Historical Apologetics

This category contains 25 posts

“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.

——

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,809 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason