Monday, January 30, 2012

Reading the ACLU Policy Guide (Pt. 9)

Series explanation and overview here.

Note: These are my summaries of the 1995 version of the guide, not the policies themselves.

Military Power

Policy 120 — Conscription

Forced military service — or even nonmilitary service — violates constitutional rights to freedom of association, freedom from involuntary servitude, and privacy. "The notion that the American people are too stupid or too cowardly to defend their nation unless coerced into doing so has no place in a free and democratic society." Drafting is a poor substitute for providing "the compensation and respect that will attract enough volunteers to fill the ranks."

If there is a draft, the ACLU at least asks that conscription be handled in an equitable manner. "[T]he pattern of exemptions has favored the wealthier, more educated groups and has discriminated against poorer segments of our society, including minority ethnic groups." Drafts have also discriminated according to sex. The subtext here is that draft legislation would be less likely to succeed if wealthy, educated, or female youths were just as threatened by it.

Policy 121 — Conscientious Objection

"No one should be subject to participation in the Armed Forces of the United States contrary to conscience, whether that conscience has been formed by religious, ethical, moral or philosophical conviction or belief."

The ACLU recognizes and will defend different levels of conscientious objection. A person may accept alternative service, but not a specific type of alternative service under the direction of the military. A person may serve in the military, but object to combat training or service. Or a person may serve in a combat capacity, but object to a particular armed conflict as a whole.

Objection cannot be limited to religious beliefs, as this would violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Non-religious beliefs "which result in a claim of conscientious objection must be sincere and meaningful beliefs, which occupy in the life of the objector a place parallel to that filled by the religious beliefs of religious consciousness objectors."

Policy 122 — Separation of Powers

Constitutionally, Congress — not the Executive Branch — has the power to declare war. This is important because Congress is "the branch of the federal government most capable of providing the American people with a full, open and diverse debate before committing them to undertake the burdens of war."

The ACLU will defend this principle against Executive attempts to circumvent it, besides the valid exception of taking emergency defensive action (which is truly an emergency and truly defensive).

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reading St. Paul as a Respectful Liberal

[This is a version of the PDF I handed in for my Intellectual Freedom class this week. We were to summarize an assigned chapter by creating a 1-2 page handout.]


In his Introduction to Courting the Abyss, John Durham Peters characterizes modern liberalism as hypocritically respecting everything, except the rejection of liberalism itself. What is his proposed alternative? The spirit of St. Paul:

"He respects those who do not know or choose not to know, something the liberal tradition has rarely excelled at. Paul makes space for those who opt out of his theory and thus offers one antidote to illiberal tendencies in liberalism." (k. 644-645)

To eat or not to eat

Christians celebrate their faith with bread and wine which represents (or becomes) Jesus' sacrificial body. In Paul's time, pagans celebrated their faith by sacrificing food to idols, then eating it as a form of communion with their gods. Question: is it wrong for Christians to eat food sacrificed to pagan gods? Paul gave two answers.

No — Pagan gods aren't real. There is only one true God and "food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." (1 Cor 8:8)

Yes — If a fellow Christian grew up in pagan culture sees you do this, he may be encouraged to eat such food with his old mindset of worshipping false gods. "But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idolʼs temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?" (1 Cor 8:9-10)

Today we might ask whether it's ok to drink alcohol and be told, "Yes, unless your drinking encourages an alcoholic to stumble."

Private freedom & public restraint

"The eyes of others alter private liberty: this is a strange and delicate moral standard." (k. 534)

A key failure in modern liberalism — by Peters' account — was the ACLU's defense of the Nazi march through Skokie, Illinois. He draws an analogy between these liberal defenders and the Christians in Corinth who wanted to "eat whatever they please without concern for what others think." (k. 642) Freedom is commendable, but not when it causes others distress.

"Paul's key difference from other revolutionaries is that the radical bows to the conservative." (k. 871)

More food for thought

Is this division of private freedom and public inoffensiveness desirable or even possible? Peters offers this criticism of his own position: "Paul's solution might seem to favor the wealthy, who can afford to eat their meat behind closed doors and out of the eyeshot of the offendable." (k. 552)

What about people who were offended by interracial couples? Would Peters have advised these couples to refrain from public displays of affection? Would he advise same sex couples to do the same today?

"As with food and conscience, Paul lets the lowest common denominator set the communicative level." (k. 666-667) Is this really what we want?

And how do we deal with those who are offended in mutually exclusive ways? There are Americans who are offended by government schools preaching a particular religion...and those who are offended when this doesn't happen. Paul may have wanted to "become all things to all men" (1 Cor 9:22), but this just isn't possible.

...

Is there perhaps a more refined position between letting Nazis parade through a Jewish neighborhood and creating an artificially offense-free public space?



Biblical quotes from the New American Standard Bible. All other citations are Kindle locations in Courting the Abyss.

Peters, J.D. (2005). Courting the abyss: Free speech and the liberal tradition (Kindle edition). Chicago, Illinois: University Of Chicago Press.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On "John Durham Peters on Censorship"

In my class on intellectual freedom this semester, we're reading a book with the central claim that advocating free speech is tantamount to approving of what everyone does with free speech. In a short video clip by the author, he puts his thesis this way:
'I'm bothered by the kind of smugness — the kind of arrogance — that is often found in people who say, "Censorship is terrible." When, in fact, there are very good reasons to be outraged about some of the things which we find in the world of communication. Why can't people be outraged at insulting pictures, or obscene pictures, or violent pictures? I think that sometimes outrage is the only decent or ethical response to certain kinds of things that happen in the world.

So if you always take this sort of liberal view that "I'm above censorship and those people who get really upset about seeing some pictures, those people are not well educated. They're not reasonable. They're not rational." That's a kind of class warfare: the elite educated being able to put down people who are more sensitive.'
I'm profoundly unimpressed by the way he continually conflates free-speech advocacy with having no other strong feelings, or at least not speaking out against speech one finds offensive. He's on a crusade against a "liberalism" that isn't representative of how free speech advocacy actually works.

For example, the membership of the ACLU tends to be very strongly opposed to hate speech and opposed to laws prohibiting hate speech:
'Where racist, sexist and homophobic speech is concerned, the ACLU believes that more speech -- not less -- is the best revenge. […] College administrators may find speech codes attractive as a quick fix, but as one critic put it: "Verbal purity is not social change." Codes that punish bigoted speech treat only the symptom: The problem itself is bigotry.'1
If Peters wants to challenge this well-known policy, fine. But he doesn't even do that. He's clearly smart enough to grasp the distinction, so I find it very hard to understand why he spends so much time attacking a strawman liberalism instead.

1. http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/hate-speech-campus

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 13)

[Series explanation and index here.]


The Resurrection of Christ
a talk by R.C. Sproul, Senior

"If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is an exercise in futility. I'm wasting my breath. I'm wasting my time. We're all here wasting our time at a conference like this, if Christ has not been raised."
Sproul says Christians should be pitied if Christianity is false, because they would be refraining from much of the fun in life for the sake of false hopes. It's not so simple as that. Consider a typical Mormon who gives up the carnal pleasure of drinking coffee. She probably also gains a lot in terms of emotional support from her religious community. We tend to take the things we have for granted, so she may think, "If only I were free from my religion so I could drink coffee. How great that would be!" But even if her religion is false, she may actually be benefitting more from it than she would from drinking coffee instead.

This is why I don't have a life-goal of convincing all Christians that their religion is false; I believe many of them are better off believing something false than losing their support system.

However, there are three types of Christians to whom I do want to show the faults of Christian belief.

First, a Christian whose life is worse off for believing Christianity is true. This would include homosexual Christians who are put through shame and self-hatred for no good reason. It would also include Christians, like my former self, who were deeply troubled by the doctrine of eternal Hell for others. I didn't have any loved ones die outside the faith, but that would be an especially painful situation for true believers in damnation.

Second, a Christian who is more interested in truth than the benefits of religion. I don't mean: interested in showing that their own religion is true. That's common. I mean the kind of Christian who is interested in knowing what is true, even if that doesn't turn out to be Christianity.

Third, a Christian who is making the lives of others significantly worse because of that Christian's religious beliefs. This would include parents like the Catholic man I overheard saying, "If one of my sons ever says he's gay, I will beat that f----- half to death." I sincerely hope none of his sons do turn out to be gay, but only because it would be hard on them with a parent like that. I also want Christianity to be challenged in the public square, to keep it — and all other religious positions — a matter of individual conscience rather than government policy.
"[O]ur beloved ones, our husbands, our wives, our children, our parents who have died, our friends who have died in the faith have perished. That's the grim reality if there is no resurrection from the dead."
Death is grim. No doubt about that. But Sproul teaches something much worse: unending torment for billions of other people. There's no "good news" in a narrow path to life and a wide path to destruction, unless the destruction spoken of is the bodily death we already expect.

...

It would be easy at this point to paint Sproul as someone primarily interested in benefits rather than truth, but he does change tack a bit toward the end. He cites messianic prophecy from the Old Testament and claims of witnessing a resurrected Jesus in the New Testament as reasons to believe Christianity is true in the first place.

I used to agree about messianic prophecy. Now I see it as a deep dishonesty from the beginning of Christianity. I believe early Christians searched the scriptures for any justification for maintaining that Jesus did not fail when he died, and tweaked both the details of his life and the original meaning of Jewish scriptures to construct new theologies of success. They transformed an apocalyptic preacher into God himself, and invited other nationalities to sign on for this new monotheistic craze which promised so much.

But is it true? Those who ask this question today and are prepared to follow the evidence will find more reason to reject than accept Christian claims. Still, not every form of Christianity can be proven wrong on its own terms. Calvinists, for example, claim no one is mentally capable of seeing the truth except a chosen few. Convenient. Most Christians probably believe the evidence is out there for everyone, just as God's invitation is out there for everyone. Why don't they doubt if the evidence is shoddy? Unfortunately, a lot of them seem to believe the case for Christianity is solid just because someone wrote a book with that title. And many of them simply aren't interested in the question; Christianity is their unquestioned way of life.

I hope this series has been helpful. It was actually quite easy to write, since these are things I've spent many hours agonizing about in the past. Feel free to challenge me on whatever you like. Or, if you must, feel free to express agreement. I can deal with that too!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 12)

[Series explanation and index here.]


The Holy Spirit and Apologetics
a talk by Albert Mohler


"Why are there some who believe and others who do not?"

Because Calvinism...again. Let's just move on.


Questions and Answers #2


One of the answers to a question about God willing evil to exist was:
"The entire problem of theodicy arises from a wrong question or wrong presumption. In other words, rather than seeing God as essentially good, and deriving whatever good is from observing the one true and living God, we abstract an idea of good and then try to measure God against that human abstraction. That is always a losing proposition because we don't know what good is.

That's the problem when persons come up to us and say, 'If God does this, he can't be good.' They don't realize that's an internal contradiction. The only God that exists is the God who is good. He defines what is good by consistency with his own character, not by the fact that he corresponds to some arbitrary understanding of good."
Except that people typically have some meaning in mind when they say 'good' which is not precisely the same as "whatever God is like." Now, it could turn out that goodness and (part of) God's nature are the same. To use the philosophers' favorite analogy, it would be like discovering that the morning star is the evening star. Such a discovery is informative; to say "Goodness is (part of) God's nature" would really be saying something beyond "God is like himself."

Unfortunately, the God described during these talks is an especially awkward match-up with common uses of 'good.' Hence the retreat to God being good by definition, no matter what he's like.

...

Ravi Zacharias implies the Dec 26, 2004 Indonesian tsunami was God's response to the ACLU forcing God out of the government in the USA.

He gets huge applause.

...

Someone asks whether evolution if compatible with the Bible. Sproul Sr. affirms 'micro-evolution' then calls 'macro-evolution' the philosophical belief that everything came from a single cell or the big bang. "No, that's not compatible with the Bible. Second of all, it's not compatible with science."

He gets huge applause.


Backfire

Remember, this lecture series was a Christmas gift intended to help bring me back into the fold. Guess I didn't mention that it was reading the Bible and apologetics — not skeptical literature — that destroyed my belief in the first place. These lectures have only served as a reminder that I know too much to be a fundamentalist Christian, and am too much like a fundamentalist Christian to be a liberal Christian.

But why stop now? Just one talk to go.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 11)

[Series explanation and index here.]


The Authority of Scripture
a talk by Albert Mohler

"[I]n postmodern times there is the operational denial that there can be any kind of propositional revelation. There is the operational, explicit denial that there could be any kind of shared information at a cognitive level from the divine to the human in what we would call 'the Bible.'"
Mohler evidently believes that the rejection of the Bible as genuine divine revelation is largely due to a pervasive postmodernist rejection of the possibility of knowing truth. He says, "If we are left in the trap of this epistemological crisis, then we will never really know the truth." I think this is a misdiagnosis. The real problem is that the Bible is indistinguishable from a man-made collection of writings which has become revered through human tradition.

Revelation on Revelation
"Christianity is the only belief system that offers a complete account of revelation. Other belief systems and worldviews may claim a revelation, but none of them offers a comprehensive understanding of revelation beginning with the origin of this revelation, the necessity of this revelation, the authority of this revelation, and the reception and effect of this revelation. The Christian doctrine of holy Scripture sets the Christian claim of revelation apart from all others."
The idea here is that the Christian revelation explains itself better than other revelations explain themselves (with the implication that this is something to be expected of a true revelation). Mohler then curiously undermines his own point by quoting relevant passages from the Bible, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon:

1 Timothy 2:3 "[F]rom childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

Surah 10:37-38 "And it was not possible for this Qur'an to be produced by other than Allah, but it is a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of the former Scripture, about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds. Or do they say about the Prophet, 'He invented it?' Say, 'Then bring forth a surah like it and call upon for assistance whomever you can besides Allah, if you should be truthful.'"

2 Nephi 33:10 "And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good."

Mohler goes on to say the Bible it is set apart from the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon because it came through multiple authors, over several centuries, in different contexts and styles, during the living memory of events described, and yet with a coherency and consistency throughout. I would characterize this as an argument from both diversity and unity. Further, I will grant that unity is harder to achieve in a collection of books across centuries than in one book set down by one man. On the other hand, why must revelation come as a collection? There is a danger of taking one's own scriptures as the model of what divine revelation ought to look like, then observing the ways other scriptures fail to fit the model.

Since I don't believe any scriptures are really divinely inspired, the whole exercise of comparing the Bible to other scriptures is beside the point. It could simply be the most impressive among human religious writings.

A Book of History
"The Bible deals with historic claims that were known to those who were alive at the times the claims were made."
Since we lack contemporary rebuttals of Biblical history, can't we safely conclude Biblical history is correct? No, because the vast majority of ancient writings have been lost. For all we know there may have been such rebuttals, but no one interested enough to preserve them through the centuries. Or there may not have been any written rebuttals, because refuting the claims of Biblical writers may not have seemed important; our perspective is skewed by our knowledge of how important these texts have become to global culture.

One reason Genesis is such a point of contention is that the creation story, the flood, and the Tower of Babel are events we can investigate today without relying on ancient interests or the preservation of particular texts. All three events fail such testing in spectacular fashion.

The Witness of Archaeology
"Archeological discoveries continue to affirm the truthfulness of the Bible."
What archaeological discoveries have shown is that the Bible really is composed of ancient texts; it's not a tenth century fabrication or something. Suppose we have a nuclear war that wipes out modern civilization. In the year 3012, archaeologists discover a readable collection of James Bond novels. Further archaeological investigation confirms many incidental details of geography and culture. Clearly this would speak to the value of James Bond novels as far as their historical setting is concerned, but not to the truth of their foreground stories.

Divine Foreknowledge
"Does the text disclose facts and information that at the time of the writing could only have been known to God, but at a later date were demonstrated to be true?"
Scientific foreknowledge was covered in a previous talk, so Mohler focuses on predictive prophecy. Even better: he focuses on the claims of fulfilled predictive prophecy in Matthew's nativity account.

Matthew's opening chapters were the very point where I began to question what I was taught about the Bible. You see, Matthew does quote the Old Testament as if it had predicted early events in the life of Jesus...but how many Christians are familiar with the context of these quotes? You can do this study on your own, or — for a quick start — I recommend these videos:

Messianic Prophecies and Matthew's Dishonesty Part 1
Messianic Prophecies and Matthew's Dishonesty Part 2


In short, the first few pages of the New Testament are some of the best reasons to positively reject Christianity. It is a religion which relies on earlier Jewish Scriptures and misuses those same scriptures. The only reason the Old Testament may seem to confirm Christianity, is that Christians have been trained to read it that way.

Incompleteness
"In the Reformation, the principle of sola scriptura was so important because the Reformation was made necessary by the fact that scriptura was not sola. The church claimed the authority to define the authority of scripture. [...] The church claimed the authority to interpret scripture by tradition rather than to judge the tradition by scripture."
I don't want to become too involved with this in-house debate, but I must point out two things:

First, the policy of "scripture alone" has led to an ever greater fracturing of Christian doctrines into just about every conceivable combination with each sect, and sub-sect, and sub-sub-sect claiming the others are not following the Bible. I grew up in a tiny sect that claims, in effect, that all other so-called Christians are going to Hell because of incorrect baptism doctrine...and maybe for using pianos in worship service.

Second, the Bible does not include its own table of contents. The Biblical canon — as it's called — was defined by fourth century Catholics. The same men who finally settled on the 27 book New Testament canon affirmed a larger Old Testament canon than modern Protestants accept. So it's not a matter of following tradition vs. following the Bible; one must follow some tradition about the Bible, before approaching the Bible.

If "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Cor 14:33), then I hardly see how Christianity with its schisms or the Bible with its internal misreadings could be products of the divine.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 10)

[Series explanation and index here.]


The Existence of God
a talk by Ravi Zacharias


Zacharias reads Nietzsche's famous Parable of the Madman which beautifully expresses the feeling of losing what was once the central point that made sense of life. More specifically, Nietzsche seems to have been alleging that his contemporary society had done something which would — in time — lead to a fundamental shift away from the living theism of the past. Perhaps the rise of modern science or even German biblical criticism is what he had in mind; both have certainly inflicted grave wounds on the public assumption of theism in Europe.

Another way to read this parable is to conclude, as Zacharias does, that "the implications of a godless universe" are grim. I would suggest this imagery is more about the shock of changing worldviews than about life without theistic belief in general.

Atheism & Morality

The first of three philosophical problems of atheism, according to Zacharias, is the impossibility of morality without a moral law giver.

Now, I do grant the fact that atheists disagree quite a bit about the nature of morality. But then so do theists! Some theists say moral rightness is whatever God commands. Others say moral rightness is consistency with whatever God's nature is. An especially popular theistic theory of morality these days is that moral rightness is what is commanded by a loving God.

See the shift from arbitrary power to the concept of love? From here, it would be a small step to say moral rightness is what a loving person — with a grasp of relevant facts — would do without being commanded.

This is one plausible way of understanding morality without invoking God.

I suppose an apologist could say, "You atheists aren't doing what is morally right, you're just being loving to others!" But that wouldn't play quite as well to certain audiences as the way Zacharias associates atheistic morality with baby raping in this talk. Yes, he does that. It reminds me of how William Lane Craig in Reasonable Faith associates atheism with Nazi vivisections of pregnant women, before he gets around to arguing for the existence of God. This is called poisoning the well, a rhetorical tactic intended to make fair discussion impossible from the outset.

Atheism & Meaning

It is apparently of great importance to some people that the human species was created on purpose, and that each individual person has a life-task assigned by God. I've played enough task-oriented vs. open-ended videogames to understand the comfort of strict direction and the unease — at first — of finding one's own tasks.

Atheism, according to Zacharias, "takes you out of the realm of meaning." It really only takes a person out of the realm of certain kinds of meaning. It does not remove, e.g. the life-meaning found in developing friendships, in learning about the world, and in raising children.

If we look back to Nietzsche's parable, it's important to notice that life still goes on. Carl Sagan left us with prose poetry along similar lines, which I heartily recommend: A Universe Not Made For Us.

Atheism & Hope

Atheism supposedly offers "no hope" because it doesn't feature an afterlife. That's an amazing statement to make right after a talk about how God will put most people in Hell forever with no hope of relief.

Would it be nice to live a good life forever? Certainly! But it doesn't follow that we can reject a worldview just because it lacks this amenity.

Positive Argument #1: Contingency

Quoting Dallas Willard, Zacharias claims:
"However concrete physical reality is sectioned up, the result will be a state of affairs which owes its being to something other than itself."1
This flagrantly begs the question against physicalism. Sure, if we assume physical reality is explained by something else, then we can safely conclude that something besides physical reality exists.

We could even agree that something besides physical reality exists and not grant that a supernatural person exists, because it is possible that the natural world itself extends beyond the sort of things studied by physics.

So we have a non-argument against physicalism, when an irrefutable knock-down argument against physicalism would still fail to show there is a God.

Positive Argument #2: Finite Series of Causes

From Willard again:
"[E]very physical state, no matter how inclusive, has a necessary condition in some specific type of state which immediately precedes it in time and is fully existent prior to the emergence of the state which it conditions."
Zacharias lays out the implication, "You cannot have an infinite series of causes in time, because if you had to have the infinite series of causes it would never have arrived at this moment."

There are at least two difficulties with this argument. First, it confuses the nature of finite and infinite quantities. For any particular event in an infinite past, there would be a way to "get here from there." I believe the intuition here is that you can't construct an infinite series from a non-infinite series by adding one item, then another, and so on. So it sounds to me like a hidden assumption of a finite past is being brought in conflict with the question of an infinite past.

Second, the philosophy and science of causation in time is not — to my knowledge — a remotely settled matter, especially when it comes to the cosmological issues under question here.

Positive Argument #3: Design.

Zacharias briefly touches on the argument from design by citing cosmological fine-tuning: the apparent fact that certain values in physics have to be precisely right for a world like ours to be possible.

The chief problem I have with fine-tuning arguments is that they rely on the assumption that not having a good natural explanation of these values today means there isn't a good natural explanation to be found tomorrow. Scientific discovery often turns up new questions without immediate answers. It may even be a religious disservice to insert God wherever humans are currently ignorant, then shoo God back into the darkness whenever we figure something out.

Positive Argument #4: Gospel.

Basically, the words and deeds of Jesus resonate with people in a way that demonstrates (to Christians) that he could have only been divine.

I've noticed that Muslims tend to feel the same way about the Qur'an. Mormons have spoken to me about the witness of the Holy Spirit in their heart when they read their relatively new scriptures. Having positive feelings about one's own religion is not a reliable indicator of truth.

...

So is there a God? I don't know. The evidence appears consistent with both atheism and deism. Choosing between these positions seems to be a matter of personal philosophy in the face of insufficient evidence either way.

On the other hand, I'm quite sure there isn't a God who is interested in everyone responding to him in some appropriate way. Such a God would have the motive, intelligence, and power to unmistakably communicate his desire to all human beings. Since this has not happened, such a God does not exist.


1. I found the quote here: http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=42

Friday, January 20, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 9)

[Series explanation and index here.]


The Problem of Evil
a talk by John MacArthur


"How can the God portrayed in the Bible as good and holy and loving allow evil? And not just evil, but massive evil in the world? And not just massive evil in the world, but dominant evil in the world?"

McArthur characterizes the problem of evil as the one dilemma that both theological liberals and skeptics believe "backs Christians into an impossible position." He says that Christians too often feel their only defense is to say that God's ways are mysterious, hoping to steer the discussion to a less threatening topic.

Instead of punting, however, MacArthur believes Christians can take what seems like a desperate situation and turn it into a full-on victory: a 90 yard touchdown that wins the game.

Short Sighted Answers

Before he reveals this game winning play, MacArthur argues that another kind of popular answer is inadequate:

"'God's not responsible for evil, Adam and Eve are.' That is is a very short sighted answer because it only poses the question as to why God allowed them to be able to make that choice. Knowing they would, why did he create them with the ability to do that?"

or

"'God's not responsible, and Adam and Eve aren't responsible; Lucifer is responsible.' Which only poses the question as to why God created the angels with the capacity to rebel and fall, and did so when he knew they would and that Lucifer would become Satan."

Eventually, he says, the problem of evil goes back to God.

No Problem

MacArthur's answer to the problem of evil is that evil is not a problem.
"God created everything that he created of his own free choice and he designed them the way he designed them because that's the way he wanted them, knowing full well that angels would rebel and so would men."
"This is the God of the Bible. This is the only God who exists: the God who is in control of absolutely everything, and evil is no disruption in his plan."
"God wills evil to exist."
According to Calvinists, this is precisely the world God wants precisely the way he wants it. To suggest otherwise would be a heretical denial of God's sovereignty.

Salvation and Damnation

You may be wondering how all this squares with the common Christian belief that the crucifixion was about defeating evil. Well, it doesn't. MacArthur compares such thinking to the dualistic Good God vs. Evil God thinking that goes back to Zoroastrianism. There is no struggle against evil or defeat of evil in the gospel according to MacArthur. Rather, the entire drama of God creating some to be damned and creating some to be saved is to show off "the riches of his glory." Yes, God created the bulk of humanity for the express purpose of sending them to Hell.

You may now be wondering how such a God could be just. MacArthur answers, "He defines justice by what he does."

This isn't winning with a 90 yard touchdown. This is forfeiting the game.

The Problem of [an] Evil [God]

As a Christian and then as a former Christian, I have never been too worked up about the usual form of the problem of evil. Sure, there are some very horrible things going on in this world. But on the scale of eternity, even an Auschwitz is a brief moment compared to everlasting paradise or everlasting torment.

The greater problem of evil for Christians has to do with a God who would keep anyone — let alone most of us — in fiery torment forever and ever. One of the first cracks in my Christian faith was the realization that I would prefer no afterlife over Heaven for myself and Hell for even one human being.

I will never understand how preachers like MacArthur can embrace damnation for others and say "glory!"

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 8)

[Series explanation and index here.]


The Challenge of Relativism
a talk by John Piper


"[H]ow is the bad thing called 'relativism' different from good ways of thinking relatively?"

Piper opens with the example of saying that someone is tall. He points out that such a statement is true or false relative to some standard of measurement. So perhaps a man is tall compared to the average man, but not compared to the average giraffe. Tallness is therefore a relative truth.

Piper emphasizes that this is "a good and indispensable way of thinking. If you're not able to process statements that way, you will probably wind up accusing many people of mistakes they are not making because you haven't tuned in to their standard of measurement, their context." He says that it's important to ask "Relative to what?" to find out what a person means in unclear cases. Two people can even superficially disagree about whether — for example — someone is tall and both be correct, if each one's judgment is true relative to the standard they have in mind.

"Relativism" is a term Piper reserves to indicate a bad way of thinking that is marked by one of these characteristics:
  • There is no standard for measuring the truth of a statement.
  • There may be such a standard, but it's unknowable.
  • There is such a standard, but it's unintelligible.
  • There is such a standard, but I don't care.
Tallness isn't very controversial, so Piper moves on to the claim: "Sexual relations between two males is wrong." Two people can disagree about this claim without being relativists, he says, because they might agree on the standard "God's will expressed in an inerrant Bible" yet disagree on whether the Bible condemns sexual relations between two males.

At this point, I expected Piper to explain the second way one person can say gay sex is wrong and another person can say gay sex is not wrong without involving relativism: they could have different standards in mind. One might be thinking of the standard "God's will" while the other might be thinking of the standard "not causing harm." If gay sex is against God's will, but does not cause harm, then both claims can be true (just as one person can be tall by one standard and be short by another).

But Piper fails to apply his own earlier example of good relative thinking. He is accusing "many people of mistakes they are not making because [he hasn't] tuned in to their standard of measurement, their context."

That's all that really needs to be said about this talk.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 7)

[Series explanation and index here.]


A continuation (from here) of my notes on John MacArthur's talk: The Challenge of Science.

Does the Bible Contain Scientific Foreknowledge?

For the sake of argument, let's say there is no significant conflict between what the Bible claims and what we have discovered about the world through scientific inquiry. Many Christians seem content to nullify science as an encroachment on religion, but some — like MacArthur — believe scientific discovery is a positive ally to apologetics. They believe the Bible makes accurate claims about the world predating scientific discovery of these facts. This means the Bible could not have been written by mere human beings of the time.

Let's look at MacArthur's examples of what is commonly called “scientific foreknowledge”:

Creation Account Order

Without going into detail, MacArthur briefly mentions that the order of creation in Genesis “matches so wonderfully with the way things really are.” I can't let this slide. By the second verse of Genesis, the Earth already exists. It's not until the fourth day that God creates stars (so we can keep track of seasons). Here's something I didn't learn in private school: stars came first. The Earth was produced from the remnants of an earlier generation of stars.

Unless there is a major revolution in scientific cosmology which puts the Earth before the stars, this is not a chapter apologists should put forward as an example of scientific foreknowledge. Better to read this chapter in a non-literal way and look for facts of nature elsewhere.

Hydrological Cycle

Did you know that — until the seventeenth century — scientists were ignorant of the fact that rain falls, collects, evaporates, and falls again in a cycle which maintains the same overall amount of water? But the writers of Job and Psalms knew about this millennia earlier!

Oh wait, Aristotle did too:
"[W]e always plainly see the water that has been carried up coming down again. Even if the same amount does not come back in a year or in a given country, yet in a certain period all that has been carried up is returned. [...] all the moisture alike is dissolved and all of it condensed back into water."1
So did other ancients. By the way, I had no idea if I would be able to find pre-seventeenth century references to evaporation being the source of precipitation. It took me ten minutes to find several relevant textbook passages and confirm the Aristotle quote. MacArthur probably just repeated what he heard somewhere else without looking for contrary evidence.

Astronomy

According to MacArthur:
"[M]odern astronomy — the study of the solar system — didn't begin to replace the old idea of a disc shaped Earth; Sun, moon and stars being gods whose movements revealed their intentions for men. In the Ptolemaic view, the Greek philosophers' sky was a hollow globe surrounding the earth, having the stars set like jewels in its inner surface. The sky was supported by an axis thrust through the earth and on this axis the sky rotated around the earth. This view was popular until, well, around 1500 when Copernican theory came[....]"
Let's look at the verses which McArthur claims revealed astronomy facts many centuries early.

Psalm 103:11 "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him." 

McArthur says this refers to the "vastness of the universe" and that "it is not a small little bowl with stars stuck on the inside." But if the writer believed in a smaller world, it would make sense to write what he did to express greatness. If anything, there is evidence here from Hebrew parallelism that the writer did believe "the heavens" are (by our standards) close to the earth. The very next verse reads: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."

Job 22:12 "Is not God in the height of heaven? Look also at the distant stars, how high they are!"

Again, simply stating that the stars are "high" does not differentiate between, say, the top of the atmosphere and distances many light-years away. Doesn't the story of the Tower of Babel imply the former? The context of this verse also implies a distance on the order of clouds. Verse 14 reads: "‘Clouds are a hiding place for Him, so that He cannot see; and He walks on the vault of heaven.’" The speaker here is supposed to be wrong about God's perception, but the setup goes unchallenged; it's actually playing off of the stars comment.

Jer 31:37 “'If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,' declares the LORD."

MacArthur just paraphrases this as saying "heaven cannot be measured." I think that's a justifiable assumption to draw from this verse, but what about the bit about the earth that he didn't read or paraphrase?

Jer 33:22 "As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’"

Oh hey, this time the parallel actually works in MacArthur's favor. There may be room to interpret this as stars visible to the naked eye — which are more numerous than modern light pollution makes it seem — but I want to be fair and say this does sound like the modern view of far more stars.

1 Cor 15:21 "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory."

Modern astronomers have discovered "different varieties of stars." But there's nothing in this verse which goes beyond ancient common knowledge. A reasonable interpretation might involve differing brightness as seen from Earth. A less likely but still plausible distinction is star color. They come in red, yellow, white, and blue varieties. This was and is noticeable without telescopes.

Jer 31:35-36 "Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, [...]: 'If this fixed order departs from before Me,' declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.'"

MacArthur relates this verse to the way orbits are extremely predictable. But this was also common knowledge.

Ps 19:6 "Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat."

Supposedly this has to do with the sun's orbit within our galaxy, not the really obvious interpretation of the sun moving across the sky each day. Does our sun heat the entire galaxy? Does our galaxy constitute the entire heavens?

Job 25:5-6 "If even the moon has no brightness and the stars are not pure in His sight, how much less man, that maggot, and the son of man, that worm!"

Scientists learned in the seventeenth century that the moon reflects the sun's light as opposed to generating its own; another fact revealed ahead of time by the Bible!

(Unless, of course, this passage is saying that compared to God, the moon has no brightness and the stars are impure...and that mankind is even worse off.)

At any rate, the idea that the moon is illuminated by the sun and that this is the cause of the moon's phases has been around since Anaxagoras, a pre-Socratic philosopher.

Of Discs and Spheres

By now, the general quality of scientific foreknowledge claims in this talk is apparent. Even Christians who do believe the Bible contains scientific foreknowledge should be pulling McArthur aside and telling him that he's doing more harm than good.

I just want to highlight one final example:

Is 40:22 "It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in."

This is supposed to show that the writer of Isaiah knew the earth is spherical rather than disc-shaped. I hope you can see that "the circle of the earth" is not a phrase which distinguishes between these two models. Plus, the picture of the heavens being stretched out like a tent is consistent with the idea of a nearby celestial dome. We can imagine God sitting on the dome and looking down at people who — from that height — look like insects.

I'm happy to let poetry be poetry. This isn't a verse I would point out as a reason to be skeptical of Christianity.

Oh, by the way, any miraculous foreknowledge claims about the Earth's shape are a sign that the apologist has never heard of Eratosthenes.


1. Aristotle (trans. Webster, E.W.). Meteorology, Book 2, Part 2.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 6)

[Series explanation and index here.]


The Challenge of Science
a talk by John MacArthur


MacArthur begins by pointing out that "whoever created the universe — and everything that exists in the universe — understands it perfectly." Furthermore: "Whoever is capable of creating and sustaining that, is certainly intelligent enough to write a relatively clear and accurate assessment of that, and insight into that, and a true representation of that, that is understandable to the frail human mind."

He goes on to say that we can know a book was written by God if it accurately describes nature in a way that doesn't depend on human discovery. We can also know that any book which inaccurately describes nature was not written by God.

I'm very much on board with this!

Instead of giving a play-by-play on this talk, I will give my own description of the issue, respond to some of MacArthur's arguments, and go beyond what he mentions.

Does the Bible accurately represent nature?

One major difficulty with answering this question is that Christians are divided on what the Bible claims about nature. I don't think anyone takes Psalm 98:8 literally as a claim that rivers have hands which they clap when they're happy. Other cases are less clear. Does Luke 4:5 imply that there was a mountaintop from which every first century kingdom was visible at once? And of course the big question is whether Genesis is straightforward history.

I agree with the speakers in this series that the best interpretation of the Bible as revelation involves taking Genesis as history. However, many (if not most) contemporary Christians take scientific understanding into account and conclude that Genesis was not all meant as history any more than Psalm 98 was meant as a literal description of rivers. Nor is this a new hermeneutic technique. St. Augustine struggled with the way the creation account mentions "evening" and "morning" because he knew there is always evening and morning somewhere on the globe. As I recall, he used this fact of nature to conclude that God wrote Genesis as a sort of stylistic dissection of what God actually created an instant.1

In the same book, Augustine wrote something worth quoting at length:
"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience.
Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books."2
How Not To Correct Science (Or History)

At the risk of being mauled by atheists, I want to draw an analogy between Young Earth Creationism and the belief that Jesus never existed, even as a regular man. Both of these positions are far outside the mainstream of their respective fields. Both have passionate advocates who claim the evidence for their fringe position is being suppressed by mainstream ideological bias.

Now, disagreement is okay. Mainstream positions ought to be criticized if there is good supporting evidence. And it's true that mainstream ideas have the advantage of momentum. But this momentum can both in principle and in practice be defeated by a sufficiently strong alternative which provides a better overall solution. Scientists (and historians) dream of being such revolutionaries. But it isn't easy. You have to present something that can survive expert scrutiny.

Or...you can claim to have an answer that the experts are unjustly ignoring and make your case, instead, to friendly audiences who don't understand the evidence for the mainstream position.

Before I make any specific responses to MacArthur's criticisms of mainstream science, I felt the need to put what he's doing in perspective. It doesn't mean he's wrong, but it does mean these kinds of criticisms have been considered and shrugged off by experts in various fields of science.

How Absurd!

Back to MacArthur's talk:
"Modern scientists [...] since Darwin have, in a very unscientific move, developed a totally irrational approach to reality: nobody times nothing equals everything. That is the ultimate stupidity. And we all understand that. Chance is the creator. Accident, coincidence, randomness, blind luck, coming out of nothing, producing the intricate systems and complex organisms and microcosms of the universe. That is just an absolute absurdity."
Biological evolution does not start from "nothing." It explains how reproducing organisms change over generations. The question of where reproducing organisms came from in the first place is outside the scope of Darwin's theory.

Now, evolution by means of natural selection does allow for some pretty amazing complexity to arise without personal intervention. If this is so offensive, it might help to know that evolution doesn't rule out some divine (or human!) intervention here and there; you can think of natural selection as the default. This should be no more troubling than believing that rain has a natural cycle, and — at the same time — believing that sometimes God intervenes in that cycle. And with or without intervention, you can believe that God set up the natural world to work this way. No conflict with science there.

Argument From Information

Referring to DNA, MacArthur says:
"Supposedly all that was necessary for evolution to function: matter and energy...we now understand that within the matter and the energy is this massive complex information."
It's the other way around. Darwin knew information was being transmitted from generation to generation, but he didn't know how. The later discovery of DNA provided a physical basis for hereditary information.
"Science cannot demonstrate that information can spontaneously occur."
The information in DNA does not appear spontaneously. Evolution isn't the claim that random genetic mutations just happen to produce useful patterns. Genetic information is built up by a long process of testing mutations for helpfulness or harmfulness.

MacArthur goes on to claim that computers prove his point because you can't just put randomness into a computer and get something useful out of it. Actually, computer simulations have provided some of the best evidence that complexity can arise in the ways skeptics have claimed it cannot.3 Even better: genetic algorithms — modeled on natural selection — are producing practical results across many disciplines.

Single Cells Are Complicated
"Behe calls it 'irreducible complexity'; and he is talking about the fact that all of this complexity has to exist simultaneously as a minimum for any integrated cellular system to exist. There cannot be any process by which it is finally achieved."
Yes, each cell is remarkably complex. But this isn't a problem for evolution for two reasons:

First, it's possible to grant that only an intelligent creator could be responsible for the initial existence of a reproducing cell...without calling into question what happens after that.

Second, what appears to be irreducibly complex today may well have developed by redundant natural means, followed by optimization which tidied up those intermediary forms. Natural arches are a common analogy; or scaffolding when it comes to human buildings. Claims of irreducible complexity tend to jump from “I don't see how” to “it is impossible!”

What I'm trying to convey here is that simplistic 'gotcha!'s may play well to certain audiences, but they aren't an adequate response to the high degree of support for mainstream scientific understanding; and I'm not just talking about Biology. Geology, Astronomy, Climatology, Physics, Linguistics, and probably a few other fields support each other but are in sharp conflict with Young Earth Creationism. Which is more likely: that a small group of discontents are distorting the evidence, or that most scientists in a variety of fields are part of a vast conspiracy to hide the truth?

[Continued here...]


1. See The Literal Meaning of Genesis. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys theology or history of science. 
2. Contrary to my usual practice, I pasted this from Wikiquote. I intend to verify it when convenient, but I certainly remember a passage like this when I read Augustine's book.
3. Lenski, R.E., Ofria, C., Pennock, R.T., Adami, C. (2003). The evolutionary origin of complex features. Nature 423(8 May 2003). p. 139-144. [pdf]

Monday, January 2, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 5)

[Series explanation and index here.]


Faith and Reason
a talk by John Piper


As with the first two talks on postmodernism, Piper is echoing the topic Sproul Sr. just covered. For this reason, I will only mention a few highlights.

Reason

Speaking of the Pharisees asking Jesus for a sign, Piper explains:
They're asking for more signs to give the impression there's not enough evidence to embrace him as the bridegroom. And therefore he says: the reason you do so well with nature and so poorly with spiritual reality is because you're adulterous. Your hearts have gone after other bridegrooms and you don't want me. So it isn't lack of evidence. It isn't lack of rational powers. It's because they are evil and adulterous. And what happens is — Dr. Sproul made this plain — that an adulterous heart disorders the mind so that it can function just fine in selfish quests, but it cannot function in spiritual quests. It is enslaved to wrong inferences because it wants so badly another spouse.
Suppose this psychological model is true. Wouldn't it mean that humans can never be culpable for responding inappropriately on an emotional level to what they believe is true on an intellectual level? At least with Sproul Sr.'s three-part breakdown of saving faith, there was room for a convinced rebel like Satan.

Faith

Piper goes on to characterize faith as something that God puts into people to save them, without any regard for their mindset. So it's not just that outsiders are unable to grasp the conclusive evidence for Christianity; their attitude toward the possibility of Christian truth is also utterly irrelevant.

This is the Calvinist view that everyone has a crippled mind and a heart set against God, until God arbitrarily zaps some of them into Christians. And this doctrine is a consequence of the more fundamental Calvinist doctrine that everything happens because God wills it to be precisely so. Yes, this includes every evil.

Fear

Hellfire preacher Jonathan Edwards observed, according to Piper, that historical evidence and reason can only get us to "probabilities" (particularly among the illiterate). What's needed to effectively drive a Christian to forsake all and endure long torment in life, is a deep concern for unending torment after life.

That's a whole other discussion, but it does serve to illustrate the marginal place of reason compared to fear in the minds of some Christians.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 4)

[Series explanation and index here.]

Questions and Answers #1

Topics during the Q&A range from raising kids in a media culture, to differences between Christianity and Islam, to how Arminianism doesn't represent true Christian salvation doctrine (Calvinism does!). Here's a decent introductory comparison of these doctrinal camps. And here is a pro-Calvinist lecture series. It will be interesting to see how this strong sectarian bent will affect the apologetics talks to come.



The Task of Apologetics

a talk by R.C. Sproul (the Elder, this time)


Sproul begins with the story of God telling Moses to deliver messages to the Israelites and the Egyptians.1 Moses asks how he should respond if the Israelites doubt that God really appeared to him. As Sproul points out, "Moses is raising the question of apologetics: how can I convince these people of the truth of this mandate and that it has come from God?"

So God equips Moses with three miraculous signs.

Great! This means we can expect miraculous signs to authenticate any genuine messages from God, right? Not so fast. Sproul makes two points. First, that the miraculous signs were given to Moses to "persuade the church, not the world." Second, that miracles are "evidence of things that only God can do, to authenticate an agent or messenger sent from God. But before a miracle has any evidential value to authenticate an agent of revelation, it must first be established that there is a God."

On the first point, Sproul seems to have forgotten about all the miracles Moses supposedly performed for the Egyptians (and which might have been effective if God had not hardened Pharaoh's heart).2
I don't see how he can conclude from Exodus that miracles are for "in-house" use only.

On the second point, it's nonsensical to claim that proof of divine action fails to provide any evidence of divine existence.

The task of apologetics is — so far — limited to the rare case of God sending out a new revelation to current believers through a miracle-wielding messenger. Doesn't sound much like contemporary apologetics, does it? It's unclear why Sproul would start his talk in this way, unless he wants to take miracles off the table for showing that Christianity is true in the first place.


Apologetics After Apostolic Times
"Throughout all Christian history in every generation there is a new philosophical movement that attacks Christian faith and truth claims. And so in every generation, the faith must be defended and we are called to give an intellectual apologia (a reply) to those alternate life-views that assail the Christian faith."
Ah, there's the apologetics I know. What I would like to know is whether Sproul thinks Christianity is (merely) one intellectually respectable position among other reasonable positions, or that Christianity is the only reasonable position. This distinction is widely known as defensive apologetics vs. offensive apologetics. We'll come back to this question in a minute. But first, we need to pick up some terminology from Sproul's doctrine of salvation through faith.

Latiny Stuff

Sproul gives a three part breakdown of "the nature of saving faith," as developed by sixteenth century reformers:


NotitiaWhat is believed. Saving faith is aimed at the correct propositional content.

Earlier, Sproul gave the example of Justin Martyr explaining to the Roman rulers what Christianity was really about, as opposed to the false rumors of the time.4  "[T]he first task of apologetics is linked with the task of preaching to give a clear presentation of the data or the content of the Gospel." 

Assensus — Belief that the content of Christian faith is, in fact, true.

Sproul is clear that he means belief, not just hope that the claims of Christianity are true. Speaking of evangelists who ask their congregations to take a leap of faith, Sproul says:
"[Y]ou cannot screw up your jaw and choose to believe something that in fact you don't believe. You're lying to yourself and you're on the way to schizophrenia when you play that game. But that's what we ask people to do. We ask people to park their brains in the parking lot, come in here, and believe the absurd as if there's some kind of virtue in that."
Fiducia — An attitude of personal reliance, beyond intellectual belief.3

Pointing out that Satan never doubts the truth of Christianity, Sproul emphasizes the necessity of having "religious affection" for this truth. Specifically, love for Jesus.
"[A]pologetics can never get you to step three. Apologetics can explain the data. Apologetics can give you the rational defense of the truth claims of Christianity. And we're called to do that, to give 'the reason for the hope that is within us.' And we are to work to persuade men. However, the best arguments that we ever offer — however convincing they may be — can never change the human heart that by nature is hostile toward God, at enmity to God, and dead toward the spiritual things of God."
He characterizes the apologetics task of addressing the first two steps as "pre-evangelism," and then says the third step is up to the Holy Spirit. So to summarize: the task of apologetics is to (1) explain what Christians believe, and (2) give reasons to believe this is true.


Why Does Apologetics Fail?

Why do so many people know what Christians believe, but don't believe these things are true? Sproul tries to back off from the way he separated belief from will, and belief from love for God. He does this by claiming that an unbeliever can be given a compelling, "objective proof" and remain unpersuaded because of his or her negative attitude toward God.

Do you see how this explanation muddles the categories he just set up? If intellectual belief is not a matter of the will, then having a will contrary to God does not affect belief. (Or would Sproul like to revise his view that Satan never doubts the truth of Christianity?) Also note that intellectual belief does not bring about love for God, so apologists wouldn't be stepping on God's toes by inducing even universal belief.

An alternate explanation is that the "proofs" of apologists aren't so compelling after all.


Defensive vs. Offensive


To answer my own question from earlier, Sproul appears to believe that offensive apologetics can be entirely successful...but only for insiders. Remember, miraculous signs are to "persuade the church, not the world"; and fully compelling arguments are only fully compelling to Christians.

This sounds awfully convenient. Aren't most religions obviously true from the inside?

What about the Christian who believes the truth of Christianity is demonstrable, studies apologetics, prays for guidance, rereads the Bible, and discovers deep problems as an insider? That was me. When I had all the advantages Sproul reserves for Christians, the arguments of apologists were such a disappointment that I lost all confidence in the truth of Christianity.


1. See Exodus 4.
2. Sproul Sr. teaches a tortured interpretation of the heart hardening verses.
3. See http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/faith-defined/ 
4. See Justin Martyr's First Apology.

Monthly Picks

On the first day of each month, I will be posting about new papers I've found interesting in Philosophy or Library & Information Science. I'll try to make sure at least one is accessible to everyone.


Sinhababu, N. (2011). The Humean theory of practical irrationality. Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, 6(1).
[link] freely accessible

Cooper, R. & Mazzocchi, F. (2011). Forum: The philosophy of classification. Knowledge Organization, 38(5), p. 398-404.
[link] retrieved from LISTA with Full Text

Nijhof, E. (2011). Searching? Or actually trying to find something? – The comforts of searching versus the challenges of finding. World Patent Information, 33(4), p. 360-363.
[link]

  Papers I especially wanted to read but couldn't access

Magelssen, M. (2012). When should conscientious objection be accepted? Journal of Medical Ethics, 38(1), p. 18-21.
[link]