history

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Book Review: “Wesley and the Anglicans” by Ryan Nicholas Danker

wa-dankerWesley and the Anglicans by Ryan Nicholas Danker is an historical project about the developing split between John Wesley and the Methodists on the one hand and the Anglicans and Evangelicals on the other. Danker’s work offers a mixture of data and correction, exploring the topic in a way that brings new insights.

Danker does an excellent job interweaving different disciplines into his approach to the issues at hand. Instead of taking a purely theological approach to the reasons Wesley and the Anglicans split, he argues forcefully that sociological and political issues were just as–if not more–important to the division than the theological reasons. Indeed, theologically there was an Evangelical movement with Anglicanism (Danker uses Evangelical to refer to those within the Anglican church and evangelical to refer to those either immediately or ultimately outside of it). There were plenty of theological sympathies to be had for Wesley’s movement within the Anglican communion, but John Wesley (and Charles Wesley, his brother) ultimately pushed against the political and sociological hierarchy too hard to maintain unity.

Indeed, for Wesley, his commitment to aspects of the Anglican Church made the pushback from Evangelicals (and others) within the church more surprising to him. These ideas are developed through a number of case studies. For example, because of Wesley’s commitment to evangelism, he continued to encourage lay preaching. When confronted about how this may lead to laity taking over the Sacraments and the like, Wesley was (to sum up Danker’s argument) surprised; after all, he was not encouraging these lay preachers to make their own church buildings or orders of hierarchy–how could this therefore be seen as a challenge to the Anglican Church? Wesley’s own intriguing mixture of old and new made it difficult both for him to understand why he was being criticized so harshly and for those within the Anglican Church to see why he was being so divisive.

Political pressures were also brought to bear on the topic, and much of this was due to hierarchy within the church and concerns over how Wesley’s teaching might lead to a collapse of this hierarchy and unity of belief. Thus, laws were passed which began to make lay preaching more and more difficult, for small groups were suddenly considered rivals to official church business by law. Further pressure came from the laity, which began to push back and wonder why they couldn’t do things like administer the Sacraments. All of this came to a head over the course of several meetings of the Methodists, and ultimately led to the split with the Anglican Church we see today.

Danker does an admirable job uniting so many divergent threads into one continuous stream, but he does so in a way that sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. Perhaps the main downside of the book is that it reads very dryly. It doesn’t so much bring life to the historical persons and events as it does describe them. This does an adequate job of presenting the ideas and important topics, but it makes it less exciting to read than some other historic works. It conveys information, but doesn’t necessarily awaken a love of the topic in the reader.

Wesley and the Anglicans is an interesting read about a vital point in church history. Danker also demonstrates that church history ought to incorporate broader studies into its approach than just theology or history. It isn’t the most exciting history book, but it presents readers with a great deal of information on a topic of interest.

The Good

+Sheds light on an important time in church history
+Multi-disciplinary approach that incorporates sociology and politics into theology
+Full of information

The Bad

-Dryly presented

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Ryan Nicholas Danker, Wesley and the Anglicans (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

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

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Reality of God and Historical Method” by Samuel V. Adams

rghm-adams

The Reality of God and Historical Method by Samuel V. Adams offers an in-depth look into how God’s existence impacts historical method. Adams specifically utilizes the work of N.T. Wright as a lens for apocalyptic theology and historical study.

The central thesis of the book is that the reality of God ought to have a significant impact on our historical method. Thus, a method like N.T. Wright’s which specifically sets out to treat the Bible like any other historical book takes away the power of God’s breaking into history. God’s activity in history causes an “irruption” in which history is reconstituted and centered around that event. Specifically, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection entail that all of history is now oriented around those events, rather than being a kind of unified whole without any outside influence.

Adams pursues his argument by first outlining Wright’s historical method. Then, he introduces the notion of a theological view of history. For Adams, history ought to be informed by theology. The reason for this is because Christology demands that if Christianity is true, then God’s acting in history ought to determine how history is done, rather than having Christians attempt to do history in a way that puts God on the sideline. Thus, history is not a continuous chain, but rather the in-breaking of God into history brings discontinuity. Adams therefore argues that historiography cannot be theologically neutral. Believing God exists means that the way we do history must itself change. He uses the notion of apocalyptic to show how this method plays out, with theology informing historical study.

The book provides fascinating insight into and critique of N.T. Wright’s historical method, but it is much more than that. Adams presents a significant step forward into how theological history is to be understood.

The main criticism I have of the book is that it does little to present how, exactly, one is to do history going forward. Granting the notion of God’s in-breaking into history and the discontinuity that makes, what impact does this make for historical study beyond those things we tend to think of as theological. For example, how does Adams’ view of historical method impact how one does investigation into a specific event like McCarthyism or the Presidency of George Washington? Does it have no impact at all? That seems to be unlikely given the commitments Adams has drawn out. Does it mean that all history must be redefined by God’s in-breaking of the Word? If so, how?

The Reality of God and Historical Method is a fascinating, deep work that warrants careful reading. It is the kind of book that opens up new avenues to explore, and I think it should make an impact farther reaching than just one book. It will be interesting to see if Adams will continue the project and offer a way to interpret history more broadly than apocalyptically.

The Good

+In-depth look at N.T. Wright’s historical method
+Fascinating thesis with historical and theological import
+Well-documented with many insights
+New avenues to explore

The Bad

-Not enough specifics on a way forward

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher. I was not required to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Samuel V. Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

Links

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

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Sunday Quote!- History Has a History

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

History Has a History

Historiography–the study of historical writing–is a fascinating topic, no matter how esoteric it sounds. There is so much more to history than a simple verbatim report of exactly what happened. The past is experienced by subjects and so has a kind of existential aspect of reality to it. John Warwick Montgomery’s work, The Shape of the Past: A Christian Response to Secular Philosophies of History is an attempt to view historiography through a Christian lens. One of Montgomery’s theses is a point fairly basic to historiography:

History itself has a history. [People] through the ages have written history in different ways as a consequence of the different philosophies of life that they have held. (34, cited below)

History is never fully objective. There can be objective facts of history, but our philosophies of life color how we organize those facts. Montgomery is careful to note that the process of writing history is selective in itself, and the way we organize it is another layer of interpretation.

The Shape of the Past is a fascinating work that I am enjoying immensely. I recommend those interested in the important topic of historiography check it out for a look at how Christianity can make a contribution to the topic.

Source

John Warwick Montgomery, The Shape of the Past (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008 edition [originally published 1975 by Bethany Fellowship]).

Links

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

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

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for discussions about all kinds of topics including science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

Threshold Belief and Evidentialism- Can evidentialism work?

fbr-cseThe evidentialist school of apologetics is essentially based upon the notion that the evidence for Christianity is such as to make it rationally justified to believe (and perhaps even compel one to believe). Note that evidentialists (generally) do not claim that this means the Holy Spirit plays no part in conversion or that people are fully capable to choose God.* C. Stephen Evans, in his book Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account, examined evidentialism in light of Kierkegaard’s critique of the method.

One of the primary arguments Kierkegaard had against evidentialism** is that a human being is incapable of considering the whole range of facts regarding a piece of evidence and so may never be justified in holding evidential belief. Evans characterized this argument (following the terminology of Robert Adams) the “postponement argument”:

The idea… is that historical inquiry is never completed, and thus historical beliefs based on such inquiry must always be tentative. It is always possible, at least theoretically, that new evidence will emerge that will overturn any historical conviction. Thus, if religious beliefs were based on such evidence, they would have to be of this tentative character. (Evans, 108, cited below)

Now–this is key–Evans also noted that “Kierkegaard thinks, however, that religious beliefs should have a kind of finality that differs from this kind of scholarly judgment.” With these quotes in mind, we may examine what seems to be a Kierkegaardian objection to evidentialism.

The objection seems to be that faith requires a kind of certainty which may never be provided by historical inquiry; thus, historical inquiry (evidences) may not provide a justifiable grounding for faith. I think the main problem with this is that Kierkegaard seemingly insisted on an impossible level of certainty for evidence. That is, a dismissal of evidentialism based upon this reasoning seems to be only warranted because Kierkegaard has adjusted the level of evidence needed. It is true that historical inquiry may only ever provide probability, but that does not imply we are incapable of believing anything historical.

Of course, one may argue that I have missed the point Kierkegaard is trying to make. It’s not that all historical inquiry must be subjected to the standard of certainty; rather, only on matters of ultimate import must we have certainty. If this were his claim, I think one may rightly respond by questioning why that would be the case. However, it seems, according to Evans, that Kierkegaard was less concerned with a rejection of evidentialism than he was concerned with maintaining a place for the emotions and subjectivity within faith. On that count, I don’t know of any evidentialist who would argue that one cannot have subjective or emotional reasons for faith either.

Now, to return at last to the quote block above. If all that faith were based upon within an evidentialist system were historical evidences, then it seems the quote is correct regarding the tentative nature of faith. But the evidentialist claim is not that faith may only be based upon evidence. Instead, it is that the evidence is such as to justify or ground faith (some would argue it is enough to compel faith). So perhaps Kierkegaard and evidentialism are not irreconcilable after all.

Perhaps the strongest objection which may be derived from the above comments from Evans and Kierkegaard center around the notion of threshold belief. Evans very briefly hinted at this possible problem for evidentialism: basically, the notion is that for the evidentialist method to work, there must be some “threshold” for commitment to a belief. For Kierkegaard, that threshold is certainty, which is why historical evidence cannot satisfy his criterion. However, for the evidentialists themselves, the question remains as to what that threshold is. If this threshold cannot be pinned down, it may be argued, evidentialism as a system cannot work. I think that this challenge is less an arguments against evidentialism than it is an argument for epistemic uncertainty. However, diving into such an argument is beyond the realm of what I want to hit here. For now, I think that I may answer this argument by simply saying that it does not follow that 1) if we can’t pin down an exact threshold beyond which we must be convinced to commit to a belief then 2) we cannot commit to a belief. The argument is simply off target.

Notes

*I say this so as to avoid lengthy debate, one way or the other, regarding how one comes to be saved. My intent in this post is to investigate the apologetic method, not soteriological details.

**I should note that Kierkegaard should be understood within his historical context, in which he was reacting against overly rationalistic faith. Thus, his (sometimes extreme) reaction against rationalism–while overreaching–is perhaps more understandable. There is also, of course, some anachronism in this statement because “evidentialism” is being used in its specific fashion to reference the method of apologetics, while Kierkegaard was reacting against rationalism. I acknowledge this anachronism but simply point out it is for the sake of simplifying terminology in the post.

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!

Sources

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

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.

Cosmos: Episode I Recap and Review

cosmos-foxThe Cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be. – Carl Sagan

I will be watching the “Cosmos” TV series and providing recaps and responses as we go. I’ll evaluate the ideas presented for accuracy and give critical responses where I see necessary. Future “Recaps” will likely be shorter, with more length dedicated to the response.*

Episode I: Recap

The episode started off with the above quote from Sagan. Then, we took a trip in a spaceship with the “imagination” to see what the Earth looked like millions of years ago, followed by a picture of what it might look like in the future (apparently like the Borg invasion in “Star Trek: First Contact,” so watch out!).

Then, we got a pretty sweet CG-heavy tour of the solar system via fake spaceship that looks like Eve from Wall-E. I mean it, it was awesome! I was reminded of the majesty of a Ben Bova novel (if you haven’t read him, I would recommend it, but be aware of some rather simplistic discussion of religion). Finally, we zoomed in on Voyager I which had sound travelling from it in vacuum. I’m pretty sure that can’t happen, but I could easily be mistaken about that, so I’d be happy to be corrected.

An unimanginably awesome picture of the Milky Way through infrared really put us in perspective: there are seemingly infinite stars to be seen merely in our galaxy, which is one of an untold panoply of galaxies. As we zoomed out through the gigantic extremes of the universe (the Supercluster), we find that that supercluster is but one among untold billions of galaxies and the observable universe.

But what is meant by “observable universe”? The universe is actually so huge that we can’t actually observe the entire thing because there is more beyond what we can see. But “many… suspect” that our universe is but one in an extremely huge number of actual individual universes (here shown as little bubbles spreading out continually over the screen).

Let’s also not forget the church is a big destroyer and persecutor of science. Galileo proves that science and religion are forever enemies, right? Galileo’s story is preceded by Giordano Bruno, who is portrayed as a kind of anime graphic novel hero maverick because he went along with Copernicus. I’ll just narrate along. He “dared to read the books banned by the church… and that was his undoing.” No really, that’s what they said about him. Interestingly, they also say that Bruno reasoned that because God was infinite, creation couldn’t be anything less. But the evil church threw him out into the cold and he had to sleep on the ground and freeze at night! Then, he had a vision of science dreamland wherein he broke the universe with his finger and lifted the veil of knowledge that the idiots surrounding him had put in place. He floated around the universe and was the first person to figure out that there was vacuum and also the first person to fly in space and land on the moon and sun. (Again, I’m not making this up: this is what he does in the animated sequence in the dream.)

If Bruno was right, according to “Cosmos,” then not only is church authority overthrown, but the Bible can be brought into question *cue religious people gasping in shock.* Bruno was condemned by the church and burned at the stake but magically had powers to float throughout the universe so that’s pretty cool: throw off the chains of church oppression and what you’ll get is genius and the ability to fly in space.

The episode then walked through the history of the universe by paralleling a single year. The Big Bang: we are all made of “star stuff” which was produced through various processes during and after the Big Bang. Earth formed through a number of collisions with various asteroids and the like. The origin of life “evolved” through biochemical evolution. These “pioneering microbes” invented sex, so that’s pretty cool. December 30th (in the cosmic year) brought about the desolation of the dinosaurs with an asteroid. Humans only evolved “the last hour of the last day of the cosmic year.”

Dark_matter_halo2Evaluation

I love space. I love astronomy–my wife can attest to this as I randomly bought an astronomy textbook to read when I was in college. Yeah… I’m a nerd. I don’t claim to have science training or be a scientist, but there is something I can spot: unfounded metaphysical statements. That’s something I honestly expect to see quite a bit of when it comes to this TV series. It actually began with one from Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” Is that a scientific fact about the cosmos? Could you demonstrate that one for me? No. In short, the show begins with an ungrounded metaphysical statement.

Another issue I have is the personification and reification of science. “Science” does x; “Science” gives us y. I’m not at all convinced that “science” is a clearly dilineated entity such that we may speak of it as though it were a reified, ontologically extant entity. What does it mean to say that “science” does something? Don’t we mean that scientists are really the ones who do this? And are not scientists just as much people as anyone else?

The episode’s portrayal of history was very unbalanced. They depicted Giordano Bruno as a kind of hero against the church full of blundering idiots. When he was finally excommunicated, the quotes they put into the church’s mouth were interesting because they portrayed some of the actual issues happening, such as a strict adherence to Aristotelian science. At the time academia really was fully behind Aristotle, and it helped that the church had bought into his cosmology as well. However, for every minimal effort they made at showing some of the historical background, there was some significant effort made to show that the stupid church and its evil Inquisition had a “sole purpose to… torment anyone” who disagreed with the views of the Church. Bruno thought God was infinite so the universe could be infinite as well. Interesting thoughts, but these are juxtaposed against a depiction of everyone else as a bunch of religious idiots who couldn’t transcend space like Bruno could.

Moreover, what banned books that Bruno read are they referencing? Copernicus’ works weren’t put on the list of banned books until 1616 (thanks to Tim McGrew for this information). Just for reference, Bruno died in 1600. I’m curious as to what this depiction was supposed to suggest. I think they mentioned someone else earlier but the ties to Copernicus were evident throughout this section, and given that it was really the rejection of Aristotelianism which was condemning, there was some historical accuracy to be desired here.

Tim McGrew also points out a number of other historical errors, such as the notion that Bruno was burned at the stake for his astronomical views; the notion that everyone at the time thought the Earth was the center of the universe; the notion that being the “center” of the universe meant Earth had a privileged place; and several more major difficulties. I highly recommend surveying them.

The depiction of the multiverse with little-to-no qualification was alarming, for there is much debate over whether there even is such a multiverse, and if there is, to what extent it may be called a multiverse. The portrayal within this episode was essentially a fictitious account being passed off without qualification as something a lot of people believe. The wording used was that “many… suspect” there is such a universe. Well yes, that may be true, but to what extent can we test for these other universes? What models predict them and why? I am uninterested in how many people hold to a belief; I am interested in whether that belief is true.

The survey of the history of the universe was interesting, but there were some major glosses. As an apologist, let me admit my bias here: I would have loved to see some discussion of the fine-tuning involved for life. But that aside, I have to say that the brief snippet used to explore the origin of life: “biochemical evolution” was astonishingly insufficient. I’m sure we’ll get into that in the next episode, but the origin of life is one of the great unsolved mysteries within science and to just hand wave and say “biochemical evolution” is, well, notable to say the least.

Overall, I have to say I was unimpressed by this episode. The historical difficulties were great, but the metaphysical claims throughout passed off as scientific fact were more disturbing.

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!

Cosmos, Giordano Bruno, and Getting it Right– A brief but incisive critique of a number of major historical errors made throughout the first episode.

Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson: Same Old Product, Bright New Packaging-  In this post, Casey Luskin takes on the notion that science and religion are at war alongside some other errors in the episode.

Is there any science in the new “Cosmos” series, or is it all naturalistic religion?– Wintery Knight takes on the episode for making a bunch of claims without evidence.

Notes

*I may miss an episode or two if I have to work.

The image with the text “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” is from Fox and belongs to them. It came from promotional material and I use it under fair use and make no claims to ownership.

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.

Book Review: “The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins” by James Stroud

phnr-stroud

…Either we will stand behind objective truth or sink into the abyss of relativism in the name of political correctness. (278)

One area Christian apologists need to explore further is the study of historiography. Historiography is, basically, the study of how to study history. It provides the framework in which one might seek truth in understanding historical facts. The way we study history will directly impact the results of historical investigation.  John Warwick Montgomery, Michael Licona, and N.T. Wright have done an excellent job integrating historiography into their approach, and there are several treatments of historiography in works on archaeology with apologetic import (K.A. Kitchen is but one example), but there remains much room for development of this essential discipline in the area of Christian evidences.

James Stroud, in his work The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins, has provided much development in this area. Historiography, he noted, touches upon a number of extremely important questions such as “What does it mean to know something?”; “How do we come to know something?”; “Can we know the past?”; “How does one study history?”; “Is there objective meaning to history…?” (30-31). He does a good job presenting some of the difficulties inherent in the study of the past, as well as providing a few possible solutions. Central to Stroud’s argument is the notion that “one’s personal philosophy and presuppositions guide.. one’s interpretation of the available data…” whether one is talking about science, history, or religion (31).

Next, Stroud turned to an analysis of positivism and academic freedom. His argument is essentially that one should not pre-commit to a “closed” philosophy of history such that one cuts off any and all debate about the presuppositions one uses to interpret history and historical sciences. The winners write the history, but they are also capable of restricting the direction research may turn (49-50). There must be a distinction between the definition of science and science in practice; that is, one should not restrict scientific study through the use of one’s presuppositions to determine what is even capable of being studied or used as a hypothesis. Instead, people should be allowed to follow the evidence where it leads, even if such a project may discover things which lie outside the accepted explanations.

It must be acknowledged that Christianity is, by its nature, a distinctly historical religion: “[T]he truth or falsity of Christianity stands or falls with individual events within history…” (69). Thus, Christianity is almost uniquely capable of being approached in such a manner as to discern its truth through historical claims.

Interestingly, Stroud did not limit his use of “philosophy of history” to the study of history. Rather, he expanded it to include origin sciences, which are, he argued, a kind of historical science themselves. Thus, he examined both the origins of the universe and the origin and diversity of life alongside the historical portions of the book. In these sections on the historical sciences, he presents the design argument both in its cosmological and biological forms.

The meat of the book, however, may be found in the exploration of human history, which comprises approximately half the book. Here, Stroud really gets into stride. One central part of his argument is that “Language, writing, civilization, and religion all seem to be in a fairly advanced stage of development [from the beginning]….” (146). Proposed solutions which argue for a gradual evolution of human culture continue to be confronted by discoveries to the contrary, such as Gobekli Tepe, which shattered preconceived notions of the history of religion (155-157). Language appears to be highly complex from the beginning, and there is little reason to think that some languages are more primitive (in the sense of development) than others (149-150). Stroud relates these points back to the expectations one might get from the biblical text and argued that the biblical text presents a plausible interpretation of such evidence (163ff).

The Flood served as one of the case studies Stroud utilized to make his point. He argued that the preponderance of evidence suggests that the biblical flood is accurate (174-177). The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 also hints at “astonishing” accuracy regarding the historical recordings in the earliest portions of the Bible. Moreover, stylistic evidence within Genesis places its date as very ancient, just as one might expect from taking the book at face value.

Yet Genesis is not the only portion of the Bible which received insight from Stroud’s analysis. The conquests recorded in Joshua have been backed up by archaeological findings. The history of David also garnered attention, and Stroud’s handling of the archaeological data is informative and concise.

The New Testament is, of course, centered around Christ, and Stroud explores the evidence for the Resurrection and the narratives related to Him. One very important point he made is that “…it must be pointed out that the… manuscripts we have for Jesus today did not start as a ‘Bible’ but were later [collected into one]… [T]o dismiss any of this manuscript evidence is in effect to dismiss the most primary sources we have on the Historical Jesus” (240). Yet even sources apart from these can account for a number historical aspects of Christian faith and practice, to the point that it becomes very difficult to reject entirely the Christian story (240ff). Stroud defended the Resurrection itself with a type of “minimal facts” argument, in which he reasoned from several largely established facts of the historical Jesus to the resurrection (248ff).

Naturalism, argued Stroud, fails to account for the historical and scientific evidences for the origins of the universe, life and its diversity, civilization, and the evidence related to the historical Jesus. One should therefore not be constricted to operating within a naturalistic paradigm when one investigates origins or history generally. An a priori rejection of the supernatural is unwarranted.

Thus far, I have shown a number of  positive portions of the book. That is not to say there are no areas of disagreement or any problems. First, Stroud’s writing style often comes across as autobiographical, which takes away from the academic feeling of the overall work. Second, there are a number of grammatical errors in the book which are sometimes quite distracting. Third, there is a tendency to overstate the case in some places, such as asserting that any discussion of evolution beyond microevolution is “100 percent speculative”  (117) or that “all scholars” in some certain field agree with some fact or another. Fourth, at points Stroud states the view of the opposition in ways that I suspect would be objectionable. One example may be found here: “[T]he vast majority of naturalists confirm that humankind did indeed share a common language…” (177) or the notion that “even the most adamant proponents of naturalism” would admit that the origin of life is unexplainable through naturalistic means with the current understanding (115). I suspect that adamant naturalists would object to this and argue that the RNA world hypothesis or some other origin-of-life scenario does, in fact, explain the origin of life.

Many of these difficulties are minor, but they tend to pull down an otherwise excellent work. It is unfortunate, because it also seems like these could all be solved by a good editor. As it stands, however, one should be careful when reading the work to be aware that in many cases one should perhaps temper the sweeping conclusions Stroud makes. In any field of study, there are rarely (if ever!) times where “all scholars” might agree on something, and the language in the book constantly implies that there are many such agreements in some of the most contentious areas of all historical or scientific studies. Although this does not throw his conclusions out the window, it does somewhat devalue the work, as one must read it with an actively cautious eye.

I don’t often (in fact, I can’t think of ever mentioning this before) discuss the cover of a book I’m reviewing, but I have to say this has what might be the coolest cover for an academic book I have seen. I mean seriously, look at it! It is awesome.

With The Philosophy of History James Stroud has provided much needed development for Christians who might want to look into the study of the methods of historical investigation to develop their own understanding of Christianity. He also applies these methods in sometimes surprising ways. I have noted a number of areas of difficulty found within the work, but it should be noted that these are comparatively minor when compared to the project as a whole. Stroud has provided some necessary development in an area of study that Christians should continue to develop. Historiography is an essential field for Christians to study and become involved in, and The Philosophy of History has provided a broad framework for others to continue the work (and hopefully for Stroud to continue, himself). It is an excellent, thought-provoking read which illumines areas of which many apologists, unfortunately, remain unaware.

Source

James Stroud, The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing, 2013).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review. The author only asked that readers provide feedback of any kind, including negative, in order to broaden the dialogue in this area. 

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.

William Paley (1743-1805) – Historical Apologist Spotlight

William_Paley_by_George_RomneyWilliam Paley (1743-1805) is a name which echoes through history. His Natural Theology continues to have a profound and lasting impact on the argument from biological design. His Evidences of Christianity  challenges readers on a historical and exegetical level with arguments for the faith. Unfortunately, too few have thoughtfully interacted with his arguments. Here, we will first look at Paley’s views and life. Then, we will examine his major works and arguments. We will discover there is much to learn from this intellectual giant. Note that this post is necessarily brief, and that readers are greatly encouraged to go to the primary sources found below.

Brief Biographical Note*

Paley went to school at Christ’s College and Cambridge. At the latter, he was awarded multiple times for his scholarship. He eventually became the Senior Dean at Christ’s College and was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity from Cambridge. Bishop Barrington of Durham granted him the rectory of Bishop Wearmouth. His life was strewn with accomplishments.

He was a utilitarian with deep Christian convictions. Throughout his life, he remained controversial. His utilitarianism was condemned, as was his critique of the often extreme defenses of property ownership. His anti-slavery was unpopular alongside his support of the American Colonies in the Revolutionary War.

The powerful nature of Paley’s works is revealed in the fact that his major work on utilitarianism, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, became mandatory reading at Cambridge. His Natural Theology continues to be discussed in courses on philosophy of religion. The man was acclaimed by some within the church, who praised his defense of the faith despite others’ objections to his metaethical views.

His contributions to Christian apologetics are the focus of this piece, and we shall turn to them now.

Natural Theology

Paley’s most famous work nowadays is undoubtedly Natural Theology. In this work, he makes his well-known case for the design argument. He utilizes the analogy of a watch. If one finds a watch on a beach, one knows instantly that someone made the watch. Paley applied this same notion to life; one sees the sheer complexity and life and can infer that it, like the watch, was designed.

Many have dismissed Paley’s work here, noting that at points he relies on scientific explanations which have been discredited, while at others his examples have been explained. Yet the genius of his work is found in broader principles, which moderns should note. First, he argued that simply never having observed design in action on a biological level does not preclude any possibility of arguing for that same design (Natural Theology, 8, cited below). Second, evidence of things “going wrong” within a design does not invalidate the design of an object in and of itself. Third, higher level natural laws which may lead to order does not explain away the order itself. Fourth, when something appears to be designed, the burden of proof is upon those who assert an object is not designed.

These points seem to me to hold true to this day. I am sure none of them are uncontroversial, but Paley places his defense of this points squarely within his analysis of those artifacts which he considers to be designed (i.e. the eye and ear). A full treatment of these points thus must turn to his own arguments, but for now I would provide the following brief defenses. Regarding the first, this point seems obvious. If I have never seen someone construct a car, that does not in any way mean that I cannot conclude that someone had to have made it. The second point should be well taken within the context of the debate between Intelligent Design and Darwinian forms of evolution. The point is that simply pointing out a flaw in a design does not mean an entire object is undesigned. The third item seems correct because if something exhibits order, and that order is shown to be based around an ordering principle, the very order in and of itself has not been explained; instead, it is only the mechanism for generating that order which is observed. Finally, the fourth point is likely to be the most controversial–after all, appearances may deceive. Yet it does seem to be the case that if, a priori, something appears designed, then to conclude that something is not designed one must have defeating evidence for this appearance.

A View of the Evidences of Christianity

Paley’s Evidences (commonly known as “Evidences of Christianity”) became almost instantly famous. The work generated a number of summaries and expositions by other authors who were delighted with its style and the arguments contained therein. It is easy to see why, once one has begun a read through this apologetic treatise. Paley presents a number of arguments in favor of the Christian worldview. These evidences are largely historical in nature and include the suffering of those who spread Christianity as evidence for its truth, extrabiblical evidence for the truth of the Gospels, the authenticity of our Gospel accounts due to the early practices and beliefs of Christians, undesigned coincidences, and many more. Paley also provides a dismantling of David Hume’s argument against miracles.

It seems to me that any and all of these arguments retain the force they had in Paley’s own day. Consider the argument from the suffering of Christians. Well of course those of other faiths are willing to even die for that which they believe is true. But Paley rightly pointed out a huge difference between those of other faiths dying for their beliefs and the early eyewitnesses of the events surrounding Christ dying for their own beliefs. Namely, these people would know for certain whether that which they believed were true. That is, they either saw the resurrected Christ or they did not. If they did not, then explaining their willingness to die for this profession of faith becomes extremely difficult. However, if they did actually see that which they declared, their willingness to suffer unto death for this belief makes perfect sense. Many miss this important distinction even to this day. The rest of Paley’s arguments found in the Evidences is filled with insights similar to this.

Horae Paulinae

An argument which has largely been neglected within modern apologetic circles is that of “undesigned coincidences.” I have made an exposition of this argument already, and it should be noted that the best places to discover it are in the realm of historical apologetics. William Paley dedicated this work, Horae Paulinae, to discovering undesigned coincidences within the Pauline corpus alongside Paul’s history as written in Acts.

Now, the argument from undesigned coincidences takes quite a bit of work to properly outline. It is, in essence, a matter of looking through the Scriptures and finding how incidental details in one account fill in the blanks of another account. However, this description is so brief as to be simplistic. Paley himself acknowledged a number of the difficulties with describing undesigned coincidences in this way. Regarding the Pauline corpus, for example, it could be that someone invented letters from Paul but based them upon his history found in Acts. But the argument itself takes this into account and generally serves as a defeater for this notion by sheer weight of evidence. That is, the more coincidences are found, the more credulity is stretched if one wishes to assert forgery.

Paley buries the objections to undesigned coincidences in this fashion throughout the Horae Paulinae. The sheer volume of coincidences he finds, and the way they seem so clearly to be incidental, serves to dispel doubts about their genuine nature.

Other Works

Here, we have surveyed Paley’s major works, but he was a prolific writer who published sermons and of course his (in)famous work on utlitarian ethics. The preeminence of Paley as a scholar and writer is unquestionable. It is time we acknowledge how much we have to learn from those who have come before us.

Conclusion

We have seen the diverse array of arguments which Paley offered in favor of Christianity. These ranged from biological design arguments to undesigned coincidences to historical arguments in favor of the Gospels. Paley was a masterful writer whose arguments continue to influence apologists and draw ire from atheists to this day. Although the arguments have not been unscathed, I have offered a few reasons to reconsider some which have long been dismissed or forgotten. Paley’s influence endures. 

I would like to dedicate this post to Tim McGrew, who introduced me to the vast field of historical apologetics. Without his bubbling delight and enthusiasm in the field, I would never have known much–if anything–about people like Paley. It is my hope and prayer that you may also be persuaded to pursue historical apologetists/apologetics. Be sure to check the links for some good starting places.

Be sure to check out the links at the end of this post as well as the resources from Paley.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Library of Historical Apologetics– Here is where I got started, with Tim McGrew’s phenomenal collection of works. In particular, the “annotated bibliography” will set you up with some fine works. The site features a “spotlight” on the main page for various fantastic reads. Browse and download at will. Also check out their Facebook page.

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I provide a number of links as well as an annotated list of historical apologetics works which are great jumping off points for learning more about the vast array of arguments which have largely been forgotten within the realm of apologetic argument. I consider this one of the most important posts on this site.

Forgotten Arguments for Christianity: Undesigned Coincidences- The argument stated– Here I outline the argument from undesigned coincidences and explain how it can be used within apologetics.

Sources

William Paley, Evidences of Christianity (this is a free link for the item on Kindle, note that it is also available for purchase in a hard copy). Also see here for a few links to PDF versions of the book.

—-, Natural Theology (Oxford World’s Classics) – This link is for the Kindle edition which I used for this post. I highly recommend this specific edition due to the helpful introduction and other information included in the text. It can be found for free here.

—-, Horae Paulinae – this link is to the kindle version. It is also available for free here.

*I am indebted to the discussion of Paley’s life found in the introduction of the Oxford Classic’s edition of Paley’s Natural Theology, which I have cited above.

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.

Really Recommended Posts 2/22/13

postI have to say, the posts for this week are really the cream of the crop. Make sure you follow the blogs I link to here, because they are constantly amazing. We look at The Mortal Instruments, Richard Carrier and the Jesus Myth, the power of prayer, how pornography can destroy the brain, science fiction, and a fun interview!

Empires and Mangers: The Mortal Instruments– What’s all the buzz about surrounding the upcoming movie and the books called “The Mortal Instruments?” Anthony Weber analyzes the series in this fantastic post. I haven’t read the books and I was still fascinated. Do check this one out, as it will be all over culturally. Also, follow this blog because the posts are consistently at this quality. It’s a must-read every time.

Does Richard Carrier Exist?– A fun but rigorous look at whether Richard Carrier exists. Why? Richard Carrier is best known for his denial that a historical Jesus ever existed. Here, Glenn Andrew Peoples and Tim McGrew partnered to use Carrier’s methods on him, to devastating results.

C.S. Lewis on the efficacy of prayer– Have you ever heard the objection that prayer doesn’t work? Matt Rodgers takes on this argument through C.S. Lewis, the eminent Christian writer and theologian.

The Effects of Porn on the Mail Brain– This is a scary, uncomfortable post. The topic is pretty self-explanatory.  Pornography is devastating. Let us pray for those under its chains and continue to work against it.

Grand Blog Tarkin– Have fun with this one. It is a blog dedicated to looking at the social and military themes in science fiction and fantasy. I cannot describe how nerd-awesome this is (just a hint: if you get the title, you’d love it… even if you don’t, you’ll still love it). You must check it out.

Mike Robinson interviews J.W. Wartick– A bit of a plug here: check out Mike Robinson interviewing me on his (great!) blog. I’d love your comments.

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale

fw-judsonThe roar of our guns was more than my ears could hear. The slaughter in the two rivers was more than one man’s mind could absorb… A sort of madness over came us; we had an infinity of bullets and an infinity of Chinese before us. Every one of our men felt he was killing thousands… Death ran wild. How terrible it is, I thought, that the Yukons should be so good at this. (Judson, 319-320)

Fitzpatrick’s War is a phenomenal read. Theodore Judson takes elements of history, steampunk, and religion and mixes them together to make a compelling story that presses through the imagination the need to contemplate issues of ethics, religion, and warfare. I realize that many of my readers will not have read this book, so I have included an overview of the plot, from which I have edited a few major details for those who want to read the book afterwards. After that, we’ll look at many of the extremely interesting themes found throughout this masterpiece. There are, of course, SPOILERS in this look at the book, starting immediately with the overview.

Brief Overview of the Plot

Fitzpatrick’s War is written as an autobiographic tell-all from the perspective of Sir Robert Mayfair Bruce. He is writing about Lord Isaac Prophet Fitzpatrick, a man who, like Alexander the Great, had conquered the world at a young age and also died young. Bruce was a close friend of Fitzpatrick (whom he calls Fitz) and so reveals a number of less-than-flattering aspects of his personality in his account of the life of the former ruler. It describes Fitzpatrick’s rise to power, his preparations for war during behind his father’s back, and his post-war rule.

Fitzpatrick is revealed as a man who lusted for power and ruled ruthlessly. He participated in assassinations, set up deaths, and mercilessly slaughtered his enemies. He used biological and chemical weapons and burned his enemies to the ground, all simply because of a desire to conquer the world. He had delusions of grandeur, envisioning himself as a kind of modern Alexander who would outdo the other man in every way.

The Timermen are another major player throughout the book. They are mysterious in their motivations and have supreme power over all space travel and most communications. Bruce reveals a number of unflattering details about these people as well.

The book has been edited by Doctor Professor Roland Modesty Van Buren, who is hostile to Bruce’s recounting of the events. Van Buren does not believe that Bruce is telling the truth about the great Fitzpatrick and believes he is instead attempting to make his own name live on through his lies.  Thus, the book is footnoted throughout with Van Buren’s corrections to Bruce’s “lies.”

Religion

Religion is pervasive throughout Judson’s work. The characters constantly quote from the Bible to justify their positions which frequently seem unbiblical and evil. Although the society at large seems to think highly of the Bible, the United Yukon Church itself seeks to take over all religion and has repressed other expressions of religion for quite some time.

Yet Bruce is fully aware of how the Christian faith is being abused throughout the work for evil ends. In one scene, he is speaking privately with Fitzpatrick, who asks Bruce whether God can love someone who will wreak such evil on the world. Specifically, he asks about King David in the Bible. Fitzpatrick wants to know whether he himself is like King David and why God would love someone who so frequently strayed from righteousness. Bruce realizes that it is here that he could have influenced Fitzpatrick to turn from the great evils he would perpetuate. Yet, coveting power, Bruce makes the decision he would regret for the rest of his life and backs Fitzpatrick’s notions of glory and God. He writes:

I would today give up my soul if I could go back to that moment and tell Fitz he could still turn back from his awful destiny. I grant that he had at this date already committed murder. It was equally true that he had not yet made his oceans of blood… The world could have still been saved from his wrath… (204)

Instead, Bruce caves into his own lust for power and desire to please Fitzpatrick. He tells Fitzpatrick:

God loves you… There are a few special men… who, like David, walk through History as Angels walk through thunderstorms. Those about them become wet with sin, while they remain untouched. They may seem to be bad men, these special ones. If we judge them by the standards we hold ordinary men to, they are the worst of men. Ordinary standards do not apply to them. They are doing God’s work here on earth, and as we do not know God’s motives or His ends we cannot judge His servants… You [Fitzpatrick] will be said to be God’s beloved. (204-205)

Bruce regrets this discussion with Fitzpatrick for the rest of his life and struggles with the notion that he can be redeemed.

Fitzpatrick himself seeks a kind of syncretism of all religions, but realizes that it will not ultimately work. He keeps his old tutor, Dr. Flag, around mostly to feel superior about himself. But he had initially attempted Dr. Flag’s project of making all faiths equally valid. One discussion in the book is particularly revealing. Dr. Flag is expounding upon the notion that all religions are essentially the same, but Marshal Jeremiah Truth Hood challenges him on this notion:

“Sir, am I to understand you believe all major religions profess the same core beliefs?” [Hood Asked]

“Yes…” [replied Flag]

“Then that would mean, let us say, that the Chinese and the Arabs share the same beliefs on marriage and family?” asked Hood… “Can we say,” asked Hood, “that Arabs and the Chinese value life to the same degree? Or is human life another secondary question?”

“I mean specific, general matters. You see, such as treating others well.” [Responded Flag]

“You say cultures are essentially the same,” continued Hood. “How would you explain, sir, the different Histories of North and South America? Both continents are inhabited by Christians. The majority in both continents are of European descent…” (364-366)

Hood’s point is well taken. The fact of the matter is that all religions are not the same and to say otherwise devalues the religious persons themselves. The way that Judson presents this dialogue allows for some real insight into the issue: how is it possible to say that, at their core, all cultures or religions are the same when they are so radically different?

Evil, Repentance, and forgiveness

There is great evil in the world, and Bruce’s world is no different. Much of the evil is caused by Fitzpatrick and the war which he created in his lust for power.

Ultimately, Fitzpatrick is reduced to a broken, suspicious man who becomes incapable of even doing the simplest tasks on his own. Marshal Hood is greatly distressed over his own incapacity to make amends for the evils he had done during the War. Hood is sitting with Fitzpatrick and several other Lords when they watch a video from an aerial shot of China and see the destruction their war had done to the country. The bodies  were strewn about and death was everywhere. Bruce, too, feels the need for repentance: “There were no words in my vocabulary I could utter that could justify this abomination, no act of contrition that could ever take away what I had done” (410). Hood himself begins quoting from the Bible, Joel chapter 1. He relates the evils they have done to the crimes that Joel cries out against. Later, Hood is found among the Chinese, trying to help them by growing food and feeding them. It was his way of making amends.

Bruce himself finds forgiveness only through his wife, who speaks with clarity on God’s will and his grace. It seems to me that this theme of forgiveness is grounded thoroughly in the Christian notion wherein people are to forgive each other. We act as God’s agents here on earth, and so we are called to repentance and forgiveness.

Charlotte

Bruce’s wife, Charlotte, is a paradigm example of a powerful, spiritual, loving woman. Van Buren, the hostile editor of the book, has several choice words to describe Charlotte, whom he believes is overstepping her bounds by attempting to be equal to Bruce. She often seems overbearing, but ultimately she strives to be equal to Bruce, and to temper the poor qualities of Bruce’s character. Charlotte is Roman Catholic, a religion which is violently oppressed in Yukon, until Fitzpatrick allows for religious freedom to endorse his own pluralism. Charlotte’s character is important throughout the work as one who provides the positive example of womanhood and the equality of men and women.

History and Doing History

History (always with a capital “H”) is an area of extreme interest in the world of Fitzpatrick’s War. Fitzpatrick himself continues to utter a recurring theme: History is written by the winners. Above, there was a discussion of King David. Fitzpatrick in that same conversation presses the notion that King David rewrote the history books in order to paint him in the most positive light. Later, in his own life, Fitzpatrick would do the same thing. He had the greatest poets and historians of his age come and write histories about him which were highly favorable in their portrayals of himself.

There is active repression of historical knowledge due to the fact that the culture at the time the book is set in believes that the “Electronic Age” (20th and 21st centuries) was a blight upon all History. During one scene, Bruce is being questioned about the Electronic Age and readers discover that only one history exists from that period. The reason is because “[A]ll other Histories of that era were perverted by the strange ideologies of the day…” (35).

As one who has studied historiography (and written on the method regarding Jesus), I can’t help but think of all the issues these discussions raise throughout the book. Interested readers should check out the post linked in the parentheses for one brief account of historiographic method.

Conclusion

I have read few books which have had such a great depth of knowledge about so many subjects as is demonstrated in Fitzpatrick’s War. The book is just phenomenal, and it touches upon so many areas of great importance for Christians and non-Christians alike. As with all great fiction, it does this without becoming overbearing, but instead focuses upon the story. Judson develops wonderful characters whom the reader can relate to, love, or loathe. He explores heady themes with wit and precision. I highly recommend this book to my readers.

Links

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber– I explore two excellent science fiction books alongside each other to see how they speak to religious dialogue.

The Presumption of Pluralism: How religious pluralism devalues all religious persons– I discuss religious pluralism, a topic which is brought up throughout Fitzpatrick’s War and show how it fails.

Check out more of my looks at popular level books. (Just scroll down to see more!)

Hieropraxis is an excellent site which focuses upon a number of cultural issues and how they relate to Christianity. I really cannot recommend this site highly enough.

Empires and Mangers– Another phenomenal site which looks at many popular level works from a Christian perspective. The posts are consistently fantastic. I encourage you to follow this site closely.

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.

All will be made New: Mayans, end times, and eschatology, oh my!

mayans-1-nat-geoIs it the end? People are rushing to stores stocking up on bottled water and the necessities, preparing for the latest “end” which our world will endure. We’ve endured a few just this year. Some are now saying that the Mayan Calendar counts down to December 21, 2012 and that this was their prediction of the end of the world. The Mayans were extremely accurate in their calendar, so some people are thinking maybe they knew something we do not.

It just so happens that one of my random interests for quite some time has been ancient Mesoamerican history. I love reading about the Maya, Aztec, Inca, and Olmec cultures. Here, I’ll be drawing on those years of study (I am no expert–please don’t get me wrong here) along with my thoughts on Christian eschatology to provide a discussion of the latest “end of the world.”

The Mayans 

Cultural Understanding

People often talk about the Mayan Calendar without placing it in its cultural context. The Ancient Maya were a  very advanced people. It is easy to think that the people who inhabited ancient South America were a bunch of paganistic simpletons who knew little of the goings on in the world until a boat of enlightened Europeans showed up and taught them better. Such a view is, of course, extremely Eurocentric, and I would suggest it is also betrays a certain lack of knowledge over what it means to be an advanced civilization. The Maya certainly fill that role well, albeit with different types of advancement.

One could argue that the differences in advancements was due, in part, to the radically different worldviews operating in independent spheres of influence. The values of European cultures were shaped by the Christian worldview, and so their concepts of what was important were very divergent from that of the polytheistic Maya. Indeed, this could account for a number of the extreme differences in practical areas, such as the differences in military technology, and of course in the development of religious doctrine. The Maya were not, as some have argued in the past, necessarily a bunch of noble people. Their artwork portraying their religious ceremonies and conquests makes this explicit, with all kinds of atrocities being glorified through their art. An extended comparison of the development of Western and pre-Columbian societies would be fascinating  but it is beyond the realm of my discussion here. My point is that the ancient Maya were a very different people and culture from our own.

Why emphasize this point? Well, for one, because the interpretations which have been given to the Mayan Calendar have largely been using a western view of meaning for calendars, dates, and events to interpret a distinctly non-western culture’s apparatus for interacting with reality. The Mayan Calendar is not some construct in a void to be interpreted by various persons from whatever presuppositional strata in which they operate. No, it must be placed within its cultural context in order to even begin to understand what it means that the calendar should have an end.

The Mayan Calendar

Robert Sharer and Loa Traxler discuss the Mayan Calendar extensively in their monumental work, The Ancient Maya. Their work has just a phenomenal outline of how the calendar worked, but to outline it all would take a lot of room. Here, we’ll focus on two things: The Long Count in the Mayan Calendar and its interpretative framework.

Sharer and Traxler note that:

We take for granted the need to have a fixed point from which to count chronological records, but the ancient Maya seem to have been the only pre-Columbian society to use this basic concept. Different societies select different events as a starting point for their calendars. Our Western chronology, the Gregorian calendar, begins with the traditional year for the birth of Christ. (110, cited below)

The Mayan calendar, on the other hand, uses the end of the last “great cycle” as their starting point for the calendar. They measure something called “The Long Count” which is an extended way to determine a great cycle of 13 “bak’tuns” which are each periods of about 5,128 solar years (110). The previous long count had ended in 3114 BC, and that was the date the Mayans held “established the time of the creation of the current world” (110). And yes, the current “Long Count” will be ending December 21, 2012.  What does this mean?

The calendar was not just used for chronology, but rather served more uses, such as divination. Sharer and Traxler note that the calendar was “a source of great power” in the Maya society (102). The Long Count “functioned as an absolute chronology by tracking the number of days elapsed from a zero date to reach a given day recorded by these lesser cycles” (104). Thus, the Long Count served to place the entire calendar cycle into a context: it established a measurable starting point and ending point for their calendar, which was itself extremely accurate due to its use of various astronomical measurements.

The Mayan Calendar shares one distinctive with that of the other Mesoamerican societies, namely, the use of a 52 year cycle. This cycle was celebrated as the end of the world by the Aztecs. The close of one of these 52 year periods literally meant that “the world would come to an end” (107). Yet this end of the world, which happened every 52 years, was not something feared, but rather celebrated due to the dawn of a new Sacred Fire, “the gods had given the world another 52-year lease on life” (107).

We thus have two possible ways to interpret the end of the Mayan Calendar. First, we can see it as simply the terminus of 13 bak’tuns and the end of the unit of measurement of absolute time, which would simply inaugurate the beginning of another cycle of 13 bak’tuns. Second, we can extrapolate from the cultural context that perhaps each terminus of this cycle would be anticipated as the beginning of another “lease on life.” But this is of the utmost importance: neither interpretation suggests some kind of cataclysmic ending of the space-time universe. To call the Mayan Calendar a “prophecy” of endtimes is nothing more than sensationalism. What cause is there to fear this?

The End of the World

Christians know that the end will come. However, this should not be surprising to anyone with knowledge of astronomy and physics. Indeed, our universe is ticking down to a cosmic heat death. Our universe itself will end. The energy will disperse, the stars will burn out, and all that will be left will be hulks of matter strewn about an ever-expanding galaxy. Or, perhaps there will be a “great crunch”–something I admit I am highly skeptical about–which will lead to an explosion of a new universe. But Christians have a unique perspective on the end of the world.

…[C]oncerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Matthew 24:36a.

First, no one will know when the end is come. The end is coming, but it will be like a thief in the night. Jesus tells us that it will be like in the days of Noah, where people continued to live their lives despite the impending doom.

Second, the Christian expects God to be the one to usher in this end. The end will be a new creation. Tears will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4) and creation will be restored. Unfortunately, some Christians have taken this to mean the utter annihilation of all things in the spatio-temporal universe. These Christians will sometimes have a dismissive attitude over the stewardship of the earth. After all, they argue, this universe will be utterly destroyed and we will have a perfect one made for us. Why bother conserving resources? This attitude is simply wrong, and as I have noted elsewhere, we are called to care for creation, something which evangelicals who disagree on certain topics unanimously affirm.

As Christians we are called to always be ready for Christ’s triumphant return. But that preparation does not mean being fearful of every end-time “prophecy.” Indeed, Jesus tells us that many will say the end has come but they are false prophets (Matthew 7:15; 24:4-5; 24:10-11; Luke 21:8; Mark 13:21-23). No, the preparation is the call to make disciples of all nations and to care for those in need.

We will endure another “end of the world” on the 21st of this year. Let’s take the time to reflect on what our Lord tells us in His Word. We do not know how or when, but God knows. We do not know the day or the hour, but God knows. God will take care of us. Let us thank Him.

Links

December 22nd, 2012– A poignant comic which speaks to the reality of what will happen on December 22, 2012.

Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals– Creation care is an issue highly intertwined with eschatology. Here, I review an extremely thought-provoking panel discussion I attended at the Evangelical Theological Society conference in 2012. Climate change, endtimes, and Christianity and science are just a few related issues.

Cormac McCarthy’s Secular Apocalypse– An insightful post which reflects on Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and contrasts its vision of the apocalypse with the Christian worldview.

The End of it All…– I reflect on another failed end-time prophecy, this time from one who tried to use the Bible to make the prediction.

Source

Robert Sharer with Loa Traxler, The Ancient Maya (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006).

Image Credit

2012 Doomsday Myths Debunked– National Geographic.

SDG.

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