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John Warwick Montgomery

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Presuppositionalism vs. Evidentialism – A case study on apologetic method featuring Cornelius Van Til and John Warwick Montgomery

Cornelius Van Til

Cornelius Van Til and John Warwick Montgomery are two of the most prominent defenders of opposing views of apologetics. Van Til defends presuppositionalism, an apologetic method that is founded on the notion that God’s existence must be presupposed–it is the beginning of the reasoning process rather than the end. Evidentialism is a school of apologetics that seeks to show that evidences–often historical evidence for the Resurrection–yield the conclusion that God exists and that Christianity is true. One of these views (presuppositionalism), in other words, argues top down by assuming God exists and showing how the world cannot be understood without that posited fact; the other (evidentialism) goes bottom up, showing how beliefs that are, purportedly [1], shared by Christians and non-Christians may demonstrate the truth of Christianity.

What makes these two particularly interesting is that they each offer a kind of parable for their position. These parables each, individually, reveal much about how the apologist thinks apologetics ought–and ought not–to be done. Though their parables are too long to post in their entirety, we will here examine some key aspects of both Van Til’s and Montgomery’s picture imagery about how apologetics should work.

Cornelius Van Til’s Misters White, Grey, and Black

Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic approach is illustrated in an extended section of his work The Defense of the Faith. Here, he utilizes three men: Mr. White (standing in for the presuppositional apologist), Mr. Grey (standing in for the evidential–he calls “Romanist-evangelical”–apologist), and Mr. Black (standing in for the non-Christian) in dialogue with each other to illustrate how he believes apologetics should work, as well as what he sees as fatal objections to his opposition.

The section in question is found in p. 312-340 of the aforementioned work. Van Til argues that Mr. Black will be more comfortable with Mr. Grey because Mr. Grey concedes some ground to him: “Mr. Grey uses the Bible, experience, reason, or logic as equally independent sources of information about his own and therefore about Mr. Black’s predicament” (313). Though he concedes that Mr. Grey may see the Bible as “by far the most important” of these sources, the problem is that he sees these sources of knowledge independently. A problem that develops over this dialogue as Van Til develops it is that Mr. Black refuses to see himself as a lost person in need of repentance, and so Mr. Grey’s position cannot challenge the foundation of his view: a rejection of the authority of the Bible.

Mr. Grey can stand on “common ground” with Mr. Black (320) and this allows for a quicker response from Mr. Black to Mr. Grey than to Mr. White. Here, of course, we begin to see Van Til’s explicitly Calvinist/Reformed position come through. It is simply the case that Van Til believed that his position was such that it would offer an absolute refutation of all but the Calvinist/Reformed position, in addition to being used with non-Christians. This limits the applicability of his argument a bit for those who do not accept that position, but we’ll press on.

The crux of the argument comes when the question of proofs of the existence of God and Christianity come up. Here, Van Til notes that “If one reasons for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity on the assumption that Mr. Black’s principles of explanation are valid, then one must witness on the same assumption” (339). Thus, in the dialogue, we see Mr. Grey attempting to witness to Mr. Black, having come to an agreement that Mr. White is wrong on a number of levels. But Mr. Grey is taken aback when Mr. Black fails to concede the argument. Here, we see Mr. Black speaking to Mr. Grey:

“[Y]ou are now witnessing to Christ as well as to God, to Christianity as well as to theism. I suppose your argument… would be similar in nature… You would argue that the Jesus of the New Testament is probably the Son of God and that he quite probably died for the sins of men…. by witnessing instead of reasoning you seem to admit that there is no objective claim for the truth of what you hold with respect to Christ. Am I right in all this?” (337-338)

This, for Van Til, is where the evidentialist argument completely collapses. Because they fail to have an objective basis for believing in God/Christ, they ultimately concede the position to the non-Christian, allowing only for subjective witness to the truth of Christianity. Because Mr. Grey concedes that Mr. Black can reason independently of the truth of the Bible, he allows Mr. Black to use his independent reason to utterly reject the same. This concession is seen when Mr. Grey “nods approval” to Mr. Black’s argument that “unconditional surrender to the authority of Scripture is irrational” (332). He does the same when Mr. Black objects that it is rationalistic (ibid). Further, because Mr. Grey admits of “possibility” rather than certainty when it comes to arguments about the existence of God, he allows the non-Christian Mr. Black to reject God based on “possibility” as well. Probability does not yield certainty, so certainty is what is required. Only Mr. White’s position which argues from absolute certainty by presupposing the truth of the Bible is capable of granting an objective basis for affirming God’s existence and Jesus Christ as God, in addition to many other Christian doctrines.

Thus, for Van Til, the necessity of his position is proved by the argument that, without such a presupposition, the non-Christian may be perfectly comfortable rejecting Christianity through means of “probability” already present in his or her view of the world.

John Warwick Montgomery’s “Once Upon an A Priori

John Warwick Montgomery, a prominent evidential apologist, felt the weight of Van Til’s argument and offered his own parable in response. Montgomery’s parable may be found in his work Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics. There, he writes of the people of Shadok and Gibi, who each refuse to concede any “brute” or “neutral” ground regarding facts. For each, it is his or her own God who is the one, single, true God that must be presupposed (God-Sh for Shadok and God-G for Gibi). A brief excerpt gets at the heart of John Warwick Montgomery’s argument:

Shadok: You will never discover the truth, for instead of subordinating yourself to revelation truth (Bible-SH), you sinfully insist on maintaining the autonomy of your fallen intellect.
Gibi: Quite the contrary! [He repeats exactly the same asseriton, substituting (Bible-G) for (Bible-Sh)]… (114)

The conversation goes on, referencing Van Til’s insistence on the notion that the non-Christian wears colored glasses that make it impossible for them to see anything outside of their single-hued world. Montgomery concludes “The hopelessness of this encounter should be painfully evident. Neither viewpoint can prevail, since by definition all appeal  to neutral evidence is eliminated” (115, emphasis his). Thus, John Warwick Montgomery’s own parable is a counter to Van Til’s, one which argues instead that neutral evidence–evidence that Mr. Grey, Mr. White, and Mr. Black all have access to–must exist, for otherwise they would have nothing to which they could appeal to determine who is right.

A Critical Comparison

The conversation between these competing parables does not, of course, stop with the original authors. The late Greg Bahnsen, a defender of Van Til’s apologetic, wrote an article responding to John Warwick Montgomery’s critique. There, Bahnsen argues that Montgomery misunderstands presuppositionalism on a number of accounts, but primarily because “Montgomery fails to see that Van Til’s apologetic claims that use of facts and logic is not simply directed in a different direction on non-Christian presuppositions, but is in principle impossible” (see link, emphasis his). In contrast, Greg Habermas, another evidentialist, argued that it was Bahnsen who failed to get at the critique Montgomery offered. In his own article, he replies to Bahnsen by arguing that:

the often contradictory interpretations of facts must be taken, in the sense of the
creative intermix between induction and deduction that Piercean abduction or “inference
to the best explanation” typifies, to the facts themselves. (see link)

These hint at a much broader debate, largely centered around the nature of facts. The presuppositionalist argues there is no neutral ground (a position that appealed to me enough at one point [almost 10 years ago! ah!] to write a post on it). The evidentialist argues that, quite contrary, there must be neutral facts because otherwise no one could determine whether their own view is correct. The presuppositionalist responds by arguing that it is only by presupposing the one true worldview (eg. Christianity) that one may correctly analyze facts. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to appeal to facts, not because they are “brute” or “neutral,” but because worldviews other than Christianity are necessarily inconsistent. That is, it is certainly possible for any non-Christian to know truth, but only because they have inconsistently turned from their worldview to adopt presuppositions of Christianity on certain points. The extent to which the non-Christian has true knowledge, then, is the extent to which their own worldview is inconsistent.

Conclusions

At this point, readers may wonder how these two contrary positions could ever meet. I honestly begin to despair myself, trying to draw this to a close. Rather than attempting to offer decisive conclusions in this debate that has gone on for years and thousands upon thousands of words, I want to offer a few of my own observations.

First, it seems to me that, supposing presuppostionalists are correct and there is no neutral ground, it is impossible to engage with other worldviews without making a practical, working assumption that there is such neutral ground. Though the presuppositionalist may be correct in that the non-Christian is inconsistent at every point they can agree on facts, they must come to some facts that they do agree on. At that point, the presuppositionalist may point out the non-Christian is inconsistent, and thus build their case from there, but it is only at that point that the methods truly diverge. Indeed, when one observes someone like Greg Bahnsen in debate (a review that is probably more favorable than I would be now), one sees the vast difference in method from someone who uses a more evidential or classical approach. But my point is that, on a practical level, there isn’t actually a huge difference between the evidentialist and the presuppositionalist when it comes to utilizing facts. They may both object to this, but the presuppositionalist would point to a fact (which they would, yes, hold may only be properly understood or believed from a Christian perspective) that Jesus was in fact crucified and died in order to show the truth of the Resurrection, and the evidentialist would point to that same fact, though their overall cases may differ. It is only when the presuppositionalist moves to the overarching, so-named transcendetal argument that the methods would radically differ. Now, plenty of presuppositionalists would use the TAG (transcendental argument for God) immediately, so their method will be quite different.

It does seem to me that the above comments yield the notion that presuppositionalism may be a bit too strong in its utter denial of any possibility of contact with the unbeliever. On an objective, totally abstract level one may concede that. But given that human language works for communication, there must be points of contact. Sure, that may mean the non-Christian is inconsistent on that high, abstract level, but it also means that the presuppositionalist can operate around the same when it comes to offering evidence–which itself falsifies the accusation that presuppositionalists don’t utilize evidence.

Another possible negative of the presuppositional view is that it is unfalsifiable, because at every point on which there is disagreement, the presuppositionalist may simply appeal to a misunderstanding. Like John Warwick Montgomery’s parable, they may simply assert the non-Christian is not understanding or suppressing the truth, and that’s why they don’t acknowledge it. Of course, some presuppositionalists may see this unfalsifiability as a strength of their position, which, they might argue, yields certainty of belief. But then, we come full circle into the notion that any other unfalsifiable view could appeal to the same reasoning.

I hardly think I’ve solved these problems, but it is a worthy exercise for those interested in apologetics to engage with these two divergent methods and try to learn from them. For myself, I think an integration of various methods works best.

All quotations used are from the works cited and used under fair use for purposes such as criticism. 

Works Cited

Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008).

Gary Habermas, “Greg Bahnsen, John Warwick Montgomery, and Evidential Apologetics.” https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.bing.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1108&context=lts_fac_pubs. Accessed January 2019.

Greg Bahnsen, “A Critique of the Evidentialist Apologetical Method of John Warwick Montgomery.” http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa016.htm. Accessed January 2019.

John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact (Edmonton, AB Canada: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy, Inc., 2001).

Links

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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.

[1] I say “purportedly” because presuppositionalists would deny that non-Christians may share any beliefs with Christians. By not having the same starting point–God–all other facts come into question.

 

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Sunday Quote!- Evolution: A Materialist and an Idealist Weigh In

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Every 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!

Evolution: A Materialist and Idealist Weigh In

John Warwick Montgomery is one of those rare thinkers who seems equally at home in just about any subject with which they engage. I’ve been reading through his phenomenal book, The Shape of the Past and been blown away by the breadth of topics covered. What is more amazing is how he relates them back to the central topic: historiography. The second part of the book is a series of essays on various subjects. In one of these, on Marxism and Materialism, he writes:

Evolution means natural development to the materialist; it means teleology in the universe to the idealist. (234, cited below)

The quote is particularly poignant because it shows how even having what many consider raw data requires interpretation. One person can interpret evolution as confirmation of naturalism, while another might interpret it as teleology–goal orientation–found within the universe.

Be sure to check out The Shape of the PastIt is a fascinating work.

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.

2015: The Year’s Best Books, My Reading, Blogs, and More!

Another year has passed more quickly than I could have ever imagined. I’d like to share with you my reading for the year, as well as my awards for books, movies, and blogs. Please let me know about your own reading, movie-watching, and the like this year. I’d love to read about what you were up to last year and what books moved you or taught you much.

Books

The books of the year are based off my reading this year; not on whether they were actually released this year. The categories for InterVarsity Press (IVP) and Crossway, however, are from this year.

Theology book of the year

Flame of Yahweh by Richard Davidson- This book is a massive wealth of information about sexuality in the Old Testament. Davidson analyzes an enormous number of texts to draw out the teaching on sexuality found therein. Davidson approaches the texts from what I would call a moderate egalitarian viewpoint, but he justifies this view directly from the text, with a particular emphasis on the creation account. Moreover, Davidson’s exposition of Song of Songs in particular is just phenomenal. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Philosophy book of the year

The Shape of the Past by John Warwick Montgomery- this book is a historiography book–it is a study of how we write and study history, and it is phenomenal. John Warwick Montgomery is one of those rare people who can touch on seemingly endless topics from a clearly informed perspective, and draw them together with breathless beauty. The first half of the book offers a major look at various historiographic perspectives of the past. The second half is a collection of essays, each of which as informative and wonderful as the next. The book was published originally in 1975, but it remains as brilliant as it ever was. John Warwick Montgomery is just phenomenal, and this book was heavy, but breathtaking. Here’s a quote from the book.

IVP Book of the Year

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss- A convicting read, Richard Twiss argues that we have failed Native Americans when it comes to spreading the Gospel. The book is full of moving stories and deep insights. It is beautiful and haunting. If you want to know more, read my review.

Crossway Book of the Year

Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke- John Newton is probably best known as the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” but Reinke highlights so much more about this amazing pastor in this interesting work. Read my review for more.

Fiction book of the Year

The Once and Future King by T.H. White – I’m embarassed to say this, but I actually owned this book once and got rid of it because I figured I wouldn’t actually enjoy it. Was I ever wrong. I picked it up at the library and was absolutely blown away. This classic novel about King Arthur was everything I expected it to be and so much more. I was particularly impressed by the amount of genuinely hilarious humor found throughout. I did not expect the depth it had, either. It was fantastic. Okay, I did read Ben Hur by means of audiobook this year, but I read that book annually because it is probably my favorite work of fiction ever, so it’s not really fair to put it in competition.

Best non-fiction, non-theology/philosophy

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander- think racism is no longer a problem in America? Think again. This book has an enormous amount of research showing how our allegedly colorblind criminal justice system has perpetuated a system of injustice.

Young Adult Novel of the Year

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper- A haunting novel about the colonial period in the United States. It is rare that I am as emotionally moved by a novel as I was in this one.

Most Anticipated Book of Next Year

Brandon Sanderson seems to me a well that I will not stop returning to. Ever. I’ve not worked through his whole body of work yet, but everything I’ve read from him is amazing. He consistently nails stunning plot twists in believable ways. Thus, Calamity, the third book of “The Reckoners” is my most anticipated book for next year. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and find out what happens next.

Movie

Best worldview movie of the year

Star Wars: The Force Awakens- No, I’m not just saying this because it is Star Wars (though part of me is saying precisely that). I selected this one because it has so much in it to discuss. I’m not going to spoil anything here, so be sure to head on over to my post on the movie to read more.

Blog

Blog of the Year

Christians for Biblical Equality– CBE continues to put out excellent articles week in and week out. Every new post is worth the time to read, and they have covered an enormous amount of ground with articles on neuroscience to articles on exegesis. This is a fantastic blog and well worth your time to read and subscribe to.

Reading List for 2015

The list starts at where I left off in 2014, when I first started keeping track.

  1. Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn – Finished 1/2/15
  2. 4 Views on Divine Providence edited by Dennis Jowers and Gundry – Finished 1/4/15
  3. Wind and Shadow by Kathy Tyers – Finished 1/6/15
  4. Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative – Finished 1/8/15
  5. Allegiant by Veronica Roth – Finished 1/10/15
  6. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll – Finished 1/12/15
  7. Salvation Applied by the Spirit by Robert Peterson – Finished 1/13/15
  8. Star Wars: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn – Finished 1/13/15
  9. God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark – Finished 1/13/15
  10. Gender, Religion, and Diversity edited by Ursula King and Tina Beattie – Finished 1/15/15
  11. Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber – Finished 1/19/15
  12. Beyond the Control of God? Edited by Paul Gould – Finished 1/22/15
  13. By Schism Rent Asunder by David Weber – Finished 1/24/15
  14. Religions of Mesoamerica by David Carrasco – Finished 1/25/15
  15. By Heresies Distressed by David Weber – Finished 1/28/15
  16. Eternity Falls by Kirk Outerbridge – Finished 2/1/15
  17. Evolutionary Creation by Denis Lamoureux – Finished 2/1/15
  18. A Mighty Fortress by David Weber – Finished 2/6/15
  19. The New Evangelical Subordinationism edited Jowers and House – Finished 2/7/15
  20. Red Rising by Pierce Brown – Finished 2/9/15
  21. Creative Church Handbook by J. Scott McElroy – Finished 2/10/15
  22. Never to Live by Just B. Johnson – Finished 2/14/15
  23. Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice edited Kelly Kapic- Finished 2/16/15
  24. Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn – Finished 2/17/15
  25. The Dominant Culture by Martin Murphy – Finished 2/17/15
  26. Daystar by Kathy Tyers – Finished 2/23/15
  27. Give Them Grace by Jessica Thompson and Elyse Fitzpatrick – Finished 2/23/15
  28. Reinventing Jesus by Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace – Finished 2/25/15
  29. How Firm a Foundation by David Weber – Finished 3/2/15
  30. Tamar’s Tears edited by Andrew Sloane – Finished 3/2/15
  31. Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert – Finished 3/4/15
  32. For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger – Finished 3/6/15
  33. Star Trek: New Frontier- The Quiet Place by Peter David – Finished 3/6/15
  34. The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs – Finished 3/7/15
  35. Three Views on the NT Use of the OT edited Berding and Lunde – Finished 3/10/15
  36. Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert – Finished 3/11/15
  37. A Matter of Days by Hugh Ross – Finished 3/12/15
  38. Midst Toil and Tribulation by David Weber – Finished 3/16/15
  39. The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John Walton – Finished 3/17/15
  40. Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 3/19/15
  41. Martin Luther on the Christian Life by Carl Trueman – Finished 3/21/15
  42. Golden Sun by Pierce Brown – Finished 3/22/15
  43. 4 Views on Church Government edited Cowan and Engle – Finished 3/23/15
  44. Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 3/25/15
  45. Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit by Paul D. Molnar – Finished 3/29/15
  46. Weaveworld by Clive Barker – Finished 4/1/5
  47. Presence and Thought by Hans Urs von Balthasar – Finished 4/1/5
  48. The Soul Hypothesis edited Mark Baker and Stewart Goetz – Finished 4/1/15
  49. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander – Finished 4/3/15
  50. Science and Christianity: Four Views edited by Richard Carlson – Finished 4/7/15
  51. Like a Mighty Army by David Weber – Finished 4/9/15
  52. No Other Name by John Sanders – Finished 4/10/15
  53. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien – Finished 4/11/15
  54. Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 4/14/15
  55. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander – Finished 4/14/15
  56. Two Views of Hell by Edward Fudge and Robert Peterson – Finished 4/15/15
  57. Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis – Finished 4/17/15
  58. Oxygen by John Olson and Randy Ingermanson – Finished 4/18/15
  59. Bulls, Bears, and Golden Calves by John Stapleford – Finished 4/19/15
  60. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz – Finished 4/20/15
  61. Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom by William Lane Craig – Finished 4/21/15
  62. Dune: House Harkonnen by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 4/23/15
  63. Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer – Finished 4/26/15
  64. Mapping Apologetics by Brian Morley – Finished 4/28/15
  65. The Legend of Drizzt: Homeland by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 4/28/15
  66. The Legend of Drizzt: Exile by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 4/30/15
  67. The Legend of Drizzt: Sojourn by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 5/2/15
  68. Interpreting the Prophets by Aaron Chalmers – Finished 5/2/15
  69. Titan by Ben Bova – Finished 5/5/15
  70. Forever Odd by Dean Koontz – Finished 5/6/15
  71. God and Design edited by Neil Manson – Finished 5/11/15
  72. Dune: House Corrin by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 5/12/15
  73. Bound for the Promised Land by Oren Martin – Finished 5/13/15
  74. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – Finished 5/15/15
  75. Humans by Robert J. Sawyer – Finished 5/19/15
  76. Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer – Finished 5/21/15
  77. Brother Odd by Dean Koontz – Finished 5/28/15
  78. Venus by Ben Bova – Finished 5/30/15
  79. The Bible Story Handbook by John Walton and Kim Walton – Finished 5/31/15
  80. Cauldron of Ghosts by David Weber and Eric Flint – Finished 6/2/15
  81. Bismarck by Michael Tamelander and Niklas Zetterling – Finished 6/3/15
  82. Dune: The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 6/5/15
  83. Star Wars: The Paradise Snare by A.C. Crispin – Finished 6/6/15
  84. The Legend of Drizzt: The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/11/15
  85. Renewing Moral Theology by Daniel Westberg – Finished 6/12/15
  86. The Legend of Drizzt: Streams of Silver by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/14/15
  87. The Legend of Drizzt: The Halfling’s Gem by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/17/15
  88. The Legend of Drizzt: The Legacy by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/21/15
  89. Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness – Finished 6/21/15
  90. The Legend of Drizzt: Starless Night by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/25/15
  91. The Legend of Drizzt: Siege of Darkness by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/25/15
  92. The Legend of Drizzt: Passage to Dawn by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/28/15
  93. Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark Yarhouse – Finished 7/9/15
  94. War God’s Oath by David Weber – Finished 7/9/15
  95. No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman – Finished 7/11/15
  96. Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither edited Halton and Gundry – Finished 7/13/15
  97. Double Eagle by Dan Abnett – Finished 7/14/15
  98. [John] Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke – Finished 7/18/15
  99. 4 Views on the Nature of the Atonement edited Beilby and Eddy – Finished 7/21/15
  100. We the Underpeople by Cordwainer Smith – Finished 7/22/15
  101. Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith – Finished 7/22/15
  102. Odd Hours by Dean Koontz – Finished 7/24/15
  103. Theology as Retrieval by W. David Buschart and Kent D. Eilers – Finished 7/25/15
  104. The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket – Finished 7/25/15
  105. The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket – Finished 7/27/15
  106. The Just City by Jo Walton – Finished 8/4/15
  107. The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket – Finished 8/5/15
  108. Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss – Finished 8/6/15
  109. Packer on the Christian Life by Sam Storms – Finished 8/9/15
  110. The War God’s Own by David Weber – Finished 8/10/15
  111. Talking Doctrine: [LDS] & Evngls in Conversation ed. Mouw & Millet- Finished 8/10/15
  112. Star Trek: New Frontier- Dark Allies by Peter David – Finished 8/11/15
  113. God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace – Finished 8/11/15
  114. Joy in the Journey by Steve & Sharol Hayner – Finished 8/14/15
  115. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett – Finished 8/17/15
  116. The Hostile Hotel by Lemony Snicket – Finished 8/18/15
  117. Hell Under Fire edited Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson – Finished 8/19/15
  118. How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test by David Marshall – Finished 8/20/15
  119. Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz – Finished 8/21/15
  120. Kris Longknife: Mutineer by Mike Shepherd – Finished 8/27/15
  121. Kris Longknife: Deserter by Mike Shepherd – Finished 8/25/15
  122. The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket – Finished 8/27/15
  123. Star Wars: The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin – Finished 8/28/15
  124. Winter of the World by Ken Follett- Finshed 9/4/15
  125. The Malestrom by Carolyn Custis Davis – Finished 9/4/15
  126. The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket – Finished 9/5/15
  127. Rediscovering Jesus by Capes, Reeves, and Richards – Finished 9/7/15
  128. Wind Rider’s Oath by David Weber – Finished 9/9/15
  129. The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton – Finished 9/11/15
  130. Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz – Finished 9/13/15
  131. Bavinck on the Christian Life by John Bolt – Finished 9/14/15
  132. The Martian by Andy Weir – Finished 9/15/15
  133. The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket – Finished 9/16/15
  134. Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb – Finished 9/20/15
  135. The Love of God by John C. Peckham – Finished 9/22/15
  136. Saint Odd by Dean Koontz – Finished 9/26/15
  137. Owen on the Christian Life by Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin – finished 10/2/15
  138. Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett – Finished 10/6/15
  139. Debating Darwin’s Doubt edited by David Klinghoffer – Finished 10/8/15
  140. Star Wars: Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin – Finished 10/9/15
  141. Aborting Aristotle by Dave Sterrett – Finished 10/9/15
  142. Who Was Adam? By Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross – Finished 10/12/15
  143. The Godfather by Mario Puzo – Finished 10/13/15
  144. Reformation Christianity edited by Peter Matheson – Finished 10/15/15
  145. War Maid’s Choice by David Weber – Finished 10/19/15
  146. Scripture and Cosmology by Kyle Greenwood – Finished 10/20/15
  147. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Finished 10/21/15
  148. Innocence by Dean Koontz – Finished 10/24/15
  149. Onward by Russell Moore – Finished 10/25/15
  150. Reformation Readings of Paul edited Allen and Linebaugh – Finished 10/26/15
  151. The God Abduction by Ron Londen – Finished 10/26/15
  152. Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber – Finished 11/1/15
  153. The Paradoxical Rationality of Soren Kierkegaard by McComb – Finished 11/1/15
  154. Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig – Finished 11/2/15
  155. Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper – Finished 11/4/15
  156. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace (audiobook) – Finished 11/4/15
  157. The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket – Finished 11/5/15
  158. Augustine on the Christian Life by Gerald Bray – Finished 11/6/15
  159. The End by Lemony Snicket – Finished 11/7/15
  160. The Analogy of Faith by Archie J. Spencer – Finished 11/8/15
  161. Eve by William Paul Young – Finished 11/9/15
  162. The Spirit of Hinduism by David Burnett – Finished 11/9/15
  163. Flame of Yahweh by Richard M. Davidson – Finished 11/11/15
  164. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Finished 11/12/15
  165. The Once and Future King by T.H. White – Finished 11/13/15
  166. WH40K: Nightbringer by Graham McNeil – Finished 11/14/15
  167. American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion by John Wilsey – Finished 11/16/15
  168. A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber – Finished 11/17/15
  169. History, Law, and Christianity by John Warwick Montgomery – Finished 11/18/15
  170. The Battle of the Tanks by Lloyd Clark – Finished 11/18/15
  171. The Husband by Dean Koontz – Finished 11/19/15
  172. The Myth of Religious Neutrality by Roy Clouser – Finished 11/22/15
  173. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld- Finished 11/22/14
  174. The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization by Richard Diehl – Finished 11/23/15
  175. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – Finished 11/23/15
  176. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld – Finished 11/26/15
  177. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander – Finished 11/28/15
  178. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld – Finished 11/30/15
  179. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – Finished 12/3/15
  180. The Incas by Terence D’Altroy – Finished 12/4/15
  181. Partners in Christ by John G. Stackhouse, Jr. – Finished 12/4/15
  182. The Aztecs by Richard F. Townsend – Finished 12/6/15
  183. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson – Finished 12/7/15
  184. The Great Christ Comet by Colin Nicholl – Finished 12/8/15
  185. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein – Finished 12/9/15
  186. Foxcraft: The Taken by Inbali Iserles – Finished 12/9/15
  187. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – Finished 12/12/15
  188. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear – Finished 12/14/15
  189. Expository Apologetics by Voddie Baucham, Jr. – Finished 12/14/15
  190. Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide by Edward Feser – Finished 12/15/15
  191. Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans – Finished 12/17/15
  192. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke – Finished 12/19/15
  193. The Shape of the Past by John Warwick Montgomery – Finished 12/22/15
  194. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey – Finished 12/22/15
  195. 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution by Keathley and Rooker – Finished 12/22/15
  196. How Much Does God Foreknow? by Steven C. Roy – Finished 12/23/15
  197. The Art of War by Sun Tzu – Finished 12/25/15
  198. The First World War by Martin Gilbert – Finished 12/27/15
  199. Knowledge and Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga – Finished 12/28/15
  200. Death Wave by Ben Bova – Finished 12/28/15

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.

On the “Fuzzification” of Inerrancy

fff-jwm[Theological a]djustment is achieved through “interpretation”–in theological parlance, hermeneutics… [I]f the loss of the term “inerrancy”… is fraught with sufficiently dire consequences, there will be the strongest temptation to retain these expressions while giving the Bible such “adjustive interpretation” that negatively critical approaches to it can be employed anyway. (Montgomery, 217, cited below)

The definition of inerrancy has been hotly disputed as of late. The infamous Geisler-Licona controversy, which continues to boil over at points, serves as a poignant example of this (see here for a Christianity Today article on the controversy; see also links below for a few discussions of the same). What is meant by inerrancy? Are we in a new era of Bible wars? These are the questions being asked right now.

I remember reading an essay from a book–Faith Founded on Fact–by noted Christian apologist John Warwick Montgomery entitled “The Fuzzification of Inerrancy.” The quote above comes from the essay, and it has gotten me thinking. Have lines been crossed? Where do we draw the lines anyway?

Montgomery defined “fuzzification” following James Boren. It is the “presentation of a matter in terms that permit adjustive interpretation” (217, cited below). Turning back to the quote above, the term speaks of the need to retain a specific idea essentially at all costs. Thus, when a challenge is raised to that idea, the idea is broadened or changed to incorporate the data raised by the challenge. Montgomery, originally writing in 1978, seems at times prophetic. He spoke of a time when one might see a contradiction, source theory, or even possibly an error in the Bible and simply define it as “a question of hermeneutics, not of inspiration at all!” (218); he worried about a time when “the ‘inerrancy’ with which one  is left is an inerrancy devoid of meaningful content”; and he warned of the dangers of “adjustive interpretation” (227).

I wonder, at times, whether his statements have come to fruition. When I survey various works from evangelicals on interpretation or hermeneutics I find a baffling array of ways we are to understand individual passages or how we are to interpret various passages. Turning to Church Fathers, I find a number of passages in which their readings would be unrecognizable today due to the heavy use of allegory in passages we take to be literal or explicitly historical in genre. Moreover, the question of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy looms large. As with any document, questions are raised about what exactly is meant in each clause or in what way individual denials or affirmations might be meant.

It’s enough to make one wonder whether it is time to go back to a baseline understanding. “I believe the Bible is true in whatever it teaches.”*

The question that will be immediately raised, of course, is “What does the Bible teach?” The overriding desire to restrict exactly what it is the Bible teaches and prevent so-called “liberal” scholarship from finding ground to stand on in evangelicalism has led to an incessant narrowing of the definition of inerrancy, such that clause after clause is piled one atop the other to the point that it is hard to operate within such limits. Moreover, it seems some of these definitions actually prevent development within theology and squelch the impulse to question received traditions in light of new evidence.

The danger that some may think is posed by whittling the definition of inerrancy down to something like “The Bible is true in all that it teaches” may perhaps have some of the concern negated by the fact that it gets the dialogue going. If people return to this question: if someone genuinely, with open heart and mind, asks me “What does the Bible teach?” then I think that’s a glorious thing. Moreover, one may wonder at the purpose of inerrancy: is it a way to declare that the Bible is without error (as it seems to be based on the word itself); or is it a way to define how we go about reading the Bible? After all, if it is simply a declaration that the Bible is without error, should not simply declaring it as such be sufficient?

Perhaps it’s time to de-“fuzzify” inerrancy and get back to the basics. We may ask “What is the thrust of the doctrine of inerrancy?” instead of “What rival theological views may I exclude with the definition of inerrancy?”

Perhaps the danger of “fuzzification” from dehistoricizing texts, critical scholarship, and the like has in fact led to a fuzzification of the definition of inerrancy by making it over-determine the limits within which one may operate. I’m not claiming to offer all the answers, nor should it be thought that I am rejecting inerrancy. Far from it.** What I am instead rejecting is a “fuzzification” of the doctrine: when did declaring the Bible to be God’s Word and Truth become so complex that volumes of books were necessary simply to define what that means?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

*This definition has suggested itself to me from a number of sources, including Nick Peters of Deeper Waters.

**I’m sure some people will take any questioning of current discussion about inerrancy to be denying the doctrine. However, this post is clearly written in order to defend the doctrine. What does inerrancy mean? That’s the thrust of this post, not “Inerrancy is false.” I believe the Bible is true in all it teaches.

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 Review: “Faith Founded on Fact” by John Warwick Montgomery– I review Montgomery’s well-known book on apologetic methodology.

Inerrancy– Check out my other posts on this topic. (Scroll down for more posts.)

The Geisler/Licona Debate– Nick Peters has a number of posts on this controversy if you want to read up on the topic. This post summarizes the debate and offers a thoughtful critique, in my opinion.

The Geisler/Licona Controversy– A quick, easy read on the reasoning behind the controversy.

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: “Faith Founded on Fact” by John Warwick Montgomery

fff-jwmJohn Warwick Montgomery (hereafter JWM) is about as evidentialist as they come, and Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics is a collection of his essays which shows, through application, his apologetic method from a number of contexts. Here, I will go through the book to highlight main points of the individual essays and the book as a whole. Then, we’ll discuss some of the main theses in the text. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know what you think of JWM’s theses.

Central to JWM’s apologetic methodology is the notion that one need not presuppose the truth of the Bible in order to defend it. For him, one may make the appeal to the skeptic by going to the skeptic and battling their reasoning on their own grounds. He states his thesis succinctly:

Few non-Christians will be impressed by arguments… in which the Christian stacks the deck by first defining ‘rationality’ and ‘internal consistency’ in terms of the content of his own revelational position and then judges all other positions by that self-serving criterion. (xix, cited below)

JWM surveys various attacks on the practice of evidential apologetics and argues that they fail (28ff). Although he deals with various liberal objections to apologetics, the core of his concern is for the objections raised by those who feel as though the evidentialist approach does injustice to faith. In response, he notes that any approach which removes Jesus from historical investigation–from hard evidence capable of being explored by all–reduces Him to a “historical phantasm” and does injustice to the reality of the incarnation (34-35).

The possibility of miracles and the argument of Hume engages in “circular reasoning” for Hume’s argument relies upon “unalterable experience” which is, of course his own experience and that of those who agree with him. Moreover, the definition of miracle has been slanted in such a way as to make it either irrelevant or beyond the realm of evidence by various parties (46ff). A case study of the miracle of the resurrection provides proof that miracles may be examined with an evidentialist mentality, for any who wish to deny the notion must relegate history to a place which may never be accessed through evidence (56ff).

JWM analyzes Muslim apologetics and concludes that it provides a number of lessons for Christian apologetists. Among these is the notion that merely showing the falsity of other religions is not enough for an evidential defense (93-94), the notion that “no religion is deducible from self-evident a prioris…” (97), and mere appeal to “try out” a religion is not enough to establish its credibility (98).

One of JWM’s most famous (or infamous, depending upon your view) essays is “Once Upon an A Priori,” in which he launched a broad-spectrum attack on presuppositional apologetics as a methodology. In this essay, JWM argues that when one suggests there is no neutral epistemic ground between two positions whatsoever–as presuppositional apologists do–“Neither viewpoint can prevail, since by definition all appeal to neutral evidencve is eliminated” (115). Because there are no neutral facts, there can be no appeal to facts to make one’s case; instead, all one is able to do is argue in circles against each other… “appeal to common facts is the only preservative against philosophical solipsism and religious anarchy…” (119). Instead, Christians must, like Paul, “become all things to all” people (122) in order to make the case for Christianity.

The practice of apologetics, for JWM, is intended to break down the barriers to belief. But the evidences are so strong that they obligate belief in Christian theism. However, the work of the Spirit is the work of conversion. The “evidential facts are God’s work, and the sinner’s personal acceptance of them… is entirely the product of the Holy Spirit” (150).

After an essay appealing to Christians to continue to use mass communication to spread the Word, JWM turns to “The Fuzzification of Biblical Inerrancy.” By “fuzzification,” he means (following James Boren), “the presentation of a matter in terms that permit adjustive interpretation” (217). In its application to inerrancy, it means the constant adjustment of inerrancy to make it invulnerable to attack in often ad hoc ways. What one is left with is “inerrancy devoid of meaningful content…” (223). In order to combat this, JWM suggests explicit definitions of terms such that one has a firm grasp upon what is meant by inerrancy, rather than a constant modification of the term and meaning.

There are a few areas of disagreement I would express with JWM’s theses. First, his apparent dismissal of the practice of taking the “falsity of one religion” as proof of another (93-94). He is correct in that the falsity of any given religion does not entail the truth of any other one. However, it seems to be the case that the falsity of any one religion does entail that any which have not been proven false are inherently more probable. Second, I think his reaction against presuppositionalism has led him to reject all of its tenets a bit too vehemently. For example, it seems to me that in his rejection of the notion there can be “no neutral ground” he also seems to jettison the notion that facts are interpreted no matter what the facts are. However, at times it is difficult to distinguish whether he is making a statement in a vaccuum or against a context. In relation to “facts,” he clearly holds the facts are determinative enough to demonstrate Christianity; but he also holds that people will not accept said facts other than through God’s action. Thus, perhaps the gulf between his position and that which he rejects is not so wide.

These disagreements aside, I also have enormous respect for and agreement with much of the content of Faith Founded on Fact. JWM effectively disposed of any apologetic method which inherently ignores the value of evidentialist reasoning, and he did so through not only apologetic but also theological reasons (i.e. it turns Christ into an “historical phantasm”). Moreover, his critique of presuppositional methodology–though at times off base (as noted above), does not entirely miss the mark. In particular, his critique that presuppositionalism voids any kind of objective method for determining facts is troubling for those who have presuppositional tendencies (readers should note that I myself think presuppositionalism has some merit–see my posts on the topic).

Faith Founded on Fact, put simply, is fantastic. In this review, I have only surveyed a small number of the areas I found to be of note throughout the work. JWM is witty and clever as usual, but he also raises an enormous number of points to reflect upon whether one agrees with his views or not. He offers a number of ways to approach apologetics from an evidentialist perspective, while also offering some devastating critiques of those who would allege that evidentialism fails. The book is a must read for anyone interested in apologetics.

Links

“How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” – John Warwick Montgomery on Conversion– I summarize and analyze an incredible lecture given by John Warwick Montgomery which I had the pleasure of attending at 2012’s Evangelical Theological Society Conference. JWM argues for an evidential view of religious conversion.

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

John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy Inc., 2001).

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.

“How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” – John Warwick Montgomery on Conversion

religious-symbolsI had the opportunity to hear John Warwick Montgomery speak at the Evangelical Theological/Philosophical Conference in 2012. He was one of the most engaging speakers I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Here, we’ll look at his presentation alongside the journal article that he discussed. The topic was “How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?”*

Conversion and Evidence

Montgomery began by discussing the possibility of a position which had so much evidence that it becomes difficult to not believe it. Despite this, people do not hold that position. The reason, he argued, is because reasons other than evidence play into one’s conversion. Moreover, we live in a pluralistic age, which means that there are a vast array of options available to people looking for a worldview. This pluralism necessitates a drop in conversion rates because there are more worldviews presenting their evidence to each individual. Thus, it is important to look into the issue of the burden of proof alongside the issue of the standard of proof.

Burden and Standard of Proof

Here, Montgomery turned to his experience in law to explore the notion. Simply put, the burden of proof can also be seen as the burden of persuasion . Montgomery noted that the prosecutor does not always carry the burden of proof because the defendant often provides a positive defense, and so has their own burden of proof. For example, if someone says “I could not have done x because I was doing y at the same time at location z” then they have made a positive claim which itself requires a burden of proof. Or, as Montgomery put it, “The person who wants to make a case has the burden of proof.”

But it is important to note that the burden of proof is not the same thing as a standard of proof. When people object to Christianity based upon a supposed lack of proof, they are not addressing the burden of proof but rather the standard. Montgomery acknowledged that Christianity must assume the burden of proof but makes several points related to the standard of proof.

First, proof “depends on probability–not on absolute certainty or on mere possibility” (Montgomery, 452, cited below). He appealed to the “Federal Rules of Evidence” to make this clear. The key is to note that probability ,not absolute certainty, is at stake. Why? Epistemologically speaking, absolute certainty can only be set out in formal logic or mathematics. It is unjustifiable to require absolute certainty for every fact. “Where matters of fact are concerned–as in legal disputes, but also in the religious assertions of historic Christianity–claims can be vindicated only by way of evidential probability” (Ibid).

Second, and more importantly for the current discussion, there are differing standards of proof. The legal system is again a model for this notion. In criminal trials, there is a higher standard of proof than for civil matters. The criminal standard is beyond reasonable doubt, while the civil standard is “preponderence of evidence.” Montgomery argued that religious conversion should be seen as bearing a standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” (453).

Third, competing religious claims must each assume their own burden of proof. They cannot simply say “prove my religious claim false.” One must meet the standard of proof in order to have legitimate entry into the competition between worldviews.

Extraordinary Claims Need Extraordinary Evidence?

Often, the claim is made that religious claims, because they are extraordinary, need extraordinary evidence. I have written on this exact topic at length elsewhere, but here will focus on Montgomery’s argument. He argued “The notion that the ‘subject matter’ should be allowed to cause a relaxation or an augmentation of the standard of proof is a very dangerous idea…. No one would rationally agree to a sliding evidence scale dependent on the monetary sum involved [in a crime]–nor should such a scale be created… The application to religious arguments based on the factuality of historical events should be obvious. Of course, the resurrection of Christ is of immensely more significance than Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, but the standards required to show that the one occurred are no different from those employed in establishing the other” (Ibid, 455-456).

The notion that the import of a claim makes a sliding scale of evidence is made to be absurd because historical events have more importance across cultures and so would, on such a view, be radically different in their acceptable standards of proof.

The Existential Factor

Finally, Montgomery focused on the existential side of conversion. Here, he offered what he admitted as a somewhat crude argument which was derived from Pascal’s wager. Assuming that the standard of proof is met for a religious system, one still must deal with the existential factors of conversion. Thus, Montgomery argued, one’s commitment to a truth claim should be weighed by the benefits divided by the entrance requirements: C=B/E.

Because the entrance requirements for Christianity are extremely low, and its benefits infinite, one should, assuming the standard of proof has been met, be highly committed to Christianity. Montgomery noted that some may argue the entrance requirements are very high (i.e. setting aside adulterous relationships). Against this, Montgomery argued that the benefits vastly outweigh the finite bliss one feels by such sinful actions.

eps-cc

Applications

The subtlety of Montgomery’s argument should not be missed. It has application in a number of areas. First, Montgomery is as thoroughgoing an evidentialist as they come. His argument about the standard of proof being probabilistic is unlikely to gain much credence among those who favor a presuppositional approach to apologetics.

Yet it seems to me that Montgomery’s argument in this regard is correct. We must take into account the evidence when we are looking at various religious claims, and also acknowledge the existential factors which play into conversion.

Montgomery’s argument does much to clarify the issue for apologists in general. Our task is to clear barriers and present convincing evidence to those who argue that Christianity has not met the standard of proof. But our task does not end with that; we must also present the existential challenge of Christianity to those who believe the standard of proof has been met. This includes the preaching of the Gospel.

Montgomery was also careful not to discount the Holy Spirit in religious conversion. He made it clear that he was speaking to the notion of conversion in the abstract. People must be renewed by the Holy Spirit; yet that renewal may come through evidence and standard of proof.

It seems to me that Montgomery’s arguments were insightful and sound. He presented an excellent way to look at religious claims and evaluate them in light of evidence, while also taking existential factors into account.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

Montgomery’s use of evidence in law to look at religious truth claims reminds me very much of J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity. Check out my review of that fantastic book.

Extraordinary Claims need… what, exactly?– I argue that the claim that religious claims need extraordinary evidence is mistaken.

I have written about numerous other talks at the EPS Conference on an array of topics. Check them out:

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth– I write about a debate I attended on the age of the earth.

Caring for Creation: A dialogue among evangelicals– I discuss a lecture and panel discussion on caring for the environment.

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?– Here, I outline a fascinating talk I attended about gene enhancement and gene therapy.

You can read my overview of every single talk I attended: My Trip to the Evangelical Philosophical/Theological Society Conference 2012.

Sources

*Unless otherwise noted, the information herein was discussed in John Warwick Montgomery’s EPS 2012 Conference talk entitled “How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion? Some Thoughts on Burden and Standard of Proof vis-a-vis Christian Commitment”

John Warwick Montgomery, “How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” in Philosophia Christi 13, #1 2011, 449-460.

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.

My Trip to the Evangelical Philosophical/Theological Society Conference 2012

Last weekend I had the supreme pleasure of attending the 64th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Evangelical Philosophical Society (there’s a mouthful!). I took over 80 pages of notes (43 front/back) and enjoyed the entire time immensely. I’ll be posting in the upcoming weeks and months on a number of these topics, so for now I’m just going to very briefly outline the talks I went to and give one or two comments each. I encourage readers to browse through these and let me know which ones they’d be interested on me writing on in a bit more depth. Feel free to ask questions as well.

Scripture, Geology, and the Age of the Earth

Readers know that I am very interested in the controversy among Christians over the age of the earth. I’ve written quite a bit on the topic. This session featured Gregg Davidson (University of Mississippi), a geologist, facing off against Andrew Snelling of Answers in Genesis. I have to admit that I was surprised by how much this debate focused on the science. Specifically, Davidson presented two very thorough evidences for an old earth, while Snelling rebutted these and argued that a catastrophic interpretation was perfectly consistent with the record. It was a fascinating back-and-forth. You can read an extended outline/review of this talk in my post: Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth.

Bioethics – Genetic Enhancement 

Gary Alkin(? his name wasn’t in my program) presented a paper on genetic enhancement and whether it is morally permissible. Essentially, his argument was that while as Christians we are obligated to heal diseases and help others, we are not obligated to try to become superhuman, and indeed are perhaps prohibited from doing so. He countered numerous arguments for the notion that we should continue to try to ‘enhance’ humanity. It was an interesting paper. I have since written an extended examination of his paper here: Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?

Whose Moral, Which Axiom- The Transforming  Virtue of Sub-Creation in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mythology

Thomas Provenzola presented a mind-stretching paper on how Tolkien’s use of myth helps us to think about care for creation. It was a fascinating look into philosophy and literature.

The Metaphor of Divine Repentence

Rob Lister of Talbot School of Theology presented a paper in which he argued that we must understand language about God both literally and analogically. He argued that open theists often err too far towards creating an anthropocentric concept of God, rather than understanding passages about God’s repentance in light of clear statements about His being. I was so fascinated by this talk that I went and got his book on the topic afterwards. I look forward to reading it.

Other Voices in Interpretation Panel Discussion: An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity, Part 2: Application to the Ongoing Discussion on the Trinity

Kevin Giles (Victoria, Australia), Steve Tracy (University of New Brunswick), Mimi Haddad (Christians for Biblical Equality), and David Malick (CBE) participated in a panel discussion on the evangelical statement on the Trinity. I was surprised to see how contentious this talk was, but unfortunately there are people who are undermining the Trinity by eternally subordinating GOD the Son. This discussion went beyond an egalitarian/complementarian debate and essentially touched on how we must not distort the Trinity for our own purposes.

The Stars Will Fall From Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the Synoptic Gospels

N.T. Wright, who needs no introduction, presented a paper arguing that the cosmic language used for the destruction of the temple is not so much due to an end of the space-time universe as it is because the Temple was the center of the universe for Judaism.

The Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity

Kevin Giles presented a paper arguing that orthodoxy on the Trinity does not subordinate the persons. Rather, the distinctions made between persons according to the orthodox faith are made according to generation (the Son is begotten by the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son). He stressed the importance of drawing implications of the Trinity from the Godhead and not from humanity.

An Examination of Jesus’ View of Women through Three Intercalations in the Gospel of Mark

David cogently argued that we can look at the narratives in the Gospels to see what Jesus’ view of women was. Because we can see with clarity how Jesus elevated women’s roles to that of equal to men, he argued that we should interpret hard passages in light of the clearer passages. This paper was very clearly argued and extremely compelling. I hope more work is done in this area, because the argument was very tight, and there is much development to come from it.

Complementarians, Egalitarians, and Unicorns: What are they, and do they exist?

Walker argued that the categories we are using to identify people in the gender debate reflect a genus/species fallacy which essentially drains them of all meaning. It may be helpful to develop new terms to make the distinctions more clear.

Biblical Theology and Creation Care

I must confess that I only went to this one because there weren’t any others going on. I’m very pleased I did, because this plenary talk proved to be one of the most interesting discussions that I attended. Moo argued decisively that we must not cause Christianity to lose credence due to clinging to faulty science. Furthermore, he argued that it is our duty to take care of creation. He traced an interpretive strategy through Scripture and argued very convincingly for the use of the hermeneutic he was pressing for looking at Christianity and the environment. I wrote an extended post on this paper and the following panel discussion: Caring for Creation: A dialogue among evangelicals.

Panel Discussion on Creation Care

Following Moo’s plenary talk, there was a panel discussion with Moo, E. Calvin Beisner, Russell Moore, and Richard Bauckham. This panel discussion was highly contentious and the audience clapped for their favored party numerous times. Beisner seemed to be the odd man out, as he did not deny climate change, but rather argued that we don’t yet know conclusively that it is anthropogenic (caused by humans). The other panelists argued that the science is convincing and that we do cause people to look with wariness upon Christianity. It was a very invigorating debate.

Body-Soul Interaction and the Theism-Naturalism Divide

Ryan West presented a paper arguing that many of the arguments raised against substance dualism are essentially faulty once one grants theism. He further argued that naturalistic dualists (of which there are few!) would be better off embracing theism, for their view is in extreme tension given the arguments he presented. It was a brief paper that was very well argued. The Q+A was great.

How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion? Some Thoughts on Burden and Standard of Proof vis-a-vis Christian Commitment

The great apologist John Warwick Montgomery presented his paper on religious conversion. Essentially, the argument was that given certain benefits and a low price of commitment, people should commit to Christianity assuming the standard of proof has been carried. It was a fascinating paper, and Montgomery’s presentation style was both engaging and endearing. It was a huge pleasure to get a chance to talk to him briefly after the talk.

Taking a Stand Against Rand: A Biblical Evaluation of Ayn Rand’s Capitalism

I’m not very interested in Rand, but this paper by David Kotter was interesting enough to get me interested in the topic. He noted both good and bad portions of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and argued that ultimately, her perfect man has come to fulfillment in Christ. He presented a critique of a number of her views, while arguing that some things are worth looking at for Christians and the government. A truly engaging paper.

Miscellaneous Extras

Throughout the conference I had numerous pleasures of running into fellow bloggers, friends, and huge names in philosophy and theology. I enjoyed lunch with Matt over at Well Spent Journey and stayed with Kurt over at Real Clear Apologetics.  I was so delighted to meet Holly Ordway from Hieropraxis and engage with her in some great discussion. Other examples include running into Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe, socializing with William Lane Craig, however briefly, and bumping into numerous others (Jerry Walls, David Baggett, Nabeel Qureshi, and more). I also enjoyed interacting more with David Malick of CBE. What a blast!

SDG.

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