Historical Apologetics

This category contains 9 posts

Origen Answered It: An Incomplete List of Skeptical Arguments Answered 1800 years ago by Origen, Contra Celsum Book I

I have already discussed the fact that Origen* responded to a number of “modern” arguments long before our modern times.

For the skeptical arguments I have tried to include links or at least names. Sometimes they may be common enough that I think anyone could just do a Google search to discover the skeptical argument is made to this day. Also, some of the skeptical arguments are put forth by Celsus as coming from Jews attacking converts to Christianity. Several of these arguments will be covered here as well.

Origen’s answers I provide here are, and I must emphasize this, summaries of what he said, not his answer in its entirety. Interested readers should track down the original reference to see what he said. It should also be noted that Contra Celsum is written in a kind of challenge/response format that does not necessitate or entail lengthy discussions. Other thinkers–either modern or historic–provide longer answers than Origen did to pretty much every argument noted here.

Skeptical Argument: Faith is belief without evidence/pretending to know something you don’t know. [See Peter Boghossian]
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I, Chapter 10- All systems of thought require some element of belief without evidence, including skepticism, Platonism, and the like.

Skeptical Argument: Jesus learned how to do tricks in Egypt/Jesus’ birth accounts made up to glorify him
Origen’s Answer: 
Contra Celsum Book I, Chapter 28ff- Jesus’ birth account highlights the humility to which he is born rather than serving as a way to embellish or glorify his birth.

Skeptical Argument: Mary was not a virgin but had adultery with or was raped by a Roman soldier (named Panthera as argued by Celsus), as opposed to being a virgin[Suggested by a BBC documentary, among other modern and ancient sources]
Origen’s Answer: 
Contra Celsum Book I Chapter XXXII Had Christians wanted to make up something about Jesus’ birth, they could have just as easily said that Joseph was Jesus’ legitimate father rather than inviting speculation about rape or adultery

Skeptical Argument: The prophecy alluded to by Matthew in Isaiah does not refer to a virgin birth/Matthew and Luke themselves may not intend the reference to be to a virgin birth [See Bart Ehrman, for example]
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter XXXIV and XXXV- the Hebrew actually does seem to favor the notion of it referring to a virgin, moreover the prophecy doesn’t make sense were it but a young woman having a child, which would not have been remarkable enough to be a sign

Skeptical Argument: The suffering servant prophesies found in Isaiah 53 refers to the nation of Israel rather than Jesus.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LV- the passage in question is full of things which don’t make sense when applied broadly to a whole nation rather than single person. Moreover, the prophecy does not line up with Israel as well as it does to Jesus.

Skeptical Argument: The star of Bethlehem is an unexplained phenomenon made up to lend credence to the importance of Jesus’ birth in the narratives.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LVIII- The Star of Bethlehem was actually a comet and may have been reported by other ancients. See here for a book that has much more on this topic.
Objection: Comets are bad omens and so the Star wouldn’t have been a sign of the birth of the Messiah.
Origen’s Response: Comets are bad omens for those regimes which may be overthrown, but good signs for those whose regime may be rising.

Skeptical Argument: Certain portions of the Gospels show difficulties with Christian beliefs.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXIII- Skeptics like Celsus utilize the Gospels as historical where convenient, then reject whatever parts might answer their objections.

Skeptical Argument: Christianity allows for the worst sorts of people to get off free in the grand scheme of things. The worst people are simply forgiven.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXIII and following- The conversion of wrongdoers is not to be mocked or scorned but rather shows the power of Christianity to convince the wicked to reform.

Skeptical Argument: How could God die?
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXVI- God took on human flesh in the person of the Son.

Skeptical Argument: Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels can be mimicked or repeated by charlatans.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXVIII- Such allegations fail due to the context in which the miracles occur as well as the reasons behind the miracles/wonders.

Skeptical Argument: Jesus uses his voice and eats food–things gods need not do.
Origen’s Answer: Contra Celsum Book I Chapter LXX- Jesus was God clothed in human flesh and used his voice to convince others.

*It is worth noting that Origen was heterodox on a number of topics, including having a deficient view of the Trinity, specifically regarding the Father and the Son. However, Origen also pre-dated much of the debates over orthodox Christian theology. It is beneficial to read Origen to see the range of Christian thought in his own time period, as well as to see what kind of responses were being offered to non-Christians related to key issues.

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!

Faith is Belief without Evidence? Origen Contra Boghossian (and others)– I delve deeper into one of the arguments Origen makes, while noting that it answers one of the modern skeptical attacks on Christianity.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

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

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Did the Son have a beginning? – Origen vs. heresies

Origen (184-253 AD) was one of the earliest defenders of the Christian faith.* In his work, Contra Celsum, he engaged with a Greek skeptic who brought many arguments against Christianity. In his De Principiis, he laid out the foundations of the Christian faith. (Both works are availble in The Works of Origen.) The latter work demonstrates key points to understanding the relationship between God the Father and God the Son:

John… says in the beginning of his Gospel, “And God was the Word, and this was in the beginning with God.” Let him, then, who assigns a beginning to the Word or Wisdom of God, take care that he be not guilty of impiety against the unbegotten Father Himself, seeing he denies that He had always been a Father, and had generated the Word…
This Son, accordingly, is also the truth and life of all things which exist… For how could those things which were created live, unless they derived their being from life? (Origen, De Principiis, Book I Chapter 2)

Origen, then, notes that the very descriptor of “Father” for God the Father entails that the Son has always been generated. Otherwise, one must deny that God was always the Father. But in that case, the Son must also always have been. And to deny this, one would have to deny creation itself, for all things were made through the Son.

Again, this point must not be lost: Origen, one of the earliest defenders of the church, saw the Father and the Son as distinct from each other and also co-eternal. Effectively, this goes against many false teachings, including modalism (the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different aspects of one God), any form of Arianism (that Jesus is not fully God), and the like. For a modern example, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is not fully God and not co-eternal with God the Father (whom they call Jehovah). Origen would repudiate this, noting that the Father can only right so be called in eternity, which entails the Father has always been the Father, and so the Son is co-eternal with the Father.

Reading many of these ancient historians reveals much truth about Christianity and helps to correct false teachings of today. I recommend readers read the Works of Origen.

*Origen did hold many unorthodox views which were later condemned as heretical. His faith was clearly one influenced by Platonic thought in which the human soul pre-existed and was eternal. Moreover, his view of the relations between the persons of the Trinity is deficient on many levels. My point in this post is specifically to show that Origen showed that the Son is co-eternal with the Father.

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!

Faith is Belief Without Evidence? Origen contra Boghossian (and others)– Origen countered the claim that faith is to be categorized as belief without evidence, as many atheists continue to claim to this day.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

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

“Manual of Christian Evidences”- Fisher Chapter 4 Guided Reading

All rights reserved.

All rights reserved.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 4

Fisher wrote:

Before proceeding further, it is well to remind the reader how much there is in Christianity that is not a subject of dispute. (28)

I think it is important to note immediately that almost none of the points he raises following this declaration would be without dispute anymore. People wish to deny that Jesus existed, and so would certainly deny the preceding ministry of John the Baptist. Indeed, basically every historical fact about Jesus is thrown into dispute because of the existence of people that think Jesus did not exist. This is not to say that the “Jesus myth” is a legitimate historical hypothesis that has any basis in reality; it is just to say that the claim that something is beyond dispute is difficult to maintain.

Fisher then gave an overview (very briefly) of the spread and benefits of Christianity. Moreover, he argued that violence “done in the name of the Christian religion, is due… not to the religion itself, but to the perversion and corruption of it.” The part I took out with ellipses again says “generally conceded.” I think that this is generally conceded now among anyone who has even a working understanding of Christian theology and history, but the problem is that the task of those interested in the defense of the faith must start, in part, with simply informing others.

There are so few things which we may call “admitted facts” anymore that it can be daunting to know where to begin. That’s why it is important to begin an apologetic with a relationship–get to know those with whom you’re discussing your faith so that you can relate to them on a level that addresses specific concerns they have rather than making assumptions about them.

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

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

Faith is Belief without Evidence? Origen contra Boghossian (and others)

Peter Boghossian is perhaps most famous for his work A Manual for Creating Atheists. In this work, he argues that believers–and Christians specifically–see faith as belief without evidence or “pretending to know what you don’t know” (Manual… [Durham, NC: Pitschstone Publishing, 2013]), 7ff. Many atheists throughout time have pushed a redefinition of faith, claiming that Christians believe without or against evidence.

Origen (ca.184-253), one of the most prolific early Christian writers, was also one of the first to offer a defense of Christianity. In his work Contra Celsusm (available for .99 in Origen’s works), in which he answered a skeptical Greek interlocutor,  Ceslus, Origen began Chapter X of Book I with words that may seem to demonstrate the notion that faith is belief without evidence:

[W]e must say that, considering it as a useful thing for the multitude, we admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons, who are unable to abandon all other employments, and give themselves to an examination of arguments…

Before the party gets started however, the rest of this chapter from Origen is well-worth considering. Indeed, Origen argued that all positions require belief without reasons, and continues the above quotation directly: “and our opponents, although they do not acknowledge it, yet practically do the same.” Origen, in other words, alleged that both Christians and non-Christians must believe, in some cases, without evidence or reasons. Why? He explained:

For who is there that, on betaking himself to the study of philosophy, and throwing himself into the ranks of some sect, either by chance, or because he is provided with a teacher of that school, adopts such a course for any other reason, except that he believes his particular sect to be superior to any other? For, not waiting to hear the arguments of all the other philosophers, and of all the different sects, and the reasons for condemning one system and for supporting another, he in this way elects to become a stoic, eg., or a Platonist… or a follower of some other school, and is thus borne, although they will not admit it, by a kind of irrational impulse to the [selected] practice…. to the disregard of the others…

Origen, then, notes that humans are prone to jumping on board with whatever philosophy they first sign up with. Whether that is Christianity or militant atheism, we tend to explore that which we find familiar. Moreover, we approach rival philosophies with bias. Any philosophical position, argued Origen here, is one that we accept to some extent without evidence. After all, no one really can examine every rival belief and find that one’s own is the only one that is reasonable. Rather, we must accept that we have the relevant information at hand and move forward on that information.

Origen’s argument flies in the face of skeptics like Boghossian. Rather than accepting a definition of faith as belief without evidence, Origen notes that all belief systems have elements that are held without evidence. We seek self-confirmation. We often find it. Origen doesn’t leave it there however, through the rest of the book, he answers many objections to Christianity that persist to this day. Christianity, Origen argues, is reasonable and stands against the objections people bring against it.

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!

Is Faith a False Epistemology?- Debate Review: Tim McGrew vs. Peter Boghossian– I review a modern debate about this same topic between Peter Boghossian and Tim McGrew.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

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

“Manual of Christian Evidences”- Fisher Chapter 3 Guided Reading

Image from a camping trip I took.

Image from a camping trip I took.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is quite short but has some thoughts to chew on. Perhaps the highlight is a brief exposition of the argument from felt need (also commonly called the argument from desire). Let’s talk about this and other issues below!

First, the discussion of the felt need for revelation in humanity (22-24). I wonder if this is an aspect of the argument that could be made stronger. It seems to me that the Bible speaks to the notion of all humanity knowing God, in some sense (Romans 1). But how do we tap into that? Do all people really have this felt need? There are plenty of atheists who deny such a felt need. I wonder if arguments focused on the existential need for Christianity could be expounded and strengthened. This argument is a different type than the more common one (below), but it still appeals to an pparent need within human nature that is met by Christianity. As more discoveries point to the notion of a “God gene” or psychological desire to believe in God, this argument, I think, actually gains more empirical support. Can such needs be reduced to nothing but genetics?

Second, regarding Fisher’s argument for the “way in which Christianity meets the deep wants of human nature” (25ff) is quite engaging. It is just the kind of argument people like us who are interested in historical apologetics are looking for: one that is not so commonly used now. But I think Fisher puts it forward masterfully. It is worth noting that he integrates wide ranges of evidence into his points. The first point is that the main truths of natural religion are put forth in Christianity in a “clear and vivid form” (25). Thus, Fisher is arguing that whatever is revealed in nature should point to the truth of Christianity. I’ve found this to be true time and again. After this first point, Fisher notes several lines of evidence that appeal to human conscience and desires.

I think this is an argument that could have broader appeal in our culture. People want to know that what they believe resonates with reality and pointing to how Christianity relates to desires can make it seem more real.

I do, however, wonder about things like the claim on p 26- “The moral precepts of Christianity are conformed to the dictates of conscience.” I think that this aspect of the argument would meet with vehement challenge as people charge Christianity with teaching against common sense and nature in regards to morality. How might we counter these responses?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

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

Manual of Christian Evidences: Fisher Chapter 2 Guided Reading

100_2744I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 2

In this chapter, Fisher begins his defense of the possibility of miracles. Join me for a reflection on some of the key issues that come up in this chapter.

First, the question of defining miracles. Do you think that Fisher’s definition(s) are adequate? I ask this because I wonder whether there is potential for a false dichotomy between natural/supernatural phenomena. That is, I wonder if defining miracle as “an event which the forces of nature–including the natural powers of man–cannot of themselves produce and which must, therefore, be referred to a supernatural agency” (11) means that any storm, wind, etc. could not be referred to as miraculous. Clearly a wind that arises “out of nothing” without natural possibility of occurring as it did would be miraculous as defined here, but would it be if God just used a “natural” event? I’m not endorsing this theory, but suppose the turning of the Nile to “blood” is a reference to the color of the water being reddened by red mud that ran down the Nile from upriver. The timing was perfect, but the event was natural in this case. Does that make it natural rather than miraculous? Does the timing not factor at all? Would such an explanation remove the Nile turning to blood from the realm of the miraculous?

I don’t propose any specific answer to these questions, but my gut says that such an event would still be miraculous in at least some sense. And if that’s the case, the definition of miracle used here does create the false dichotomy I noted. Am I wrong on this? If so, why?

Second, the question of free will. Let’s not start a debate on the meaning of free will or anything of the sort. What I want to point to is Fisher’s use of free will as a “miracle” (12-13). He notes that the will moves physical forces yet it cannot be detected in a physical way. I think this is an intriguing example, and I wonder if others agree that this may be seen as “miraculous.”

However, I also wonder if his definition of miracles works against his example. After all, there is a clause he puts above: “including the natural powers of [hu]man[s].” Is free will in his example a natural power of humanity? I would think so. But in that case, it is not miraculous by his own definition. Is my reasoning fault here?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

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

Manual of Christian Evidences: Fisher Chapter 1 Guided Reading

IMG_0691

A picture I took of a path through the woods. All rights reserved.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 1

It is always important when reading a non-fiction book to find the thesis. What is it that George Park Fisher is trying to accomplish with his Manual?

Spoiler alert (har har): the answer is that he’s trying to establish the veracity of “the New Testament histories” (2). I think a valuable question to follow such a statement up with is “so what?”

Suppose Fisher succeeds, and shows that the NT histories are trustworthy, would not some scholars continue to argue that this doesn’t demonstrate the miraculous contained therein (as I’m sure Tim can attest, given his recent debates with Bart Ehrman)? That is, would not many historians say we can trust the NT documents as history, but we need not trust the miraculous therein?

I think a possible response to this is actually found in another work by a dead apologist, J.J. Blunt. In his “Undesigned Coincidences,” he notes that “by establishing the truth of ordinary incidents which involve the miracle, which compass the miracle round about, and which cannot be separated from the miracle without the utter laceration of the history itself, goes very near to establish it.” (J.J. Blunt, “Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings both of the Old and New Testaments: An Argument of their Veracity” (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 9-10).

Interestingly, this is not so much the tactic Fisher uses going forward. He could defend the value of such a study by noting that because of the way some of the miraculous accounts are embedded in those NT histories, we cannot excise the miraculous without making the whole thing nonsensical. That is, the miraculous is itself part of the history. However, he opts for a different approach, as we will see in the coming chapters.

What do you think of this as a  response? What other responses might be possible? Moreover, what other points in this chapter came to mind for you?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

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

Apologetic Arguments: Let’s not unintentionally weaken them

Constellation_Fornax,_EXtreme_Deep_FieldJ.J. Blunt (1794-1855) gave some advice in his book Undesigned Coincidences (freely available at that link–copyright expired) that ought to be applied by we apologists to every single argument we consider. His own book put forward the argument from undesigned coincidences, which is essentially an argument that looks across the Bible to compare books to each other in order to see if details in one might be confirmed in another. Blunt, however, did not feel every single one he found would be seen as useful to his overall argument, and that is where I think his advice might be applied to apologetics generally. He wrote:

I could add several other examples of this class [referring to an undesigned coincidence], i.e. where allusions in the prophets are very sufficiently responded to by events recorded in the historical Books of Scripture, but still the want of precision in the terms makes it difficult to affirm the coincidence between the two documents with confidence; and therefore I have thought it better to suppress such instances, as not possessing that force of evidence which entitles them to a place in these pages… the internal testimony is not so strong as to carry conviction along with it, of such being really the case; and this failing, it is folly to weaken a sound argument by a fanciful extension of it (253).

Here we see that Blunt has more arguments and instances he believes may carry at least some tiny weight, but that he decides it is better to “suppress” (i.e. not share) them, for doing so might take away from the stronger evidences that carry the proof. This, I think, presents an admirable way to approach doing apologetics, and one that we need to take to heart. It is all to easy to present an argument and then either (1) press the argument’s conclusion so far beyond what is warranted that we undercut the conclusion itself or (2) give continual, weak evidences.

Regarding the first potential difficulty, an argument can easily be pressed beyond its conclusion. Thus, for example, we may argue that a form of the cosmological argument demonstrates a first cause, and go on to argue this first cause is omnipotent, which seems a strong enough inference. But then we may go on and say the first cause must be free, to bring something out of nothing, which involves a choice. And then we may argue this implies omniscience for what could be free and able to create a universe as intricate as ours? One can see how quickly we’ve gone beyond an argument’s conclusion (a cause of the universe) to the point that we need to construct many more arguments to make our case. It may be better to let the cause be what we conclude, and use other arguments to establish other conclusions.

The second difficulty is one that is difficult to nuance. For example, a “cumulative case” approach is a good way to present arguments, but we need to balance that cumulative case with whether the arguments we are using for cumulative effect carry enough weight to be considered. We ought to be careful not to include arguments that, due to their weakness, may distract from the strength of the overall case. This applies even if the “weak” arguments do, in fact, provide some positive evidence. Sometimes it is best to let the case stand as it is. Other times, it is not.

As far as Blunt’s specific instances, I kind of wish he’d at least preserved them somewhere for us to browse, even if they are weak enough he doesn’t think them convincing. That way, we could look them up ourselves and see if 160+ years may have shed more light on the potential coincidence. Alas, we will not know what they are until the hereafter. As it stands, though, Blunt’s work is a giant of apologetics.

We apologists need to be careful not to unintentionally weaken our argument by being tempted to include every possible line of evidence. Sometimes, that can make our case appear weaker than it actually is.

Source

J.J. Blunt, Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings both of the Old and New Testaments: An Argument of their Veracity (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855).

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!

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

Library of Historical Apologetics– A massive wealth of resources, with links to many, many books freely available (copyright expired) for those interested in historical apologetics.

Forgotten Arguments for Christianity: Undesigned Coincidences- The argument stated– I explain the argument from undesigned coincidences in more detail, with several links for further reading.

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.

Rhetoric as Apologetic- Can we learn from ancient apologetics?

apologetics-romanIn the ancient world, rhetoric was a major field of study. Briefly, classical rhetoric is the practice of discourse as a means to motivate, inform, persuade. It is hard to pin down to an exact degree what rhetoric is, but here we will use the term as broadly defined above.

Ancient Rhetoric in Apologetics

Mark Edwards, in “The Flowering of Latin Apologetic: Lactantius and Arnobius,” (cited below) examines the way these ancient apologists used rhetoric in their defense of the Christian faith. This involved demonstrating that Christians were educated over and against the notion that Christians were all slaves and fools. It also involved showing that Christians were the paragons of (Roman) society rather than people who overthrew society. They presented Christianity as an alternative way of thinking–a whole system which was to overthrow the Pagan thought of the time.

These different aspects of rhetoric in apologetics were specifically aimed at the audience of the time of Lactantius and Arnobius. Perhaps we can learn from their example.

Rhetoric in Apologetics Today

There are a number of ways we may apply rhetoric to apologetics today. One may argue that the use of memes is one (lowbrow) way of utilizing rhetoric in apologetics–making brief points in a provocative manner that brings forth further thought. How might we best use memes in apologetics? Are they even appropriate? These are questions that I will not delve into, but I think they are worth trying to work out for those involved in apologetics or interested in doing the same.

Another aspect of rhetoric which may be integrated into today’s apologetic is the continued deflection of charges from non-Christians against the faith. Specifically, some allege that Christians are stupid. Like Lactantius and Arnobius, we may feel free to flourish the names of Christian scholars through time and into today. Christians cannot truly be classified as necessarily stupid or foolish when they continually work in the highest levels of academia.

Rhetoric in apologetics seems as though it may necessarily be focused on the “low hanging fruit” like the examples given above. I’m not convinced this is the case, nor am I convinced that this is a valid objection to its use. Regarding the latter point, surely if charges are made against Christians necessarily being foolish or lacking education, a valid response is to demonstrate how this is false. The use of memes is frequently effective, though we must be wary of their tendency to oversimplify.

Regarding the former point–that rhetoric is not necessarily focused on “low hanging fruit,” I would note that in many ways, a convincing case depends on how it is presented. Moreover, as Christians we are called to present our case in a way that will put us above reproach in character. If we’re able to eloquently present a case, then perhaps more will consider the case itself. I’m not suggesting we try to obfuscate, but we should try to work to present our case in a winsome manner that utilizes the best scholarship, the most current language, and integrates the fewest possible errors (and this includes typos and spelling errors–something of which I am guilty, I’m sure).

Moreover, Lactantius and Arnobius were both clearly concerned with the imminent attacks on Christianity. They weren’t seeking to anticipate and shoot down future problems so much as they were dealing with the current attacks on their faith. Perhaps we can take this as a call to focus on the issues which face Christianity today ourselves. Like them, we need to confront the most popular of our naysayers and utilize the best scholarship in order to refute criticisms of Christianity.

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)

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover the enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!

Source

Mark Edwards, “The Flowering of Latin Apologetic: Lactantius and Arnobius” in Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

——

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

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