with literalism, he notes, is that it seems to ultimately lead to fideism: one’s view of what the “plain sense” reading of the Bible is must be taken as normative for all areas of inquiry (44; 45-46). Another difficulty is that literalism tends to actually go far beyond what the text says in order to defend a preferred interpretation of the text (56-57).

Scientific creationism, Osborn argues, is flawed because it isn’t a “progressive research program” but rather a “degenerative” one. That is, scientific creationism is simply adjusted in an ad hoc way to meet new challenges rather than predicting them (63ff). He rounds out this first part with a discussion of how literalism ultimately leads to circling the wagons and an “enclave mentality,” alongside various representatives of historical interpretation of Genesis–Barth, Calvin, Augustine, and Maimonides.

The second part focuses on animal suffering and approaches it from a number of angles. He begins the section with three difficulties with a “literalist” view of animal suffering and the Fall. Briefly, these are the notion that a flawless creation as put forward by some seems to simply be the winding up of a watch; that God is made to be a deceiver; and difficulties with how the curse is to be applied to animals (126ff). These are presented briefly but cogently and each offers a unique challenge to typical creationist readings of the text. Next, Osborn turns to explanations other than the Fall as reasons animals suffer. He turns to the book of Job and argues both that God may have created nature with predation and death and also that God’s answer to Job out of the whirlwind may be applied to animal suffering (154-155). Moreover, God’s choosing to participate in the world in the Incarnation helps to consummate all creation and bring it to completion (165).

A difficulty with the book is the sustained polemic against literalism/YEC. At times, Osborn shares great insights in the movement. Moreover, pointed criticism is surely needed in some form. Unfortunately, after some helpful introductory comments, he seems to degenerate into posturing against those with whom he disagrees. For example, after admitting that Gnosticism is rather ill-defined, he nevertheless goes on to compare literalism to Gnosticism and simply state that they each share certain features in common (86ff). I like to call this the “Gnostic fallacy” in which someone declares the ‘other’ to be a Gnostic in order to refute them. As Osborn himself notes, Gnosticism is hard to pin down, which also means it is very easy to twist various teachings into lining up with Gnosticism. I think this is honestly one example. [See comments for Osborn's clarifying comments on this section.]

This section is understandable, and it is easy for someone like Osborn–a former YEC (like myself)–to want to lash out against these formerly held, and sometimes damaging, beliefs, but it is not a very helpful. I suspect it will alienate any readers he would perhaps hope to engage in dialogue, which leaves one wondering about the audience for the book.

Another difficulty with Osborn’s sustained critique of “literalism” is that he never provides much insight into how and/or when texts are to be read literally. That is, would the Gospels need to be read literally when they speak of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again? Osborn clearly affirms this, but doesn’t provide mechanisms which distinguish between “literalism” and simply proper exegesis which would allow for and engage with literal readings of the texts.

One further problem is that the book, despite purporting to be about Death Before the Fall, only briefly addresses this issue. The book really doesn’t provide anything more than most basic non-young earth literature does when it comes to the issue. As such, it is difficult to determine exactly how useful the book is when compared to other works.

Ultimately, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering does not contribute much new to the debate over whether animal death could occur before the fall. Osborn presents many interesting points–particularly in his heavy critique of literalism as a method–and the book is worth the read, but its limited treatment of the title is a disappointment.

Readers who are interested in the topic of animal suffering and death before the fall are better served to pick up Michael Murray’s excellent and enthralling book, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. Murray’s work is superior in both tone and treatment. It focuses entirely on the topic of animal suffering from a philosophical perspective (and is thus more academic than Osborn’s work, for better or worse). The work has a lengthy (33 pages) chapter dedicated explicitly to philosophical issues with animal suffering and the Fall, which makes it far more in-depth than the work reviewed here. Finally, it provides much greater depth on various theodicies when it comes to animal suffering. Those interested in that topic and the topic of death before the Fall or how the Fall relates to animal suffering would be better served to pick up Murray’s work.

Links

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

Sunday Quote!- Do Trilobites Yield a Greater Good?- I discuss a very minor point in Murray’s work which shows how diverse its threads are for thinking on this topic.

Source

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

SDG.

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Sunday Quote!- The Measure of Art

eeapmu-poe

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

The Measure of Art

I’m a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, but I can fairly say I never understood him until  I read Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe by Harry Lee Poe (yes, a cousin of Edgar’s). I was rereading this delightful book when I came upon an interesting quote about Edgar Allan Poe’s view of what makes art worthwhile:

[Poe] insisted on measuring a work of art, not by its size or by the effort it took to produce it, but “by the object it fulfills, by the impression it makes”… [not] “by the time it took to fulfill the object, or by the extent of ‘sustained effort’ which becomes necessary to produce the impression.” Poe believed that every story succeeded as a story to the extent that it created an effect upon the reader. (62)

For Poe, the measure of art was the impression it left upon the viewer (or reader, or hearer, or…). What do you think of this notion? What do you think qualifies as “the measure of art”? Have you read Poe? If so, how does his work “measure” for you?

Be sure to check out the review of this book.

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!

Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe by Harry Lee Poe- I reviewed this fascinating book at this link. Check it out to see what other insights you can get from this work.

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

Source

Harry Lee Poe, Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2012).

SDG.

Question of the Week: Obscure Theological Topics

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

Obscure Theological Topics

The picture on the left (which I took and then added a question mark with my mad paint skills) is perhaps more appropriate this week than most, because some people may be scratching their heads:

What’s your favorite obscure theological topic? Why? What relevance does it have in the broader scheme of things?

Theology is an area of thought that has existed since the beginning of humanity. As such, there are a lot of topics to focus on (understatement). Think about some that interest you. I think a lot of my readers are probably interested in some cool stuff, and I want to know about it! Here are some examples of “obscure” theological topics: aliens and Christian theology or King James Onlyism. What are some you’re interested in? How do you apply what you’ve looked into in that area to a broader schematic of Christian theology?

Links

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

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

SDG.

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