Showing posts with label Christian apologetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian apologetics. Show all posts

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review of Bertrand Russell's Lecture "Why I am not a Christian" Part 2

Here we go again! Let's finish this. I started review/critiquing Bertrand Russell's lecture and I highly recommend that you read part one before continuing here. Without any more intro, let's jump right back in.

"The Moral Arguments for a Deity" -- His understanding of the argument is fairly rudimentary, but I agree with this first part, "One form is to say that there would be no right and wrong unless God existed." The way Dr. William Lane Craig phrases the argument is actually in the negative form: "If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. Objective moral values and duties do exist. Therefore, God does exist." So, his phrasing isn't a problem at the outset. Then he goes into this:
"I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God."
Here's the problem I have with this section. It's all stolen. It's basically a modern version of Plato's famous Euthyphro problem (often called the Euthyphro dilemma). To boil it down, either God commands goodness, or God is subject to goodness. This is a problem for the Christian making the moral argument because the crux of the issue is "objective moral values." If God commands goodness then is it "objective"? Russell doesn't have much more to say, other than it could very well be some other source of morality, he calls it a "superior deity." There are lots of good answers to the Euthyphro problem and I don't want today's issue to be as long as yesterday's so I'll merely point you to my two previous writings on the subject and this other post.

"The Argument For The Remedying Of Injustice" -- Here we come to what seems like the least invested of Russell's arguments. He says that, "they say, that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world." The odd thing that doesn't make sense in this argument is I can't see where one can conclude, "therefore God exists." Maybe one might conclude, "therefore it'd be better if God existed." Essentially, we have a cruel world where is seems that bad people are rewarded and good people suffer. I don't see this as a very strong argument so Russell's critique is fair. He uses this analogy: "Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: 'The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.' You would say: 'Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment;' and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe." Even though I don't think the argument can conclude that God exists. I do think the existence of Heaven/Hell does make living more comfortable for the Christian. Think about it, if bad people are guaranteed to get their comeuppance, that could give some comfort to believers, but not necessarily.

Here is seems that Russell finally tips his hand. He says, "What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people's desire for a belief in God." Basically, Russell seems to portray a level of omniscience here. Has he interviewed every believer ever? Interesting though, surely Russell knows of the Apostle Paul. Paul is well known as one of the most prolific Christian missionaries, and he certainly didn't seem to have a wish for safety. Paul lists the "safety" that he was enjoying as a Christian teacher in 2 Cor. 11:24-31. It's only the modern "prosperity gospel" teachers that really state that Christianity really brings a comfortable life. Still none of this concludes, God does not exist or even that God does exist. In fact, this is a textbook kind of genetic fallacy. Even if every Christian everywhere only believes in God because of emotional desires and because they were "taught from early infancy to do it," that doesn't mean that God does not exist. What does it matter why people believe in God?

"The Character of Christ" -- This series of arguments are, again, rather unconvincing to the existence of God, though they are aimed directly at Christianity. As I said in part one, if Christ isn't divine, then Christianity is worthless/false. This leads to an interesting conundrum though, because Russell freely admits that he just doesn't agree with some of the teachings of Christ. This whole bit is just Russell's opinion. Also, this is just Russell saying, in a sense, I don't like these teachings. This also wouldn't conclude, "Therefore, God does not exist." The best one could conclude is that Russell doesn't like the teaching of Jesus. He starts with the "turn the other cheek." But, he dismisses this by saying that it wasn't original to Christ. Does Russell really think that an itinerant rabbi in first century Israel would steal a teaching (or even know, without being divine)? This is a teaching that Russell says came from "Lao-Tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ." Which is more reasonable, that Jesus simply taught this or that he somehow had access to Far Eastern thought and teaching centuries before the rest of the Western world? I guess this is just Russell complimenting Jesus' teaching, but then dismissing it because others have had similar teachings. Next he takes aim at, "'Judge not lest ye be judged.' That principle I do not think you would find was popular in the law courts of Christian countries. I have known in my time quite a number of judges who were very earnest Christians, and they none of them felt that they were acting contrary to Christian principles in what they did." So, Russell likes this teaching but has a problem with Christians following His teaching!? This, like so many other things in Russell's lecture, betrays a serious lack of logical reasoning. This is kind of like Russell saying that because Christian judges ignore Jesus' teachings, Jesus wasn't a good teacher. Clearly that is a total non-sequitur. One last thing that Russell likes, "Then there is one other maxim of Christ which I think has a great deal in it, but I do not find that it is very popular among some of our Christian friends. He says, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor." That is a very excel ent maxim, but, as I say, it is not much practiced. All these, I think, are good maxims, although they are a little difficult to live up to." Again I have to ask, what does this prove?

"Defects In Christ's Teaching" -- Here Russell falls in with some extremely outlandish views. "Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one." Why would he go and say a silly think like the existence of Christ is doubtful? The existence of Jesus Christ is one of the best attested things in history. There is more textual evidence of the biographies of Jesus Christ (the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament) than there is anything else of that age. We have more evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ than is necessary to conclude that Jesus certainly existed. His first actual problem with Christ's teaching is, "[Jesus] certainly thought his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that." Here's the kicker for Jesus' supposed claim that His second coming would be soon. The key phrase in the passage is that certain things will not happen until "the Son of Man comes into His kingdom." What exactly does Jesus mean by "come into His kingdom"? Now, clearly some in the early Church thought this was true. However, Paul specifically taught early Christians at the church of Thessalonica that they need to not live lazy lives just waiting around for Christ to return. So, sure Christians in the early Church thought that Jesus was returning in their time, but just because people have misunderstood this teaching doesn't mean that it was false. One interesting point though, Russell quotes Jesus as saying, "Take no thought for the morrow," but like so many before, Russell is taking a verse out of context. But, here it's used to deceive. The context for Jesus instructing his followers to not worry about tomorrow is not in the context of the Second Coming.

"The Moral Problem" -- Russell now aims his criticism of Jesus' teaching to what he calls moral deficiencies. He says, "There is one very serious defect to my mind in “Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment." So, despite Russell previously saying that Christians don't have to believe in Hell to be Christians and that he's not going to criticize that view, he now says that Christ can't be moral if He teaches about Hell. Russell also seems to have a problem with how Christ speaks to those with whom He disagrees. He compares Jesus' harshness with Socrates, but again this is a misunderstanding of Christian theology. Jesus doesn't level criticism toward those that merely disagree with him. That's not what salvation in Christianity is about. You don't have to "agree" with Jesus to be saved. Sure, if you are a Christian you will agree with Christ's teachings. But, salvation is a matter of accepting the teaching that Christ is the payment for one's sins, not just agreeing with Jesus' teachings. This doesn't sound like a convincing argument, "I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of this sort into the world." Russell doesn't think that a kind person would preach in a way that makes people afraid!? I've  heard this analogy a few times so I don't remember the exact source. Imagine you know that someone is walking towards a cliff. Is it a kind person who just lets that person walk off the cliff? Is there even a time when telling someone that they might die that might be scary for that person? Is that okay? Again, the kind person would be the one that tries to keep the person from dying, even sometimes using fear.

His other criticism was fairly personal. He doesn't like Jesus cast out demons into some pigs that then run off a cliff. He thinks that wasn't very nice and that a kind person wouldn't do that. Same with the withered fig tree. A kind person wouldn't do those mean things. These are petty and not very powerful arguments against Christ's teaching. Just because you don't like the way Jesus did things doesn't mean that he wasn't kind. Russell's opinion, for what that's worth, is clear, "I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to History. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects."

"The Emotional Factor" -- "One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous," I think Dennett stole this (at least I don't recall him giving credit to Russell). He talks about this in his work Breaking the Spell. Why does this seem to be an unspoken, often spoken of, rule? If anything, Christianity has welcomed a huge history of probing and analyzing of its claims. It's also interesting to note that the very existence of the supposed New Atheists is the 9/11 attacks. The New Atheists responded to the 9/11 by trying to debunk all religion as dangerous. Please convince me that religion makes men virtuous and yet, is somehow the cause of more bloodshed than anything else and dangerous. Either Russell is wrong, or the New Atheists are wrong (they could both be wrong). Here again Russell fails in his rhetoric, "That is the idea -- that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called Ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion." He contradicts himself. We can't attack religion because it keeps people behaving morally, but people behave very badly when they are religious. He insists that Christianity is morally bankrupt: "I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world." Dawkins rips off this idea in The God Delusion. He refers to a moral zeitgeist. That morality is progressing, but Christianity is holding it back. Funny word though, progress, what would it mean to progress morally? Progress implies an intended direction. Where are we heading morally speaking?

"How The Churches Have Retarded Progress" -- Here is the main quote:
Supposing that in this world that we live in today an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man, in that case the Catholic Church says, 'This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must stay together for life,' and no steps of any sort must be taken by that woman to prevent herself from giving birth to syphilitic children. This is what the Catholic church says. I say that that is fiendish cruelty, and nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.
But, we don't really have a good accounting for what is moral or immoral action. This critique of the "Catholic Church" (by which I assume he means the Roman Catholic Church) is nothing more than, Russell doesn't like the presumed teachings of the Church. This is nothing more than Russell's opinion. As such, it doesn't really deserve a response. Just as the previous issue, if we don't know where morality is progressing, we can't say that the Church is retarding its progress.

"Fear, The Foundation Of Religion" -- Russell says, "Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things." Again, mere speculation. Is this really the truth? How does Russell know that Christianity is based on fear? Sure, there can be aspects of Christianity that are scary, but really, does Russell think that it's all about fear? Russell says that science can alleviate these fears, but how is that? He doesn't explain what science has to do with alleviating fear.

"What We Must Do" -- Finally, we come to Russell's conclusion and not a moment too soon. Russell says, "We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world -- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it." (Emphasis mine.) Again, what's the meaning of "good"? Russell hasn't given us what goodness means, so these are just his opinions. Also, facts cannot be good or bad, they're just facts. This final quote I completely agree with, except the idea that Russell is implying that Christianity is what's wrong with the world and it is what needs changing/abolishing. "A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create." I find a bit of irony in Russell implying that Christianity is full of "ignorant men." Christianity has long been a bastion of education. Maybe today it's not as focused on education as it has been in the past, but it definitely isn't full of "ignorant men." In this final thrust, we have another genetic fallacy. Even if Christianity were full of and lead by only ignorant men, that wouldn't make it false.

Let's wrap this up. I don't have much more to say. This lecture was pretty sad. If anything it was like Dawkins' book The God Delusion. Just like that book, reading this lecture actually strengthened my faith. If this lecture represents the best arguments against Christianity, then Christianity is almost definitely true.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review of Bertrand Russell's Lecture "Why I am not a Christian" Part 1

So, two instigating factors drove me to read this famous lecture given by Bertrand Russell in 1929 (or at least the text I have was copyrighted in 1929). The first was a conversation online with a skeptic. We were discussing the moral argument for God. To be more specific we were discussing whether or not the skeptics I was engaging (on a Facebook site specifically for discussing religion) were actually atheists or "simply lacking belief in God." The discussion was started by the page owner sharing a post that said there were only three options, you either accept the proposition that there is a God, reject the proposition, or just don't care or know. This kind of discussion comes up all the time as modern (New Atheists) online skeptics often like to shirk the burden of proof (or really any responsibility in their position) by saying that they don't believe that God doesn't exist, they simply lack the belief that any god exists. Basically they often try to claim the null view, as opposed to a negative view. Anyways, that's backstory. One of these atheists quoted Russell's famous lecture as a response to my posting of the moral argument for the existence of God. Then, Friday night I met up with a small apologetics discussion group to watch the recently released movie, The Case for Christ. I'd seen the movie before, but on this viewing it struck me that Lee Strobel had once been strongly influenced by Russell's teachings (he specifically references this lecture). I then decided that if this was a good enough lecture for them, I ought to know what this great lecture actually taught. I didn't expect it to dissuade me from Christianity, but I want to know what Russell actually taught rather than hearing it secondhand. Without further ado, here we go.

I'm going to tackle each section separately:

"What is a Christian?" -- Here I actually appreciate Russell's honesty. He is clearheaded enough to not attack a straw man. He talks about watered-down Christianity that was, and still is, popular. He's right to say that Christianity is more than just "... a person who attempts to live a good life." I disagree that "The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions." I know Christians that could be described that way, in fact, I consider myself to be one! I also disagree with the notion that a Christian can believe that Christ was the "best and wisest of men." A fundamental doctrine of Christianity has to be that Jesus Christ was more than just a wise man, but that He is divine. If Christ isn't divine then Christianity is false, and the surety for that truth is the truth of the resurrection. I also agree with his point concerning the abandonment of the doctrine of Hell. While I accept that Christians can, without abandoning Christianity altogether, have different views of Hell. There still needs to be some kind of understanding of an afterlife, which generally entails Hell and Heaven at the least. It's interesting from a rhetorician's point of view that while he here says that he's not going to include belief in Hell as part of fundamental Christian views, but later he does attack the theology of Hell saying that, "I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment." So, believing in Hell isn't fundamental to Christianity, but it is a fundamental teaching of Christ and Russell can't be humane and believe in Hell at the same time. Despite what seems like Russell going back on his statement that Christians don't have to believe in Hell to be Christians, let's move on.

"The Existence of God" -- I was hoping that this would be where his really heavy-hitting arguments against God would start to come out, but alas this section is more about how this is too big of an argument to condense into such a short space (this was a lecture), and that he was only going to summarize his position. It is curious though that he brings up the Roman Catholic Church's teaching "that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason." This is a bit confusing because it seems like he's lambasting the Roman Catholic position as being about faith without reason, but then he says that he's going to take on only a few of their arguments here. I am puzzled. If their position is that it's a matter of faith and not reason, then why would they have arguments at all? Arguments are a feature of rational inquiry and persuasion, not blind faith.

"The First Cause Argument" -- Here we go, finally. His first critique of this argument is to call into doubt the concept of causation entirely. He says, "The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have; but apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity." I don't appreciate the hubris. He hasn't made an argument yet and yet he's already assuring us that it cannot have any validity!? Also, it seems he's trying to say that science has somehow removed the need for a First Cause. How so? He hasn't offered any explanation of that, just a throwaway phrase that "men of science" have somehow debunked this argument. If anything, this argument has only gained traction in the area of science. Big Bang theory has exploded (yes a pun) on the scientific scene as a cosmology that destroys Russell's claim that "men of science" have reduced the vitality of this argument. They have demonstrated quite convincingly that there was an ultimate beginning to the universe, which plays right into the Christian's hand. In Russell's defense Big Bang cosmology was still young in the 1920's but he still doesn't have a scientific leg to stand on here. In addition to floundering scientifically, I think Russell just hasn't contemplated the philosophical arguments against a temporally infinite universe. He says that "the philosophers" have gotten at this as well, but still doesn't address how there could be an infinite past.

After this failure Russell commits probably his worst philosophical argumentation misstep (at least so far), he sets up an easy straw man. He says that when he was eighteen he was convinced by John Stuart Mill's autobiography that there is this question that kills the First Cause argument: "Who made God?" Really? That's your knockout blow? His parody (well, I wish it were a parody, apparently he take this seriously) is, "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument." First, no theist ever says, intentionally, that "everything must have a cause." There are different varieties of this argument, so I can't include them all, but suffice it to say that Christian theologians/apologists who use First Cause arguments aren't so stupid as to clearly paint themselves into a corner with "everything must have a cause." The phrase that I've heard from most is, "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." That is a fair premise and it doesn't sound anything like Russell's straw man of First Cause arguments.

This next section was particularly humous to me so I have to point it out. He tells of how the Hindus believe "that the world rested upon an elephant, and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, 'How about the tortoise?' the Indian said, 'Suppose we change the subject.'" And, then proceeds to do the very same thing! He says, "The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause." In a sense, he's saying that we're just too naive to see how something could not have a beginning, and like his imaginary Indian says, "suppose we change the subject." Let's hear it, what is your best argument that the universe did not have a beginning. It's no use saying that we're just not imaginative enough to see how that's possible. That's like saying that we've never observed anything starting without a cause nor have we seen anything be infinitely existent, nor could we even imagine what that would look like, but it certainly is just our lack of imagination, it is possible. Just saying that something is possible doesn't make it so. I could say that a married bachelor is "possible" all I wanted, that doesn't make it so. I've said too much on this one part, let's keep going.

"The Natural-law Argument" -- This one is a more interesting one to me because I think Russell has something going for him, at least in part. These types of arguments are commonly called teleological arguments, arguments from design, or fine-tuning arguments. Russell is trying to take on what is, in my opinion, one of the strongest arguments for God. Unfortunately for Russell he didn't have modern science to again demonstrate just how delicately balanced the universe really is. He speaks of the popularity of these types of arguments in Sir Isaac Newton's day as they appealed to the "laws of nature" and that those laws are best explained by the existence of God. He does get something quite wrong here though. He says that once people had God as their explanation that it was "a convenient and simple explanation" and that it "saved them the trouble of looking any further for any explanation of the law of gravitation." Really? He even says that "Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated fashion that Einstein has introduced." But, if we now explain gravitation differently, how did we get to that new understanding if we stopped looking for any further explanation of the law of gravitation back in Newton's day? He contradicts his own position! I will read him with a bit of charity here though and say that what he's really trying to say is that we've now come to understand gravitation differently and that it's not the law that we used to think it was. That's fair enough. "We now find that a great many things we thought were Natural Laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depth of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature." This is his strongest point, though it misses the mark.

His strongest point is that what we call "laws" of nature, are really just as subjective as the length of a yard. This is a good point because it cuts out the common phrase (I've heard it from numerous Christians, I've probably even said it) "if there's a law, there must be a lawgiver." The tact that many try to take here is that the laws of nature are like the governing laws of humans. That God wrote the, if you will, constitution of the universe, which included things like the law of gravity. I think this phrase, "laws require a lawgiver," is wrong-headed. I think Russell (and others) have a point. The law of gravity is, at its heart, just a human construct. It's not that gravity would go away if we didn't know about it or if our law were wrong (clearly we've had numerous wrong scientific ideas in the past). However, here's where I think this strongest point misses the mark. The teleological/design/fine tuning arguments don't rest on what we call "laws." What these arguments are really pointing to is the fact that the universe has qualities that only make sense given a divine Designer. Take the law of gravity, it's one of many that has to be a certain strength or the universe would collapse. Cosmologist have techniques and computer models where they have simulated, using complex mathematical modeling, what would happen if any one of the universal constants were somehow different than it is. It's not that there's some law that requires a lawgiver, per se, it's that there's a delicate balance that could only have been set up on purpose.

Russell points out that "Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which way you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and, being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were you are then faced with the question, Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?" I believe I've sufficiently answered his question in my previous paragraph, but let me summarize it. In cosmological modeling there are very few that will "work" that is, there are very few settings on the cosmological dial that will actually allow for the existence of a universe at all. So, while Russell is right to point out a distinction between human laws and natural laws, we're talking about a different situation altogether. One could say by way of analogy that the universe does seem to be running by a set of laws not unlike a country runs by a set of laws. And, just as a country needs a good set of laws to keep running a universe does as well. Only a perfectly knowledgeable, powerful Creator could set up laws and enforce them in such a way that keeps the whole universe running. Here's another important point that I think Russell gets completely wrong, "if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary." This doesn't take into account what it means to be all-powerful. It seems that Russell is taking omnipotence to mean "able to do absolutely anything." Again, he's breaking with Christianity. Christianity teaches that even God is bound by His own nature, logic. Nonsense is still nonsense even when spoken of about God (I think that someone smarter than me said that, but the closest quote I can find is from John Lennox "Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.") God can no more make a married bachelor than you or I, because the very concept is nonsense. God chose to use gravity, atoms, quarks, strings (maybe), photons, strong and weak nuclear forces, etc. etc. to build His creation. Those physical things are limited by their natures to be physical. As physical things they have to be arranged in a certain way or else they wouldn't be anything. That is the design. Less like "laws," and more like a delicately balanced masterpiece.

"The Argument from Design" -- He starts off his critique of design arguments with a lot of silly things that people say things are designed for, but they are clearly misconstruing the purpose for which things are designed. Yes, we who hold to a design argument will need to give an accounting for this. If we say that such and such a thing was designed, we have, in a sense, said that we know for what purpose that thing is made. This is obvious with man-made objects. The lamp sitting beside me is clearly purposed to give light to an area. Knowing that purpose I can then say whether or not it was designed and if it was designed well. But, there is another level that Russell doesn't even attempt to address here, probably because it destroys his whole counter to design arguments. He says, "When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it." While I support the first part, we can't speak to the mind of God and say for what purpose the universe was designed (except with God's revealed truth, that is, God has told us some of His purpose for creating), we also cannot speak to whether or not that design is good or bad without knowing the mind of God. But, that is just what Russell is doing. He's saying that the design is bad. How could he know whether the design is good or bad? This is like an ordinary child looking at the design of the so called "Bird's Nest Stadium" (the actual name is the Beijing National Stadium) and saying that the design was bad! Who knows how to design a stadium better, the architects that built that amazing structure or this snotty, haughty child? God is many, many orders of magnitude above our understanding of design than the architect is above the child. So, who is Russell to say that the design is bad?

In addition to claiming to know that this design is bad, Russell also seems to think that the idea that this world will come to an end someday is a point against God's designing the earth. Once again it seems that Russell has fallen into his own trap. He has implied that we can't know something is designed without knowing for what purpose it was designed. But, here Russell has implied that God probably didn't design the world or at least didn't design it well because it will someday be dead and lifeless. Does Russell know for what purpose God made the world? If and only if one knows the ultimate goal of the existence of the world can one say that its dying is a bad design. Think of an analogy here, a lightbulb. It gives light and works. Is it poorly designed if it eventually wears out and stops working? Russell seems to be implying that an omniscient/omnipotent God would be able to design a lightbulb (from our analogy) that can last forever. But, again, does he know God's goal in making the lightbulb? Maybe, and I don't know for sure, God wanted the lightbulb to last only this long and no longer. Only if one knows when something is supposed to go defunct can one say whether or not it performed as expected or not.

When I first started writing this I had hoped I would be able to keep my comments to one entry. But, as I reach this point I realize I should have broken this up into multiple entries. So, I'll do just that. This is part one. Come back tomorrow for part two!

Ancient Okinawan Village on Ikei Island

Friday, October 6, 2017

Do We All Need to Become Scholars?

This is a response to Richard Bushey's post here. I highly recommend you read his post first. Here I'll give you a few minutes.

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Okay, ready? Let's talk about why I disagree with him. Here's the first sentence wherein I think Richard has really gone awry, "A possible resolution to this problem is to start doing real scholarship." Particularly the wording, "real scholarship." What kind of career are you involved in right now? If you regularly read my blog you'll know that I'm in the military. When I read "real scholarship" I think consistent, long-term studies. I think reading original sources in the original languages of those sources. I think there's no way that I have time to seriously devote myself to "real scholarship" at this time except in small chunks when I'm taking a college class. I would rephrase this as, "A possible resolution to this problem is to start being more scholarly." I have no problem with the conclusion being, let's work hard to be smarter on a particular subject (particularly when one enters the arena to defend that subject). In order to illustrate why I think Richard is wrong I made some graphics about how I see the world of Christianity divided up:


I realize there are definitely more subdivisions that this, but I feel like I captured all the relevant sections in this. There are certainly LOTS of Christian scholars, and I do honestly have a goal of someday being a professor and being considered a scholar. Authors, I think, are often more keenly aware of this distinction when they write. If you go to a bookstore and pull a book off the shelf on _____ topic. More than likely you're reading a popular-level book on _____ topic. If you go to a college bookstore, the opposite is true; you'll more than likely be reading a scholarly text on _____ topic. This graphic is what I feel Richard is trying to push:


And here is a more balanced proposal that I'd offer:


Now, before Richard rips my head off I want to point out an important distinction (one that I feel Richard didn't deal with at all). If we change our triangle to be behaviors as opposed to people it will look very different, and it'd be one that I'd be more inclined to agree with.


I think all Christian apologists would agree that the bottom tier is something people shouldn't do. In fact, it denies some biblical instructions "... always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you ..." (1 Pet 3:15b). And, I agree with Richard that merely memorizing answers to skeptics' questions or giving generic, basic arguments for the Christian faith is not the best. However, I'd argue that not everyone is cut out for true scholarly studies. As I started this off with, for many of us scholarly studies runs secondary to the rest of our busy lives. Let's look at a prominent scholar who also works tirelessly in the field of Christian apologetics. Dr. William Lane Craig has been a scholar since 1971 (that's ~46 years, longer than I've been alive!), he has a B.A. two M.A.s, a PhD, and a D.Theo. He's been published over 234 times (only about a third of which would be considered "popular level" [source])! Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for Dr. Craig and all the great work he does as a scholar and as a Christian apologist. But do I really think that ANY of my readers can get to that level? Maybe one of you but certainly not all of you, not me, and probably not Richard himself (though he might be on track). This is the sign of life-long devotion to scholarship. We would do well to emulate him. But, if you're shooting for and expecting that, you're probably going to be disappointed. I'm aiming for a much more modest goal. I want to become a military chaplain and then retire to a small college philosophy professorship (or associate professorship).

One other key point that I disagree with Richard on is this: thinking purely from a practical perspective with regards to apologetics. In fact, I completely agree with Greg Koukl's points in Tactics (available on Amazon) that there is not enough focus on the practical perspective in the field of Christian apologetics. He says, "These three skills — knowledge, an accurately informed mind; wisdom, an artful method; and character, an attractive manner — play a part in every effective involvement with a nonbeliever." He goes on to say this and it's something that I think Richard seems to be completely missing, "The second skill, tactical wisdom, is the main focus of this book." A practical perspective is what many are missing!

What do I think we should do? I think we should all study harder. We should all study arguments from people with whom we'll (probably) disagree. We should devote more time than we already are doing these kinds of scholarly activities. All in all, I don't really disagree with Richard, we need more Christian scholars. But, as Koukl says, I think we also need more, better diplomats -- ambassadors for Jesus Christ.