CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I find one thign that is sadly lacking in the New Atheists, while they are bright and engaged and eager to take on the world, they seem a bit myopic.An illustration of what I mean is seen in the works of John Loftus, atheist author and commenter on our blog, is fond of making the statement:
God Chose A Very Poor Medium To Reveal Himself!

By this he means History as the medium. As a would be historian, and history of ideas man at that, I feel moved to comment. Loftus, a former student of Willian Lane Craig, certainly has a good deal of knowledge in the world letters. Loftus is anythhing but an ignorant man. yet he seems to have left out an understanding of the liberal revisionary tradition of Christian theology, which is what I mean by "myopic."

In a previous blog entry, here, I asked why so many professed Christians disagree with each other when interpreting the Bible.

As a former Christian I had difficulty with why there were so many different ways that professed Christians interpreted the Bible. I could never answer that question. I just put it on the backburner of things I didn't know, and I proceeded to try to come up with what I considered the correct interpretations, because that's all I could do.



It will always puzzle me how these guys can be so anti-diverse. One would think an atheist would understand about diversity and why it's a strength and not a weakness. But these guys seen truly threatened by the fact that there are many views in the church. It would seem part of the definition of "free thinking" is that everyone must think the same thing. He goes on:



What I now believe is that history is not a reliable "point of contact" for God to speak with man, assuming God exists.


My first reaction here is what choice do we have? If God declared himself fin central park on world wide television tomorrow he wold being it in history. Anything God does in the temporal realm is done in history if humans exist at the time. God did not create history, people did. History is a cultural construct. It is not history its time we call it history because we segment it into periods, the time before us the time after us, and us! Whenever God choses to deal with us, he's dealing in history and it needs must be. Ah but there's a method to Loftus' madness. He's going to try and juxtaposed modern understanding of historicism to ancient world understanding of the divine. This is yet another version of the age old strategy "ancient people are stupid and modern progress is anti-God." It is not surprising to me that he would take this tact because the whole of the new atheist movement, so far as I can see, is rooted firmly in the nineteenth century. they try to pass themselves off as cutting edge, but their way of thinking about religion, life, truth, progress, science, the world belongs with the 1939 world's fair. He's going to make is sound more sophisticated but in a sense he's just saying "God should reveal himself now so he can use computers and ware a white lab coat, then I would respect him."


Anyone who studies the philosophy of history knows that history (and historical writings) should be interpreted in light of the historian's present perspective.



Do we know that indeed? I would like to know where John got his idea? All the historians I ever worked with were trying to, or saw themselves as trying to understand the way people who lived in their formers times thought. To do that they had to put themselves in their perspectives. One of the fundamental lessons I learned as a historian is not to expert ancient people to hold the same values that I hold. It's an absurd mistake to assume that people in 700BC should have learned better at Woodstock. I am telling you from experince, that sort of concern is far more in the minds of historians than any abstract notion about understand our perspective.

When it comes time to make the point he waxes obtuse:

Why? Because that's all we can do...we cannot do otherwise. So women gain rights in Christian countries and Biblical historians (theologians?) interpret the Bible to say what they have come to believe on other grounds, and so forth, hell being another doctrine.


hu? Why is he jumping from women's rights to the doctrine of hell? We have to use our own perspective because that's all we can do, so we give women rights (I guess he means in spite of the Bible) and who cares what the bible says? then suddenly, bam! here's hell! So? what's it doing there? Why can we only think about history form our perspective? Why can't we seek to understand the perspectives of the past? It seems to me that's job of a cultural historian at least.



Besides, practically any event in history can be rationally denied, even if that event actually occurred! And this goes for non-miraculous history, so how much more does it apply to purported miraculous claims in history? If God chose to reveal himself in history, then he chose a very poor medium to do so.


So what he seems to be arguing. if I get him, is that we should ditch the bible because it's old fashioned, we are modern and we don't dig old fashioned? But there is no period in which he could manifest himself without this problem. Because anything in time is in history. But the real problem with this argument is its chronocentrism. He's just assuming that our time must be special because it's modern. Modern is good and ancient is bad. Any historian worth his salt would laugh himself silly with this stuff. Shades of Hegel! Forget Hegel, shades of Fukuyama! I remember back in the 80's when capitalism was the end of history, now it's the New Atheism. This is the kind of historical romanticism that most historians have worked since Namier to forget. Serioulsy, this guy is falying in the face of the whole historical acadmey since the advent of the 20th century.

This is not new atheism, this is the sort of old nineteenth century stuff we outgrew with the whigs. I am not surprised Loftus resorts to this, most new atheists I've seen are stuck firmly in the nineteenth century. This is jut another reason why atheism is outmoded. This is really the cherished myth of the whole atheist truth regime: the evil clerics with their cruel tyrannical regimes kept poor defenseless scientists burning because they weighed the same as a duck. Along came the noble liberators, D'Holbach! They freed humanity from evil superstition. Everything modern is good and old is bad. It's pretty clear Loftus is not aware of the flow modern historicism or historiography.

Another major problem I find with this view point is the lack of knowledge he displays concern modern theologians. How can anyone talk about God's relationship to history without discussing books like C.T. McIntire's God, History and Historians? (Oxford, 77). The theology of Wolfheart Pannenberg Revelation as History. (1968. coauthored with Rolf Rendtorff, Trutz Rendtorff, and Ulrich Wilkens. New York: Macmillan. Trans. David Granskow of Offenbarung als Geschichte. G` ttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1963).Or, let us think of Jurgen Moltmann's Theology of Hope? So much as been done on theological historicism, the big meaning of history in relation to theology and we don't seem to get a clue that Loftus has even heard of it even though history is the major theme of an argument he makes constantly. Surely in trying to understand history as a medium of revelation it would behoove us to think about God's revelation in history in relation to a theory of the meaning of history?

That leads to the major problem, the New atheist understanding of revelation, as exemplified by Loftus. OF course the major argument is going to be that we can't trust anything historical which comes from the age before science and historiography.On this misunderstands just about everything that pertains to it.since atheism is to Christianity as anti-communism is to communism, the Dawkinsians can't think of anything but the fundies, the flip side of them, the heads to their tails.

(1) His argument applies to views such as verbal plenary inspiration and completely misses all the ferment of views like Models of Revelation by Avery Dulles.

(2) they assume that revelation is static. It's given one historical period adn that's it. This forces the concept of chronocentrism because it lures them into the argument that surely if God was real he would favor our time.

(3) they see revelation in the memo from the boss model.

All of this forms the underpinning and ground of assumptions for teh major upshot of the argument, if God was going to reveal himself why would he do it back then int he time of superstition when we today (since we are the truly important people) can't trust the historicity of the revelation because its formed in the old bad superstition time. OF course this assumes all of the bad assumptions above, the most important of which is the antiquated model of verbal plenary which even the likes of Carl Henry did not support.

Revelation is not a static thing that was given once from on high and goes int the pages of a book. Like time itself, history is fluid and moving, revelation cannot help but be in history since we are in history. Its' not as though God had a choice to have time bound corporeal creatures and not reveal to them in history. Moreover, revelation is not so much the word from on high as it is the encounter between human and divine. The bible is a collection of wittings that were made without knowledge that they would someday be in the bible. These are of many different kinds, different genres and they speak to us in different ways. What they tell is not the memo from the boss, or the "owner's manual" but they speak of how people encountered God and what happened. God uses narrative because it speaks to people. WE need to know about these encounters so that when we have our own we can have some idea of what to expect. The idea that we are going to prove that some literal event really happened in history because the document in which it is recorded can be trusted as actual history is purely secondary.

Like most of the NA's that I find Loftus is doing battle with the fundies, while ignoring the direction of Christian theology over the last 500 years. For example what he says about historicity and miracles, quoting Lessing:

Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another.” “But…I live in the 18th century, in which miracles no longer happen. The problem is that reports of miracles are not miracles…[they] have to work through a medium which takes away all their force.” “Or is it invariably the case, that what I read in reputable historians is just as certain for me as what I myself experience?”
But Moltmann in Theology of deals with the problem of the supernatural and the historiographical. He argues that the unique nature of the revelation (resurrection) argues for a rules change. The resurrection is not historical, but history making. By the same token Lessing is wrong. Miracles are not static. They are not merely in the past. We can experince the divine today, now. I have done so. If miracles happen now they could happen then. The argument, while I sympathize with and the admire the philosohpical attempts that went into it, is based upon a too limited understanding of both history and theology.

22 comments:

Joe, I'll probably have several comments to make here, but let me first say that while it's true that anything that happens does so in human history, there is a difference between considering the past as evidence and present day experience. I've suggested several ways for God to reveal himself better than merely doing so in the past.

Joe said...It would seem part of the definition of "free thinking" is that everyone must think the same thing. Not so!

Joe said...This is yet another version of the age old strategy "ancient people are stupid and modern progress is anti-God." Again, not so. One of the biggest chapters in my book is where I argue that ancient people weren't stupid, just superstitious.

From my book:

History is written from the perspective of the historian, and it’s unavoidable to do otherwise. The question here is whether or not the perspective of the people in the past is preferable to the perspective of the present day historian. This is where the historian’s values unavoidably enter into the picture.

D.W. Bebbington (Ph.D., Cambridge) describes the problem of the historian: “The historian’s history is molded by his values, his outlook, and his world-view. It is never the evidence alone that dictates what is written. The attitudes that a historian brings to the evidence form an equally important element in the creation of history. The bias of a historian enters his history. The historian himself is part of the historical process, powerfully influenced by his time and place. The problem of the historian himself nevertheless dictates that two historians presented with the same evidence are likely to reach different conclusions. This is true of people living in the same period; it is more true of people living in different periods. That is why each age writes history that reflects its own concerns.”

According to E. Schillebeeckx, “Historical objectivity is not a reconstruction of the past in its unrepeatable factuality, it is the truth of the past in the light of the present.” Albert Nolan has argued this point with regard to Jesus: “To imagine that one can have historical objectivity without a perspective is an illusion. One perspective, however, can be better than another, [but] the only perspective open to us is the one given to us by the historical situation in which we find ourselves. If we cannot achieve an unobstructed view of Jesus from the vantage point of our present circumstances, then we cannot achieve an unobstructed view of him at all.”

According to Bebbington, “Our knowledge of the earlier middle ages depends on a tiny number of written sources that can be eked out by such supplementary material as place-names and coinage.” Furthermore, the evidence is not always reliable. According to Bebbington, “forgeries and misrepresentations, whether from good or bad motives, litter the world’s archives. The historian, therefore, develops a skeptical turn of mind. Original documents may themselves mislead; and what books about the past claim is much more likely to be wrong. History demands a critical frame of mind.” Because of these problems Bebbington states the obvious: “Written history cannot correspond precisely with the actual past.” “To write a value-free account of the past is beyond the historian’s power.

One school of thought headed up by Leopold Von Ranke actually sought to do this. Their goal was to write history “free from prejudices,” and in so doing write the events of the past “as they actually happened.” But most all modern historians think this is impossible to do.

Some thinkers like Carl Becker have gone so far as to deny that we can know the past with any objectivity at all—that historical facts only exist in the mind, and they advocate a historical relativism with regard to the events of the past.

Joe said...Like most of the NA's that I find Loftus is doing battle with the fundies, while ignoring the direction of Christian theology over the last 500 years.

Caleb Wimble recently at DC described why we have chosen to debunk evangelical Christianity in these words:

Not only is fundamentalist Christianity the greatest threat in the United States to science, tolerance, and social progress, but it is also the most prevalent form of Protestant Christianity to be found in our nation, whether you like it or not. It is the fundamentalist religious right that holds the reigns of the Republican party (which currently controls the nation, in case you didn't realize), and it is this same fundamentalist religious right that lobbies for the teaching of lies in public school and fights against funding for embryonic research that could potentially save the lives of millions.

Whether you like it or not, it is this flavor of Christianity that makes the loudest, most obnoxious, most dangerous impact on the world today, giving us plenty of good reason to direct the brunt of our attacks in its vicinity.

One last thing for now, I am not a New Atheist. Again, I am not a New Atheist. The only thing new about my atheism is that I have adopted that viewpoint about three years ago, prior to the New atheist books.

As far as C.T. McIntire and Van Harvey's books go, I have read them through and even used them for my M.A. thesis when discussing Barth's distinction between Urgeschichte and Geschichte. But both of these authors are doing theology, not apologetics. That is, from the standpoint of faith here is how to view history. What they do is not unlike what Ronald A. Wells, does in History Through The Eyes of Faith, and what David Bebbington does in Patterns of History.

The question I raise is why should a person adopt the Christian view of history in the first place. I argue that doing so is circular. For in order to see the Bible as historical one must first adopt a Christian set of assumptions to do so. Where do these assumptions come from except from the Bible itself?

Just a quick suggestion: readers might appreciate it if you confined all of your responses to one comment instead of posting multiple comments minutes apart. Maybe it's just me, but I find it kind of annoying.

This comment has been removed by the author.

LOFTUS
In a previous blog entry, here, I asked why so many professed Christians disagree with each other when interpreting the Bible.

CARR
That's easy.

They are all guided by the Holy Spirit.

And all of these different beliefs provoked by reading the Bible are what Alvin Plantinga would call 'properly basic beliefs'.

I think that is the term used by Plantinga for whatever beliefs are provoked by reading the Bible.

Unless I misunderstand him, and he reserves the term 'properly basic' for beliefs which agree with his own beliefs.

John I am going to put all of these responses n my blog. first I will put this post on my blog. then Iw ill put the responses as one post in the major blog piece, not the comment sectioned. i will answer them there as a follow up piece to the this original one.

part 2 is not addressed to you and is already on my site so when I put this up there it will not be part 1 it will just be what it is.

They are all guided by the Holy Spirit.

And all of these different beliefs provoked by reading the Bible are what Alvin Plantinga would call 'properly basic beliefs'.

I think that is the term used by Plantinga for whatever beliefs are provoked by reading the Bible.

Unless I misunderstand him, and he reserves the term 'properly basic' for beliefs which agree with his own beliefs.


Stevie, sweetheart, "properly basic" is a concept already in use by Willard Van Orman Quine (June 25, 1908 - December 25, 2000) an atheist philosopher!

Plantinga just reversed Quine's argument.

Stivie why do you think all Christians listen equally well? Don't you think there are things to distract us? like talking to atheists for example?

I retitled this peice I did not have my grand design for a three parter when I first wrote it. Now it's Answering John Loftus parts1, 2, and 3. with subtitles.

It will take a day or two to put up the answers to the comments you make here. i want the readers to read the original first. I'll link to my responses to you over here.

In a previous blog entry, here, I asked why so many professed Christians disagree with each other when interpreting the Bible.

Same reason people disagree when interpreting any significant text -- people start with different presuppositions, let different influences affect their analysis, correctly or incorrectly take (or don't take) different factors into consideration, simply make mistakes, etc. This is especially true of a book like the Bible that's so rigorously analyzed. This isn't limited to theological texts, of course; people in every discipline interpret the data different and reach different conclusions, whether it be in history, science, philosophy, or any other field of study. People aren't infallible; we make mistakes, our knowledge is limited, our reasoning skills are finite. We're human.

Well, you live and learn.

Every belief formed by reading the Bible is indeed a 'properly basic belief'. Plantinga turned the tables on Quine.

Zok, as a Christian apologist, along with everyone else, I chided the skeptics for starting with anti-supernatural assumptions. So in my counter-apologetics book that's coming out I start by asking which assumptions are preferrable when approaching the Biblical evidence, especially since the assumptions one starts out with are pretty much those one ends up with. Then in the latter half of the book I look at the Biblical evidence. Given the nature of history, the double burden of proof required by believing in a miracle, religious diversity, the superstitious nature of the ancients, and the problem of evil I argue one should appraoch the Biblical evidence with a healthy measure of skepticism. Then I deal with the evidence in the Bible for the Creation accounts, prophecy, the virgin birth, the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection of Jesus and find them flawed.

Well, you live and learn.

Every belief formed by reading the Bible is indeed a 'properly basic belief'. Plantinga turned the tables on Quine.

One thing you might try, learn the meaning and actually use it correctly.

as a Christian apologist, along with everyone else, I chided the skeptics for starting with anti-supernatural assumptions. So in my counter-apologetics book that's coming out I start by asking which assumptions are preferrable when approaching the Biblical evidence, especially since the assumptions one starts out with are pretty much those one ends up with.

supernatural and anti-supernatrual assumptions. One of the greatest things lacking in the world of thought today is an understanding of the concepts surrounding the supernatural before they were distorted by the enlightenment. You can't really critique or defend the SN without understanding this.

see my link:


http://www.doxa.ws/meta_crock/Supernature.html

Thanks Joe, nice link. Notice above I didn't specify what the opposite of anti-supernatural assumptions are. The way I describe these antithetical assumptions is that they are superstitious ones.

And in your definition of Supernature you're using theological categories to do so, something the skeptic denies.

Whatever nomenclature you want to use, I can use it too, SO LONG AS YOU DON"T STACK THE DECK by definining these terms theologically, because doing so begs the very question I'm asking.

Joe, as I was telling Zok, here are the reasons for adopting an anti-superstitious bias.

I'd like for you to deal with them, as you get a chance.

Cheers.

I see Hinman still can't explain why any belief provoked by reading the Bible does not fall into the category of what Plantinga calls 'properly basic beliefs'.

At least , not without begging the question by saying that a properly basic belief is one that Plantinga agrees with.

Nor can he explain why the Holy Spirit guides so many people to so many different interpretations of the Bible.

I did not mean to suggest above that Quine agrees wtih properly basic only that it was around before Plantinga.

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