apologetics

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Manual of Christian Evidences: Fisher Chapter 1 Guided Reading

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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.

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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.

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.

“Remarkable Creatures” by Tracy Chevalier – Creationism, women, and paleontology

rc-chevalierRemarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is a historical fiction novel based on the lives of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, early fossil hunters in England. It raises an astonishing number of worldview questions related to women, paleontology, and creationism, and we will here discuss just a few of these issues. There will be SPOILERS in what follows, but it is history!

Paleontology, Creationism, and Controversy

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Remarkable Creatures is its survey of the controversies surrounding the discovery of fossils that challenged reigning scientific and religious paradigms. One of the greatest challenges was to come to believe that extinction had occurred. Think about it: if all you ever knew was the living beings around you, what possible reason would there be for thinking that those beings could die out, such that none were left anywhere? Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot’s finds of creatures like icthyosaurus challenged even the greatest thinkers of the time to come up with new paradigms for fitting these creatures–which didn’t exist anywhere on earth at their time–into reality.

For a time, it was thought that the bones of icthyosaurus were just those of a crocodile. But then Mary Anning discovered a complete fossil that included huge eyes (eyes that even had bones in them!). This forced people to the realization that these truly were novel creatures.

It’s a fascinating thing to think about, because the problem wasn’t just that it forced them to come up with a new concept–extinction. It also led to theological crises. After all, why would God create creatures that would all die out? One pastor in the book was particularly disturbed by this notion. He argues with Elizabeth Philpot: “All that you see about you is as God set it out in the beginning. He did not create beasts and then get rid of them. That would suggest He had made a mistake, and of course God is all knowing and incapable of error…” (144, citation from large print edition [only one they had at the library]). Philpot then comes back, noting that rock formations change and that if creation is supposed to be without change, how could rock fall or change a cliff face? The pastor ultimately comes back by saying that “God placed the fossils there when He created the rocks, to test our faith…” (145). Chevalier cleverly puts an answer in Philpot’s head: “It is my faith in you [the pastor as interpreter of Scripture] that is being tested, I thought” (145). The pastor, it should be noted, was also using, as was commonplace, Bishop Ussher’s chronology of the world, which put the date of creation “on the night preceding the 23rd of October 4004 B.C.” (144). Philpot wryly remarks- “I had always wondered at his precision.”

Another idea that was prominent at the time was the notion of anatomical laws or conformity with Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being. According to these ideas, there is a kind of hierarchy of being that puts humans at the top (usually) with other creatures in stages below that. It is not evolution, for it predates that idea. Instead, it is a way of ordering those creatures which exist now according to some principles. Mary Anning’s finding of a plesiosaur challenged this chain of being by violating the ways that creatures were supposed to appear or exist.

Late in the book, Elizabeth Philpot is finally questioned on what she thinks about the fossils and God. She is pleased to finally be asked:

I am comfortable with reading the Bible figuratively rather than literally. For instance, I think the six days in Genesis are not literal days, but different periods of creation, so that it took many thousands–or hundreds of thousands of years–to create. It does not demean God; it simply gives Him more time to build this extraordinary world. (391, again note reference from large print edition)

Although this is a work of historical fiction, these debates continue into today. Some groups still use Bishop Ussher’s chronology to date the age of the earth. Although few would argue that there are no extinct creatures, new forms of the same arguments have led to the young earth creationist movement, in which people argue that the Bible requires us to believe that all the creatures that are extinct were alive at the same time as humans. I have personally had conversations with young earth creationists who say that fossils are one way God tests our faith (I know of no young earth organization who would use this argument, thankfully). Scientific findings continue to challenge entrenched religious beliefs.

One is perhaps left to wonder, like Philpot’s thoughts, on how some people get so much precision. The Bible nowhere puts a date on creation. Nor does the Bible demand that all creatures that have ever lived were allowed at the same time. Yet these beliefs persist, and many Christians insist that if one does not hold to them, they are not true Christians, or are perhaps abandoning Scripture. As in Mary Anning’s time, we still have much work to do. We cannot let our external paradigms (things like Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being, or perhaps more germane, our own assumptions about how texts ought to be read “literally” and what the word “literal” means) determine how God is allowed to act or what God may communicate to us.

Women

The book does a good job portraying the way the contributions of women were ignored or even stolen. Mary Anning was an expert fossil hunter–self taught. Yet time and again, men used her expertise to find their fossils and then take credit for the finds. Although her contributions were acknowledged later, her life of poverty is a sad testimony to the way that unequal treatment of women can so easily be perpetuated. The book portrays this unequal treatment in many ways. First, there is the exclusion of both Philpot and Anning from societies of geologists (this was before paleontology was a separate field of study from geology). Second, social norms provide for a simple way to create inequality. When one sex is given the benefit of the doubt (men, in this case) while the other is considered permanently damaged even by gossip about impropriety (women), restraints upon the social movement and capacity of the latter follow by necessity. Third, the contributions of women were ignored.

Unfortunately, parallels to each of these scenarios continue today. Women are excluded from certain groups or positions (such as those who keep women from becoming pastors), thus creating spiritual inequality. Conventions of purity culture, for example, treat women as “impure” or “damaged goods,” putting the onus on young women to abstain while simultaneously removing blame from young men. The power of imagery–objectification of women–continues to impact both women and men in negative ways. We can learn from Remarkable Creatures that much progress has been made, but it also points us in the direction of more work to be done.

Conclusion

Remarkable Creatures is a fascinating read. Although it is dry at times, it provides much insight into a number of discoveries that changed the world. It highlights the careers of two women who contributed much to paleontology in its formative stages. Perhaps most importantly, it challenges us to keep improving, to keep thinking, and to keep observing God’s remarkable world.

Source

Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures (New York: Penguin, 2010).

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Mary Anning: Plesiosaurs, Pterosaurs, and The Age of Reptiles– A post that highlights the contributions Mary Anning made to the paleontology. It particularly focuses on how these discoveries pre-dated Darwin.

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.

 

“Ghost Hawk” by Susan Cooper- Cultural Imperialism and Christianity

ghost-hawk-cooper

Susan Cooper is a renowned author best known for The Dark is Rising Sequence. Her latest young adult novel, Ghost Hawk, is an deeply compelling look at the dangers of cultural imperialism and the ways that cultures interact. Here, I’ll examine the book from a worldview level. The will be SPOILERS in what follows.

 

Cultural Imperialism

Cultural imperialism occurs when a dominant group asserts its customs or traditions as normative over those of another. For a fantastic book that looks at some of these issues in context of First Nations/Native Americans, see Richard Twiss’s Rescuing the Gospel from the CowboysThe white settlers coming into the land are imposing their culture and customs on the Native groups in the area. That this is historical reality is beyond dispute. Cooper presents this, however, in an intriguing way.

John and others are in favor of reform–working with the Native groups and trying to understand them. Others, notably Puritans, believe that all the Natives are without any kind of possible hope. They are simply the heathen, and must be not only converted, but must conform themselves to the European cultural standards. This same imperialism carries into today as missions to Native groups too often wish to banish all Native expressions of spirituality.

The story does not take a happy turn. The efforts to come to mutual understanding largely fail, and Little Hawk is murdered in the process. Little Hawk’s spirit lingers to speak with John for some time (see below).

Despite all the reasons why Little Hawk and John might give up hope, they persist in trusting that hope might be found:

“These people[,” John said, “]they have no charity either for the Indians or for Christians who do not follow their own harsh rules. They talk about the word of the Lord, but they do not listen to it. Shall we destroy each other, in the end?”
…”Change is made by the voice of one person at a time,” [Little Hawk/Ghost Hawk] said…
“But you had no choice [to kill the wolf,” John said to Ghost Hawk. “]We too kill wolves, to keep them from eating the animals that we want to eat. We choose to do it. We have choices all the time, and so often we make the wrong ones.” (291-292, cited below)

There are a number of avenues to explore in this quote. First, it is worth noting that that different Christian voices are presented in the novel. Yes, some present a view in which the Native peoples are merely the heathen–not even worth associating with. Yet others work towards understanding and following God’s word. Second, the concept of choice is quite blatant here: our choices is what can make the difference going forward. When we choose to continue to act as a cultural aggressor, the cycle is perpetuated. What can be done to make a change? Again, different choices–following God’s word.

Ghost Hawk

The story of Ghost Hawk is set during early colonization of what would become known as Massachusetts. The first half of the book follows Little Hawk, a Native American boy who begins his quest to become a man. He encounters the spirit of a hawk/osprey in the wild, but when he returns home he discovers that plague has killed the vast portion of his family and tribe. As the story goes on, he encounters John, the son of a settler. Little Hawk is murdered by one of the settlers as John looks on, and himself becomes a kind of Manitou spirit, communicating with John for some time. Yet the story reaches beyond the initial setting, swirling past over a century of time as the land that was once used by the Massachusetts and other tribes now “belongs” to others. Ultimately, Little Hawk’s spirit is released as a kind of totem of his–his axe–is melded into a tree.

Conclusion

Ghost Hawk asks us to think about cultural imperialism from a different perspective. Susan Cooper invites us to consider the societal and systemic wrongs that have been done to Native groups and to enter into a conversation about how we can work to change that going forward. Moreover, her care to show different perspectives is admirable. Christians should be reflective of past wrongs and seek mutual reconciliation. We need to be aware of how our own expectations are not equivalent with the expectations of the Bible. Reading Ghost Hawk provides a way to start thinking about those 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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Source

Susan Cooper, Ghost Hawk (New York: Margaret K. McElderry, 2013).

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.

Apologetics Guided Reading: Historical Apologetics Read-Along

Image from a camping trip I took.

Image from a camping trip I took. The beauty of creation points to the existence of God.

I am going to lead a read-through of a historical apologetics work, Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. Why choose this book? There are a few reasons. First, it is public domain and therefore available for free through various online formats (including getting it on your Kindle or other e-reading formats). Second, it provides a good framework for understanding the historical development of apologetics from its time (late 19th century) until now. Third, it introduces a few arguments that most people familiar with modern apologetics will find novel, thus showing the importance of exploring historical apologetics. Finally, fourth, I’ve already been doing a read-along of the book in the Facebook group, “Dead Apologists Society,” and I can both tie this discussion back to that group and also use what I’ve been writing up there for this.

I’m interested to get some feedback on this read along because I want it to be useful both for myself and for you, my readers. I have a few questions for you, then, readers. First, are you interested in this? Second, what kind of format would be most helpful for you? I already have a few posts in the works with some questions on the content and application. Third, how often would work for reading along? The chapters are quite short and readable, and I was thinking either weekly or monthly would be the goal. I’m leaning towards monthly so I can space them out more easily.

The book can be acquired here. We’ll be using the 1892 edition, which is available in various e-formats here.

I hope you’ll join me in this read-along!

Read Along Links

Chapter 1– What is the purpose of the Manual? This chapter gives us a preview of what kind of arguments Fisher will use going forward. I provide some questions and discussion for chapter 1 here.

Links

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

What about those who haven’t heard? – Part 1 of a Case Study on Religious Pluralism from Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur”

ben-hur

A beautiful cover for an edition of Ben Hur- I was unable to locate the exact copyright information.


Ben Hur 
is one of my all-time favorite novels. There are many issues related to worldview raised throughout the novel. I have started a series which outlines some of the ways it interacts with

Selection from the Book

Each post in this series will begin with a segment from the book itself. Here, we jump into a scene in which one of the wise men is telling the story of how he came to be in a desert, meeting up with the others. He is Greek. I have abridged the segment to focus on the areas in which this series is most interested, namely, the ways God interacts with humanity.

“I am Gaspar, son of Cleanthes the Athenian…

…”It happens that two of our [Greece’s] philosophers, the very greatest of the many [reference to Plato and Aristotle, presumably], teach, one the doctrine of a Soul in every man, and its Immortality; the other the doctrine of One God, infinitely just. From the multitude of subjects about which the schools were disputing, I separated them, as alone worth the labor of solution; for I thought there was a relation between God and the soul as yet unknown…

“In the northern part of my country–in Thessaly… there is a mountain famous as the home of the gods… Olympus is its name. Thither I betook myself. I found a cave [nearby]… there I dwelt, giving myself up to meditation–no, I gave myself up to waiting for what every breath was a prayer–for revelation. Believing in God, invisible yet supreme, I also believed it possible so to yearn for him with all my soul that he would take compassion and give me answer.

“…One day I saw a man flung overboard from a ship sailing by. He swam ashore. I received and took care of him. He was a Jew, learned in the history and laws of his people; and from him I came to know that the God of my prayers did indeed exist; and had been for ages their lawmaker, ruler, and king. What was that but the Revelation I dreamed of? My faith had not been fruitless; God answered me!”

“As he does all who cry to him with such faith,” said the [Hindu].

“But, alas!” the Egyptian added, “how few are there wise enough to know when he answers them!”

“That was not all,” the Greek continued. “The man so sent to me told me more. He said the prophets who, in the ages which followed the first revelation, walked and talked with God, declared he would come again…

“It is true… the man told me that as God and the revelation of which he spoke had been for the Jews alone, so it would be again… ‘Had he nothing for the rest of the world?’ I asked. ‘No,’ was the answer, given in a proud voice–‘No, we are his chosen people.’ The answer did not crush my hope. Why should such a God limit his love and benefaction to one land, and, as it were, to one family? …When the Jew was gone, and I was alone again, I chastened my soul with a new prayer–that I might be permitted to see the King when he was come, and worship him. One night I sat by the door of my cave trying to get nearer the mysteries of my existence, knowing which is to know God; suddenly, on the sea below me, or rather in the darkness that covered its face, I saw a star begin to burn; slowly it arose and drew nigh, and stood over the hill and above my door, so that its light shone full upon me. I fell down, and slept, and in my dream I heard a voice say:

“‘O Gaspar! Thy faith hath conquered! Blessed art thou! With two others, come from the uttermost parts of the earth, thou shalt see Him that is promised, and be a witness for him, and the occasion of testimony in his behalf. In the morning arise, and go meet them, and keep trust in the Spirit that shall guide thee.’

“And in the morning I awoke with the Spirit as a light within me surpassing that of the sun…”

This passage can be found in Ben Hur, Book I, Chapter III. It may be read in its entirety online here (it is public domain due to expired copyright).

An illustration from the Ben Hur novel. I was unable to find a specific copyright.

An illustration from the Ben Hur novel. I was unable to find a specific copyright.

Notes on Religion from the Selection

Christians have proposed many different answers to one of the most pressing questions, itself having been pondered for centuries: “What about those who have never heard?” The question is regarding salvation–can those who have never heard be saved? But it isn’t only that. It might be nuanced in many ways. For example, are there any who have not heard what is required to be saved who would respond if they did hear it? Though the answer initially may seem obvious, it must be thought over carefully before one simply says yes or no.

In this passage from Lew Wallace, we find not one, but two separate answers to this question combined into one account. The answers are: direct divine revelation, and sending a witness. (I have dubbed them this, but the titles summarize common proposals–see below.)

Sending a Witness

One of the answers Christians have given to the question of those who have not heard and their salvific status is pretty straightforward: there simply are none who have not heard. The claim seems rather extraordinary, for, after all, entire swathes of humanity never had contact with any Christian missionary for vast periods of time. Yet, this answer to the question suggests that God sends a witness to anyone who would respond. Thus, if there is someone in a place where Christianity had not yet reached who would have responded to a missionary, God somehow sets it up such that that person hears from someone about Christ.

In the example from Ben Hur above, we see that the Greek was looking for the divine–hoping for a response. Thus, through providential act, a Jew washed up on shore to instruct him about the truth.

It seems this solution to the problem of religious pluralism and those who have not heard is unsatisfactory. There are many reasons for this. First, it supports a rather dim view of other cultures through a system that is ultimately culturally imperialist. Second, it seems to stretch credulity, for it would follow from this position that either there have only been very few outside of the parts of the world where Christianity is dominant who would have responded to the Gospel anyway (see previous point) or that there are innumerable instances of shipwrecks washing missionaries on shore in far off places all over the world to wherever someone might respond to the Gospel. Either of these seems unsatisfactory.

However, it is possible that the “Sending a Witness” answer could be part of an answer to the questions posed here. It just does not seem capable of carrying all the weight on its own.

Direct Divine Revelation

Like the previous answer, the “direct divine revelation” solution to the problem of religious pluralism and specifically those who have not heard is one which ultimately results in the answer: None have not heard. For, if someone would respond to the Gospel, God simply reveals Christ through direct revelation. In the selection above, we see that a dream reveals the Holy Spirit to Gaspar.

This answer to the questions raised above is perhaps more satisfactory than the previous one, but difficulties remain. The primary one is that although several firsthand instances of this type of thing happening are found, they do not seem to be as ubiquitous as they might need to be in order to adequately account for all those who have not heard. Again, this may be part of a larger multi-level response, but I don’t think it can stand on its own.

Conclusion

Wallace provides here an overview of two of the traditional answers to the question of those who have not heard about Jesus Christ. Neither solution seems entirely satisfactory, though either or both might be integrated into a holistic view of witnessing and missions. We will explore other aspects of Wallace’s exploration of religious pluralism

Although I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I think that John Sanders’ book, No Other Name is perhaps the best work I have read for providing background into the different proposed solutions for the question of those who have not heard about Christ. It would be a good read for those wishing to explore the topic further.

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!

Religious Pluralism- A case study from “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace– The post introducing this entire series on “Ben Hur.” It has links to all the posts in the series.

Ben Hur- The Great Christian Epic– I look at the 1959 epic film from a worldview perspective. How does the movie reflect the deeply Christian worldview of the book?

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.

Religious Pluralism- A case study from “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace- Series Introduction

ben-hur-novel

Ben Hur is one of the most influential novels of all time, selling millions in the 19th and 20th centuries and noted as admired by several U.S. Presidents, among others. Reactions to the novel are varied–an interesting thing to examine of itself (some critics saying that it would only appeal to the “unlettered” person, while the general and broad appeal of the novel speaks against that same notion). Its enduring popularity can be attested to by the fact that it continues to be adapted to film.

I’m going to write a series of posts exploring religious pluralism through the lens of the novel, Ben Hur.

Method

The opening scene of the book  describes the wise men–those who would later visit Christ–meeting up in the desert. In this scene, each wise man–from a different part of the ancient world–shares his own story of how he became a believer.

Each post will start with a selection from this scene. Then, I will analyze what was said therein from a theological and apologetic viewpoint. The goal will be to examine what is said therein to see its value for Christians today in interfaith dialogue.

 

Links

What About Those Who Haven’t Heard? – Part 1 of a case study on religious pluralism from Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur”– I examine two of the most popular answers to the question about those who have not heard about Jesus (and their eternal fate) from the book.

Links for the series will be posted here. This post will serve as the home page for the series.

Brandon Sanderson’s “Calamity” – The Reckoning of Humanity

calamity-sandersonBrandon Sanderson is one of the most gifted authors I know currently writing. Each book he writes, it seems, consistently has stunning twists, great action, and an interesting world. Here, we’ll take a look at the conclusion to his “The Reckoners” series, Calamity. We will be exploring it from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS below for the whole series.

Face Your Fears

A theme that continues throughout the entire series is the notion of facing your fears. In Calamity, this is shown to be the way for Epics to gain control of their powers without going dark. Yet what does it mean to face our fears? For some epics, it is a literal sense, such as Firefight simply plunging an arm into fire–her weakness. For others, facing fear is facing failure, or a different kind of weakness.

As Calamity continues, however, we discover that these weaknesses are from Calamity himself–the things that Calamity is afraid of. Part of me wonders whether this cheapens the impact of this theme, for it makes the weaknesses of the Epics something that is imported to them rather than something intrinsic in themselves. Another part of me sees this as somewhat consistent–for as humans we are social, and we can all too easily take on the fears  of others and turn them into something far greater than they are in fact.

The Nature of Humanity

In the climactic encounter between David and Calamity, Calamity is brought to a different, alternate reality in which he left the humans he’d gifted to their own devices. There, those with the powers are effectively superheroes, having had no darkness to face down, nothing from the outside to impinge upon their own reality. David challenges Calamity:

“Do you fear that?” I asked him softly. “That we aren’t what you’ve thought? Does it terrify you to know that deep down, men are not monsters? That we are, instead, inherently good?” (411)

Such a viewpoint is quite popular in our world. Humans are inherently good, right? Well, it seems that such a viewpoint is not the biblical one, which argues that humans are sinful from birth–even from conception (Psalm 51:5); that no one is good, not even one (Romans 3:10) and the like. There is some debate over this in Christian circles, but it seems quite difficult to square these (and other statements) with the notion that humans are inherently good.

Indeed, although this climactic challenge from David ultimately defeats Calamity, once Calamity is gone, not everyone suddenly turns good. Obliteration, for example, continues to seek the extermination of humanity (possibly?). The open-endedness of this makes it difficult to pin down where Sanderson was going with it, but it seems that even alleged “inherent goodness” does not guarantee goodness.

Conclusion

Calamity is one of those rare books that combines intense plot with serious discussion of worldview. Sanderson continues to weave these tales which force us to look at humanity and contemplate what it is that we are.

Links

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

The “Mistborn Trilogy” by Brandon Sanderson- Religion(s), Intrigue, and a Messiah– I look at another trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, the wildly creative “Mistborn Trilogy.”

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Source

Brandon Sanderson, Calamity (New York: Delacorte Press, 2016).

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.

 

Problems with the “Slippery Slope” argument for Inerrancy

question-week2I believe the Bible is true in all that it teaches, and that this is what is meant by inerrancy. The Bible teaches no error. There is much debate over the meaning of inerrancy, and I’m not going to enter into that debate now (though I have written on it, if you’d like to see my opinion). What is important is that I want to start by saying that I affirm inerrancy, but I think one common argument in favor of the doctrine is mistaken.

The Slippery Slope Argument for Inerrancy

The argument I’m referring to is what I shall dub the “Slippery Slope” argument. Basically, it asserts that if someone doubts that one part of the Bible is true, doubt about the rest of the Bible unerringly follows [see what I did there?]. One example of this can be found in a recent webcomic from Adam Ford. We might write out the argument in syllogistic form as something like:

1. If one part of the Bible is in thought to be an error, other parts are thrown into doubt
2. Person A believes the Bible has an error.
3. Therefore, person A has reason to believe other parts are thrown into doubt.

The syllogism as I have written it is surely not the only way to put this argument. I am providing it largely as an illustration of how the argument might be stated. The core of the argument, however, is that if one thinks part of the Bible is an error, the rest of it is made at least possibly dubious.

Analyzing the Argument

There are several difficulties that immediately come up, ranging from concrete to obscure. On the obscure end, we might question what is meant by “an error” and whether that error is said to be theological, scientific, medical, or something else. We could then debate whether an alleged scientific error in the Bible is grounds for stating that there is “an error” in the Bible to begin with, by debating different views Christians hold about the Bible’s relationship with science (or medicine, or whatever). I’m not going to delve into obscurities here, however interesting they may be (and, in my opinion, they are very interesting).

Instead, I want to focus on some major difficulties with the argument. For one, it assumes that the interlocutor, person A, views the entirety of the Bible as on the same evidential plain. That is, for the argument to hold any weight, person A would have to believe that the Bible is linked together so intricately that a belief that Genesis 34:17 [I arbitrarily chose this verse] is an error (however defined) would entail that John 3:16 is possibly an error as well. Clearly, for the argument to be sound, Premise 1 must be correct, and it seems to be obviously false.

The reason I say this is because the possible errancy of John 3:16 does not follow from belief that there is an error in Genesis 34:17. Suppose you are reading a history textbook and you see that it states the date of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox to be April 9, 1864. You, being a proud history buff, know that the date was actually April 9, 1865. However, the year is only off by one. You may proceed more carefully through the rest of the book, but you would not have any reason to think that the book was mistaken when it said that General Patton was a United States general in World War II.

The argument therefore assumes a unity of the text such that the entire Bible stands or falls together. Now, that might be a perfectly correct position to hold–and I do hold to the unity of Scripture myself–but that is not an obligatory or necessary view. That is, someone might deny that the Bible is a unified text and therefore need not ascribe to the view that if one part is in error, another must be.

But this is not the only difficulty with the argument. Another problem is that it assumes person A has no more reason to believe the portions of the Bible they believe are true than they do for the portions they believe might be errors. Yet this is mistaken, and demonstrably so. Person A may believe there is overwhelming evidence for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, such that they affirm that without question, while also thinking that the evidence against Israel having been in Egypt is quite weighty as well. Thus, they believe the Bible is perhaps mistaken on the status of Israel in relation to Egypt in Exodus, but they also affirm that it is clearly correct on Jesus’ resurrection. But the slippery slope argument presumes that they cannot hold these beliefs together without at least significant tension. But why? Again, the reason appears to be because the slippery slope argument relies on the assumption that the evidence for one part of the Bible must be exactly on par with the evidence for another. However, that in itself is clearly wrong.

 

Conclusion

Again, I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy. I just think we should not rely on this as one of our arguments. I have used the slippery slope argument myself in the past, but I believe the above analysis shows I was mistaken to do so. I think that others should avoid the argument as well so that we can present the best possible arguments for the truth of the Bible without error.

I suspect many will take issue with the analysis above. I’m not saying that I believe any portion of the Bible is an error. Nor am I denying the unity of Scripture. What I am saying is that it is not logically fallacious to deny that unity. I’m saying that I believe it is logically consistent to believe that the Bible may have an error while still affirming, for example, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is that something I would recommend? No, but neither is it something I would say is necessarily contradictory. Those who do want to take issue with my analysis must demonstrate how it is mistaken, and thus provide reason to think that the assumptions the slippery slope argument is based upon are sound.

Again, a final note is that I have taken the place of the interlocutor in several instances in this post. My point is simply that someone who did deny these things could come up with effective counters to the slippery-slope argument for inerrancy. Therefore, it seems to me that the argument is ineffective at best and faulty or fallacious at worst. It relies on presupposing that the opponent operates in the same sphere of presuppositions as the one offering the argument, but they need not do so.

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!

On the “Fuzzification” of Inerrancy– I argue that we have qualified the term “inerrancy” unnecessarily and to the extent that it has become difficult to pin down its actual meaning. I advocate a return to a simple definition of the term.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Never use an argument that you don’t find convincing”?

Rock_Strata

Not an argument, but a pretty picture nonetheless.

I was contemplating a post I was working on not too long ago and realized I didn’t find one of the arguments I put forward very convincing.

I think that there may be situations in which it is permissible and perhaps even wise to use arguments that you don’t personally find convincing. I want to start this with the caveat that as Christians in no way should you use arguments in this fashion without honestly prefacing them by saying something like “I don’t find this convincing necessarily” or “This is not my view, but some think…” We must be honest in our argumentation, but that doesn’t mean we have to be limited in it.

The Impossibility of Knowing Everything

One reason to use arguments that you don’t personally find convincing is because it is impossible for us to know everything. For example, for a long time I thought Pascal’s Wager was an okay, but not ultimately convincing argument. However, I then read a book on the argument, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God by Jeff Jordan (review linked), which convinced me that the argument is actually fairly powerful. Indeed, after reading the book I even started to use the argument myself.

Thus, what this means is that there was an argument I did not find convincing at one point, but which I later found to be quite convincing indeed. I didn’t have a complete picture of the Wager type argument, and I still don’t. It’s possible that one day I might discover a strong counter-argument which undermines my confidence in the argument.

Effectively any argument that we consider is in a situation like this. We cannot possibly have read every single angle on most (any?) arguments, and so it is possible that any number of arguments we find convincing are really not; or vice versa.

Thus, it might not be a bad idea in some situations to offer something like this: “I haven’t studied X argument much, but as of now I don’t find it very convincing. However, I do think the position it ultimately argues for is true. Perhaps you’d find X argument convincing, and we can talk about it. [Offer X argument.]”

Opening Up New Avenues for Discussion

The closing example above offers another insight into why mentioning or “using” arguments that we don’t personally find convincing could be effective- they might open up avenues for more discussion. For example, when one is doing apologetics, I could see a conversation happening in which an opening could be found by saying something like “I agree! I don’t find X to be a convincing reason to believe in God. Here’s why. Can we talk about Y, though, which I do find convincing?”

Moreover, we are called to pursue the truth and hold fast to what is good. In discussing an argument we might not find convincing, there might be new points raised which cause us to reevaluate the rejected argument in a different light.

The Pragmatic Use of Arguments 

Finally, another reason it might be even wise to utilize arguments that we don’t personally find convincing would be pragmatic. For the sake of the following example, just assume that the positions presented are thought be the apologist to be acceptable biblically, though they favor one over the other. Suppose one is talking to an atheist whose only objection left to Christianity is the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment. In that case, the apologist might mention the alternative Christian doctrine of annihilationism/conditionalism, pointing out that although they don’t personally hold the view, it is a view that is established within the Christian tradition and offers an alternative to the eternal conscious punishment view.

In this case, the atheist’s final objection is at least possibly answered–they are confronted with the reality that their final objection is possibly mistaken. And, the apologist with whom they are having this discussion was honest enough to point out they don’t hold to the view, merely that it is a view which answers their objection.

This pragmatic use of argument must be done carefully, and again very openly and honestly. I have found that if one does use this method in a conversation, it generally goes to more fruitful discussions and drawing out more areas of agreement.

Conclusion

Thus, I am of the opinion that it is at least permissible to use arguments that you do not personally find convincing, with the caveat that you do so honestly.

What do you think? Should you only use arguments you personally find convincing? Is it permissible to use arguments you don’t find convincing? Are there circumstances in which this is different?

By the way, I did take that argument out of the post I was working on.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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