Apologetics, toon-styleJuly 12, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
As I mentioned earlier in the week, JP Holding, of Tekton Apologetics Ministries, posted an attempted parody of my blog here. Apparently, he’s not too clear on what real parody looks like, and I did give some thought to making a parody site of my own, by way of illustration. I decided not to, however. In the first place, it’s too easy. (I mean, come on, I’m being mocked by a site that sounds and acts like “ticked-eunuchs.com”? Word.) But secondly, I think it would be both more useful and more enjoyable to confront his theological arguments directly.
To start with, let me agree with Brother Holding. He starts his page with the title “Aw, Isn’t Duncan Cute the way he thinks he’s intelligent!” Technically, he isn’t even in the body of his page yet, and he’s already insulting my intelligence. Just couldn’t wait to get that out there, I guess. And I agree completely. I’m not that clever, which is why having a God like Alethea is such an improvement over my earlier Christian beliefs. As Mark Twain pointed out, telling the truth is easier because then you have less to remember. It’s only when you say things that conflict with the truth that you have to start keeping track of what you say.
Even if you do contradict yourself, however, you can still talk your way out of it if you’re clever enough. And if you can get a bunch of your buddies to join you, you can keep spinning yarns and explaining contradictions until you’ve built up a substantial mountain of doctrine. Continue this process over, say, a couple thousand years, and you can amass an intellectual network so vast that no single lifetime is enough to review it all, let alone address it. And since it all started with a contradiction of the truth, there are bound to be internal contradictions enough that academic types could make entire careers, if not fame and fortune, out of thinking up new explanations for this or that dilemma. It doesn’t even need to have anything to do with real life. It has become its own self-contained universe.
Frankly, I’m just not smart enough or patient enough to spend my life chasing after all the different things men say about the other things other men have said, and how this answer solves the problems raised by that answer when it tried to solve the problems of the answer before (…) etc. Reality suits me just fine, and if that doesn’t give the worldly-wise folk enough scope to demonstrate their superior brilliance, they can go ahead and make up their own truth and squabble with each other about it.
Meanwhile, back to the toons. Holding writes (referring to me as Dumplin’ Dumbash):
Dumplin’s biggest whine is about how “God consistently and universally fails to show up in the real world.” What he means by this — as is apparent from his other entries — is that God isn’t meeting his personal expectations to tie his shoelaces for him, feed himself, and help him go potty, so that means God is a failure. Don’t bother explaining to him how the Biblical model of God makes such expectations idiotic — if you even try to explain to him about the patronage models (which show that God will, overall, be remote and distant from us) he’ll accuse you of going outside the Bible for information, which tells you enough that what we have here is a “fundy atheist” of the usual ignorance.
Apparently, Holding thinks that a straw man fallacy constitutes parody—that if he substitutes silly and unreasonable demands for what I actually said, and then claims that it would be unreasonable for God to meet those silly demands, then some sort of victory has been won for the cause of Christ. And look how easily he gives up on trying to explain why, exactly, a “biblical model” of God would make it clear how “idiotic” it would be to expect God to show up in real life! If it is indeed a biblical model, why is it such a hopeless task to try and document it without going outside the Scriptures?
It’s clear, however, that God’s failure to show up in real life is indeed an Undeniable Fact with an Inescapable Consequence. If I were wrong about God showing up in real life, Holding would not need to make arguments (biblical or extrabiblical) about why it should be “idiotic” to expect Him to do so. Far from making things up, as Holding accuses me of, I merely point out the objective truth, as anybody can easily verify for themselves by direct observation of the real world.
Dumplin’ thinks this issue is “very uncomfortable for the believer” and it may well be for the kind of Christian who has also been taught that God is your personal buddy. For those of us more educated, however, the idea of God as remote is no more or less than we’d expect — and we’re very comfortable — thanks, Dumplin’, but you can go back in your playpen now. We’ll be shoving a little reality down your gullet and watching you choke on it.
The inescapable consequence of this undeniable fact is that theology, i.e the study of God, is necessarily a study being conducted by men in the absence of the thing they are studying. Unlike the sort of scientist who observes actual objective reality, and whose observations can be repeated and confirmed by others, the theologian must limit himself to speculating about God, and engaging the speculations of others. God’s failure to show up in real life necessarily makes human speculation the sole source of theological raw material, so to speak.
A further consequence of God’s absence is that theologians are ideally situated for an Emperor’s New Clothes argument. Because the subject of their research does not show up in real life, no one can ever objectively disconfirm their “observations.” You might dispute their conclusions, but pish-tush, you are merely not clever enough to perceive the lofty and esoteric principles that undergird their arguments, and what’s more, you are ignorant, having failed to read all the books that have been written about theology over the past twenty centuries. And don’t ask us to try and explain it to your inadequate intellect. You must simply accept our word for it that we’re smarter than you and that whatever we tell you is the truth. And that goes for you bumpkins in the church pews too!
By the way, did I mention how offended Holding is that I would use the term “gullibility” in my analysis of Christian faith?
The problem is, no matter how persuasive those clever theologians are, and no matter how “comfortable” Holding is with a remote God who does not show up in real life, theology, in God’s absence, boils down to talking about talk. What’s more, you don’t become a famous theologian, and your theology books don’t get themselves read, if all you ever do is bob your head and say “Yup, that’s right” when reading the works of other theologians. Theologians achieve their fame the same way novelists become famous: by looking at the story as it has developed so far, and then imagining an improved scenario that sounds both plausible and compelling in the context of the story (and of the social environment in which the story is being published). This is why there are fads in theology, and why theologians still have job security despite God’s failure to show up to be studied. The story could always use a bit more up-to-date polish.
And as each theologian builds on the theological works that have come before him, he refines it, adding a bit here, removing a bit there, according to what is needed to build a story that sounds plausible in the culture of the day. After 2,000 years of continuous refinement, it would be strange indeed if Christians did not have a very plausible-sounding tale indeed, at least for those who are inclined to just take Man’s word for it regarding the “truth” about a God Who cannot be observed.
But follow the trail back. Each theologian has built upon the foundations laid by the theologians who came before them. But what did those theologians build their foundation on? They had predecessors, too, and those predecessors had still further predecessors, each generation taking the earlier generation’s word for it that the underlying structure was true, even as they themselves worked to create the edifice they hold out as having come from the hand of God.
Ultimately, you get to the original theologians, the men who had no books to read, no earlier foundation to build on, and a God so remote that it would be “idiotic” to expect Him to show up in real life.
If theological competence requires you to be particularly brilliant and extensively educated in the writings of theologians, these first original theologians have a problem. Two problems in fact: number one, they have no way to know the things they claim about God if He doesn’t show up in real life, and number two, if it’s truly “idiotic” (as Holding says) to believe that God actually would show up in real life, why should subsequent theologians accept the authority of the “idiotic” claims made by the first theologians, who clearly did not have access to any of the books that Holding says you have to read in order to be able to speak authoritatively about theology?
If someone sat down and wrote a book of speculations about unicorns, and other unicornologists followed in his footsteps, building, refining, and explaining the wonderful and important precepts of unicornology, and kept at it diligently for a few dozen centuries, there would indeed be a substantial body of unicornological material for one to be ignorant of. If people, of whatever IQ, are ignorant of unicornology, however, that would not mean that unicorns were real. Holding tries hard to refute my central claim, but in the end all he can do is confirm that my Fact really is Undeniable. And for that I do thank him.