Thursday, December 4, 2008

Why Good Arguments Often Fail, by James W. Sire

This book is not about the specific arguments of Christian apologetics, but about the weaknesses in human nature that prevent the apologist from making his case. This happens both on the side of the apologist and the his or her audience. Most of the book is pretty basic, in terms of stating and giving examples of both informal and formal logical fallacies. Sprinkled throughout are good quotes and bits of wisdom about the philosophy of apologetics. By far, the best section of the book are his reading recommendations, which I always appreciate given my love of books. Overall, this was a very basic book, one which I’d only recommend to Christian apologetic beginners.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World, by Rebecca Manley Pippert

This is a great book on evangelism that I wish I could put into practice. Someday, I hope to do so. Right now, I am at a point in my life where I need to see more ‘fruits of the Spirit’ before I go around trying to evangelize unbelievers. Obviously, I don’t think I need to be morally perfect in order to do this, but I do think that part of conversion, perhaps the main part, is manifesting a transformed life; a transformed will. If Christianity is just a worldview (as listening to many evangelical apologists could lead one to believe) than it is just a subject of ideological debate. Faith is supposed to be so much more than that. Now, let’s get to the book itself.

The author rightly points out that in evangelism we should be ourselves. By communicating our true selves to others, they can see that we are not being fake, not hiding something. Given the general suspicion that Western people have of Christianity, this is very important. Through mirroring the Jesus, we must be bold, willing to challenge people to make a clear choice, while also being compassionate. Religion isn’t something just for the scholar or the theologian, but for the poor and downtrodden. Jesus brought it to them by reaching out to them. The woman at the well was one example of this. In our society, it is easy to surround oneself with wholly like-minded people on every subject from religion to politics. Jesus challenges our tendency to barricade ourselves in comfortable environments.

“Jesus is Lord,” is a phrase that identifies Jesus as the one in charge. If he was about the poor, the marginalized in society, then we cannot call ourselves Christians unless we are also concerned about the people society has forgotten about. The children starving in Africa, the millions of children dropping out of school in America, or the plight of the unborn, are just some examples. It is easy to be self-consumed, thinking only about your own satisfaction and happiness. Jesus reminds us that we are mortal and that we are ultimately accountable to God at the end of the day.

Pippert asks us to ask ourselves, “Does my life reflect only religious activity or does it bear the mark of profound love?” This is a key question that separates the religion of Jesus from that of the Pharisees. Do we really care about people in our lives? Jesus is clear that how we treat and think of others reflects what we think about God. Jesus balanced being radically identified with the world with being radically different as well. We must not wait for stimulating intellectual answers or the right feelings before we obey Christ.

The author notes that we tend to either over-identify with the world ensuring that we are no different from them or we separate ourselves from the world. Since we are called to be salt and light, we must both not hide and not give in to the ways of this world. Pippert writes, “We must ask ourselves, How do I interpret the needs and lifestyles of my friends? Do I look at their messy lives and say ‘That’s wrong’ and walk away? Or do I penetrate their mask and discover why they are in such trouble in the first place? And then do I try to love them where they are?” For me, I definitely fall on the side of a ‘whatever floats your boat’ mentality. As stated in the first paragraph, I don’t think I’ve fully converted yet to Christianity. Just because I have a Christian-type worldview does not make me a Christian. Doctrine is essential to Christianity, but doctrine alone isn’t the full picture. “The Creed does not belong to you unless you have lived it,” Pippert quotes the Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow as saying.

Pippert goes into three models of trying to bring the evangelism into our conversations with friends and strangers. The most attractive one for me is controlling the conversation by asking probing questions. Socrates was the exemplar of this. By asking ‘why,’ one can get to the heart of things. The value judgments and basic view of life that the person has. By digging deeper, their values and beliefs can be compared with those of Christ. Another method that goes back to Christ is to provoke a person’s curiosity. This means sharing what you believe in such a way that isn’t conversation ending, but thought-provoking. Jesus’ ‘living water’ statement to the woman at the well is a good example of this.

Looking over where I underlined in this book really brings out the obvious fact that apologetics serves evangelism, rather than existing for its own sake. Since I love intellectual things, I tend to forget this. This book is a great call for Christians to be more serious in the faith and thus in their witness to the world.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Death as a Salesman: What’s Wrong With Assisted Suicide, by Brian P. Johnston

This very succinct book illustrates what is wrong with euthanasia. There are many things wrong with it, but the core problem is not just a debate over the facts, (i.e. what is going on in the Netherlands, the realities of pain management, etc.) but a spiritual struggle. Since the dawn of history, humans have always had dependents in their midst who are infirm through age or sickness. How societies have treated such people is a good measure of the moral health of that society.

How is this the case? Well, those that kill the weak implicitly are saying that the value of human life is dependent on what a person can do. If a person can move about, communicate, think rationally, than they are worth helping. If they lack any of these (or a combination of these) than their lives are meaningless. Death would be a mercy for such human non-persons. Oftentimes such individuals are deemed a nuisance since they don’t contribute anything to society but drain resources. Implicit in this statement is that being a cog in the larger social wheel is the key measure of a life’s value. Absent from all this, is the notion that human life is valuable in and of itself. This Christian notion is fundamentally democratic while euthanasia represents the absolute opposite in both Christian and democratic terms. As Belgian physician Philipe Schepens puts it:

“Euthanasia constitutes a major breach against the laws of humanity. It could in fact signify the abandoning of the very concept of democracy and relegate us to a new world and society which will be totalitarian. A society in which people may dispose of the very lives of others, where you have to be declared fit by others to receive from society the right to live. A society in which the individual can exist only if he is wanted by others, and who therefore ceases to have absolute value. A society in which the weak must yield to the stronger. This is more than decadence. This is a gradual return to the law of the jungle, to an animalistic society where the survival of the fittest is the rule.”

The ancient Greeks condemned suicide and even the Greek term ‘euthanasia’ which means ‘good death’ is a neologism which was never used by the ancients in the same way we use the term. This tradition is summed up in the Hippocratic Oath, “I will give no deadly medicine, even if asked, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” Hippocrates, the Greek doctor who first really deserved the name, as he separated the practice of medicine from magic, knew that a physician who could kill as readily as he could heal, would have a trust deficit with his patients to say the least. Killing the weak is not a new enlightened concept, but an old and rejected one.

The rest of the book discuses the horrors of the euthanasia experiment in the Netherlands, the realities of pain management, and good hospice care. The other major topic are those vulnerable to euthanasia. The poor, elderly, depressed, disabled and infirm are obvious targets. Such people deserve love and care, rather than encouragement to commit suicide. Ultimately assisted suicide is for those that society no longer cares for. It responds to the human need for love in times of distress with the coldness of intentionally taking such people out of this world an out of our lives.

“The man who kills a man kills a man. The man who kills himself kills all men. As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.” G.K. Chesterton

“Hold back those who are being drawn to death,” Book of Proverbs

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Rise of Christianity, by Rodney Stark

This is a fascinating book on the rise of Christianity from an obscure backwater province of the Roman Empire to the dominant faith of Europe. Stark makes the case that the Christian faith succeeded for a variety of reasons. Since this is the first book on the subject that I’ve read, I can’t honestly evaluate his case that the mission to the Jews probably succeeded (more on this later) and that early Christianity wasn’t wholly confined to the poor. The other parts of his case seem to be more traditional and intuitive.

To address the issue of the class basis of early Christianity, Stark looks both to historians and the NT documents themselves. Since Marx and Engels, it has been popular to assume that the early Christians were all from the lowest classes of society; slaves and the poor. Against this notion, Stark quotes a recent historian, E.A. Judge, who was one of the first to deliver a major dissent to this opinion. According to Judge, from what we know from the documents of the first several centuries, early Christians were most likely urban dwellers, and dependents in city households. In other words, it was a largely middle class movement. I am skeptical of Stark on this point. Celsus, a second century critic of Christianity, noted that Christians tended to be illiterate slaves and women. He could have been overstating this, but I tend to trust him more than Judge. Also, the evidence would under-report lower class Christians since they are not literate and thus do not write. Stark is basing his thesis here on his modern observation that new religious movements tend to be based in the privileged classes. While this is true of contemporary America, it seems unwarranted to generalize these findings to the first several Christian centuries.

Stark, however, does make a better case that Christianity did better than most people assume with the Jews. This is particularly true of the Hellenized Jews who were looking to hold to their traditional faith but were slowly becoming more like their pagan neighbors. Christianity brought together both Gentiles and Jews in a new faith that combined aspects of both cultures. Hellenized Jews tended to be urban just as the growing Christian was. Just as there were Jews who wanted to both retain their culture and become closer to the Gentiles, there were Gentiles called ‘God-Fearers’ who had an affinity for the ethical monotheism of Judaism but who didn’t want to take the final step of obeying the Law. Pauline Christianity fit the bill for both these groups. Stark does a good job of arguing this point.

The rest of the book focuses on the fascinating reasons why Christianity supplanted paganism as the religion of the Empire. In an era of epidemics and huge natural disasters, Christians had a faith that gave hope and meaning to a world filled with vast suffering and death. It also gave prescriptions for action. While pagans fled the cities in the face of deadly plagues, Christians cared for the sick; those forgotten and left for dead by society. Christians funded charities to help people, pagans did not. This not only built up antibodies in the Christians who survived the plague but also made the surviving pagans who were helped by Christians more likely to convert. So effective were these charities, that the pagan emperor Julian tried to set up pagan charities in an effort to save the declining religion. Alien to paganism, was the idea that because God loves humanity, demonstrated through the sacrifice of his Son, he wants us to demonstrate the love to one another.

Another factor that spurred Christian growth was the role of women. Women in the Greco-Roman world weren’t treated very well to say the least. Their status in Christianity was better. By prohibiting infanticide and abortion, Christians had a far higher ratio of women to men than in the larger Roman society. In a recent excavation of a villa in the port city of Ashkelon, archaeologists discovered a ancient Roman sewer that was clogged with the refuse of nearly a hundred murdered babies. Philosophers supported abortion on demand, as evidenced by Tacitus who even supported infanticide. This combined with a pagan culture that held marriage in low esteem, created space in which a Christian church that honored children would be much more fertile.

Christianity succeeded because it stood head and shoulders above a culture that was spiritually thirsty and dying. The proliferation of pagan mystery religions, where religion was more like a commodity bought for a price, was vastly different than a religion that had a strong ethical teaching. Hyper-pluralism created an atmosphere of ‘cheap religion’ that became increasingly meaningless to those seeking something real from religion. In a culture where watching people getting torn apart is a spectator sport, infanticide was something recommended by philosophers, coupled by brutal divisions between ethnicities and sexes, Christianity gave converts nothing less than their humanity.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New Blog

Hello All,

I have started a new political blog here:

It is my pledge and goal to post on each blog at least once a week.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Evidence for Jesus, by R.T. France

This was a mildly interesting book that could have been better if France’s discussion of the New Testament itself was more illuminating. This is a popular level book written in the mid-eighties so it is kind of dated. He emphasizes the important point that a lot of the writing from the 1st century have not survived. He then goes on to discuss the non-Christian evidence for Jesus. This analysis, like his analysis of the New Testament, is critical and evenhanded. After reading so much blatant Christian apologetics, this approach is both more honest and credible.

Tacitus is the main Gentile writer who mentions Jesus. There are others but to France, Tacitus is the most important. Tacitus states that Jesus was a Jew from the Roman province of Judea who was crucified under the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. Interestingly, France does not take this as ‘independent testimony’ since Tacitus could just be getting his information from what the Christians thought about their own origins. He gets this opinion from G.A. Wells who argues that Jesus was a mythic creation and not a historical figure. I tend to think that while Wells might be correct on Tacitus, I find it hard to believe that this information is not from some credible source since Tacitus was no friend of the Christians and would probably not accept whatever they claimed uncritically. However, Wells could be right.

The Jewish historian Josephus also mentions Jesus. France notes that the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus, as a Christian leader in 62 A.D. is generally agreed upon as historical. It is true that this mentioning of Jesus was embellished by Christian scribes, but most scholars believe that Josephus really did mention Jesus, but without the obvious Christian sympathies. Thus, the debate is about how Josephus mentioned Jesus rather than if he really did. The later Rabbis also referred to Jesus in a very veiled manner in the Talmud. Basically, the claim that he was a heretic that led Israel astray.

France spends far too much time on the non-Christian evidence. His discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic second to third centuries writings are thorough but pretty much irrelevant since they were written much later than the NT documents and don’t really contain any apparent real historical evidence about Jesus.

Finally, when we get to the NT, France does a decent job of defending the fact that the claim that Jesus rose from the dead dates to very early from the crucifixion. The creed of 1st Corinthians 15 is key here. When the discussion turns to the gospels, he notes the bias inherent in the form-criticism of Bultmann who a priori discounts miracles. The rest of the discussion of the NT is pretty conservative and predictable. Since I’ve heard it all before I didn’t think it was that interesting. Overall, the book was informative but quite dry.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton

This book, which Chesterton, an English journalist, novelist and all around early twentieth century public intellectual, is described by him as a “slovenly autobiography.” While he engages much with competing views of the world prominent in Western culture of his time (and still ours), he is not writing apologetics per se though he is arguing for the truth of Christianity. Religion, like politics, is something deeply personal and intuitive. I enjoy rational argument, but I also enjoy his deeply personal touch which keeps it real.

Chesterton is more of a mystic than a rationalist. He observes that insanity is often induced from seeing too much causality in everything. A determinist, who sees only material causation has a worldview that doesn’t really encompass our world. It can give the impression of explaining everything, but on second thought it also seems to miss everything. A man who thinks that only material causes exist is like the man who believes that everyone is conspiring against him. The facts gathered from the senses are interpreted to support this narrow conclusion. Every one who glances at him is secretly plotting his demise, everyone who accidentally touches him are planting tracking devices, etc. While both the determinist and this insane man both have explanations that coherently explain everything around them, both also leave out so much. Such minds need to see more possibilities, to have the windows and fans in their minds opened and turned on. They need fresh air.

After this rejection of materialism/determinism, Chesterton moves to the reasons why he gravitated towards Christianity. He states that he made these observations before he even considered Christian theology. It is fascinating that he connects Christianity with democracy and practical politics so extensively. The Christian’s respect for tradition is very democratic at heart because it extends the principle that we should listen to all people no matter where they are in life by accident of birth, to the notion that we should listen to all people despite the accident of death. “It is the democracy of the dead,” Chesterton said. The unpopular doctrine of original is also democratic at heart. Evil is not caused primarily by men’s environment, nor is it an illusion or hopelessly triumphant. Evil is in the heart of humanity, something that is in each one of us. The one who sees a good God in heaven is philosophically free to turn and see a bad president in Washington. In contrast, most other philosophies are either unconsciously or explicitly complacent in the fact of oppression. It is difficult to justify a rebellion if you are a monist Hindu living out the life of an ‘untouchable’ due to sins you’ve committed in previous lives. The giant monuments to the ancient states of Egypt and Babylon show us that when these various deeply pessimistic philosophies and religions are dominant, state power over the individual becomes absolute.

Another flaw of materialism is that it rests on a false assumption. If the universe was really personal wouldn’t we see more variation in terms of biological laws and physical laws? Isn’t that more theistic? Reminding me of Hume, Chesterton notes that really these observations are probabilistic, there is nothing really law-like about them. Three and two must always make five but it is not the same with the color of grass or the rising of the sun. We know that monotony is something that only the young can truly enjoy. The child often says: “Do it again,” to the adult. Maybe because we have sinned and grown old, our Father is younger than we are. Maybe he says to the sun: “Do it again,” every morning. Chesterton is wise to point out all of this and more.

This book is a gold mine of wisdom and insight that hits home much more than any apologetic text ever has for me. Like Chesterton, I believe in Christianity on the basis of evidence, though I also agree with him that all of life can be mentioned as evidence. As C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Christianity is an answer to a riddle. Like every answer though, one has to first discover what the riddle is. Just as in our day, far too many have forgotten the riddle. In short, this riddle is, how are we to live in a sinful world?

Chesterton’s answer to this won’t convince everyone but to those who see the same things in the world as he does and wants the same things in his heart, will agree with him or at least empathize with him. To give a full description and defense of his answer would take too long and be a complete rehashing of this entire book which is beyond the scope of this review. In closing, I will affirm though that Chesterton’s answer is also my answer.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Time Enough for Love, by Robert A. Heinlein

Of all the science fiction novels I’ve read, this one was the worst by every measure. The plot was slow-moving, predictable and boring. The characters were uninteresting and the ‘moral of the story’ was immoral. This is the first and last book I’ll read by this author. If I didn’t buy this book, I don’t think I would have finished it.

The author of this book is very narrow-minded in his beliefs which make the book rather tedious since he hits you over the head with the same point over and over again. Even if I agreed with the author’s social Darwinism, I would have wanted him to stop hammering home the same point. Basically, the core message of the story is that sex is never wrong, except if you create a ‘defective’ child. All the taboos about sex are stupid. People should have as much sexual fun as they can. The main character violates many human taboos concerning sexual relations. Note that I say ‘human,’ not ‘cultural.’ He does things that ought not be done, and which if the author was more complex would illustrate the ill effects of. Religion is perceived as an irrational roadblock to sexual pleasure. Social Darwinism is the only real moral obligation. Creating children with good genes and weeding out those with bad genes are what colonization of other planets is all about. The main character at one point in his life even advocated killing off ‘defective’ people at birth since it would help the clean up the genetic pool in the long run. Eugenics anyone?

I could have gone on about the other perversities in this book which are gross and I will not mention.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Book Review: Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity, by Kenneth D. Boa & Robert M. Bowman Jr.

This was a pretty long book that grew tiresome at times but which covers a lot. The intent of the book is to lay out the four main apologetic approaches and attempt to integrate them into a cohesive approach. These four approaches are called the classical, evidential, Reformed and fideist apologetics. Each seeks to defend Christianity in a unique way. To various extents they can be combined but they are also exclusive in that they disagree on very important meta-apologetic issues such as the relation between theology and apologetics.

In what follows I am going to answer a set of questions posed in the book to the various apologetic systems. I think that in all matters of Christian faith one ought to be as honest as possible with themselves and non-believers. Developing a nice castle in which you can’t live in is tantamount to building a castle in the air. So in thinking about apologetics one must not ‘bite off more than one can chew’ so to speak. Here goes:

Metapologetic Questions

1. On what basis do we claim that Christianity is the truth?

My take is a combination of the evidentialist and fideist approaches. Christianity is unique in that it can be verified by external evidence. The Eastern philosophies, Mormonism, and Islam all appeal to subjective experience to justify their claims. Christianity does too in a way since it is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin and leads us to a relationship with Christ. But the difference is that Christianity can be tested by someone from the outside. That is its greatest strength and why I think it to be true. The Resurrection of Christ and the general reliability of Scripture is key here in this. The evidence cannot compel faith but bring one who is seeking for transcendent truth in this life to the brink where she will have to decide either to chase after Christ or back away. The walk is the real proof in the pudding but evidence is what can bring one to that decision place.

2. What is the relationship between apologetics and theology?

I disagree with Karl Barth that the best apologetics is a good theology. I do agree however with Kierkegaard that the best apologetic is a life lived in accord with the truth known through theology. The apologist is one who defends the truth of Christianity through induction (I am taking a notably evidentialist approach here) while the theologian explicates what Christianity means through that same method. In this regard, apologetics does precede theology (contra Barth) because one has to believe first that Christianity is true before one gets into theology. The last statement should be qualified in that it is from the point of view of one outside. For the Christian, the practice of one’s theology in her everyday life is the most ultimate test of its truth.

3. Should apologetics engage in the philosophical defense of the Christian faith?

Yes. I leave open the possibility of the constructive use of philosophy in the traditional theistic arguments but I am skeptical of many of these to various extents. Christianity is based upon factual claims which concerns history, not philosophy per se. Philosophy is a good servant in examining the presuppositions and conclusions of people studying history or science but when it is on its own, it is only speculative.

4. Can science be used to defend the Christian faith?

Here, I depart from the evidentialist fold. Science and faith are opposed in that the first is concerned with things seen while the second is concerned with things unseen. I do think that science can be used to show that Christianity is believable but anything more than that gives science too much priority over faith. To combine science and faith is to depart from Christ because it takes the emphasis away from Him.

5. Can the Christian faith be supported from historical inquiry?

It can, but only after a certain point and up to a certain point. What I mean by this is that one must be interested first to even want to go there. A hostile atheist or a someone who just doesn’t care will not respond to any historical evidence. One has to go up to a certain point in curiosity and desire for the truth for this to work. ‘Don’t through your pearls before swine,’ Jesus said. After that point where one is open and seeking, then historical inquiry can support Christian faith, or the possibility thereof. It should also be remembered that this does not bring one all the way to faith. Only by their own choice and through the work of the Spirit can someone come to saving faith.

6. How is knowledge of Christian truth related to experience?

One cannot fully know that Christianity is true through the intellect alone. For saving faith, experience is necessary. By ‘experience’ I don’t mean seeing miracles but in seeing one’s life be transformed by God’s Spirit. Kierkegaard said rightly that in the New Testament faith is tested not by reasons but by one’s life. Experience may not be the first ground on which one knows that Christianity is true but it is definitely the last ground.

Apologetic Questions

1. Why should we believe in the Bible?

We believe the Bible because we believe in Christ. For those who need evidence, this is provided by arguing for the reliability of the Bible and for the resurrection of Jesus. Another primary means of knowing this is through one’s personal encounter with Christ. Not everyone who has lived or lives currently is privileged with having easy access to the historical record, although that record does bear witness to Him. What ultimately unites all Christians in the personal experience of God acting in our lives.

2. Don’t all religions lead to God?

No. Religions make conflicting truth claims which entails that they cannot all be true. They all may have some true elements or assumptions that have some truth behind them but they cannot all be true.

3. How do we know that God exists?

I do not reject the traditional theistic arguments of the classical apologist and may be inclined towards using some of them. The problem with much of these arguments is that they are tedious and eminently debatable. So are the arguments pertaining to the resurrection of Christ, one can claim. The difference though here is that the resurrection can get one both theism and Christianity while the others may get only a generic theism. This is not to say that the theistic arguments shouldn’t be used but that they should take a less prominent place in apologetics. Again, the last ground for knowing that God exists is a personal relationship with Christ. All arguments are a means to this end, which in itself is the greatest argument.

4. If God exists, then why does he permit evil?

I do not think we have a full answer to this. The Free Will Defense is classic but it leaves something to be desired. The paradox of Christianity is that the infinite God died. The cross changes how we ought to perceive this problem. As Kierkegaard said, “That God could make creatures free over and against Himself is the cross that philosophy could not bear and on which it has remained hanging.” In the face of evil one can bow out and accept life trying to avoid it as much as possible. One can also ignore it and optimistically go about life. Or one can accept the paradox of Christianity, believing both that evil is the grave threat to every person and that one must zealously struggle against it. As Chesterton said, the Christian is alone a combination of the extreme pessimist and the extreme optimist.

5. Aren’t the miracles of the Bible spiritual myths or legends and not literal fact?

The legacy of Hume and modernism is an a priori rejection of miracles. This is simply begging the question. One must look at the evidence and not decide before one looks that miracles are impossible. Even if one does not believe in God, the evidence for Christ’s resurrection from the dead ought to be enough for one to accept both theism and Christianity.

6. Why should I believe in Jesus?

You should believe in Jesus because he claimed to be divine (this is true even if one disregards John and takes only the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels and believed to be authentic by the Jesus Seminar) and rose from the dead. This is the bedrock of the faith.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Book Review: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law, by J. Budziszewski

I really looked forward to reading this book and wanted to like it. The title implies that a strong case will be made that all humanity has a natural moral sense that unites most people no matter where they lived or how isolated they were throughout history. This is a hugely important topic because it is under attack by many in the secular world who do not see this law written on their hearts. It is too bad that this book is not more focused on that main issue. Instead it deals more broadly, discussing the ideas of natural law philosophers like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and John Locke, while also dealing with the challenge posed by John Stuart Mill in the 19th century. The book ends with a brief discussion of contemporary philosophers in the natural law tradition or in its immediate orbit.

What this book lacked was a focus on the main issue which the title raises. Dealing with Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s conception of the ideal government is interesting but it doesn’t immediately address the issue in the title. So while one may be still questioning what natural law is and if it exists, we are treated a discussion on the nature of government by philosophers who are already assuming that natural law exists. Given our current cultural climate and the title of the book, defending the claim that there is a natural law should take precedent.

Despite this complaint, I found that the book was well written. If I hadn’t already studied Aristotle, Locke and Mill in college I would have found it much more fascinating, as I found the part about Aquinas (whom I don’t know much about) fascinating. Since this book is more wide-ranging than I wished it to be, I will keep the rest of the review focused only on the narrow topic of the existence of natural law. (I did study political philosophy in depth in college but I will refrain from speaking of government.)

J’s (his last name is just too long) defense of natural law begins at the beginning, which happens to be Aristotle. The natural law for Aristotle could be accessed through the data we have from our sea of moral intuitions which are expressed in common opinion. Just as I have to measure the desk in front of me to find out its dimensions, I have to look to inner data to discover moral truth. Of course, he didn’t just assume that common opinion or everyone’s inner intuitions are true but uses these to ascend to truth by questioning and applying logical reasoning. Aristotle’s method here seems so commonsensical to me that I find that it hardly needs to be said. This goes to show either how much Aristotle has influenced me or how much I have come to the same conclusions as him in this respect.

Unless one is interested in political philosophy one shouldn’t read this book. To get more into the topic of the title, perhaps a sampling the world’s religious and moral texts would help. Reading C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. Peter Kreeft, a Catholic philosopher, recommends (shockingly) the Pope. To be quite honest most of this book builds castles in the air based on heavily disputed foundations. They are good looking castles, built by the most awesome philosophers like Aristotle and Aquinas, but they are castles in the air nonetheless. I guess I was hoping for something more substantial from this author.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Book Review: C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, by Victor Reppert

I found this to be a great defense of C.S. Lewis’s argument against naturalism. To state briefly, Lewis’ argument is that naturalism is self-refuting because it denies the very reasoning capacities that are needed to conclude that naturalism is true. How does it do this? In short, it collapses all reasoning into mere Cause and Effect, denying Ground-Consequent reasoning. Every state in the universe, including mental states, is just a result of the previous state and so forth. Person A votes for Barack Obama because of all the physical matter interactions in her brain and her environment, relegating rational inference to being only a smokescreen hiding these true physicalist explanations. What if Person A states that she is voting for Obama because she thinks his healthcare plan will greatly reduce unnecessary suffering in America? She may be thinking to herself, if I vote for Obama, then suffering will decrease. At hearing this the naturalist would have to jump up and look to evolutionary genetics, sociological theory, and the other ‘soft sciences’ for clues to the real explanation. The decision was perhaps due to her genes and/or environment. This in turn breaks down to the purely physical interactions of the ‘hard sciences,’ which turn from psychological explanations to purely physical ones. ‘She grew up in a very liberal Democratic area and her parents are Democrats’ turns to ‘These neurons in her brain fire when she thinks of Obama…‘ The chain of cause and effect, like a long line of dominoes, has been falling since the Big Bang ensuring from the beginning of the universe that she’d support Obama.

You can see the problem now for the naturalist who holds to a set of metaphysical beliefs such as, 1) The physical order is causally closed. 2) atheism, etc. Under the naturalist’s own schema though, these beliefs cannot be held up. Any rational justification could be debunked just as he debunked the Obama supporter above.

Theism can account for both Cause-Effect and Ground-Consequent relationships. Being created in the image of God we are endowed with reason. Person A could really be supporting Obama at bottom because of her rational beliefs. If one is to contend against her belief, one must do so on the Ground-Consequent level, as is usually (or perhaps one should say ’hopefully’) done in political debate. They must either show that her reasoning is invalid or unsound. If this argument is correct than basic explanations must include reasons as well as what Reppert calls, “the blind operation of nature obeying the laws of nature.” (Pg. 53)

Now that this argument is stated and expounded a bit I will move onto Elizabeth’s Anscombe’s criticism. There is obviously more to Reppert’s book than this but I want to touch only upon what I think to be the most significant/interesting ideas.

One significant criticism Anscombe employs is what Reppert calls a “paradigm case argument.” She basically asks why one should take Lewis seriously if they are a naturalist since if naturalism is true then Lewis’s distinctions between valid and invalid reasoning would be meaningless. By asking, what if all our reasoning is invalid is really to ask a meaningless question because in the naturalist paradigm such ideas of ‘true’ and ‘false’ are defined differently than the definitions Lewis used. In essence such people are playing a different language game. It would be like if a believer in Descartes’ Evil Deceiver tried to convince someone not of that belief that everything they believed was false. There would be communication difficulties to say the least.
Reppert gets around this by claiming that as a skeptical threat argument, the paradigm case objection would be valid, but if one changes the argument to a more modest argument to the best explanation then one gets around this objection. Rational inference must be assumed to exist for any discussion to take place. This conflicts with naturalism because under naturalism reason explanations are always reduced to physical explanations which are nonrational. Therefore, naturalism should be rejected as false.

Anscombe’s last line of attack claims that reason-explanations are noncausal. Lewis is quite correct here to object. If Person A votes for Obama because he gives him warm feelings inside than that shows that her claimed rational reasons for supporting him are if not untrue in themselves, then untrue when it comes to her own decision-making. A person cannot be thought of as rational unless their rational claims are causal over and against what is happening psychologically. Reppert states, “For example, if a prosecutor were to believe that the defendant was guilty on the basis of DNA evidence, what would we think of him if it turned out that he hated the defendant so much that he would believe in his guilt regardless of the DNA evidence?” (Pg. 64)

I would go onto Reppert’s six arguments from reason but I am tired and I frankly do not have a sufficient understanding of the philosophy of mind to consider them critically. After reading most of Lewis’ works and Reppert’s defense of him, I am confident that this argument is sound. Now, I am curious about what the ‘other side’ would say in response the Argument from Reason.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Instead of reviewing the anthology of Kierkegaard quotes I have read, I will just produce the ones that touched me most right here.

"If one who lives in the midst of Christendom goes up to the house of God, the house of the true God, with the true conception of God in his knowledge, and prays, but prays in a false spirit; and one who lives in an idolatrous community prays with the entire passion of the infinite, although his eyes rest upon the image of an idol: where is the most truth? The one prays in truth to God though he worships an idol; the other prays falsely to the true God, and hence in fact worships an idol."

"Christ says: Do according to what I say - then you shall know. Consequently, decisive action first of all. By acting, your life will come into collision with existence and then you will know the reality of grace. Nowadays we have turned the whole thing around. Christianity has become a worldview. Thus, before I get involved I must first justify it. Good night to Christianity! Now doubt has surely been conquered. And this doubt can never be halted by reasons, which only nourish doubt. No, doubt can only be halted by imitation."

"That Jesus Christ died for my sins certainly shows how great his grace is, but it also shows how great my sins are."

"The anguished conscience alone understands Christ."

"Is this the test: to love Christ more dearly than mother and father, than gold and goods, than honor and reputation? No, the test is this: to love the Savior more than your sin."

"That God could create beings free over against himself is the cross that philosophy could not bear but upon which it has remained hanging."

"The greatest danger for a child, where religion is concerned is not that his father or teacher should be an unbeliever, not even his being a hypocrite. No, the danger lies in their being pious and God-fearing, and in the child being convinced thereof, but that he should nevertheless notice that deep within there lies a terrible unrest. The danger is that the child is provoked to draw a conclusion about God, that God is not infinite love."

"Today's Christianity is a matter of being elevated for an hour once a week just as in the theater. It is now used to hearing everything without having the remotest notion of doing something."

"We can flee evil either out of fear for punishment - like slaves, or out of hope for reward - like hirelings, or out of love of God - like children."

"That a person wants to sit and brood and stare at his sin and is unwilling to have faith tht it is forgiven is itself a further guilt. It simply ignores what Christ has done."

"Only through the consciousness of sin is one admitted; to want to enter by any other road is high treason agains Christianity."

"A person sins out of weakness, then out of despair. In the strict sense the latter alone is the sin. Here, also, is the cross. You doubt that the sin you have committed out of weakness can be forgiven. All is lost, you think and thus you sin. But the cross can bring you to a halt, if you let it."

"What sin cries to heaven? The very one that hides most secretly and most quietly within. What the adulterers, murderers and thives do cries out already here on earth."

"It is not dreadful that I have to suffer punishment when I have acted badly. No, it would be dreadful if I could act badly - and there were no punishment."

"The opposite of sin is faith. And this is one of the most decisive definitions of all Christianity - that the opposie of sin is not virture but faith."

"The intensity of suffering is greatest when you have the power to free yourself from it. I must use my energy to force myself out into the suffering and then use it to endure the suffering."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Quotable Kierkegaard

"If there is no eternal consciousness in a human being, if at the bottom of everything is only a wild ferment, a power that, twisting in dark passions, produces everything great or inconsequential; if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lies hidden between everything, what would life be then but despair? If this is the way life is, if there is no sacred bond uniting mankind, if one gerneration rises up after another like the leaves of the forest, if one generation succeeds the other as the songs of birds in the woods, if the human race passes through the world as a ship through the sea or the wind through the desert, a thoughtless and fruitless whim, if an eternal obivion always lurks hungrily for its prey and there is no power strong enough to wrest it from its clutches - how empty and devoid of consolation life would be!" -Soren Kierkegaard

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Book Review: Dare We Hope "That All Men Be Saved"? With a Short Discourse on Hell, by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

This was a great book which helped me clarify my position on this important doctrine which directly bears on the issue of salvation, eschatology, and the Gospel itself. In this book the notable Catholic theologian Balthasar outlines his position on hell in which he takes issue with much of church tradition, especially Augustine, the Scholastics and Calvin. According to Balthasar their egregious error was their certainity that most or much of humanity was and is damned. How do they know this? Is this the unassailable conclusion received from the Scriptures?

Balthasar argued that it is not. Yes, the Scriptures speak about eternal damnation and Jesus himself gives grave warnings that damnation is a real threat that may befall individuals. It would be improper to try and explain away these passages in scripture with a universalistic picture in mind. Where Balthasar differs from most conservatives (both Protestant and Catholic) is that he also claims that it would be improper to explain away the universalistic texts with an Augustinian view of hell in mind. In the New Testament there are two series of texts which are irreconcilable in one large scale interpretative framework without using one set to undermine what the other is saying. Since the 'hell-fire' texts come more easily to mind to me (and probably many Christians) I will quote below some of the universalistic texts:

"God...desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all." (1st Tim. 2:4)

"[Christ is] the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." (1st Tim. 4:10)

"Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (John 12:31)

"The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men." (Titus 2:11)

"God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all..." (Romans 11:32)

I could keep quoting but I think that I communicated the point. Throughout most of Church history this part of Scripture has either been ignored or interpreted through the lens of the 'hell-fire' passages so that they no longer have their true universalistic meaning applied to them. Since Augustine, the threats about hell hardened to actualities about the non-Christian other. An us vs. them mentality was spawned instead of a true Kingdom mentality. The tension between grace and judgment in Augustine (which goes back to Paul) was decided on the side of (punitive) 'judgment.' This tension in the writings of the Apostle Paul was abolished by Augustine and from him through the medieval era, through the Reformation and all the way down to many Christians today, the issue was decided.

The alternative view, embraced by Balthasar (and tentatively, me) is that a Christian can and should hope for the salvation of all, meaning the hope that God's grace reaches even the hardest of hearts in the end. Unlike universalists we do not state this hope as a certain fact. We live under judgment and we do not know. Neither can we state the Augustinian converse. It is not our place to judge but Christ's. The threat of hell is not spoken primarily about others but about me. It is placed to each individual reading Scripture or this blog entry. "...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matt. 25:40)

Balthasar provides this quote from Josef Pieper at the end of his book Dare We Hope:

"In theological hope the 'antitithesis' between divine justice and divine mercy is, as it were, 'removed'- not so much 'theoretically' as existentiall: supernatural hope is man's appropriate, existential answer to the fact that these qualities in God, which to the creature appear contradictory, are actually identical. One who looks only at the justice of God is as little able to hope as is one who sees only the mercy of God. Both fall prey to hopelessness- one to the hopelessness of despair, the other to the hopelessness of presumption. Only hope is able to comprehend the reality of God that surpasses all antititheses, to know that his mercy is identical to his justice and his judtice with his mercy."

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Hell of a Problem: Part 1

I am realizing more now than ever before that my deepest doubts about Christianity revolve around the issue of Hell. It is especially the alleged eternal nature of the torment that is bothersome to me both emotionally and intellectually. As much as I disagree with atheists and the like I can’t bring myself to believe that they will be separated from all that is good for all eternity while experiencing unending torment.

I’ve had many email discussions with friends on this topic and have spoken with many Christians about it, but nothing has been resolved. It never came to a satisfying conclusion where I could honestly say to myself, “So that’s the answer.” So I am hoping against hope that I can resolve this on my blog. :)

Below are ten propositions on Hell from this blog:

I’ll mull these over for the next few days and post my thoughts on them on Saturday.

1. What is hell? Hell cannot be known in and of itself. As a negative to a positive, hell can only be known as the antithesis of heaven. Heaven is life with God, hell is existence without God.

2. Or, again – because God is love – hell is lovelessness. At its centre, hell is not hot; hell (as Dante saw) is cold, ice-cold. Or if, with most of Christian tradition, hell be aflame, “Yet from those flames / No light, but rather darkness visible” (Milton, Paradise Lost, 1.62-63).

3. The opposite of love is not so much hatred as fear. The wilted tree of hatred has terror for its roots. Hell is the war of terror.

4. And hell is despair, utter despair. Dante again: “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.”

5. And hell is power, absolute power – potestas absoluta. “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these things I will give you…’” (Matthew 4:8-9).

6. Heaven is communion, hell is isolation. Sartre was wrong: hell is not other people, hell is me, myself and I. Milton’s Satan: “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell” (Paradise Lost, 4.75).

7. But more: “I can speak of hell only in relation to myself, precisely because I can never imagine the possible damnation of another as more likely that my own” (Hans Urs von Balthasar). Of one thing we can be sure about anyone who knows the population of hell: he himself will be in the census.

8. Hell is not about what God does, hell is about what we do, about the horrendous evils humans commit. We trivialise these evils and betray the world’s victims if we deny the reality of hell.

9. Yet hell is not a datum of faith in the creeds. “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” (Apostles’ Creed). “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come” (Nicene Creed). We do not believe in hell.

10. Therefore while hell is real, we may pray and hope that hell will finally be empty. “This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ.” Thus the church will not preach hell – “the gospel at gunpoint” – “it will preach the overwhelming power of grace and the weakness of human wickedness in face of it” (Karl Barth). “For the Lord will not reject for ever” (Lamentations 3:31).

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Conversion of John C. Wright

One of my newly favorite science fiction authors is a man by the name of John C. Wright. Wright was once an atheist but has converted to Christ through a combination of philosophical discovery and religious experience. His conversion story has profoundly touched me. Here it is:

“My conversion was in two parts: a natural part and a supernatural part.

Here is the natural part: first, over a period of two years my hatred toward Christianity eroded due to my philosophical inquiries.

Rest assured, I take the logical process of philosophy very seriously, and I am impatient with anyone who is not a rigorous and trained thinker. Reason is the tool men use to determine if their statements about reality are valid: there is no other. Those who do not or cannot reason are little better than slaves, because their lives are controlled by the ideas of other men, ideas they have not examined.

To my surprise and alarm, I found that, step by step, logic drove me to conclusions no modern philosophy shared, but only this ancient and (as I saw it then) corrupt and superstitious foolery called the Church. Each time I followed the argument fearlessly where it lead, it kept leading me, one remorseless rational step at a time, to a position the Church had been maintaining for more than a thousand years. That haunted me.

Second, I began to notice how shallow, either simply optimistic or simply pessimistic, other philosophies and views of life were.

The public conduct of my fellow atheists was so lacking in sobriety and gravity that I began to wonder why, if we atheists had a hammerlock on truth, so much of what we said was pointless or naive. I remember listening to a fellow atheist telling me how wonderful the world would be once religion was swept into the dustbin of history, and I realized the chap knew nothing about history. If atheism solved all human woe, then the Soviet Union would have been an empire of joy and dancing bunnies, instead of the land of corpses.

I would listen to my fellow atheists, and they would sound as innocent of any notion of what real human life was like as the Man from Mars who has never met human beings or even heard clear rumors of them. Then I would read something written by Christian men of letters, Tolkien, Lewis, or G.K. Chesterton, and see a solid understanding of the joys and woes of human life. They were mature men.

I would look at the rigorous logic of St. Thomas Aquinas, the complexity and thoroughness of his reasoning, and compare that to the scattered and mentally incoherent sentimentality of some poseur like Nietzsche or Sartre. I can tell the difference between a rigorous argument and shrill psychological flatulence. I can see the difference between a dwarf and a giant.

My wife is a Christian and is extraordinary patient, logical, and philosophical. For years I would challenge and condemn her beliefs, battering the structure of her conclusions with every argument, analogy, and evidence I could bring to bear. I am a very argumentative man, and I am as fell and subtle as a serpent in debate. All my arts failed against her. At last I was forced to conclude that, like non-Euclidian geometry, her world-view logically followed from its axioms (although the axioms were radically mystical, and I rejected them with contempt). Her persistence compared favorably to the behavior of my fellow atheists, most of whom cannot utter any argument more mentally alert than a silly ad Hominem attack. Once again, I saw that I was confronting a mature and serious world-view, not merely a tissue of fables and superstitions.

Third, a friend of mine asked me what evidence, if any, would be sufficient to convince me that the supernatural existed. This question stumped me. My philosophy at the time excluded the contemplation of the supernatural axiomatically: by definition (my definition) even the word "super-natural" was a contradiction in terms. Logic then said that, if my conclusions were definitional, they were circular. I was assuming the conclusion of the subject matter in dispute.
Now, my philosophy at the time was as rigorous and exact as 35 years of study could make it (I started philosophy when I was seven). This meant there was no point for reasonable doubt in the foundational structure of my axioms, definitions, and common notions. This meant that, logically, even if God existed, and manifested Himself to me, my philosophy would force me to reject the evidence of my senses, and dismiss any manifestations as a coincidence, hallucination, or dream. Under this hypothetical, my philosophy would force me to an exactly wrong conclusion due to structural errors of assumption.

A philosopher (and I mean a serious and manly philosopher, not a sophomoric boy) does not use philosophy to flinch away from truth or hide from it. A philosophy composed of structural false-to-facts assumptions is insupportable.

A philosopher goes where the truth leads, and has no patience with mere emotion.
But it was impossible, logically impossible, that I should ever believe in such nonsense as to believe in the supernatural. It would be a miracle to get me to believe in miracles.
So I prayed. "Dear God, I know (because I can prove it with the certainty that a geometer can prove opposite angles are equal) that you do not exist. Nonetheless, as a scholar, I am forced to entertain the hypothetical possibility that I am mistaken. So just in case I am mistaken, please reveal yourself to me in some fashion that will prove your case. If you do not answer, I can safely assume that either you do not care whether I believe in you, or that you have no power to produce evidence to persuade me. The former argues you not beneficent, the latter not omnipotent: in either case unworthy of worship. If you do not exist, this prayer is merely words in the air, and I lose nothing but a bit of my dignity. Thanking you in advance for your kind cooperation in this matter, John Wright."

I had a heart attack two days later. God obviously has a sense of humor as well as a sense of timing.

Now for the supernatural part.

My wife called someone from her Church, which is a denomination that practices healing through prayer. My wife read a passage from their writings, and the pain vanished. If this was a coincidence, then, by God, I could use more coincidences like that in my life.
Feeling fit, I nonetheless went to the hospital, so find out what had happened to me. The diagnosis was grave, and a quintuple bypass heart surgery was ordered. So I was in the hospital for a few days.

Those were the happiest days of my life. A sense of peace and confidence, a peace that passes all understanding, like a field of energy entered my body. I grew aware of a spiritual dimension of reality of which I had hitherto been unaware. It was like a man born blind suddenly receiving sight.

The Truth to which my lifetime as a philosopher had been devoted turned out to be a living thing. It turned and looked at me. Something from beyond the reach of time and space, more fundamental than reality, reached across the universe and broke into my soul and changed me. This was not a case of defense and prosecution laying out evidence for my reason to pick through: I was altered down to the root of my being.

It was like falling in love. If you have not been in love, I cannot explain it. If you have, you will raise a glass with me in toast.

Naturally, I was overjoyed. First, I discovered that the death sentence under which all life suffers no longer applied to me. The governor, so to speak, had phoned. Second, imagine how puffed up with pride you'd be to find out you were the son of Caesar, and all the empire would be yours. How much more, then, to find out you were the child of God?

I was also able to perform, for the first time in my life, the act which I had studied philosophy all my life to perform, which is, to put aside all fear of death. The Roman Stoics, whom I so admire, speak volumes about this philosophical fortitude. But their lessons could not teach me this virtue. The blessing of the Holy Spirit could and did impart it to me, as a gift. So the thing I've been seeking my whole life was now mine.

Then, just to make sure I was flooded with evidence, I received three visions like Scrooge being visited by three ghosts. I was not drugged or semiconscious, I was perfectly alert and in my right wits.

It was not a dream. I have had dreams every night of my life. I know what a dream is. It was not a hallucination. I know someone who suffers from hallucinations, and I know the signs. Those signs were not present here.

Then, just to make even more sure that I was flooded with overwhelming evidence, I had a religious experience. This is separate from the visions, and took place several days after my release from the hospital, when my health was moderately well. I was not taking any pain-killers, by the way, because I found that prayer could banish pain in moments.

During this experience, I became aware of the origin of all thought, the underlying oneness of the universe, the nature of time: the paradox of determinism and free will was resolved for me. I saw and experienced part of the workings of a mind infinitely superior to mine, a mind able to count every atom in the universe, filled with paternal love and jovial good humor. The cosmos created by the thought of this mind was as intricate as a symphony, with themes and reflections repeating themselves forward and backward through time: prophecy is the awareness that a current theme is the foreshadowing of the same theme destined to emerge with greater clarity later. A prophet is one who is in tune, so to speak, with the music of the cosmos.

The illusionary nature of pain, and the logical impossibility of death, were part of the things I was shown.

Now, as far as these experiences go, they are not unique. They are not even unusual. More people have had religious experiences than have seen the far side of the moon. Dogmas disagree, but mystics are strangely (I am tempted to say mystically) in agreement.

The things I was shown have echoes both in pagan and Christian tradition, both Eastern and Western (although, with apologies to my pagan friends, I see that Christianity is the clearest expression of these themes, and also has a logical and ethical character other religions expressions lack).

Further, the world view implied by taking this vision seriously (1) gives supernatural sanction to conclusions only painfully reached by logic (2) supports and justifies a mature rather than simplistic world-view (3) fits in with the majority traditions not merely of the West, but also, in a limited way, with the East.

As a side issue, the solution of various philosophical conundrums, like the problem of the one and the many, mind-body duality, determinism and indeterminism, and so on, is an added benefit. If you are familiar with such things, I follow the panentheist idealism of Bishop Berkeley; and, no, Mr. Johnson does not refute him merely by kicking a stone.

From that time to this, I have had prayers answered and seen miracles: each individually could be explained away as a coincidence by a skeptic, but not taken as a whole. From that time to this, I continue to be aware of the Holy Spirit within me, like feeling a heartbeat. It is a primary impression coming not through the medium of the senses: an intuitive axiom, like the knowledge of one's own self-being.

This, then, is the final answer to your question: it would not be rational for me to doubt something of which I am aware on a primary and fundamental level.

Occam's razor cuts out hallucination or dream as a likely explanation for my experiences. In order to fit these experiences into an atheist framework, I would have to resort to endless ad hoc explanations: this lacks the elegance of geometers and parsimony of philosophers.

I would also have to assume all the great thinkers of history were fools. While I was perfectly content to support this belief back in my atheist days, this is a flattering conceit difficult to maintain seriously.

On a pragmatic level, I am somewhat more useful to my fellow man than before, and certainly more charitable. If it is a daydream, why wake me up? My neighbors will not thank you if I stop believing in the mystical brotherhood of man.

Besides, the atheist non-god is not going to send me to non-hell for my lapse of non-faith if it should turn out that I am mistaken.”

Posted by John C. Wright on Catholic Answers Forums on Wednesday November 23, 2005 at 11:21 AM. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Minimal Fact Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus

Below is an email I sent to my friend. It is an argument for the Resurrection of Jesus that summarizes what I have just read in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. I also have in there other information from other things that I have read. Please feel free to critique or comment on any of this.

I've read the first part of that book that covers Habermas's basic argument for the Resurrection of Jesus. He describes it as the "minimal fact" approach which lays out the facts which the vast majority of scholarship are agreed upon. This way we don't have to get into inspiration doctrines and all that. Let me lay them all out for you and then you can ask me questions about them.

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.

When I listed this one in my email to my father a while back he gave the most profound "duh" answer. He told me that I hardly needed to state this one. Nevertheless, it is important to state. If Jesus didn't die, then he couldn't have risen. This is attested to by the Gospels, Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion and that Talmud. John Dominic Crossan wrote, "That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be."

2. Jesus' disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.

Remember the acronym POW which means Paul, Oral Testimony, Written Testimony. The more detailed version of this is Paul's testimony about the disciples, the oral tradition passed through the early church, and the written works of the early church. About 20 years after the crucifixion Paul wrote 1st Corinthians in which he recited a creedal statement that he received from the early church. In 15:3-5 he said, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." It is uncertain exactly when Paul picked this up from the early church. Many scholars think that it was when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion and saw Peter and James. If that's true then he got the creed within five years after the crucifixion and from the disciples themselves. Other scholars think he got it later than that. In any case, he obtained it before he wrote the first letter to the Corinthians in 55 A.D.

Another source that contains oral testimony from the early church is the Book of Acts. In it are sermons that bear the markings of short summaries early church teachings that can be traced to the earliest teachings of the church and possibly to the disciples themselves. Thus, we have stuff contemporaneous with the apostles, attributed to the apostles, and in agreement with Paul's eyewitness testimony that this is what the church was preaching.

There are also the Gospels. Nearly every scholar agrees that they were written in the first century, meaning that at the latest they were written within 70 years of Jesus's death and alleged resurrection.

Next are the apostolic fathers. Clement of Rome (30-100 A.D.) attests to the proclamation of the resurrection by the apostles. Irenaeus and Tertullian later on confirm this. Clement notes that the resurrection was the central teaching of the church. Polycarp also emphasizes the centrality of the resurrection in his writings.

The skeptical New Testament critic who did not believe in the resurrection, Norman Perrin wrote, "The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based."

I remember reading an atheist NT scholar who believed in the appearances. By that I mean that he thought that the disciples believed that they saw the risen Christ. People throughout history up to now have believed many false things so this does not show that the appearances were real but that the disciples thought that what they experienced was true.

Not only did they claim this but they believed it. By this I mean that they were willing to suffer to the death for it. A contemporary of the apostles, Clement of Rome attested to this. The book of Acts does as well. So did Polycarp, Ignatius, Tertullian, and Origen.

Thus, we can conclude from this that the disciples regarded their belief as true. Even Bultmann granted this. The atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann said, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ."

3. The church persecutor Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) was suddenly changed.

This is well attested to and I don't think I need to go into great detail about it. Many of the same people I mentioned above attested to this as well as Paul himself. It should be noted though that this is independent of the other disciples since Paul wasn't converted by them but by a vision of the risen Christ. Of all the stuff I've heard disputed, this is not one of them.

4. The skeptic James, the brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.

The Gospels state that James along with Jesus' other siblings did not believe during his ministry.
That ancient creed (1st Cor. 15:3-7) states, "then He appeared to James"

In Acts as well as Paul's letter to the Galatians, James is identified as a leader of the Jerusalem church.

James was martyred for his belief in Jesus. This is attested by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria. I put more weight on the Josephus reference because the the two others were reported by Eusebius who I have some legitimate doubts about. But heck, the fact that Eusebius screwed up on some things doesn't mean that he screwed up here. Anyway, despite some doubts about the martyrdom, I think we have good evidence that he did see the risen Christ, convert, and become a leader in the early church. That alone is good enough.

5. The tomb was empty.

Unlike the other four claims, this one is not agreed upon by nearly all scholars. Habermas did a study on this and found that in our early 21st century period the ratio of scholars who believe this compared with those who reject it is about 3:1.

After the crucifixion and alleged resurrection, the disciples proclaimed the faith first in Jerusalem. If the tomb was not empty all the Jewish priests and Roman authorities would have had to do was to take the body out of the tomb as show it to the people. Skeptics have said that after fifty days (which was when the preaching started) the body would have been unrecognizable due to decomposition. Habermas argues that the dryness and heat of the region would have prevented this. (He cites a medical examiner in Virginia who said that even in Virginia summer weather that level of decomposition would not have happened.) The second problem with this is that the enemies of the faith would still have gotten an advantage out of showing a decayed corpse to the masses. The Christians would have disputed it but it may have caused a mass exodus of believers which would have presumably been mentioned by Justin, Tertullian and Origen later, assuming that none of these also lose (or never gain) faith because of this. Celsus would have wanted to say something about it if this happened as well since it would have given him ammunition.

Not only did Christians believe that the tomb was empty but their enemies did too. In Matthew's gospel the early critics claimed that the disciples stole the body. The presumption of these critics was that the tomb was empty. Justin Martyr and Tertullian also demonstrate this in their writings.

The testimony of the women is also very important since if one were to invent this story back then, they would have had men discover it first since both Jewish and Roman culture of that period ran very much against the reliability of female witnesses.

The acronym JET is a good one to remember about the arguments for the empty tomb. It stands for Jerusalem Factor, Enemy Attested, and Testimony of Women.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis

It has been a long time I've posted here. I am going to try and post regularly every weekend from now on (until I run out of books to review). Perhaps I will be able to resurrect this blog.

Like Mere Christianity, this book is based on things he said orally, in this case a lecture. Lewis argued that the danger we face in society is a reductionistic Scientism which ends up turning Man himself into just another object of Nature and thus totally subsumed by it. Basicallly, the paradox is that as humanity increases in technological and scientific knowledge in order to gain mastery over Nature, it also gives up a little bit of its humanity as well until human beings themselves are considered only products of Nature to be shaped at the will of their Molders. He sees a Brave New World-type situation emerging if things don't turn around.

All this stems from reducing objective statements like, "This flower is majestically beautiful," to "He merely gets a happy feeling when he looks at the flower." In other words, it is taking what is an objective statement about the reality of the flower and turning it to just a subjective feeling. This gets worse when applied to moral statements. The Moral Law or the Tao that all societies have known (but of course none has fully followed) is completely denied by the above debunkers of aesthetic statements. Certainly not compeletely denied since the debunkers have values themselves that they believe are exempt from the debunking process. But if reductionism has its way, it will be more difficult for these debunkers to protect the pieces of the Tao that they do believe in from the onslaught.

This is a very short book but a very important one given our current state of conflict between various worldviews.