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J.W. Wartick

This tag is associated with 432 posts

Book Review: “The Lost World of Israelite Conquest” by John Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is another fantastic work from the pen of John Walton, this time writing with his son, J. Harvey Walton. Walton has a number of these introductory works that focus on revealing the world of the Ancient Near East to his readers to help make sense of the Bible. In this work, the authors take on the question of what we are to make of the conquest narratives in the Bible.

There are often several perspectives Christians take in response to these accounts, as the authors note: they may argue that God is in control of all things and if God chooses to use one people to massacre another, that is God’s will; they may instead argue that the accounts are Israel’s political use of God to justify their own acts; others soften the first perspective but note how morally bankrupt the Canaanites are, arguing that they deserved destruction; or they may argue that the accounts don’t actually teach about genocide at all, but are rather, properly interpreted, rhetoric. The authors of The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest argue, instead, that when we properly understand the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of these passages, their meaning becomes more clear.

Perhaps one of the most radical propositions in the book, from the modern apologetic perspective, is that there is an entire section dedicated to the argument that “The Canaanites are not depicted as guilty of sin” (31ff). They are not saying the Canaanites are perfect, but rather that the Bible does not highlight the sinfulness of the Canaanites over and against any other group of people. Thus, to argue that the Canaanites were particularly guilty of sin, or that they took what was rightfully Israel’s, is mistaken. They establish this through both looking at the Bible’s own words about the Canaanites, and by evaluating the ANE context of these accounts. After arguing, briefly, that the Conquest accounts are a recapitulation of the creation accounts, the authors delve deeply into the translation of the Hebrew word, “Herem.” The word, contextually, often allows those who are “herem”‘d to continue existing. Thus, the authors argue, the meaning of the term is not destruction of individuals but rather the destruction of identity: to “herem” something is to “remove from use” that something. Thus, they argue, the Canaanites were not all put to the sword or killed; rather, their identity was subsumed into Israelite identity.

Another important point the authors make is that wars in the ancient world were fought in different ways and often with different goals or ideals of outcomes than we have today. A people’s deity was depicted fighting alongside that people, and these wars were often over identity as people.

The authors, then, reject the popular apologetic argument today that the accounts are hyperbolic in scope and thus can be seen as something like mere skirmishes. Instead, they argue that the conquest accounts are writing about war as the people of the ANE fought it, with the purposes and in the contexts in which they fought those wars. Overall, I found the authors’ theses pretty convincing. It certainly does away with some of the simpler dismissals of the accounts as merely hyperbolic. However, I wonder how the authors might respond to a more nuanced and extended argument like that of K. Lawson Younger, Jr.’s Ancient Conquest Accounts. In that work, Younger draws upon archaeological data as well as analysis of the battles as described in the biblical texts to show, in part, that the accounts are not genocide but rather wars waged against strongholds and fortresses in rather strategically advanced ways. To anticipate a reply, I believe the Waltons might argue that such analysis could easily be incorporated into their own account, for so long as one is not trying to establish the accounts as merely hyperbolic, one may align oneself with their own perspective.

Other recent works like Did God Really Command Genocide? by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan offer robust defenses of the hyperbolic approach to interpreting the text. The authors did address Copan directly and I believe this book, though the index of Lost World… doesn’t feature either author, making it difficult to confirm. Responding to Copan, they argue that at least part of his approach is anachronistic and reads a modern view of demonic powers onto the Hebrew text. I think it would have been helpful, though, to have a longer discussion of the hyperbolic interpretation. Indeed, the subject index doesn’t even have the word “hyperbole,” though it was mentioned several times. It will be interesting to see how modern defenders of the hyperbolic interpretation interact with the Walton thesis.

Overall, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is a broad, thought-provoking book. Though readers familiar with the field will certainly be left wanting more questions answered, they will benefit as much as any other reader due to the expertise on ANE context that is brought to bear on these difficult passages. I read the book and would say I feel largely convinced by it, though either due to my own adherence to the hyperbolic view or something else, I still have questions about their thesis. I am firmly convinced, though, that any reader with interest in this topic must pick up and read this important work.

The Good 

+Fascinating application of ANE context to difficult topic
+Broad focus with many lines of evidence applied to question
+Sheds fresh light on the topic
+Opens many lines of further inquiry

The Bad

-Could use more discussion of some modern alternatives
-Index seems somewhat incomplete

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

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!

 

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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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.

Fisher Manual of Christian Evidences Chapter 7

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 7

Fisher argues in this chapter that the Pauline epistles point to the truth of the resurrection. Against the notion that Paul’s experience of Jesus were all visions, he notes that Paul himself distinguishes between a physical manifestation of Christ and visions he had (42-43). Paul’s testimony also helps exclude the notion that the disciples were all merely hallucinating, for Paul is acknowledged to have been antagonistic towards Christianity. Thus, it would be very difficult to come up with some reason for him to share the same hallucination the Disciples and others allegedly experienced on such a theory (44-45).

There is a lot packed into a short space here by Fisher. Another interesting element of his argument is that Paul helps set the framework for when and how many visions and appearances of Jesus occurred. That is, by noting the many appearances and to whom and when they occurred, Paul helps outline the times of the appearances. Importantly, this includes the appearances ending at a finite point in time. Fisher notes that this also goes against the hallucination theory, for there would then be no explanation for why the visions would just cease, and all at the same time (45).

The arguments Fisher provides here are the briefest forms of many important points, but that doesn’t discount the value of this chapter. It provides an excellent overview of how to look at the Pauline corpus with an eye for apologetics.

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.

The State as Ultimate Authority- Leland vs. Hobbes

There is a tendency in the modern age to turn the nation state into the ultimate authority and arbiter among people. Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher who focused on political philosophy, remains deeply influential to this day. In his work, Leviathan, he proposes the “social contract” theory of governance in which basically sees the individual as ceding some powers to a controlling interest like the government in exchange for things like protection. What many fail to acknowledge is that Hobbes also felt this would be best implemented by an autocratic state with an absolute sovereign. Yet many modern political theorists continue to fall under this same spell of creating an absolute or ultimate authority of the nation state. Included in this is the presumption of secularism in which an alleged neutral secular government may arbitrate all governance and even international politics.

Moreover, as William Cavanaugh has rather convincingly argued in his The Myth of Religious Violence, what often happens in these cases is that violence is given over to the nation state and whatever violence is perpetuated by that nation state is sanctified as neutral and secular, therefore making it “right.”

Yet these concerns are not new. John Leland (1691-1766) addressed these concerns in his own discussion of Hobbes in his work, A View of the Principle Deistical Writers that Have Appeared in the Last and Present Century (1764):

In Mr. Hobbes we have a remarkable instance what strange extravagances men of wit and genius may fall into, who, whilst they value themselves upon their superior penetration, and laugh at popular errors and superstition, often give into notions so wild and ridiculous, as none of the people that govern themselves by plain common sense could be guilty of… Mr. Hobbes’ scheme strikes at the foundation of all religion… That it tendeth not only to subvert the authority of the scripture, but to destroy God’s moral administration…. it confoundeth the natural differences of good and evil… taketh away the distinction between the soul and the body, and the liberty of human actions…. [Hobbes’ deism] erecteth an absolute tyranny in the state and church, which it confounds, and maketh the will of the prince or governing power the sole standard of right and wrong… – 34-35.

Unpacking this point, we see that Leland argues that Hobbes’ system of government ironically does the very thing that he and many deistic writers of his time accused Christianity of doing–creating nation states where people were obligated to act or believe in certain ways by coercive force–while also going beyond it. Hobbes’ plan takes away any possibility of judging the nation state to be in the wrong. Instead, the “will of the prince or governing power” becomes the “sole standard of right and wrong.”

We see this problem today when nation states are given all authority to kill others. Vietnam, the war in Iraq, and many more examples could be raised. But criticism of such activities is often ceded to internal critique, and the ultimate arbiter is the decision of the nation state.

While some would argue that giving all power to the nation state makes a kind of neutral ground that allows for the flourishing of any worldview, the opposite is often the case, as nation states begin to thwart freedoms of the individuals in favor of the nation state’s supremacy. Though it is possible to arbitrate conflicts of worldview utilizing the nation state as a ground to do so, it also means that the nation state has final authority in such moral decisions.

Intriguingly, individuals often find themselves in the position of defending the actions of the nation state, even when they know that those actions may be wrong. Whether it is allegiance to a political party or person that becomes valued more highly than one’s own moral compass, people begin to dismiss or defend the nation state’s authority to determine right from wrong.

I believe Leland came out well on top of Hobbes and other deists throughout his exchange, and his warning ceding too much authority to the governing powers is well on point.

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!

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.

Too much friendship? A response to Desiring God’s “More than BFFs”

Complementarianism is the theological belief that men and women have different roles in the church and home and that these roles are ordained by God. Some have turned complementarianism into a system that controls every aspect of life. Few places make that more clear than some of the major websites that support that theological system. One of these sites, Desiring God, had an article entitled “More than BFFs: When Friendship Goes Too Far.” I could not believe what I read as I went through that article, and felt a response was necessary.

In this article, written by Kelly Needham, the main point is that friendship or friends may “take the place of God in your heart” and that we ought to defend ourselves from having friendships that do that. What I think the article reveals, in fact, is that some applications of complementarian theology lead to control beliefs that cause fear even in relationships that should be comforting.

Needham gives examples of relationships that, in her opinion, have gone too far. These examples are indicative of what is to come. The first is of a pair of friends who complement each other well–one is organized, the other is not, etc. They grow to be best friends. When one of the friends’ husbands gets a job that requires them to move, the other is devastated. Needham writes that the friend’s “despair was difficult to hide.” The second example is of roommates in college (?) that get along so well that they do almost everything together and others joke that they’re “joined at the hip.” The third example is of a woman who is shockingly (I say this tongue-in-cheek) single at 30 years old! She finds a younger woman who is eager to have her as a mentor and jumps on the opportunity. Later, when she gets asked on a date, she hesitates to say yes because she’s worried it could have an impact on her friendship.

What do you get from these examples? The first is a close friendship in which a woman is unhappy to see her best friend move away. The second is a close friendship in college. The third is a woman who doesn’t immediately jump on every man who asks her on a date, and one of those reasons is because she has a friendship she doesn’t want to change.

Well, Needham does see something nefarious here. She writes:

What do all these stories have in common? In each case, a friend became something more.

I honestly re-read the beginning of the article at this point the first time through because the wording seems to imply a sexual relationship here. But no, what Needham means is clear immediately following these words: “Kara wasn’t just a friend; she became Maddie’s other half. Allison wasn’t just a roommate; she became Leslie’s place of belonging. Ashley wasn’t just a mentee; she became Shelby’s purpose and mission in life. These are all examples of friendships that had gone too far.”

At this point, I had question marks floating in front of my eyes. What is going on here? Needham, it seems, believes that these friendships are too close. We must be wary, she argues, that our friendships don’t get too close. We don’t want to replace God with our friends:

While we may be aware of our tendency to look to spouses, children, money, food, careers, and houses to find fulfillment, many of us have assumed friendship is immune to the same kind of temptation. Since same-gender friendships are necessary for our spiritual health, it’s easy to assume they pose no threat to our walk with God. But idolatry is always dangerous to our souls, no matter how harmless the idol may seem at first glance.

Yes, on this complementarian mindset, we must not only fear that our spouses or children might give us fulfillment, we may also discover that friends could do the same thing! There is an almost conspiratorial feel to the whole article that only gets worse as it continues. We can’t have “BFFs,” apparently, because “the world’s model BFF is, by all accounts, a functional savior — someone who rescues you from the instability and trials of life, someone with whom and to whom you belong, who is committed to you ‘forever.'” We wouldn’t ever want to have a friend forever, now, would we? But then the article truly goes into a kind of sadly comedic territory.

The whole article’s point is that we must be fearful and vigilant that we may tend to replace God with friends in our lives. So, one may reasonably ask, how will I know if I’m doing that? Fear not! Needham has given us the means to determine when this may be the case. She offers a list of “Warning Signs.” She writes, “How can you know if a friendship is threatening to take God’s place in your heart? Here are a few questions you could ask about your relationship…”

What do these warning signs include? Well, before we look specifically at them, I want you to take the time to once again think about the main point of the article in question: it is an argument that you’re replacing God with your friends. So, presumably, if the “warning signs” are accurate, these are things you ought to be doing with God, right? After all, it’s hardly replacing God if you’re doing something with a friend that you don’t do with God. So, be sure to replace “friend” with “God” in warnings on the site. In fact, I went ahead and picked a couple out to do it for you to show how, frankly, silly this is:

Do you experience jealousy when your [God] spends time with others?
Have you lost interest in other [Gods]? Do you lack a desire to make new [Gods]?
Do you feel free to “speak for” your [God] with others?
Do you have frequent sleepovers, often preferring to share the same bed?
Do you use nicknames or special language with each other?
Are you more physically affectionate toward this [God] than other [Gods]? Are you physically affectionate in a way that makes others uncomfortable?

Some may think I’m being unfair here. After all, Needham can’t mean that these things are what we ought to be doing with or for God, right? I mean, I’m sorry, but I don’t really want to be physically affectionate with God in a way that makes others uncomfortable. But no, Needham makes it quite clear right after the list of warnings:

If you answered yes to some of these questions, it is worth considering whether your friend is becoming, or has become, something to you only God should be.

Yes, in the world of this particular brand of complementarianism, it is problematic to have a sleepover with your besty because, after all, you ought to be having a sleepover with God in which you use special nicknames for God and are physically affectionate with God.

I really don’t know a better way to rebut the claims in this article. It is, frankly, ridiculous. But this is the kind of thing that some (and yes, I am emphasizing some) complementarians believe we all ought to be doing. We must watch out for the dreaded friendship that becomes too close. We must take care in all our relationships to never cross that invisible boundary where we may idolize other people. And no, I’m not saying we could never make another person into an idol or a new God. But the language of this article and the paranoia it engenders towards friendships is devastating. Moreover, the examples used at the beginning are all perfectly reasonable. After all, does Needham really believe that friends ought not to be deeply saddened when their friends move away, or that a woman ought to always accept every request for a date if there is no objection to the character of the man (okay, she might be intentionally saying that last one)?

I think this article is deeply damaging, and shows yet another example of how complementarianism turns itself into a controlling doctrine that seeks to dominate every aspect of an individual’s life.

Source

Kelly Needham, “More than BFFs” accessed 7/16/17.

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!

Read other posts I’ve written on complementarian theology.

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 Fox and the Hard Day”

One market for apologetics books hasn’t received as much interest as it should: books aimed at instructing children. Whether this means primers for logic or simply introducing topics related to Christianity, there just aren’t very many. The Fox and the Hard Day is one more book to help fill this void.

In The Fox and the Hard Day, the question is the problem of evil. Why do bad things happen to us? Two children, James and Ruth, tell the eponymous character, Fox, about the bad days they’ve had. He responds by asking why God would let such bad things happen if he’s really all loving and good like they say. They respond by talking about the fallen state of humanity and the love God has for each individual. But Fox presses harder, asking why God isn’t powerful enough to stop evil. The kids point out that God is all-powerful but allows humans free nature instead of being like robots. Instead of stopping all sin, God provided His Son to save humans from sin. Ultimately, God “WILL put a stop to every bad thing at just the right time…” Fox finally understands–their answers make sense, even if he doesn’t necessarily like them all.

The book includes a brief parent guide, which includes recommended additional resources, Bible verses to discuss, and a more extended discussion of one of the aspects of the “free will defense” offered in the book.

The Fox and the Hard Day is an impressive entry in the series “Picture Book Apologetics.” Once again, the authors have provided a readable, easy-to-understand introduction to a difficult topic. The additional resources and reading provide a great baseline for more investigation. I recommend it!

Links

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

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.

Theistic Evolution: The Charge of Deism- An answer from George Frederick Wright

A portrait of George Frederick Wright, attribution: By Unknown – http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~rocky/oh_biographies/wright.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=930553

George Frederick Wright (1838-1921) was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to hold the position now known as “theistic evolution” or “evolutionary creation.” He was also an incredibly thought-provoking author, having written numerous books on the subject of science and faith. In his Studies in Science and Religion (1882), he addresses a wide variety of issues related to science and Christianity. One of these was the idea that Christians affirming evolution may as well be deists.

One immediate difficulty with this notion, of course, is that no deist would affirm that God became incarnate and brought about the salvation of all humanity. But the charge is still leveled to this day: those Christians who affirm evolution are deists. Wright’s own answer to this charge took a different direction. Instead of pointing out the fact that theistic evolutionists/evolutionary creationists (terms not yet coined in his day, to my knowledge) affirm any number of doctrinal beliefs that exclude deism, Wright argued that evolution itself, understood holistically, would allow for the affirmation of things like final ends in nature. Thus, because final ends would mean telos or purpose in nature, the charge of deism must be mistaken. Moreover,  any number of things can be affirmed as having natural causes without entailing deism. Wright argued that speciation could be included among these things.

Regarding the latter point, Wright argued that:

The theologian stands in no more need of miracles for the production of species than he does for that of the planets and their movements. Direct providential interposition is not for the irrational creation, but for the rational. So we may divest ourselves of theological prepossessions of any kind in reference to the material machinery by which the diversity of animal and vegetable life has been produced. (In my Kindle version, location 1173)

Wright’s point bears some elaborating. His argument is that theologians do not need to appeal to special divine activity in regards to things like the motions of planetary bodies. These types of things, he refers to as “irrational creation.” Planets, asteroids, dirt, etc. are all “irrational” in that they have no rational self. Indeed, part of his argument is that it would not make much sense to posit divine activity for all of these movements, because they would merely show that God has chosen to do everything voluntaristically or on God’s own rather than using things like natural laws. Thus far, his argument is rather uncontroversial. Very few people continue to argue that the planets’ movement, the water cycle, and the like are all, without any mediation, direct acts of God. The controversy is found, instead, in Wright’s adding the “diversity of animal and vegetable life” in among the things which need not have appeal to divine action.

Thus, for Wright, speciation is itself one of the natural processes that goes on in our universe without God’s special intervention. Of course, this is by no means an uncontroversial claim, but it must, at least, make one think about consistency of the application of these notions. Wright is surely correct to say that the movement of the cosmos need not appeal to God’s direct intervention in order to explain it. If that’s the case, then could it not be the case that other things in nature may be of the same type? Wright argues yes.

Moreover, Wright confronts one of the primary reasons for the charge of Deism. He argues evolution does not take away the possibility of final ends in nature:

The real final cause of any contrivance in nature is the sum of all the uses to which it is ever to be put. Any use to which a contrivance in nature is put, we may be sure formed a part of the Creator’s purpose in causing it to be. An element in making up the final cause of the existence of a particular tree, for example, is the good the birds get out of it in building their nests in its branches. But the birds would be very far from the truth were they to regard that good as exhausting the purposes for which the tree exists. (Kindle Location 266)

Here Wright makes what is perhaps the most important point in regards to the charge of Deism against those Christians who also affirm evolution. Though his point regarding speciation as one of the natural causes would be up for much debate, the point he’s making here seems to be one that Christians of all other persuasions would also affirm. After all, if one wanted to strip away Wright’s point, one would have to deny that individual plants or animals have no final causes in them. Such a denial would mean that one takes all telos out of nature; there would be no divine guidance or purpose in any natural process or the lives of creatures and plants. Such a denial would, in fact, be deism. So no Christian is going to want to deny Wright’s point here. But Wright’s point would apply to all life were it to have evolved as well. Simply having something come to its current form by means of evolution rather than special creation does not strip final cause away from it. And because the Christian who is affirming evolution also affirms final causation, divine interaction in nature remains even on an evolutionary perspective.

The briefest examination of Wright that we’ve put forward here could be expanded in looking at his many other works. But the point that we’ve made ought to carry. Evolution does not, in and of itself, remove the possibility of telos or final ends in nature. Because of that, theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, as many prefer the terminology now) are not deists. Wright’s other, more controversial, point is that evolution ought to be seen in the same light as the movement of planets and other heavenly bodies. Again, this is not to take away final ends or purpose in creation. Wright’s point was that even though we have natural explanations for the movements of heavenly bodies, we still observe final ends in those same movements. He extends that point to speciation, which will surely be controversial, but has precedent in Christian theology.

What is most interesting about all of this is that Wright was writing about this as one of the earliest thinkers on Christianity and evolution. Those who continue to spread the controversy about Christianity and evolution ought to listen to those who first thought on the topic. The wisdom we find there is often startling, and certainly illuminating.

Source

George Frederick Wright, Studies in Science and Religion (1882).

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!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

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.

 

 

Gender, Fear, and Politic: “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

lhd-ursulakleguin

The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling… (1)

The Left Hand of Darkness has come to be considered one of the greatest works of science fiction. The book portrays the efforts of an ethnologist, Genly Ai, makes to try to unite the people of the planet of Winter with the Ekumen of Known Worlds. What happens in his efforts  will be explored thematically in what follows. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Gender

Le Guin has come to be known as a major innovator in science fiction by putting forth feminist ideas in the form of novels. In The Left Hand of Darkness, Winter is populated by humans who have genetically been modified to be essentially genderless. But it goes beyond that, because in each monthly cycle, people become either male or female during a time of fertility, and then become effectively “neuter” again.

The novel is oriented around questions of how this may affect perceptions of gender. It is largely narrated from the perspective of Genly, who himself has many assumptions about what men and women are like from his own gendered society. In reading Genly’s thoughts, the reader is exposed to notions of duality. At one point, Genly attempts to explain what a woman looks like and who a woman is in his own society to one of the inhabitants of Winter:

I suppose the most important thing… is whether one’s born male or female. In most societies it determines one’s expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners–almost everything… (252-253).

Ultimately, Genly admits defeat in attempting to explain what women are like. He says they are “more alien” to him than the aliens of Winter (253). But Genly, in his own mind, has much to think about women. He often thinks of women as submissive, foolish, and perhaps a little weak. They are tied down through childrearing while men are to be dominant in society. Genly’s own thoughts on the topic serve as a foil for the reader’s thoughts about gender. By placing the reader in Genly’s mind, and seeing the absurdity of his views of gender lined up against an effectively genderless (or potentially gendered?) society, one is forced to consider one’s own views of gender and the power structures which may accompany it.

Jarringly, the inhabitants of Winter are always referred to with male pronouns. The reason is explained at one point as having to assign the Gethenians (those inhabitants) some pronoun to use. But the fact is that the Gethenians may be both the mother of some children and the father of others due to the way their procreative cycle works. One is forced to wonder at the wisdom of using the male pronoun for such persons.

The implications of a sexless society (or again, potentially sexed?) are used as a way to view our own society. We are told to “Consider” various aspects of how reality might change if gender were not viewed as a way to predetermine power structures:

Consider: Anyone can turn his hand to anything… Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. (100)

We’ll consider the implications of this below, but for now it is merely important to see the dialogue happening within the story. What are your views of gender? How do they impact your view of the “other”?

Fear and Politic

Gender may be seen as one way of viewing the “Other,” but fear is a powerful tool, and it applies to any duality or disjunct which allows one to see strict delineation between self and other. In a discussion with one of the inhabitants of Winter on politics, Genly is asked if he knows what it is to be a patriot:

[Genly responded] “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean love of one’s homeland…”

[The Gethenian replied] “No, I don’t mean love… I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year.” (20)

Once again we see the recurring theme that the “Other” is to be feared and fought against. Whether that “Other” is a gendered other or an alien or simply someone from a different country, The Left Hand of Darkness forces readers to consider their own fears. How might one’s own feelings about the “Other”s in their own society shape their interactions with them?

Truth

The line quoted at the beginning of this post is echoed throughout the book: truth is what we make of it. We may choose a reality. But Le Guin’s portrayal of truth goes beyond relativism. Instead, truth matters in the telling. “Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive” (1). Thus, lies may come across as true or believable due to how they’re told, and they may “become true.” Of course, this means not that reality itself changes, but rather that one’s interaction with truth or falsehood may itself determine one’s belief in either one.

Reflection

The Left Hand of Darkness is steeped in critical theory. Le Guin’s discussion of gender is perhaps the most obvious point of this: readers are forced to consider their own ways of thinking about male/female dichotomy through the eyes of a man who is struggling to force his categories onto beings which do not neatly fit into either bucket. Some may immediately critique Le Guin and suggest she is trying to blur gender lines and do away with any distinction between man and woman. That may well be what she was doing (I don’t know), but that should not prevent readers from acknowledging they have their own biases about what genders are or how male/female should act (or not?). The novel forces introspection and reflection.

Similarly, how does one’s view of the “Other”–whether made other by gender, country, kin, or belief–get shaped by one’s own presuppositions about what that “Other” should be? Here are dynamics of power, politic, and fear.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a highly reflective novel. By integrating literary criticism and critical theory into her fiction, Le Guin forces readers to examine their own views. Whether one agrees with the various aspects of feminist thought Le Guin includes in the work, one will consider these aspects with new light through the reading of the novel.

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!

Source

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace, 2010). Originally published by Ace in 1969.

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 Dictionary of Christianity and Science: The Definitive Reference for the Intersection of Christian Faith and Contemporary Science”

Christianity and science has been a subject of the utmost interest in my mind ever since I began to seriously study anything. I’ve been reading seriously on the topic for almost a decade now, and so when I saw that Zondervan was releasing The Dictionary of Christianity and Science, I could not help but be excited. Reviewing a dictionary, however, I have come to discover, is a difficult task. How exactly does one go about rating such a massive work? In preparation for this review, I read the dictionary from cover-to-cover, even looking through the contributors.

The book is filled with lengthy entries on many questions related to Christianity and science. Several of the most controversial questions (evolution, Adam and Eve, and the length of creation days are just a few examples) receive multiple viewpoint answers. Entries on controversial figures or institutions are written by those who are sympathetic to their viewpoint. Apart from these hot-button issues, many wider topics are addressed. Quantum mechanics, bioethics, and life are examples of these broad topics. Their inclusion is vastly important because it helps to define the parameters of the more controversial topics, and they also serve as a springboard for discussion of other topics. The book can act as a kind of one-stop shop for some of these important, broad topics, providing definitions and overviews that will be acceptable to almost anyone engaged in discussion. This is important, because these entries are non-partisan and while some may quibble about individual details, they provide a way forward in discussion.

Other topics that are given significant space include historical and modern authors (more on this below) as well as more specific concerns like “the singularity” and “string theory.” These again provide extremely important overview and background for deeper discussions on both science and Christianity. I must emphasize the excellent nature of each entry. Though I disagree vehemently with some of the entries (and one of the young earth entries even uses the silly “were you there?” type of argument regarding the age of  the earth), I found that overall the entries were each valuable reading, even as one who has read extensively in this area. The bibliographic references provided after every entry were also superb

I think my only major complaint with the work is that it seems to come up short in its coverage of historically important persons. Realistically, no single book or even multi-volume work could adequately meet this need, but I think at least a few more historical figures should have been mentioned. Yes, several of the most important historical figures are present, but even some major thinkers are left out. I can’t claim to have read comprehensively in this area, but some authors I see cited again and again in contemporary literature are unmentioned. George Frederick Wright (1838-1921) is one major example. Wright wrote several works specifically on the topic of Christianity and science and was one of the earliest and most engaging theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, depending on your preferred terminology). Though Wright may not be so frequently cited today, he was a rather important figure in his own time, and one who could stand much thoughtful inquiry today. Another, more glaring omission is that of John Ray (1627-1705). Ray was one of the earliest geologists and was instrumental in the arguments over whether fossils were truly vestiges of things long dead or merely tricks of the earth. Moreover, his books are consistently filled with theology and intriguing, if outdated, reflections on Christianity and science. To be fair, I should also note that the coverage of modern authors is fairly comprehensive, and I ran into every major player I could think of who has written extensively on science-Christianity issues.

The Dictionary of Christianity and Science is an excellent work–one which certainly deserves its place on the shelf of any interested in this important intersection of faith and science. Though I wish it had more entries on historical figures, it remains an interesting read with many meaty entries well-worth taking the time to digest fully. It comes highly recommended.

The Good 

+Meaty entries full of valuable references
+Provides broad perspectives on numerous topics
+Articles from major thinkers as well as specialists across the respective fields
+Many topics, variety of issues covered

The Bad

-A bit light on content regarding historical controversies

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

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!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

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.

 

 

“The Once and Future King” by T.H. White – Honor, King David, and Justice

ofk-whiteT.H White’s classic Arthurian tale, The Once and Future King is an absolute delight to read. I had never read it before, and I was surprised to see the sheer amount of humor found therein. The depth of the work’s story is immense. Here, I will look at some of the worldview level themes found in the book. There will be SPOILERS in this post.

Honor

Young Arthur, known as “The Wart,” shows his character in one discussion with Merlyn-

If I were to be a Knight… I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it. (174)

Arthur is an honorable man–and was even an honorable boy. That doesn’t mean he never makes poor choices, but he is ultimately motivated by faith and a desire to take on evil directly.

King David… Arthur

In many ways, the story of Arthur parallels the biblical story of David. Like David, Arthur desires to follow justice and walk in the way of God. Like David, it is illicit affairs which lead to his undoing. Like David, Arthur’s downfall ultimately comes from within his own family. Each has a kind of guide in the early stages of their rule (Merlyn or Samuel), but neither takes on such guidance later in life. Each is guided by faith, and it each attempts to capture a kind of ideal in their monarchy. Their ideals are never quite reached, and it is evident in the story of each that their own choices limit their capacity to reach that ideal. In the end, each turns to God for the final answers.

Justice

One of the best portrayals of justice in the book can be found in the way White portrayed injustice. The knights are operating under a principle of “Might makes Right.” They expect the lower class soldiers to be slaughtered, while they themselves are so heavily armored they can barely be harmed (as hilariously depicted in an early scene that young Arthur gets to witness). Arthur seeks to go against this principle–to wage war on Might. Yet, even that battle ends in failure as it becomes corrupted. A question the book seems to point us towards is whether violence to overcome violence is a realistic means.

The conclusion to the book catches Arthur at his most reflective. White’s own view begins to peek through the words of Arthur’s thoughts. What is it that failed Arthur? How did his quest for good become so embroiled in deceit and betrayal? Yet Arthur finds that there was a crucial flaw in his plan: “[T]he whole structure depended on the first premise: that man was decent” (637). He had forgotten about the sinfulness of humanity:

For if there was such a thing as original sin, if man was on the whole a villain, if the Bible was right in saying that the heart of men was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, then the purpose of his life had been a vain one. (638)

The purpose was vain, because it was not pursued alongside God’s will but rather as Arthur’s will imposed upon humanity–the very thing that Merlyn had come back through time (or was it forward?) to discover. Yet that which Arthur wished to bring about–the defeat of Might–was not itself an evil end. Indeed, it is the King’s page who reveals the ultimate judgment on Arthur’s plan: “I think it was a good idea, my lord”–thus said the page; and Arthur’s response: “It was, and it was not. God knows” (644).

Ultimately, it seems, justice is defined on God’s terms and humans are incapable of seeing the whole picture. White was an agnostic, but was apparently scornful of the evil he saw in the world. A kind of pessimism about human capacities is found throughout the book. The fact that, in the end, “God knows” is the answer that can be given towards whether humans can accomplish an ideal is telling. Without God, endeavors of that sort are impossible.

Other Topics

There are some pretty interesting parables included within the text, particularly in the “Sword in the Stone” section. One of them is from the Talmud–a story in which Elijah travels with a Rabbi and perplexes the Rabbi with his apparent lack of concern for the poor while he aids the rich. Yet this parable shows that God is indeed working towards justice, and a God’s-eye perspective of justice is impossible. Another parable tells a story about humanity as a kind of capstone of creation, while limiting humanity to being an “embryo” for all time- a creature in development. This capacity-laden view of humanity points to White’s worldview once more. Human choices matter, but we so often choose poorly.

The Dark Ages, White notes, may have been a bit of a misnomer:

Do you think that they [those times sometimes called “The Dark Ages”], with their Battles, Famine, Black Death and Serfdom, were less enlightened than we are, with our Wars, Blockade, Influenza and Conscription? (544)

Here again we see White’s own world creeping back into the novel. The novel was published in 1939, the year World War II officially began, though there was plenty going on before that. It was difficult to see the War coming and think that another age was to be singled out as the “Dark” age. There is a kind of intellectual hubris in dismissing the ideas of the past and seeing one’s own time as somehow enlightened. White did not think that was a route to take.

Merlyn (yes, Merlyn, not Merlin) is a character whose interactions with Arthur bring up all kinds of questions. He seems to be guiding a young Arthur towards the attempt to bring about justice in the world, but he also allows himself–seemingly willingly–to be cast aside when Arthur is at his most vulnerable. He only reappears at the very end of the book as a kind of wind. I am left feeling rather ambivalent about Merlyn, who had so much power but who did not ultimately use it very effectively.

Conclusion

The Once and Future King is a simply phenomenal book layered with many levels of meaning. There are so many avenues to explore from a worldview level that I’m sure repeated readings will be rewarding. The central theme, however, is incredibly powerful: humans cannot complete their own ideals. We are imperfect. God knows.

Links

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

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

Source

T.H. White The Once and Future King (New York: Ace, 2004 edition).

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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