Sunday Toon: The Scholar’s Snare

Never a dull moment around here: yesterday, Challenger Grim spent a good chunk of the day arguing that I was wrong to reject the notion that everybody’s world view is based on some kind of arbitrary, non-logic-based and non-evidence based faith. Meanwhile, in JP Holding’s Sunday Toon for today, Holding accuses me of failing to understand that faith must be a conclusion based on evidence and reason. And if that weren’t ironic enough, Grim went from here to Holding’s home turf, where he proposed devoting an entire thread to discussing what a “screwball” I am for denying that all knowledge is based on arbitrary faith—and Holding sympathized with him! Apparently, Grim is unaware that Holding’s definition of faith explicitly rejects the kind of faith that Grim is arguing for, and/or Holding is unaware that Grim’s definition of faith is as toxic to his own definition as it is to skepticism. Either that, or he just doesn’t care so long as he gets to mock non-Christians (plus any believers who fail to live up to his “scholarly” standards of what it means to believe).

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Evidence-based faith vs. evidence-free faith

My post on The Greatest Agnostics of All prompted an interesting discussion in the comments section, when our friend Challenger Grim wrote:

Wow, can’t believe no one here got even the most basic point.

This:

We know that “evidence” … is superior to faith alone

Is based ultimately on faith. You cannot “reason” that Reason is preferable. You cannot use logic to prove logic, because both sides must accept (or “have faith in”) logic and reason in the first place.

The discussion wandered a bit from there, but a few points came out that are worth a separate discussion, because it really exemplifies this whole “atheists have a faith-based worldview” argument that you sometimes hear from apologists.

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XFiles Friday: Legends and Urban Legends

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 9.)

Last week we looked at 1 Cor. 15, which Geisler and Turek hail as being a record of a very early version of the resurrection story. Unfortunately for their apologetic, the reason Paul wrote chapter 15 is because, as verse 12 tells us, he was unhappy with the number of believers who did not buy this whole resurrection business. His response was first to emphasize that the resurrection was central to the gospel, and second to argue that a spiritual resurrection was better than merely bringing back the original, perishable body. And that’s a pair of arguments that’s actually more consistent with the idea that the resurrection story was originally about a spiritual resurrection, and only later morphed into an orthodox dogma of a literal, physical resurrection.

Obviously, Geisler and Turek didn’t explore any of that, and talked about something else instead. They see the 1 Cor. 15 account has having a different significance entirely.

Why is this important? Because, as Gary Habermas points out, most scholars (even liberals) believe that this testimony was part of an early creed that dates right back to the Resurrection itself—eighteen months to eight years after, but some say even earlier. There’s no possible way that such testimony could describe a legend, because it goes right back to the time and place of the event itself. If there was ever a place that legendary resurrection could not occur it was Jerusalem, because the Jews and the Romans were all to eager to squash Christianity and could have easily done so by parading Jesus’ body around the city.

Notice that Geisler and Turek are preaching a literal resurrection, so right away they bring up the empty tomb argument that is so conspicuously absent from Paul’s early testimony about the content of the gospel. If the issue is whether or not Jesus’ physical body returned to life, the most direct and obvious place to start is with the current disposition of the corpse. And, while it’s a bogus argument—given the climate, it wouldn’t be too hard for the disciples to keep the body out of Jewish/Roman hands until it had decayed to the point of being unrecognizable—it’s still quite effective in persuading the unwary, which is why Christians keep using it.

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The greatest agnostics of all

Continuing to look at Chuck Colson’s reply to Russell Glasser, as we did yesterday, we find another contradiction in Colson’s article, this time about postmodernism and the existence of knowable truth.

You write that one of the main things motivating your atheism is the fact that you cannot see any compelling reason to believe in God, and you cannot regard faith as reliably as you can empirical evidence in discerning truth.  I suspect you’ve come under the influence of the fact-value distinction, which modernity introduced, largely influenced by the teachings of Immanuel Kant.  I would strongly recommend that you read Pope Benedict’s lecture at Regensburg…  In a relatively short speech, he summarized the great shift that has taken place in western thinking as a result of the Enlightenment and now postmodernism.  Benedict’s case is the same one I would make, and that is that reason always has to rest on faith.  That’s what gives it the objective standards to appeal to.  What happened in the Enlightenment and what we call modernity was the abandonment of the faith presuppositions, leaving reason naked, cold, and ultimately without a foundation.  It was this rejection of sterile reason that has led us to the postmodern era, which rejects both faith and reason.

But the fact-value distinction is false.  All thought begins with faith.  All intellectual inquiry begins with certain presuppositions.  These by necessity are made without evidence and have to be taken on faith.  The idea that evidence is superior to faith as a root to knowledge is one of those presuppositions: it is unproven and non-provable.  So it must be taken as a priori; that is, prior to experience, or in other words, on faith.

In his book, The Faith, Colson expands on this current evangelical fad of bashing postmodernism. Which is not, in itself, a bad thing. Postmodernism claims to have discovered the truth that there is no truth to discover. All that matters is what you believe about something. There is no right or wrong, there is only faith. But is Colson really saying that postmodernism is wrong, or is he advocating the postmodern idea that faith is all that matters?

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Judging Jesus

I want to have another look at Chuck Colson’s reply to Russell Glasser, because he says some interesting things about how we should and should not determine whether the Gospel is legitimate.

There are 1.9 billion Christians in the world today. You cannot judge Jesus Christ by the behavior of any one of them or any group of them, for that matter. You have to take Christ’s teachings as we have them, as they have been interpreted and understood through the years, and look at the overwhelming evidence of those who have obeyed as opposed to the evidence of those who did not.

Did you catch that? In one sentence he says that we can’t judge Jesus by the behavior of Christians, and in the very next sentence he tells us that we ought to do exactly that.

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TIA Tuesday: Irony and morality

Today’s taste of TIA offers just a bit of irony before diving into the morass of morality. Here’s the irony:

[W]hile Breaking the Spell is unquestionably superior in almost every way to the Unholy Trinity’s four books on religion, the scientific-sounding speculation that fills it is nothing more than that, speculation. The literary editor of The New Republic underlined this point in an utterly brutal review of the book which appeared in the New York Times, reminding the reader that at the end of the day, Breaking the Spell is not science, but a book of speculative philosophy written by a science-fetishist.

There is no scientific foundation for its scientistic narrative. Even Dennett admits as much: “I am not at all claiming that this is what science has established about religion. . . . We don’t yet know.” So all of Dennett’s splashy allegiance to evidence and experiment and “generating further testable hypotheses” notwithstanding, what he has written is just an extravagant speculation based upon his hope for what is the case, a pious account of his own atheistic longing.

So desperate is Vox to discredit Dennett’s questions about theology that he accuses them of being “just…speculation.” And yet, since God does not show up in real life, theologians have nothing to study but their own speculations, and the speculations of others, about the meaning of things that still other men have written, that have “no scientific foundation.” In fact, Vox could have condensed his argument a great deal by simply accusing Dennett’s book of being little more than abject theology. It wouldn’t have been entirely true, but at least this would have captured the essence of Vox’s rebuttal: it’s wrong because it’s too similar to what Vox thinks is right.

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Sunday Toons: More shame and honor

Last week we started looking at JP Holding’s “parody” post on the subject of atonement, but ended up spending most of our time looking at his views on hell. This week, I want to finish up with the original post, which (once you wipe away some of the froth and foam) does actually try to make a point or two.

Despite his protestations, honor and shame were the spoke upon which Biblical society revolved. It was as important to them as paying the bills is to us. I’d recommend that Dumpy read some works by credible scholars on this subject (like Malina and Rohrbaugh), but since he is still a fundy at heart, still reading “death” in the Bible in terms of nothing other than physical death (rather than wholesale separation from God), I may as well ask him to tie his own liver in a knot while wing-walking on an SR-71. The chances are better he can do that than grasp Biblical scholarship.

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Leavitt’s Loophole

One of the problems with trying to mingle church and state is that religion often depends on emphasizing belief over real-world consistency, and that can lead to policies that not only fail to address real-world issues effectively, but ultimately conflict with religion itself. For example, the Bush-appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services wants to make it a law that medical professionals cannot be compelled to provide services that they find morally objectionable.

I have on two previous occasions written in my blog about the principle of health care provider conscience. Federal law is explicit and unwavering in protecting federally funded medical practitioners from being coerced into providing treatments they find morally objectionable…Today, HHS will file a rule in the Federal Register aimed at increasing compliance with existing federal laws protecting provider conscience. The proposed rule clarifies that non-discrimination rules apply to institutional health care providers as well as to individual employees working for recipients of certain funds from HHS. It requires recipients of certain HHS funds to certify their compliance with laws protecting provider conscience rights. The HHS Office for Civil Rights is designated as the entity to receive complaints of discrimination addressed by the statute or the proposed regulation.

Now, this sounds good to the Religious Right. All the code words are there: this is supposed to be a law designed to allow doctors to deny medical care to women seeking abortions, to gays and lesbians, and to whoever else might be contrary to conservative Christian approval. The problem is, this proposal opens the door to all kinds of abuses that might not be what the Christian supremacists want.

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XFiles Friday: The Mystery of the Missing Tomb

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 9.)

We’ve gone back as far as the AD 50′s, and found that at least some of the New Testament documents are likely to have been written within a couple decades (give-or-take) of the death of Jesus. Today, Geisler and Turek want to push this back even further, and give us a glimpse into what they see as testimony dating back to within a mere eighteen months of the Crucifixion.

Some New Testament Books Were Penned in the 40s and 50s A. D., with Sources from the 30s (Only a Few Years After the Death of Jesus)—As certain as we are about the date of Luke’s records, there is no doubt from anyone—including the most liberal of scholars—that Paul wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth (which is in modern-day Greece) sometime between 55 and 56. In this letter, Paul speaks about moral problems in the church and then proceeds to discuss controversies over tongues, prophecies, and the Lord’s Supper. This, of course, demonstrates that the church in Corinth was experiencing some kind of miraculous activity and was already observing the Lord’s Supper within 25 years of the resurrection.

The “miraculous activity,” it should be pointed out, consisted of people talking. Some people were babbling and claiming to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to babble. Others spoke plain language and claimed to be revealing the mysteries of God (none of which, sadly, were preserved for our edification). But talking, nonetheless. Geisler and Turek are quick to leap to the conclusion that “miraculous activity” was being historically documented in 1 Corinthians, but the documents themselves do not actually support anything more than the kind of hokum you can watch on the 700 Club any day of the week.

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Excusing OT slavery

From my backlog file again, here’s Chuck Colson responding to Russell Glasser’s charge that God behaved immorally by condoning the practice of slavery in Old Testament Israel. Colson’s first response is to argue that God was just going with the flow. And besides, it was Old Testament, not new, so it doesn’t really count.

I also cannot justify the words of the Old Testament. It was a recognition by God to His covenant people of a practice that was wide-spread at that time in every culture, that His people would encounter. But it is in no way carried forward into the New Testament… To the contrary, as I pointed out in the book, portions of the New Testament condemn slave-trading, and the position of the church has been very consistent through the years… It is because we believe strongly that every human being is created in the image of God, and thus at every stage of life, regardless of race, color or creed, every human being is entitled to full God-given dignity.

Colson is wrong on at least 8 counts.

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