Bait and Switch

In my last post, I discussed a skeptics forum in which there was a dialogue between two scholars from Reasons to Believe, and one from the New England Skeptical Society. The skeptic, Dr. Steven Novella, made an interesting remark. He opened his comments with a joke about someone breaking into his house in the middle of the night and stealing all the furniture, and replacing it with exact replicas. He then claimed that those who hold to some sort of creationism do the same thing by taking the world that just happens to look like it developed by purely natural means and posit a God to explain the gaps in our knowledge.

This seems to be the kind of charge that works for whoever makes it first. It is similar to a corrupt politician accusing others of corruption before he gets caught so it looks like his critics are just saying, “Not me, you!” Do not misunderstand. I am not calling Dr. Novella corrupt. In fact, I think Novella really believes what he says. My point is that theists hold to God’s existence and role in the creation and sustaining of the universe for a variety of reasons. While it may be that there are some who hold to a “god-of-the-gaps,” the arguments presented at the forum were not arguments from ignorance. In fact, from a theistic worldview, and this is relevant because  the scientific revolution was started by theists, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. Part of our worldview is that the universe exists and operates as it does because of God’s creation and providence. Two important ideas stem from this. Theism is not a “science stopper,” and it is just as likely that the materialist is the one “stealing the furniture and replacing it with exact replicas.”

Science stopper?

Materialists claim that appealing to a creator puts an end to inquiry, and therefore is a “science stopper.” This claim is patently false. It was theists, such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, etc who launched the scientific revolution because they believed that God had created the world, and since God was a rational being, his creation should be rationally ordered and could be studied; therefore such study was an act of devotion. It was not enough for them that God had created the world. They wanted to know how he did it, and how it works. They believed, as materialists do, that the world is governed by regular and predictable laws. The difference is that for the materialists, these laws are mere brute fact. Both the theist and the materialist are interested in seeing how much creative power is in these laws. The important distinction is that for the materialist, supernatural intervention is not possible even in principle. The theist allows for such a possibility. This does not mean, however, that the theist is willing to punt to miracles to fill gaps in knowledge. Arguments for design are made from what is known about designers and their activity. Arguments for the origin of information are based on all of our knowledge about information.

Where’s the furniture?

Scientists, regardless of worldview, operate on a principle of “methodological naturalism.” (MN) On this method, investigations of causes assume a natural cause. This is really not controversial. Where the furniture is switched is when scientists conflate MN with philosophical, or metaphysical, naturalism. MN assumes a natural cause but is blind to supernatural events. philosophical naturalism holds that the material universe is all that exists. It is rare that this bait-and-switch is intentional because very few scientists seem to be well educated when it comes to philosophy. (Not to mention some politicians, but that is another story.) Consequently, many of them are ignorant of philosophical arguments for God from the origin of the universe, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument. (KCA) Basing our assumptions on the KCA and other arguments, it is not hard to think that a God that created the universe could engage in other acts of intervention. However, materialists will just assume the universe to be a brute reality, and when pressed on its origin, they will appeal to some future discovery that will explain it. In other words, they engage in materialism-of-the-gaps.

It seems to me, materialism tends to be a metaphysics-stopper. Whose furniture is it anyway?

Textual Transmission in High Gear

This post was prompted by some comments a friend recently posted on Facebook. I am not sure this will address her specific concerns, but her comments were similar to objections that are often raised against the reliability of the Bible. One thing she said was that she couldn’t trust every word of the Bible because it has been translated too many times and too much is missing. While I don’t know what she thinks the number of translations have to do with the reliability of the text, it is commonly believed that the transmission of the text from the original to the present was like a game of telephone. You may know this as the game where a group of people forms a line and the first person in line whispers a message in the ear of the next, and so on down the line until the last person gets the message. When the message the last person gets is compared to the original, it bears little resemblance. Likewise, it is thought that the authors of the books of the Bible wrote their autographs, which were then translated into another language, and then another, and so on until we get our English Bibles. In fact however, the transmission of the Old and New Testaments was nothing like the telephone game.

While it is true that the original documents, called autographs, are lost to us, we have good reason to believe that what we do have is a reliable copy of what they wrote.

 

OT Hebrew Texts

The writers of the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Tanakh, wrote in Hebrew, except for some portions of Daniel, which were written in Aramaic. The Pentateuch, or Torah, which contained the first five books, was written around 1400 BC. The last of the OT books, 2 Chronicles, was probably written around 450 BC. While the number of available manuscripts (handwritten copies) is much fewer than that of the NT, this is because of the meticulous approach Jewish scribes took to textual transmission. When a scroll became worn out, it was copied with great care and then destroyed. This is not to say that there are not ancient copies, however. Until 1948 the oldest extant copies were Masoretic manuscripts dating to about 900 AD. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, copies were found dating to about 100 BC. Where complete books were found, the differences were few and inconsequential. Moreover, support for the reliability of the Masoretic text can be found in an ancient translation. As Geisler and Nix point out,

Perhaps the best line of evidence to support the integrity of the Masoretic Text comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (LXX). This work was performed during the third and second centuries BCE in Alexandria, Egypt. For the most part it was almost a book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter reproduction of the MT, containing common stylistic and idiomatic differences. Furthermore, the LXX was the Bible of Jesus and the apostles, and most New Testament quotations are taken from it directly.[1]

English Bibles are translated from their original languages. While the translation committees, to better see how a particular passage was understood by other cultures, use ancient translations, there is no case in which the English translation is the end of a chain of previous translations. The same can be said of the New Testament.

Koine Greek was the language of first century Roman world.

There have been some skeptics who have suggested that the New Testament documents were not written until the second or third century AD. However, the very language of the manuscripts argues against this.

The basic language of the New Testament, however, was Greek. Until the late nineteenth century, New Testament Greek was believed to be a special “Holy Ghost” language, but since that time it has come to be identified as one of the five stages in the development of Greek itself. This koine Greek was the most widely known language throughout the world of the first century.[2]
What this means is that to suggest the NT documents were written 100-200 years after the fact is like saying Shakespeare’s works were not written until the 1800’s. It implies an attempt to deliberately deceive the reader by using an archaic language style.

NT Greek Texts

            Further support for the reliability of the NT documents comes from the number of available manuscripts. These include those in Greek as well as some of the earliest translations, known as versions. “The wealth of material that is available for determining the wording of the original New Testament is staggering: more than fifty-seven hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts, as many as twenty thousand versions, and more than one million quotations by patristic writers.”[3]

As noted above, in addition to the manuscripts, the NT documents can be reconstructed from quotations from the early Church Fathers. “Not only did the early Fathers cite all twenty-seven books of the New Testament, they also quoted virtually all of the verses in all of these twenty-seven books. Five Fathers alone from Irenaeus to Eusebius possess almost 36,000 quotations from the New Testament.”[4] With such a wealth of sources, relying on a chain or translations is not only unnecessary, it would be frivolous. Moreover, if such a method had been employed, any scholar of Greek or Hebrew would have the resources to check its accuracy from the ancient sources.[5]

With respect to the “missing” parts, again I am not sure of what my friend was referring to, but there are some who think there must be missing books, or “lost books” of the Bible. I will address this by summarizing an argument put forth by Greg Koukl.[6] Views of just what the Bible is can be boiled down to two: it is either divine revelation, inspired and preserved by God, or it is a collection of literature that reflect the beliefs of the Christian Church. If some books are excluded from the canon (the authoritative list) it is either because God did not inspire or preserve their inclusion, or the Christian Church rejected them because they did not reflect their beliefs. In either case, there are no lost or missing books.

While I have offered no arguments here that the Bible is inspired or inerrant, I have shown that inspiration or inerrancy is not undermined by the textual transmission.

[1]
Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 198-99.

[2] Ibid., 166

[3] J. Ed Komoszewski, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 82, quoted in Jonathan Morrow, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 96.

[4] Geisler, 217.

[5] For more information on New Testament manuscripts, see www.csntm.org

[6] http://www.str.org/articles/no-lost-books-of-the-bible#.VXXjklxVhBc

Anything Worth Writing Is Worth Writing Well

When I write something and publish it, whether a Facebook post, a book review, or a blog, I hope people will read it. Often these posts are intended to persuade people to my point of view on the chosen topic. This requires that what I write be clear, concise, and cogent. (I sound like a Baptist preacher with all this alliteration.) This post is no exception. It is my contention that any of us who aspire to be apologists and/or evangelists have an obligation to write this way as an act of respect for our readers. In other words, part of what it means to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is to write in a style you would like to read. This is especially true if we are going to ask someone to pay for our materials.

Clarity

Dennis Prager is fond of saying “Clarity before agreement.” This is what Paul would call a “trustworthy saying.” We cannot begin the task of helping to move someone’s view from error to truth until they first understand what we have to offer. (This assumes we have done our homework to be sure we understand theirs.) Obstacles to clarity can vary from gaps in our own understanding to simply poor writing mechanics. If we do not fully grasp the point we are trying to defend, it is very difficult to help someone else to do so, so lets be sure we have that down. However, we can know our view inside and out and still fail to communicate because we write so poorly.

Concise

When we write, if we are excessively verbose, we fail to show respect for our readers’ time. We should give enough information to be clear, but not in a manner that is so repetitive and redundant that reading the piece becomes a chore. This means devices such as using questions as transitions should be used sparingly, and only when there is a major transition. Moreover, overuse of words like “now” and “well” also unnecessarily lengthens the piece, not to mention making reading it become an unpleasant experience.

Cogent

Naturally, we ought to argue well, avoiding fallacies and poor argumentation. Sometimes, even cogent arguments can be undermined if our writing is littered with hasty generalizations, even if they are intended to be hyperbolic. Excessive use of phrases such as “we all have had…” and “most of us have…” can have the effect of looking like the fallacy of hasty generalization. When I see this, it reminds me of the fact that you can always tell when someone is about to say something they cannot defend when they open it with “We all know…” or “Everyone knows…”

Finally, those of us in the practice of writing with the hope of persuasion ought to have the humility to recognize the need for help from those more skilled than we are to improve our writing. To write badly in the name of “authenticity” is simply to be authentically bad at writing. There is no virtue in that.

The Allure of Gentleness

The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith In the Manner of Jesus

By Dallas Willard

 

A review

Dallas Willard received his PhD in Philosophy from Baylor University in 1964. He served as Philosophy professor from 1965-2012 at the University of Southern California. In addition to The Allure of Gentleness, Willard wrote 13 books including The Divine Conspiracy, Renovation of the Heart, and Spirit of the Disciplines. He passed away in 2013.

The Allure of Gentleness was put together by Willard’s daughter from a series of talks given in 1990, along with notes and a list of additions Willard wanted included.

Willard’s purpose in writing this book was to return to a sense of apologetics as a shared journey of exploration, where we invite people to examine their doubts, welcoming the questions that trouble believers and seekers. The main thesis is that a gentle spirit and a kind presentation of the intellectual aspects of apologetics make them more effective.

The book is short, just seven chapters on 170 pages of content. Chapter 1 lays out Willard’s case for using our rational faculties in service of Christ. Chapter 2 applies this idea to apologetics as a practice. Chapter 3 offers a biblical model for apologetics. Chapter 4 explores the relationship between faith and reason. In chapter 5, Willard defends divine revelation. Chapter 6 addresses pain, suffering and the problem of evil. Finally, chapter 7 explores the ongoing interaction between the disciple and his Lord.

I really like reading anything Willard writes. When I read his work, I feel like I am having a conversation with the Christian grandfather I never had. I always come away feeling challenged and motivated to strive to do better, to seek God more fervently, and to emulate his manner. This book is no different in that respect. However, for those very reasons, there are a few things in this book that bother me.

One of the less troubling comments Willard makes is with respect to cosmic evolution. He notes that, “The suggestion of cosmic evolution (order out of chaos) as an alternative was not presented until the nineteenth century.”(76.) But it seems as though Willard is conflating the idea of cosmic evolution with biological evolution. Until the early 20th century, the reigning paradigm was that the universe was eternal and static. It was not until the work of Einstein and Hubble foreclosed on the steady state model that theories like Big Bang cosmology were proposed. Another place where Willard’s views could bring about confusion is in his section “Reading E=MC2 From Left to Right.” Here Willard asserts that God is energy. This lends itself to confusion because of equivocation of “energy.” If by energy one means the ability to do work, this is not a problem. However, when physicists speak of energy in the context of E=MC2, energy is a form that matter can take. However, I do not believe Willard means to say that God is a physical being.

In addition, Willard has a section he calls, “There is No “Good” Without Evil.” However, if it is the case that evil is a deprivation of good, how is good dependent on evil? Willard seems to be arguing that human evil is necessary. I can see his argument that certain goods require evils, such as courage requiring threats, mercy requires wrongs, and generosity requires needs, but a world without threats, wrongs and need could still be good.

The most troubling thing Willard writes is in his discussion on the hiddenness of God. Willard argues that God “…is capable of not knowing whatever he does not wish to know—should there be any such thing.” (66.) This idea is not even coherent,  for in order for God to choose to not know something, he would have to know it and when it would obtain in order to be sure he does not know it. This is a strange departure from the classical view of divine omniscience. Willard defends the view by drawing a parallel to divine omnipotence, noting that on omnipotent God is able to do anything power can do, but it does not mean he does do everything his power allows him to do. However, omniscience is not the ability to know, but the possession of the knowledge.

Finally, Willard gives a weak defense of the idea that God speaks to individuals. I say weak because the Bible passages offered do not support his argument. I do not mean to say that God does not, or cannot speak to individuals even today. What I am saying is that the passages Willard cites do not teach that every believer can expect to experience this. (For a more detailed treatment of this issue, see http://www.str.org/publications/does-god-whisper-part-1#.VOUFmVPF9Oh)

These concerns aside, I highly recommend this book, as well as anything else Willard writes. It is written at a level that a high school student can understand, and an academic can enjoy. It is an encouragement for those considering apologetics as a part of their skillset, and a challenge to those of us who have developed some skills to apply them in a more Christ-like manner.