historical apologetics

This tag is associated with 36 posts

Ancient Apologetics: Justin Martyr, Tatian, The Epistle to Diognetus, and More

Frances Young’s chapter, “Greek Apologists of the Second Century,” found in “Apologetics in the Roman Empire,” is a study of many of the earliest Christian apologists.

Justin Martyr (100-165) is the first to be treated, and his First and Second Aoplogy are among the earliest Christian apologetic treatises in existence. Writing from Rome, Justin addresses a number of charges made against Christians as though they were on trial (82-83). His first goal is to demand a fair hearing for Christianity, calling on those Romans who were pious to look upon Christian piety and those who were philosophers to love the truth and hear it from Justin. Then, he offers a challenge to the practice of condemning Christians for their beliefs while also trying to show the superiority of Christian ethics and beliefs (83).

Tatian (120-180) was a pupil of Justin Martyr and was from the East, though thoroughly Hellenized (85). Tatian follows his tutor in offering a plea in his Oration to the Greeks for fairness to Christians, but he includes in his own apology an attack on idolatry. He is among the first who argued that the good found in Greek philosophy, mythology, and the like were, in fact, derived from Moses, whom Tatian argued came before Moses. While Justin offered a kind of supersessionist view of Judaism, Young argues that Tatian did the same with regards to Hellenism.

The Epistle to Diognetus is difficult to place regarding time and authorship, having been spuriously assigned to Justin Martyr. After a survey of the possible origins of the work, Young notes that it is worth reviewing because it offers reasons for inquirers to understand “why Christians reject ‘the deities revered by the Greeks'” while also going so far as to “make light of death itself” (88). It is less a defense of these beliefs than it is a call to join in joyful acceptance of these beliefs as truths.

A major aspect of the defenses these early works offered was to argue that Christianity had robust ties with the ancient past, rather than being an entirely new faith. Thus, many Greek apologists argued the Hebrew Scriptures were more ancient and correct than the writings of Homer and other classics, even while dismissing Judaism as superstition or as something completely replaced by Christianity. This reflects the importance of tailoring the message of Christianity to one’s audience. At the time, any new belief was seen as deeply suspicious, while ancient beliefs were better established and more likely to be true. Regardless of whether or not these apologists were correct, they knew their context and offered an apologetic that suited it.

In our own time, it is easy to see some of these apologetics works as simplistic or useless–what has Rome to do with us? But it is worth seeing the major theme of exhortation tied into these early works. Justin Martyr called on philosophers of his time to truly act as though they were lovers of truth, which would mean they had to at least give a hearing to beliefs they might otherwise have rejected outright. In our own time, Christianity is sometimes dismissed for scientific or ethical reasons, but could we not take insight from Justin Martyr and others by offering a similar exhortation? We might say, “If you are lovers of knowledge, how can you reject even the chance of finding some new truth?”

Questions

  1. What insights might these early apologists have for us today?
  2. In what ways can the Christian apologist tailor their defense of Christianity to the needs of their time and place? How might we do so now, where we are at?

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.

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 12

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 12

Fisher turns to a rather brief aside in this chapter about whether the charge that Christianity is inconsistent with the Old Testament is accurate. Readers of this brief chapter may come away with many questions, and again the most important thing is that Fisher is here not concerned with many of the deeper questions on issues he considers to be less important. His book is intended as a brief introduction to Christian evidences, not a comprehensive theology or apologetic. Modern charges about the Old Testament include its character, charges that prophecies weren’t fulfilled, that it is purely fable rather than having any truth in it. When one considers many modern objections, it is actually rather surprising how on point Fisher’s swift dismissal is.

Many objections to Christianity from the Old Testament might be covered by noting, as Fisher did, that there is a progression of revelation and that Christians are not to go beyond the words of Christ when it comes to trying to make sense of many passages in the Old Testament (92-93). Fisher explicitly notes that questions of authorship and dating are questions to which Christ and the apostles pay no attention. Readers can see this in a couple different ways. Some may take it as seeing the modern obsession with source criticism or finding which parts of the Old Testament were composed in which order is an irrelevant and perhaps even wrong-headed endeavor. Others may see those things as quite beneficial but instead note that the findings of modern scholarship related to the composition of the Old Testament do nothing to challenge the Christian faith. For my part, I think the latter are more correct. Modern scholarship can and does challenge many traditional interpretations of the text, but when it comes down to it, the foundations of the Christian faith do not stand or fall on whether Moses wrote by hand every word that has traditionally been attributed to him or not.

Fisher even goes beyond this and argues that Jesus’s teaching on divorce shows progressive revelation and that part of the Old Testament law did not reach the “Christian ideal (93). From this, he argues that God has been gradually revealing His will and plan to all peoples in the times and places where they are.

And that is the point, I believe, that Fisher is averring to here. He shows what seems a remarkable disinterest in questions that obsess Christians today–whether progressive, conservative, or of any other leaning. Why? Because he’s getting at the point that these questions don’t matter when it comes down to Christ crucified, a point he makes more explicit closing out the chapter (94).

Study Questions

1. What do you think of Fisher’s assertion that dates and authors are not important to Christ and the apostles?

2. How might we avoid going beyond the text when it comes to trying to establish the authority of Scripture?

3. Do you think Fisher’s arguments here are sound? Why/not?

Links

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

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.

Ancient Apologetics: Apologetics in the Roman Empire

The book “Apologetics in the Roman Empire” is a fascinating study of apologetics not just from Christians, but also from Jews and various other faiths in the Roman Empire (the period covered in the book is from 31 BC to 337 AD). It is an important read because it helps place Christian apologetics in its context at the time, which helps readers understand some of the specific issues and topics covered, as well as why they were addressed in the ways they were addressed.

In the introduction, the editors note that, though “we might have expected [Christians] to have presented themselves simply as carriers of a novel faith, in fact [they] articulated a complex relationship to earlier traditions” (4). The authors claim that the New Testament books were not written “specifically to convinced outsiders of the veracity of the Christian religion…” but rather were almost entirely for convincing “small groups committed to Christ of the plausibility of the step they had taken” in already committing to Christianity (ibid).

Because of this, the earliest Christian apologists had two major boundaries with which to wrestle: they had to interact with Jewish traditions, hashing out the “continuity between the Jewish Scriptures and the beliefs and practices of Christianity” while also navigating the other religious traditions of the environment from which Christianity sprung, largely religions of the Greeks (5-6).

Loveday Alexander’s chapter is entitled “The Acts of the Apostles as an Apologetic Text,” and in it, she argues that Acts may be the book most particularly aimed at any kind of apologetic for Christianity. She notes that there are several ways that apologetic can be taken, especially in the context in which Acts was written: was it an internal apologetic that defended Paul against other theological interests (16)? Was it a self-defense against Judaism? Was it addressed to the Greeks in order to evangelize? Perhaps it was self-defense of Christianity against political charges from Rome, or as a way to legitimize or self-define Christianity.

Alexander notes that while Acts is not an apologetic discourse, specifically, it can be seen as part of the literary apologetic tradition, in which the stories therein function as legitimization and self-definition for the group, while also offering defenses aimed at some of the goals noted above (21-24). Ultimately, then, Alexander sees strands of all of these forms of apologetic in Luke. It functions to try to bring unity to Christianity, legitimizes Paul against those who would downplay or undermine his importance and theology, and offers a way to see Christianity as a legitimate religion in the Roman context.

Our next look at Ancient Apologetics will examine several early Christian apologists and their interactions with the world around them.

Questions:

  1. Are there any books of the New Testament that you see as oriented towards apologetics? If so, in what ways are they related to apologetics? To whom are they directed?
  2. How might acknowledging the context in which the early Christians lived help us to understand their apologetic?

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.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 4- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part IV

We left off last time at an intermission (page 40) and pick up there. The moderators interject here to try to reign in the conversation, asking Owen and Campbell to limit the discussion in this afternoon (think about it–multiple days-long debates!) to the first proposition at question, namely “that all religions have been founded in ignorance” (40). Owen begins his defense of the proposition.

First, Owen flatly states that he would not have to defend the proposition that all religions ever are ignorant if humans were not themselves kept in ignorance of “what manner of beings they were, how they were formed at birth, and how their characters were afterword produced for them” (40-41). This bold claim has interest to us today–what more have we learned about these questions than Owen and Campbell might have known in 1829? It seems clear we know more about at least a few of these questions, though one could argue that psychology, anthropology, and biology have digressed–that position would be interesting to see defended. Nonetheless, what does it say that religions persist to this day, almost 200 years later, with possibly more knowledge of these questions than Owen had?

Owen goes on, here making a much more interesting claim: he states that he will demonstrate that humans are different from whatever any religion supposes them to be and that none of the religions apply to humans as they truly are (41). What is interesting to reflect on at this point in the debate is how frequently Owen makes these lofty, impossible to prove claims. Is he really going to survey every religion ever in existence to demonstrate individually that they are all impossible to reconcile with what he believes is human nature? No, of course not. But keep an eye on modern debates over the existence of God or the nature of Christianity as well–how often do the interlocutors in those debates make similarly grand claims without support?

Owen goes on to claim that to prove his contention, we need only to look at ourselves and the facts that we know of right now (41). Here he makes one of the first relevant points to Christianity specifically in the debate so far (though he does so as an attack on “all” religions, apparently): he argues that human beings come into the world entirely ignorant of the state of things and without control over their formation, and concludes from that any religion that teaches humanity is by nature sinful or “bad” (as he puts it) is therefore mistaken. Specifically, Owen asserts that “no being… can ever be made to become responsible for [its] nature” (ibid).

Owen goes on to stress his previous argument that no one is in control of the circumstances of their birth, such that it is an accident of history that people are born into places in which they believe whatever religion they believe (41-43). He asks, “Who amongst us decided that he should be taught to speak English, be instructed in the Christian religion and belong to his particular sect?” (43). He then appeals to the commonality of all humanity in being accidents of birth to find unity: all the things which separate us, he asserts, can be attributed to the accidents of circumstance (I’m using the phrase “accident” here to substitute for his wordier descriptors). Thus, we can turn to our neighbors and unite with them over our shared humanity. It is a powerful call to a humanist faith in the unity of all humankind.

Campbell rises to meet this mixed challenge. And he does so with startling clarity:

Let us try this position with a reference to our existing institutions : all schools and colleges have been founded and predicated on the ignorance of man ; all testimony has been predicated on the ignorance of man; all the books that have ever been printed are predicated on the ignorance of man? Are not these facts? But does the existence of these facts cast any opprobrium [censure], obloquy [public verbal abuse], or disparagement upon books, human testimony, or seminaries of instruction?— These terms, then, have nothing in their nature or import calculated to engender a prejudice against religion. (45)

Campbell goes on in to frankly concede Owen’s point that all religions are founded in ignorance, so long as it is taken by that to mean that all religions are founded on humans who do not have the capacity to control the place of their birth, the circumstances thereof, etc. But rather than concluding that this means the are all false or unnecessary, Campbell flips the narrative on its head and says that this ignorance itself shows the need for religion! The reason, he asserts, is because religion helps us to sort out the many things that happen as accidents of birth and provides a basis for morality and rational sorting out of all the myriad of details that we are made aware of throughout our lives. ” If, then, [people] need a religion at all, they need it because of their ignorance. It was instituted to remove human ignorance, and the necessity of supernatural revelation has ever been predicated on that ignorance” (45).

The question of what human knowledge is gained and what is necessary is “thorny,” as Campbell notes, and he goes on to state that Owen’s position effectively makes all human capacities and reasoning necessary based upon the way Nature operates on them. But nature itself does not explain all things, and the capacity for our observation of all things is not limitless. Metaphysical truths, like many principles of mathematics which seem unquestionable, can become difficult when the test of observation is applied, but that does not undermine the possibility for their truth.

Moreover, Campbell argues that we are not entirely products of circumstance: Owen himself went against the nature of British society from which he sprang. The ceding of all knowledge to circumstance has led to a number of ideas that are difficult to reconcile with reality, according to Campbell. Among these are those philosophers who came to deny right and wrong; others who denied the existence of the physical world; and many other difficult positions. Then, Campbell goes on a somewhat lengthy discourse about not just Owen’s 12 principles (introduced before) but also on how philosophers in general tend to pick a favored principle (or set thereof) and reduce all human activity and thought down to that–an exercise that is often futile, according to Campbell (47-49).

With this, Campbell concludes, and the two retired for the day. We, too, will leave off here (page 51) and pick it up later. For now, think on how the debate of this day played out: Owen asserts that all religions are founded on ignorance due to circumstances of birth. Campbell concedes the point but notes that if that is the argument, all human institutions are also founded in the same ignorance, such that it is hardly a reason to dismiss religion specifically. Moving on, Campbell argues that religion is necessary exactly for the reason Owen asserts it ought to be condemned. A fascinating day for the debate, don’t you agree?

Questions

  1. Do we know more about what manner of beings humans are, how we are formed at birth, and how characters are produced than Owen and Campbell did in the 1800s? Is it historical hubris to suggest we might? And, if so, what does that say for Owen’s thesis that if we just knew about these questions, all humanity would disavow all religions as ignorance?
  2. What do you think of Campbell’s counter-charge that religion is, in fact, made necessary by humanity’s ignorance?
  3. Should the bare fact of accident of birth be an argument against a position–religion, philosophy, etc.?

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.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 3- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866)

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part III

Campbell’s reply

Campbell here rises and responds to Owen by going back to the propositions he seeks to prove, namely, Owen is trying to demonstrate that all religions are founded upon ignorance; that all religions “are directly opposed to the never-changing laws of nature”; that all religions are the “source of vice, disunion, and misery of every description”; that religions are the “only bar” to human society forming in a way of charity and intelligence; and that religions can no longer be maintained but by “the ignorance of the mass of the people, and the tyranny of the few over that mass” (30).

Each of these propositions, notes Campbell, is independent of the others and requires its own set of proofs. The twelve facts that Owen alleged (p. 22-23) themselves require establishment and also interpretation–how are they to be applied in such a way as to demonstrate the five propositions Owen seeks to demonstrate against religion? After some other preliminary concerns, Campbell also notes the difficulty of pinning down exactly how Owen is using key terms in the debate. This may seem to be a kind of obfuscation on Campbell’s part, but given the broadness of Owen’s claims, it is important, as Campbell notes, to understand how Owen is using terms like divine, religion, morality, virtue, and the like. Owen throws these terms out alongside what he calls proofs without really going into how these are proven. If it is true that all religions lead to vice–what is it that is meant by vice? One might think that it is a vice to waste one’s time going to a worship service every week, but that is only a vice if the worship itself is to a false god and truly a waste of time. Indeed, some modern studies have suggested that going to church can improve mental health, suggesting that even if there is no God, the practice itself may have pragmatic benefit.

Looking back to Campbell and Owen’s time, the terms in question are therefore very important, and coming to agreement on their use is beneficial. But again, one wonders if the debate  will be able to get off the ground if it begins to circle the questions of exacting definitions of every term.

Campbell then moves to the offensive and suggests that he could affirm each of Owen’s 12 facts and still have no trouble maintaining his belief. He notes several reasons for this, including that the facts pertain to the physical and so cannot prove or disprove the metaphysical; that the facts, if granted, do not seem to have a specifically logical connection to any of Owen’s 5 theses; and that the facts themselves require organization into premises (33-34).

Owen then Rises

Owen surprisingly suggests that:

it did not, nor does it now, appear to me that I stand pledged to prove the fallacy of the Christian religion, separated from all other religions. To me they all appear one and the same in principle and in general practice, except the difference in the rites and ceremonies, which I deem mere
form. (35)

After some back-and-forth over the exact nature of the debate, Owen continues, asserting once again that Campbell and others are not to blame for their alleged ignorance in being Christian any more than anyone of any other religious tradition is to blame for their own. Each, he suggests, is merely the product of their time and circumstance, such that if one were born to a family of Buddhists, one would be Buddhist. Thus, Campbell happens to be Christian, but one can’t blame him for it (37). Here, it is worth noting something that Owen has yet to acknowledge. Namely, that his own birth is also a product of time and circumstance, and so perhaps his own beliefs are a product of the same whims of history that he alleges all religious believers succumb to. After all, if he believes that the chance of one’s birth is truly a logical reason to doubt the beliefs one has, then what makes his own system of beliefs excluded from the same charge?

Owen’s reading of his address digresses into areas of his own personal interest, including the allegation that two sciences are now capable of being spread globally: the science of “influence of circumstance over human nature” and the science of the “means of creating infinite wealth and of its equal distribution” (38). He alleges that if all humans would just embrace this knowledge, the need for religion would disappear, all revolutions would cease, etc. It seems possible that if we could truly generate infinite wealth and distribute it evenly, that might end a number of societal ills, but whether Owen truly possessed such a knowledge remains to be seen.

Campbell answers that Owen has yet to establish an argument for his positions, and the meeting adjourned for the moment. Here, we, too, will await the next installment.

Questions

  1. Does the chance of one’s birth provide a reason to doubt one’s beliefs? If so, how? If not, why not?
  2. How important is it to establish definitions in a discussion like this debate?

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.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 2- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part II

We left off last time with Alexander Campbell having just outlined his own project for the defense of Christianity, which shows a number of arguments that are different from those used today in apologetics. But one argument worth highlighting is where he charges Owen’s position with having to essentially undermine all human testimony. Campbell here is alluding to the position of Owen and many people today that only that which is able to be experienced by direct sense perception is credible. But if true, Campbell charges, it follows that:

To complete the process of degradation, [humans are] to be taught that [they] ha[ve] no faculty, or power of learning or knowing any thing but by
[their] senses , or that [they] can receive no certain information from the testimony of [their] ancestors.
…That all the information which is traditional or handed down, is false and incredible. (page 18 of the edition linked)

In other words, if we truly affirm that only that which can be perceived is to be believed, all human testimony, all tradition, all knowledge handed down is false–or at least, ought to be doubted. This is a point which persists to this day when speaking of Christianity and atheism. Often, the position is taken that only scientific knowledge is verifiable or trustworthy. But if that’s the case, it would mean that every person is an island of ignorance. After all, it is impossible for one person to even begin to scientifically test every single discovery for themselves. Simply having someone tell them how gravity works, about the Big Bang, or the like would entail believing testimony as opposed to that which one has tested oneself. Humans, in other words, must believe testimony whether we like it or not.

Owen then, rises and offers his own principles. First, that “truth is always consistent with itself.” Second, that “No name or authority, whatever may be its nature, can change truth into falsehood or falsehood into truth, or can, in any way, make that which is true to be false, or that which is false to be true” (20). Astute readers may jump ahead and try to guess where Owen plans to take these axioms in his attack on Christian faith. For now, Owen’s own words are enlightening.

After noting that humanity is spread about all kinds of different places, Owen notes the necessity, then, for humans to have gained knowledge in their own locales. These introduce prejudices and assumptions based on one’s own perspective which Owen charges we ought to try to remove–a quest for universally verifiable facts (21). Here is where Owen approaches the meat of his early argument:

In furtherance of this mighty change in the destinies of mankind, I am now to prove “that all the religions of the world have originated in error; that they are directly opposed to the divine unchanging laws of human nature; that they are necessarily the source of vice, disunion, and misery; that they are now the only obstacle to the formation of a society, over the earth, of intelligence, of charity in its most extended sense,and of sincerity and affection. And that these district religions can be no longer maintained in any part of the world, except by keeping the mass of the people in ignorance of their own nature, by an increase of the tyranny of the few over the many.” (21)

It would be easy to simply dismiss these lofty claims as impossible for Owen to prove, but if we are seeking truth it is important to examine the arguments even of those with whom we disagree. Tucked in between these assertions of Owen, some of which he will argue for at length, are some hints as to how Christians were perceived in his own time–as well as our own–along with some truly challenging questions about Christianity specifically. There are, after all, many religions in the world. If we agree with Owen’s claims that these cannot contradict each other and that no testimony may make that which is false true, then we must account for the great many divergent beliefs about the ultimate reality in our universe. Additionally, the notion that all religions lead to vice, disunion, and misery is often countered by ways religion has benefited the world. Historically, it is important to see that this debate took place on the soil of the United States and was published in 1829. During this time, there were Christian ministers explicitly arguing in favor of slavery and even of slaves needing to submit to the cruelest forms of punishments of their masters, using the Bible to back their claims. The charges against Christianity are not always easily answered by argument; Owen’s arguments show that practice is just as important as beliefs.

Owen then launches into a series of points to establish the accidents of birth in time and location of every human being. No one can determine when they’re born, where they’re born, what their parents believe, or anything of the sort (22-23). After that, he argues about how characters are developed with some questionable generalizations about psychology and child rearing. Owen then argues from all of this that no one can determine their own character or beliefs. From there, Owen argues that the origins of all human religions have come from the most ignorant and darkest of all times, and so they ought to be rejected as ideas which, due to their accident of circumstance having been formed in the worst of times, will not yield the greatest good for the most people (26-27). It’s important to note throughout these arguments of Owen’s where assumptions are made or stated without argument. For example, he says:

doctrines and fables could not, at first, be received, except through force, fraud, or ignorance, they have been the cause of shedding the blood of the most conscientious and best men in all  countries, of deluging the world with all manner of crime, and in producing all kinds of suffering and misery. (27)

But Owen has certainly not established that all “doctrines” were first established through force, fraud or ignorance. He’s playing to the audience here, and it is important to note that. He goes on to assert that all “fables and doctrines” lead to poverty or fear of it, ignorance, and many more ills (27-29). Moreover, it is only by historical accident that his audience, Owen charges, are teaching their children Christianity rather than any other belief system (29).

We’ll leave off here for now, anticipating Campbell’s response, beginning on page 30.

Questions

  1. What do you think of Campbell’s points regarding sense perception and testimony?
  2. Is there anything objectionable in Owen’s two principles on page 20?
  3. How can we as apologists witness to others not merely with sound arguments, but with actions that show Christianity is worthy of consideration?
  4. What do you think about the way Owen is using historical accidents of birth as the backbone of argument so far? How might such arguments be answered?

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.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 1- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866)

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part I

The debate begins with a rather lengthy back-and-forth in which Owen and Campbell confirm and re-affirm their desire to meet and discuss the evidences of Christianity. Yet even in Campbell’s opening response to Owen’s request for a confirmation of the reasons for the debate, Campbell begins to offer an apology. He states:

Why, then, do you say, apologize for bringing this subject into public debate? Because, in so doing, we may appear to concede that it is yet an undecided question sub judice [under judicial hearing/review]; or, at least, that its opponents have some good reason for withholding their assent to its truth, and their consent to its requirements. Neither of which we are, at this time, prepared to admit. (12-13)

In other words, Campbell apologizes to his audience for giving the possibility of putting “God in the dock,” as the older phrase goes. But Campbell notes that Christians are to always have a reason and be prepared to defend their faith, so he presses on in his defense of Christianity.

Campbell then turns to the question of why skepticism is on the rise, a certainly on-point question in our own world. He argues that:

However this may be, for here we would not be dogmatical, we are assured that the progress of scepticism is neither owing to the weakness nor the paucity of the evidences of Christianity ; but to a profession of it unauthorized by, and incompatible with, the [C]hristian scriptures. (14)

Campbell’s reasoning, then, is that skepticism is on the rise not because the arguments and evidence for Christianity is poor, but instead because those who profess Christianity are themselves hypocritical and live unChristian lives.

Then, Campbell states some of the positions he believes his opponent will be force to hold, like holding that humans are no more moral than bees. He also outlines how he would defend Christianity. Namely, he would start by arguing for the truth of revealed religion, then move to show historical evidence, then show the divine origin of Christianity, and finally try to show from the “actual condition of the world” and prophecies that Christianity is from the Creator (18).

The outline he gives on page 18 is particularly interesting for those interested in historical apologetics because it shows how arguments can go in and out of fashion over time. This is evident when one reads several works on the Deist Controversy, but also when one reads older works in general, one finds several arguments people of the time thought were interesting or compelling that we have little interest in. The same could be said in reverse–it is unlikely that some of the arguments modern apologists write about would find much sway in the 1800s. Cultural norms and expectations go into an apologetic just as much as do other factors.

For now, we’ll leave off here, awaiting Owen’s response to Campbell in this first part of the debate.

Questions

  1. Do you think it would be possible to prove the divine origin of something? If so, how?
  2. What do you think of Campbell’s presentation of Owen’s position?
  3. Do you think that professing Christians today harm the witness of Christ? How might an apologist approach such a question?

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.

 

 

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 11

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 11

Fisher notes the charge that the apostles had “erroneous opinions on certain subjects” and makes it more clear that it may be related to scientific questions like “astronomy, or of other sciences.” Such a charge, however, is largely irrelevant because we can acknowledge they held mistaken views of such things and they may have been “greatly excelled” in knowledge of these topics by others of their or our own day. Instead, what matters is whether someone can show what they report in the Gospels for their testimony of the facts is untrue (86).

The question of religious opinions of the apostles has also been called to account, and Fisher notes one area charged with error was the belief that Jesus would return quite soon. To rebut this, Fisher highlights several passages in which it is made clear that none knows when Christ will return except for the Father, and that those who believe the apostles held this erroneous belief are more likely to discover it. Others have argued that the apostles’ discussion of demons and demoniacs is cause for seeing error, but Fisher offers to possible solutions. One is to accept physical/mental ailments for the cause of these reports and hold that Christ condescended to the beliefs of the time to see, say, epilepsy as evidence of demonic activity. Another solution he offers is more open minded: “Too little is known of the supernatural world to warrant a dogmatic denial of such an influence exercised by evil spirits (89). That is, Fisher argues that we assume much if we grant a supernatural realm and then turn around to deny that it could have such physical manifestations. One might argue that even someone who remains agnostic should grant this as a possibility, for only “dogmatic denial” can exclude this possibility.

Study Questions

1. What do you make of Fisher’s argument that apostolic error regarding scientific questions is irrelevant to their testimony regarding the events they witnessed?

2. Fisher acknowledges that some may simply state that Christ’s healing of demons and discussions of the same could be accommodation to the cultural understandings of the people of his time. What problems might their be with such a reading? How could it be strengthened?

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.

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 10

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 10

Fisher here builds upon his arguments from chapter 8 and chapter 9 regarding the trustworthiness of the Gospels and the apostles, building a case for the resurrection once we have found the Gospels to be trustworthy.

First, Fisher notes that the detail that Jesus actually died needs little defense. The idea that Jesus could have survived crucifixion seems impossible. Moreover, that Jesus began appearing on the third day doesn’t give enough time for expectations or development of theology to occur such that the disciples could have imagined fulfillment for it. The most powerful evidence, argues Fisher, for the resurrection of Jesus comes from the appearances to the apostles and their accounting of them. These show that Jesus was physically present and unexpected.

Study Questions

1. What kind of things occurred during crucifixion? Could someone have survived them? What kind of responsibility did Roman guards have for those whose executions they were guarding?

2. Write down aspects of Jesus’s appearance to the apostles found in the Gospels. What things do we know about Jesus from these accounts? Include physical details.

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.

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 8

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 8

Fisher here argues that the way we find the Gospels to be genuine/authentic is the same way we find other documents authentic, namely the “early reception of writings as genuine by those who had the means of knowing, early traditions… which are not justly liable to suspicion, references to them, quotations from them, at a time when, if they were spurious, this fact could not have been concealed, internal marks in the works themselves indicative of their authorship or date of composition…” (47). In typical fashion, Fisher does not here draw out these arguments in much detail. He provides an overview, then a few details on selected points.

Next, Fisher provides one of his lengthier discussions of anything, tracing various early Christians lives and their connections to the authenticity of the Gospels. He notes that many of these early Christians referenced the Gospels offhandedly just as they do the Old Testament. Their treatment of the set of works about Christ and those accepted as Hebrew Scriptures is, in other words, similar enough that we may conclude they thought of them as equally authoritative.

The work Fisher mentions called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” is more commonly referred to as the Didache. One thing to be careful of reading historical apologetics is that sometimes information in them is out of date (i.e. a reference to an allegedly ancient document that we later discover was a forgery or something else). This is not one of those cases, as the Didache is indeed quite ancient (and typically dated to within the 1st Century AD). Thus, we have perhaps a little more surety over its dating than Fisher did when he wrote the Manual, and its confirmation of the probable existence of the Gospels is quite valuable. It is possible the references to the Gospel were, in fact, references to the oral tradition that was written down as the Gospels, and many modern scholars have argued that’s what happened. But in either case, the Didache provides a confirmation of very early knowledge of Christ as well as some early Christian teachings.

The Gospels each have references to real places and events that, as Fisher notes, are introduced without design and certainly allow us to date them quite early. The place names, names of people, and events all serve as earmarks for the authenticity of the Gospels, and though some very specific details are still debated, overall the impression of authenticity is overwhelming. Finally, Fisher argues that the Johannine Epistles and Gospel share enough important details and linguistic factors to agree that they’ve the same author.

Chapter 8 is thus one of the most robust chapters in the book, and certainly one of the most intriguing so far. Though it doesn’t have any astonishing “new” or rediscovered arguments, it does provide a solid outline for a defense of the authenticity of the Gospels.

What did you think of this chapter? Do offhanded remarks about places and people give more authenticity to an ancient work?

Links

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

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.

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