CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit. After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would involve, first for God and then for myself, I reached the topic of enacted human sin; and I began considering the consequences of my sin. This allowed me to also spend some time, in my most recent entry, discussing anti-theistic arguments from evil and/or suffering, in context of my own developing argument.

This entry begins chapter 37, "death", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. Where I thought a footnote would be too disruptive to represent in my main text, I have put it into the comments below instead; this will be marked where so.


.......[excerpt begins here]

I ended my previous chapter by noting once more what the logic of my position leads to:

Not only do I deserve to die, I shall die.

Perhaps you think I am being rather hard on myself. And perhaps you are right. Then again, perhaps I deserve to be rather hard on myself!

But then again (again!), it is worth considering the question of what it means to die.

What happens when I sin? I essentially set myself up in opposition to the principles of interpersonal relationships--not merely in this or that form (about which I might be simply mistaken on any given occasion, concerning their accuracy at reflecting the ultimate principles), but I set myself intentively against them in principle.

I think it is also possible to sin by willfully resolving to delude myself as to the state of reality--again, whether my perceptions of reality are themselves particularly accurate makes no difference. If I resolve myself to believe something that isn't true, then it might be an honest accident; if I resolve myself to insist on believing that what I think to be true is not true, then I am rebelling against the truth, putting myself up over against it, and so I am acting in rebellion against God Himself.

I do not mean the legal form of rebellion. That sort of rebellion might be 'good' or 'evil' depending on its object. If Satan is the prince of this world, then to rebel against the greatest of rebels may well be to seek to become a servant of God! Or, to 'rebel' against the 'greatest rebel' might mean only to set myself up as the greatest of rebels instead!

But again, it is not the mere form of rebellion that I am talking of--as if God is only a king, merely Someone Who has massive power, against Whom it would be (consequently) merely dangerously imprudent to rebel.

The rebellion I am speaking of, is an intent to go against however much I can discern of what reality is.

And ultimately, at the top and bottom of things, God is reality.

To insist on embracing what I perceive to be inconsistencies, for the sake of my own wishes, is to set my face against reality, to go against it insofar as I possibly can.

And this will be true, whether I am pagan, pantheist, atheist, agnostic; Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim--or Christian.

There is nowhere I can safely be a traitor to reality.

So, if I treat you, my reader, as if you are not a person--as if you do not have your own qualities intrinsic to being 'a person', the same qualities I recognize myself having as a person--while nevertheless realizing (or even seriously suspecting!) that you have those qualities; then I would be resolving to set myself against however much of the principles of interpersonal conduct I am capable of recognizing.

To put it simply, I would be refusing to love you as I love myself.

But the simplicity of that saying, especially in times and places when terms such as 'love' and even 'person' have become so malleable as to be useless, obscures the depth of the breach that my willed intent involves.

If I set myself against you in this fashion, then I also am setting myself against the foundational principles of reality itself--for reality itself proceeds according to the necessary principles of a Personal relationship, the relationship of the self-existently begetting and begotten God, Who in His Unity is the Independent Fact grounding all reality, including Himself.

The relationship of God to His creation is utterly self-consistent; and so, for me to actively intend evil against you, my reader, entails ultimately that I am also sinning against God--trying to break away from Him, trying to be what I am not: for I am not self-sufficient, nor do I have any right or even power to be the determinant of what is 'right' (either ethically or 'merely' factually).

I may discover, perhaps, what is true and good; or at least I may resolve to discover, if I can, what is true and good. There is no ultimate harm to me in this; for even if I make a mistake, one way or another it is the path of seeking the Father (even though the path may seem to lead away from Him at first).

But to intend to command what shall be or what should be?

That would be to push myself away in rejection from that which is --or more accurately, from He Who Is.

Let us say as another example, that I have an intuition within me (however it came to be there) that no matter how hard I try, in the long run I shall always lose money to the casino. Perhaps I decide, "Very well: it is my money, it is entertaining to experience the ups and downs, I understand the limitations: I will play anyway." This is not necessarily a sin, at least taken by itself. [Footnote: It would be a sin if, for instance, I was using money that I knew should be used for something else!]

Or perhaps I decide that I will test and learn and understand the mechanics better, to see if my intuition is correct regarding the futility of playing against the house edges. This is certainly not a sin, by itself: it is seeking better knowledge, and more light than what I have.

But let us say I discover I was correct in my first intuition; or, let us say I never even bother to seek for the verifying knowledge, so that either way I am back where I started: I have an intuition within me that in the long run I can only lose money at the casino. And let us say I resolve within myself this intent: I do not care what I feel in regard to this suspicion of truth, or what I think, or what anyone may possibly say--I am going to play that casino, and I am going to beat it.

What am I doing?

It doesn't matter that I might technically be correct; perhaps there is a way, in some circumstances, to beat the casino. But I have no real grounds (in this scenario) for believing this; I merely want, and insist on being able, to beat the casino, despite what my reason and/or even my feelings concerning truth are telling me. [Footnote: incidentally, I happen to know there are various ways to be beating the casino; I discussed them in a previous [currently unpublished] chapter of Section Three, as an illustration of system/supersystem relationships!]

Furthermore, let us say that as I begin to fulfill this intentive resolve, I run up against observations or otherwise reliable testimony, which I recognize to be reliable in principle, and which go against my intentive resolve. And I say to myself, "I am not going to listen to this. It shall be the way I want it to be!" And so I continue on.

Now what am I doing?

I am going against what little light I have, and I am not honestly trying to seek more light; neither for proper verification nor for correction.

I am not merely refusing to accept the reality I recognize--such a refusal, by itself, might lead to a proper discovery of more accurate knowledge about reality: a better recognition. No, I am actively enforcing a resolve to selectively interpret any data I get or to ignore it if I cannot interpret it 'favorably' to my wish. I am setting myself up over against reality, in principle.

But I am a derivative creature. If I do this, what shall happen to me?

I shall (metaphorically speaking) bump my head against something that has the full mighty force of reality in its favor: in this case the house edge of the casino, combined with anything else the casino is doing to thwart me.

I shall hurt myself, and badly, and more badly in (probable) proportion to how far I insist on deluding myself.

This is a minor example, of course. But even in this case, I would be resolving myself to go against whatever reality happens to actually be--not to discover and then work with what reality happens to be.

It is the same as if I had decided to trample underfoot the relationship you and I have, as person to person.

The attitude I have just described involves, ultimately, a breach on my part against God--for God is reality, and even if I did not know Him (as Himself) to be reality, I at least believed something about reality that I insisted on nevertheless redefining according to my own mere willful preferences.

God may not expect me (on a case-by-case basis) to treat Him as God, if I do not know Him as God: He, being altogether and ultimately fair, would not expect me to do what I am currently incapable of doing (even though He will want me to learn to know Him eventually).

But I had still better treat reality a particular way: I had better not set myself in principle against whatever reality happens to be! There ought to be a small, still voice inside me saying: "this looks to be a contradiction, and you should not accept contradictions."

I may check whether what I perceive is a contradiction or not--there is no harm in that.

But to resolve in advance to weigh the scales of my judgment so that I will learn to treat as 'reality' whatever I merely wish to be true--maybe even what I think I know to be false?

That is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

But I do not want to emphasize, at the moment, the rejection God has as a Person, of such an attitude of mine that I am describing. You, my reader, may still be thinking in terms of mere 'king' imagery: as if God was only a 'king', who might only be peeved that I am not obeying him.

God is not that way. I am talking of the ultimate fact of reality, and of the sorts of actions I could take to set myself in opposition to reality. It is true that God will have a personal displeasure in my doing these things; but I will suppose that my sceptical reader may not yet have a grasp of just how deeply God roots reality.

So, to have a mental image of my intransigence, try considering what shall happen to me if I insist on holding my breath. If I hold it long enough (perhaps in a fit of pique, perhaps out of pride), then naturally speaking I shall lose consciousness and then my autonomic reflexes shall take over and I shall begin to breathe again (circumstances permitting).

But to willfully set myself in principle against whatever the truth may be, is to hold my breath against God, so to speak. God is the source of my life and existence.

If I push myself away from life, then what shall happen to me?

I shall die.

But the imagery I am using here is still faulty; there is nowhere I can push myself to, so that God is 'further away' than before. It is not as though I refuse the air and dive deep into the black water, seeking the cold and the fire of the rock below, stifling and suffocating myself in my pride. There is no 'cold water' into which I can push myself, where the 'air' does not exist.

Hell is not a place or condition entirely separate from God; although the greatest of rebels, as the greatest rebel, would certainly wish (and wish for us) to think that!

So to 'die' as a result of my sin does not mean I would actually succeed in reaching somewhere or some state of existence 'free from' God. To claim otherwise would be to deny the omnipresence of God; and I have learned that God is omnipresent. (Ironically then, to insist on such a separation happening, whether for myself or someone else, even though I know and affirm the omnipresence of God, will be to... what?)

Maybe such a death could mean that I (at least as a person, and perhaps even as a corporate physical entity) blink out of existence altogether in some way. Perhaps; but that could only happen by God's permission--I cannot 'force' Him to do that.

But, would He let me do that?

[Next up: the death of sin, and other deaths]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]

In this series of posts I am addressing the criticisms levelled by Neil Godfrey at Richard Bauckham's philosophy of testimony, as outlined in ch.18 of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Here I am responding to the observations found in this post:

Bauckham's use of Paul Ricoeur

Godfrey moves on to Bauckham’s use of Paul Ricoeur’s work on the role of testimony in historical investigation. We have seen that Ricoeur’s axiom in evaluating testimony is to “first trust the word of others, then doubt if there are good reasons for doing so.” Bauckham insists that “This general rule for everyday life applies also to the historian in relation to her sources.” (p.487) Godfrey accuses Bauckham of implying that “Ricoeur himself has persuaded Bauckham to call on historians to believe the sort of sources regarded by biblical scholars as ‘eyewitness historical evidence’ as readily as they believe a neighbour’s report that he has a leaking tap... it is easy for a quick reader to assume that this spin is also derived from Ricoeur. It is not.”

Of course Bauckham does no such thing (he nowhere attributes the previous statement to Ricoeur), and it is incredibly discourteous for Godfrey to jump to conclusions about Bauckham’s rhetoric and intentions to mislead his readers. In any case, the crux of the matter is that Godfrey does not think that Ricoeur himself would approve of Bauckham’s appropriation of his axiom: “Does Paul Ricoeur really intend his statement to be extrapolated to mean that the literal testimony of a gospel should be trusted so quickly and easily?” Well, of course not, and neither does Bauckham. As I noted earlier, there is nothing ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ about the way Bauckham argues for the general reliability of the Gospels. Deciding whether to trust the Gospel reports about Jesus is definitely not in the same league as deciding whether to trust a neighbor’s report of a leaking tap, but the same principle (i.e. approaching testimony with an initial attitude of general trust) should apply in both cases. Godfrey’s presentation of the options available for deciding whether to trust or distrust testimony is incredibly simplistic and certainly not what Bauckham is arguing (Several times Godfrey brings up the canard that “such a rule [i.e. trusting the word of others if there is no reason to doubt it], if applied to everyday life, would be a rogue’s or charlatan’s dream.” This is just paranoid and fails to take into account the robust and generally reliable ways we have for discerning whether our trust in others is justified. We may start by trusting a charlatan, only to withdraw that trust if/when it becomes apparent that such indeed he is. One would be foolish to go on trusting a charlatan once one has good reasons for thinking so.)

Godfrey then summarizes what Paul Ricoeur ‘actually’ means by testimony which we should trust in the absence of good reason for doubting it:

It is the testimony of one who is available to repeat his testimony, and who
demonstrates his steadfastness with his testimony over time. It is the testimony
of one who is prepared to answer doubts and scepticism and can point to others
who experienced or witnessed the same things. The testifier can and will offer
the challenge: “If you don’t believe me, ask someone else.” It is the testimony
that contributes to the social bond in that others can have confidence in what
is said.
But Godfrey is sure that, according to Bauckham's own argument, this is just what the Gospel sources do not give us:

According to Bauckham’s own argument, the gospels do not bring multiple
witnesses to bear on any particular miracle. His argument in fact advances the
opposite: that a key character witness or recipient of a miracle is “the
testifier”, and he/she alone, of that miracle to the gospel author. There is
absolutely nothing in the gospels to suggest that the authors had access to
whole “socially bonded” communities who could support the miraculous events they
narrated.

Ironically, not only is this a gross misunderstanding of Bauckham's argument, but by Ricoeur's own criteria as summarized by Godfrey the testimony of the Gospel eyewitnesses passes with flying colors. Bauckham does argue that specific named persons were the authoritative sources of particular traditions, but the testimony to Jesus’ life and ministry as a whole was the province of a wide community, including the apostles, numerous elders and teachers, individual benefactors of Jesus’ ministry, etc. With respect to the apostle Peter’s role as an eyewitness to Jesus, Bauckham insists that

we should not imagine an aged apostle reminiscing expansively in
autobiographical mode, but an apostle fulfilling his commission to preach the
Gospel and to teach believers, relating the traditions he has been recounting
throughout his life...in the forms in which he had cast the memories of the
Twelve and himself for ease of teaching and communication. (p.172)

Peter, then, is certainly “one who is available to repeat his testimony," and by all accounts one who “demonstrates his steadfastness with his testimony over time.” (Cf. Acts 5:42: “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”) The eyewitness sources of the Gospels (for example, Peter and John) could definitely point to others who experienced or witnessed the same things: in the book of Acts Peter proclaims to the crowd, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.” (Acts 2:32) Another important example comes from Paul, who in his account of the resurrection tradition states that “[Jesus] appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:5-6) As a matter of fact the Gospels, Acts and Paul’s letters are filled with such claims to authentic testimony. Whether one views these as mere rhetoric and/or propaganda is another story. In the context of Godfrey’s critique, we are examining whether Bauckham’s argument as it stands can benefit from Paul Riceour’s criteria for reliable testimony, and it most certainly can.

Godfrey also voices at several points a complaint regarding the content of the alleged eye-witness testimony of the Gospels. Since this includes reports of the miraculous, Godfrey insists that, following Hume, they certainly cannot be trusted:

The rule for everyday life is that people generally do not believe one
testifying to having been abducted by a UFO or having witnessed an unnatural
miracle — apart perhaps from the opportunistic author and a credulous fringe of
the community.

Apart from the dubious use of the phrase ‘unnatural miracle’, it is not at all clear that this ‘rule’ has general validity even in everyday life. Godfrey takes for granted the largely Western, Enlightenment-based cognitive environment of general skepticism towards supernatural claims, which was based in part on the explicit arguments of the likes of Hume, Paine, et al but also to a large extent the outworking of various sociological factors having nothing to do with rational argument (see for example R. Mullins, Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination; P. Berger, A Rumor of Angels). It is not clear that we should accept this ‘rule’ as having been rigorously established as an infallible guide to truth. This is not to say that we should just take each and every miraculous claim at face value. Just like with any other claim, we should investigate as much as possible the integrity of the witnesses, the extent of corroboration amongst them, etc. But there is no a priori reason we should not take testimony concerning the supernatural just as seriously as other testimony, at least initially.

Godfrey makes another misleading claim concerning Bauckham’s argument when he insists that

The different gospel variations on the telling of any particular miracle,
Bauckham concedes, are the fruit of the varying theological perspectives of the
author — NOT the outcome of interviewing the same witness or other community
supporters over time.

Actually, Bauckham lists five factors involved in explaining the variations among the versions of different Gospel narratives, only one of which includes “deliberate interpretative alterations or additions, by which a tradent sought to explain or to adapt the teaching when the post-Easter situation seemed to require this.” (p.286) He concedes that “these arguments…require extensive testing against the phenomena of the Jesus traditions as we have them,” (p.287) which he was unable to do in his book, but he points to the work of J.D.G. Dunn, who has plausibly argued that many differences in the various Gospel accounts can and should be attributed to factors other than theological differences among the authors (see Dunn, Jesus Remembered, pp.210-253). Godfrey clings to the old form-critical view of the Gospel tradition which explains all the variation among the Gospels in terms of theology, constantly looking for evidence of rivalry and rhetorical character assassination. But this represents a preconceived outlook on the Gospels, and says more about Godfrey’s own stance than that of the evangelists.

to be continued...

In a previous post, I discussed the difference a genre can make by focusing on Philo's On the Life of Moses (OLM). Although usually adopting a creative allegorical approach to Jewish scripture, in OLM Philo adopts a relatively straightforward biographical approach to the life of Moses. He makes relatively faithful use of the Old Testament and traditions of his people.

While reading OLM, I was struck by the similarities in many of its features with Luke-Acts. I will begin with the general similarities and then focus in more detail on the similarities of the works' prefaces.

General Features

On the Life of Moses and Luke-Acts are of comparable length, filling two scrolls. OLM is around 32,000 words long and Luke-Acts is around 37,700 words long.

On the Life of Moses and Luke-Acts are both Greco-Jewish works. Their audiences were predominantly Hellenized readers, though possessing an interest in the Jewish faith.

Related to the Jewish aspects of both writings is the regard for God’s providence and intervention in human affairs. Philo is clear that Moses’ rise and accomplishments were a result of God’s providence and direction. In Luke-Acts, the actions of Peter and Paul are similarly described as resulting from God's providence and direction.

Another similarity is that both OLM and Luke-Acts are "anonymous" works. That is, the text itself does not identify the author. This was not uncommon among ancient historical writers. For example, Tacitus' The Agricola and The Germania are both "anonymous." Obviously, anonymous does not mean that the author was unknown. It just means that the author did not mention himself by name in the text of the book. Authors were known to their patrons or communities, and likely would have been identified on the outside of the book.

Finally, although Greco-Roman historical writings are generally disinclined to endorse the miraculous, OLM and Luke-Acts are obvious exceptions. In OLM, most of the miracles related to Moses, such as the parting of the sea and miraculous provision of food in the desert, are repeated without qualification. Luke-Acts also recounts some miracle accounts.

Prefaces

Luke-Acts and OLM are two-volume works, each having an introductory preface in the first volume and a shorter preface in the second that references the first. Both have prefaces that include an explicit statement of the purpose for writing. OLM was written with “a desire to make [Moses'] character fully known” and Luke-Acts was written so “that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

The prefaces of both works also refer to prior works on the same topic. OLM refers to accounts of Moses as lawgiver, other accounts as interpreter of the law, and to others of Moses as the greatest and most perfect man who ever lived. Luke-Acts refers to the “many others” who have drawn up accounts. Both OLM and Luke-Acts justify their own writing by distinguishing it from their predecessors.

The prefaces in both works refer to their sources. In OLM, Philo refers to his sources as the sacred scriptures written by Moses and the traditions of the elders of the Jewish nation. Notably, from what we can tell, OLM is relatively faithful to its sources. Luke-Acts refers to the “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.”

The prefaces in both works also discuss the author’s unique suitability to undertake the literary effort. Philo refers to his having “continually connected together what I have heard with what I have read, and in this way I look upon it that I am acquainted with the history of his life more accurately than other people.” Luke-Acts refers to having “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” and his effort to write an “orderly account.”

Notable Differences

The similarities of the two works are significant, but so are the differences. There is less direct discourse in OLM than in Luke-Acts. Further, while OLM focuses on the life of one man, Luke-Acts splits its interest. The life of Jesus is the focus of Luke, whereas Acts focuses mainly on Peter and Paul, with other notable but less important characters receiving attention.

Also significant is that OLM writes about events that happened long ago. Moses was no contemporary to Philo or anyone in his audience. The traditions about Moses were well known in Philo's community, but the traditions were not fresh and certainly no eye-witnesses of his life had been accessible for hundreds of years when Philo wrote. Luke-Acts, on the other hand, was written about relatively recent events (even if dated as late as the 90's AD). This is reflected in the preface, as Luke-Acts refers to eyewitnesses passing on traditions. Eyewitnesses to Jesus, even if not directly available, were not far removed. For the actions of Peter and Paul, eyewitnesses were more likely available to the author, who claims to have been a participant in some of the events he narrates.

Conclusion

The similarities between OLM and Luke-Acts are intriguing. On the Life of Moses is a biographical work widely acknowledged as representing the features of that genre. Luke-Acts has been characterized as a biographical work with a succession narrative, but is more often seen as ancient historiography. Some simply conclude that Luke was an ancient biography and that Acts was ancient historiography. The two genres were related, so bright line distinctions between them are not always helpful. Accordingly, the similarities between On the Life of Moses and Luke-Acts adds further weight to the opinion that Luke-Acts is an ancient historical work, rather than some sort of ancient romance or novel.

After writing about Internet atheists and their rhetorical tactics over the weekend, a commenter provided an example of the type of disingenuous rhetoric that I was referencing. In the blog post entitled Internet Atheists and Rhetoric, I quoted an article by Dr. John Mark Reynolds who stated that Internet atheists don't understand the force of the arguments raised by Dr. William Lane Craig. In response to that blog entry, Internet atheist/gadfly Steven Carr commented:

For example, Criag [sic] argues that it is morally correct to stick a sword into the belly of an expectant mother Here

This article was widely discussed among atheists, the majority of whom found such view revolting.

This is an example of another type of atheist rhetoric: take a long, nuanced argument and boil it down to something that everyone agrees is offensive but which completely misrepresents what the author says. In other words, set up the straw man.

I certainly urge people to read the Craig article. He looks at the Biblical account of the order for the destruction of the Caananites openly, honestly and intellectually. He deals with issues such as divine command theory, ethical relativism, historic setting, the role of the Israelites in God's plan for salvation, and perspective. At no time does Craig duck from the idea that to our western minds raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition the order for the destruction of the Canaanites seems completely immoral.

So then what is Yahweh doing in commanding Israel’s armies to exterminate the Canaanite peoples? It is precisely because we have come to expect Yahweh to act justly and with compassion that we find these stories so difficult to understand. How can He command soldiers to slaughter children?

I have made these same arguments, and I certainly understand the points that Dr. Craig is making. The story of the slaughter of the entire Amalakite people or the Caananite people are among the most difficult for people with a strong sense of morality (which comes from God) to accept. I know several people who otherwise accept the historicity of the Old Testament who simply refuse to believe that God would have been involved in these actions and reason that they are written into the Bible to try to justify the evil actions started by the Israeli people themselves. I understand their concerns and frankly if I were not committed to the fact that the entire Bible is true I would be inclined to take that tact as well. It certainly does away with some rather difficult Bible accounts.

However, I personally find Craig's argument to be both logical and reasonable. To characterize what Craig is saying as "it is morally correct to stick a sword into the belly of an expectant mother" is a complete injustice to Dr. Craig's attempt to deal with a situation that is extremely difficult to understand. Let me suggest an analogy to this mischaracterization of Craig's essay: At the tail-end of the Second World War, the Allies had defeated the Axis powers in Europe. All that was left was to defeat the Japanese. The problem was that the invasion was largely considered to be a very costly effort in terms of human lives. The Allies had just lost more than 12,500 soldiers in their invasion of Okinawa, and the Japanese had lost 100,000 civilians in that same invasion (according to Japan-Guide.com). According to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum,

Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe all were decimated by incendiary and other bombs. In all, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in these air strikes meant to deter the resolve of the Japanese people. Yet, Japanese resolve stayed strong and the idea of a bloody "house to house" invasion of the Japanese mainland would produce thousands more American and Allied casualties.

In order to end the war with fewer lives being lost, Truman authorized that the first two atomic bombs be dropped. The first, dropped on Hiroshima, did not lead to the surrender of the Japanese -- that's how committed to fighting the Japanese people remained. The second, dropped on Nagasaki, apparently led the Japanese to ultimately surrender under the belief that the United States would be able to continuously drop these bombs at a low risk of loss of life to themselves. Truman, it is reported, believed so strongly that dropping the bomb was the best course of action when all of the alternatives and the risks of those alternatives were taken into consideration -- even though dropping the bomb on a city would kill thousands of innocent people including pregant women and babies -- that he did not even agonize over the decision.

Having read the foregoing, would you say that it is accurate to claim: "Truman was in favor of dropping atomic bombs on babies"? Would you say that someone who believes that Truman was right to drop the atomic bombs is "in favor of dropping atomic bombs on babies"? If you say either of these things then I find your reasoning to be highly suspect. Truman was the only commander in history (thus far) to actually order the dropping of an atomic bomb, and he did so on two separate occasions. But the fact that he did so in particular circumstances when all of the other options were taken into account and did so because it seemed to him to be the best option to bring a decisive end to the war with a minimum loss of life should tell anyone that such a blanket statement about Truman is simply misguided and not consistent with the whole picture.

Likewise, saying that someone today who argues that Truman made the correct decision when he decided to drop the atomic bombs on Japan favors "dropping atomic bombs on babies" is pure rhetoric. It is little more than an effort to win the argument by claiming that the person supporting the decision to bomb Japan supports an activity that he really doesn't support but the argument is being made solely to make the person supporting Truman's decision look bad. After all, only a crazy person could be in favor of "dropping atomic bombs on babies", right?

That, in my eyes, is the same thing that happens with the blanket assertion made by people like Carr about the slaying of the Amalakites and the Caananites. There is a whole lot of factors and considerations that should be taken into account when trying to understand what happened and why. To simply say that someone who defends the truth of the Biblical account in context is in favor of "killing babies", "sticking a sword into the belly of an expectant mother" or "genocide" so completely misrepresents the very nuanced and thoughtful arguments being made as to be recklessly and willfully ignorant.

I fully expect someone to comment how I am just trying to justify genocide. If they do, they merely prove my point. I do not support or justify genocide, but I do try to understand what the Bible is saying in context. To boil that down in such a fraudulent manner is intellectual dishonesty.

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit. After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would involve, first for God and then for myself, I reached the topic of enacted human sin; and in my most recent entry I began considering the consequences of my sin.

This entry concludes chapter 36, "the consequences of sin", in my original text. It's the longest entry I've put up in a while, so be warned ahead of time. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. Where I thought a footnote would be too disruptive to represent in my main text, I have put it into the comments below instead; this will be marked where so.


.......[excerpt begins here]

I am now in a position to explain why I, myself, am not remotely disconcerted by the anti-theistic argument from evil.

For many people, this is a powerful argument, if not against a supernaturalistic God altogether (strictly speaking it couldn’t be against that anyway), then at least against any kind of ethical God Who also holds an ontological position traditionally accepted by proponents of various religious theisms (primarily Judaism, Christianity and Islam in modern times). The problem then, is not with God or God’s supernatural character per se, but with the combination of these properties plus ethicality. Eliminating one or more of the properties, eliminates the problem--or so it seems to many people.

Thus, eliminating the morality (tacitly or explicitly) could leave the theism and the ontological claims in place--but not a trinitarian nature. Even some Christian theists, accepting the argument, but wanting to keep the ethicality (and the trinitarianism?), are led to abandon one or more of the ontological tenets--they will deny God’s omnipotence, or God’s omniscience, or God’s omnipresence. Some theists regress into an emergent pantheism, a naturalistic theism where the system of Nature, as the Independent Fact, is slowly becoming God--thus it starts out amoral, and slowly ‘learns’ morality. [Footnote: Why it would be learning to be more ‘moral’ seems to be something of a mystery. I will add here that I am not entirely against the notion of Nature becoming progressively sentient and learning to be moral; but I certainly don’t have to be a naturalistic and/or emergent theist in order to accept this possibility!]

Furthermore, I can understand why the argument would be so influential to so many people. Injustice and suffering are daily parts of life for many of us, perhaps even for all of us; and highly important to us (myself included!) when they happen. Since these are so readily obvious and at hand, it isn’t unreasonable for people to begin with evil and tragedy and grief. [Footnote: this in itself refutes the facetious attempts of some skeptics, even ones who ought to know better, to paint theists, Christian or otherwise, as if we thought we were living in some kind of bouncy rainbow vacuum where nothing hurtful or scary or unfair ever happens to us or to those we love. This ridiculous tactic becomes even more worthless against a Christian, of all people: the guy nailed up there on the giant plus sign reminds us every Sunday that Bad Things Happen To Even The Best People, in case we somehow manage to forget.]

Or again, even if an ethical theism manages to be proposed first (for after all someone has to go first in an argument), sooner or later (and probably sooner) the evident power and prevalence of injustice has to be and ought to be raised as part of any responsible accounting of the situation; and when that happens, the ethical theism may be so incomplete, or so incompletely established, that it becomes proportionately vulnerable to this objection--which is likely to be the first objection, even if not the first ground for decision. [Footnote: it certainly doesn’t help when the ethical theism being proposed turns out to not be even ethical in character! See chapter 31 for an example of this. [Reprinted in this entry here.]]

"If God really existed, and/or really was the sort of God you say He is," I am occasionally told, "then evil as we all recognize it would not exist. Yet, it does. Therefore, He must not exist, one way or the other."

I think there is a reasonably noble attitude that can (and I am willing to believe often does) underlie that argument.

But, because of the way in which I have approached the topic of evil, this argument is in no position to undercut my conclusions.

First, I am already entirely certain on other far more primary grounds that God nevertheless does exist (or at least that, as a question of logical responsibility, I should believe He exists), and has the character and characteristics this anti-theistic argument attacks. That doesn’t mean I have to discount or disrespect the factual reality of injustice--on the contrary, I am in the process of factoring it strongly into my developing argument! But this factoring will be done within the shape of the metaphysic I have been slowly and carefully developing throughout the course of this book.

A little more bluntly and directly: in order for the anti-theistic argument to have any chance of success at all, first I have to presume that I can actively evaluate the argument as a responsible agent. Once I do that, however, I discover there are corollaries to this presumption which... well... eventually lead me here! (Not even counting another few hundred pages of preliminary field-leveling consideration that I can, and do, engage in, before I begin considering that topic! [Currently these arguments aren’t posted in journal entries.])

So, while this won’t necessarily be true for other analysts, I am going to be a supernaturalistic trinitarian theist before I get to the argumentative threat of injustice anyway. Even if I started from injustice, sooner or later I would be looking to discern logical priorities in argumentation, and once I do that... then here I will be again. At which point, though I won’t (and shouldn’t) discount the reality of injustice, I will be (and am) slotting it into a coherent, developing, progressive metaphysic, in light of positions developed through identified logical priorities.

Second: I also notice that for this argument to have even a chance of working, the anti-theist must be making a judgment based on his adequate (and reasonably accurate) perception of an objectively real and foundational standard. It must not be merely his (or our) own wishful thinkings nor an irrationally produced delusion.

But such a standard must be ethical in quality at its source; and thus requires an eternally foundational relationship of Person-to-Person.

If the God Whom I think exists does not exist, then that judgment of the 'evil' quality of behaviors cannot be objectively grounded [Footnote: not even the objectivist secular attempt--see the relevant entries here and here for why]; but then this particular anti-theistic argument cannot possibly lead to a valid conclusion that God does not exist.

If God, the orthodox trinitarian God, does exist, then the evil, the intentional misbehavior of derivative personal entities that gives this argument its strength, can also exist; but then the argument using the existence of such evil against God's existence or character, must nevertheless be reaching a false conclusion.

Ironically, it takes God's existence as a Trinty in Unity, for such an argument against God's existence-and/or-character to have any real strength. [See first comment below for extended footnote here.]

Third, and perhaps much more personally to the point: I know, and am willing to admit, that in my own degree I have on occasion willingly contributed to the injustice and sinful hatred which, when recognized, give this anti-theistic argument such apparent power.

So, you think such an argument has some force, do you? Very well: what was God supposed to do with me, to prevent me from adding to the evil? Or do you think that a little evil on my part would be okay, but a lot of evil makes the difference?

No--the principle works in principle, or not at all. My own 'little' evils must be part and parcel of your argument against God.

So, what was God supposed to do, to prevent me from acting in such a way? Not create me at all? And if not me, then how many others? Everyone except yourself? Are you sinless? If not, then should God not have created you, either, and so not have given you the opportunity and ability to breach the most fundamental of principle relationships in reality? Or, would 'you' be better off if 'you' (per se) did not exist? But how can that be?! Yet if God allows you your freedom, shall He not allow others? And if He allows other people freedom--other people like me--how shall He be absolutely certain of preventing me from mistreating you? By making me a sock-puppet? Then I am not 'me'! Shall He nix every potentially harmful physical effect that might flow from my intentions? I have news for you: that would not stop my evil, for the possibility of my actively evil intent would remain, and could still be enacted, even if no notable result, no suffering, followed in the physical world.

Oh, so perhaps it is not the evil per se that powers the argument, but the suffering that exists!--the suffering that forces reactions and so reduces us as persons, whether that suffering is pain or pleasure. [Footnote: Proponents of this anti-theistic argument do not always remember that pleasurable suffering may in its own way be even worse than pain; for at least pain allows us to know that something is wrong. But pleasurable suffering is addictive and encourages whatever is happening wrongly to continue and increase. I don’t hold a forgetting or ignorance of this, against such proponents; but I do recognize it myself in a careful accounting.]

The argument then becomes:

"If God existed and/or had the characteristics you say He does, He would take more steps to minimize or even eradicate suffering. But suffering exists, and in great quantities. Therefore..., etc."

I do feel the same way, too, on occasion--including when I suffer. So I can sympathize with the emotional power of this revision of the argument.

But then I am obligated to ask: how am I, who am non-omniscient, supposed to know whether God has not in fact minimized suffering insofar as all His other plans allow room for?

There is no way I can possibly know this; I am equally certain that you cannot possibly know this, either. (Whereas, on the other hand, the argument to God I have already developed, gives me solid ground for trusting that God is in fact minimizing suffering insofar as all His other plans and intentions allow room for: a conclusion of principle that doesn’t require omniscient polling.)

The emotional power of the argument admittedly remains in force; but its logical validity requires us to be capable of knowing what God knows about the necessary interrelationships of everything in creation, so that we have a useful standard by which to validly draw such a conclusion.

This is impossible; consequently, the argument fails.

I presume (as I have said before [in a currently unpublished chapter]) that you, my sceptical reader, would not accept from me an argument for God's existence, based on my feelings of awe on a mountain or in a cathedral. So if we are down to discussing a mere feeling, no matter how noble in character, then I think the same principle must still hold: whatever credit this feeling reflects of you, it does not effectively ground the argument by itself.

But still: you may maintain (if you are someone such as I myself) that the suffering in our world cries out for a justice that you are not perceiving. And, have I not said that God shall never set aside either His justice or His love?

Do you, my reader, perhaps feel--or even think--that God should be held accountable in some fashion for this suffering? That He should actively pay for allowing you and me and other entities to introduce and maintain and propagate suffering in the world? That no matter how I juggle the bill, God ends up being responsible for the meal--and He should own up and take responsibility?

Do you think this?

Good!

I think you are quite correct. And I will ask you to remember it, later.

Meanwhile, if you do think this--and I imagine at bottom most honest sceptics who care about justice do think it, because I myself also think it!--then make sure your sauce cooking the Gander cooks my goose as well.

If you think God deserves to pay for setting up this situation--what do you think I, who am a sinner contributing to the situation, deserve?

Do I not also deserve to pay, for the contributions I have directly made to the misery of the world? What do I, a sinner unlike God, deserve?

Well, perhaps you are feeling a bit charitable toward me! Perhaps you will say that (unlike God??) I have excuses.

I think you are right: I do have excuses. And I think the excuses do 'excuse' me--as far as they go.

But, if I tell you that there have been times when I just flat decided to sin; that I can honestly look at myself and see at least one time when I had no mitigating excuse for my behavior, no explanation other than my willful intent to do what I knew to be wrong--

then, my reader, what do you say I deserve?

I will tell you what the logic of the position I have developed, requires that I deserve--not only what I deserve, but what I shall receive.

I have said it before already, and I will say it again now:


I deserve to die.

I must die.

I shall die.


Well... What else remains to be said?

Quite a lot, actually!--so on to the next chapter.

[Next up: sin and death.]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]

A new documentary film is being released featuring comedian and commentator Ben Stein. The film is entitled Expelled and sub-titled "No Intelligence Allowed".

Here is an excerpt from the e-mail announcment I received:

Ben Stein, the lovable, monotone teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Wonder Years is on a journey to answer one of the biggest questions ever asked: Were we designed or are we simply the end result of an ancient mud puddle struck by lightning? Stein, who is also a lawyer, an economist, a former presidential speechwriter, author and social commentator, is stunned by what he finds on his journey. He discovers an elitist scientific establishment that has traded in its skepticism for dogma. But even worse, along the way, Stein uncovers a long line of biologists, astronomers, chemists and philosophers who have had their reputations destroyed and their careers ruined by a scientific establishment that allows absolutely no dissent from Charles Darwin’s theory of random mutation and natural selection.

“Big Science in this area of biology has lost its way,” says Stein. “Scientists are supposed to be allowed to follow the evidence wherever it may lead, no matter what the implications are. Freedom of inquiry has been greatly compromised, and this is not only anti-American, it’s anti-science. Its anti-the whole concept of learning.”

Expelled uncovers that educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired in some cases for the fact that they believe there is evidence of “design” in nature, challenging the idea that life is a result of random chance. For example, Stein meets Richard Sternberg, a double PhD biologist who allowed a peer-reviewed research paper describing the evidence for intelligence in the universe to be published in the scientific journal Proceedings. Not long after publication, officials from the National Center for Science Education and the Smithsonian Institution where Sternberg was a research fellow began a coordinated smear and intimidation campaign to get the promising young scientist expelled from his position. This attack on scientific freedom was so egregious that it prompted a congressional investigation.

On his journey, Stein meets other scientists such as astrobiologist Guillermo Gonzalez, who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in spite of his extraordinary record of achievement. Gonzalez made the mistake of documenting the design he has observed in the universe. There are others, such as Caroline Crocker, a brilliant biology teacher at George Mason University who was forced out of the university for briefly discussing problems with Darwinian Theory and for telling the students that some scientists believe there is evidence of design in the universe. The list goes on and on.

Unlike some other documentary films, Expelled doesn’t just talk to people representing one side of the story. The film confronts scientists such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, influential biologist and atheist blogger PZ Myers and Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education. The creators of Expelled crossed the globe over a two-year period, interviewing scores of scientists, doctors, philosophers and public leaders. The result is a startling revelation that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions.

“The incredible thing about Expelled is that we don’t resort to manipulating our interviews for the purpose of achieving the ‘shock effect,’ something that has become common in documentary film these days,” said Walt Ruloff, co-founder of Premise Media and co-Executive Producer. "People will be stunned to actually find out what elitist scientists proclaim, which is that a large majority of Americans are simpletons who believe in a fairy tale. Premise Media took on this difficult mission because we believe the greatest asset of humanity is our freedom to explore and discover truth."

Fascinating. I am really hoping that this is what it appears to be: a movie that gives Intelligent Design a fair look and exposes the bullying that it has taken at the hands of the "scientific establishment". I will wait and see before passing judgment.

In the last chapter of his monumental new book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham attempts a philosophical discussion of testimony as an epistemological category to make sense of the kind of historiography found in the canonical Gospels, and as a theological category appropriate to the kind of access to Jesus which Christians have through those Gospels (p.473). Drawing on the work of philosophers such as C.A.J. Coady and Paul Ricoeur, as well as historians like Samuel Byrskog, Bauckham argues that testimony represents a properly basic cognitive process on par with memory, sensation and inference. More specifically, testimony is irreducible to other kinds of knowing. He notes that “It is simply not true that each of us has done anything approaching sufficient observation for ourselves of the correlation between testimony and observable facts to justify our reliance on testimony.” (p.477) This implies that the proper approach to the evaluation of testimony begins with a fundamental trust in its general reliability: “We have no reason to suppose that the perceptions of others, given us in testimony, are less worthy of belief than our own.” (p.478) When it comes to historical research, however, Bauckham finds that many modern historians approach the testimony of the past with a fundamental skepticism rather than trust, and this has led to a methodologically flawed approach to the study of the Gospels. The thrust of his argument, when applied to Gospel research, is that in the Gospels we are presented with the testimony of those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry, and just as we do with other kinds of testimony, we should approach the texts with a hermeneutic of charity, that is, only doubting their reliability when we have sufficient reason to do so.

It should be obvious that this approach to Gospel criticism is very congenial to theological and apologetic concerns. It puts the burden of proof on the skeptic to demonstrate inauthenticity rather than the believer to demonstrate authenticity. Therefore it is not surprising that Bauckham’s method should come under criticism, and blogger Neil Godfrey has provided a lengthy critique of Bauckham’s philosophy of testimony in several blog posts. Godfrey’s critique, however, is both discourteous and misguided on several fundamental issues. In this series of posts I want to address his criticisms in some detail, and in so doing clarify and expand Bauckham’s position on these issues, drawing on his replies to members of the Biblical Studies Y! group (NB: Neil Godfrey has reviewed the whole book in detail on his blog, and a complete list of posts can be accessed here; I am responding however only to his criticisms of the final chapter of Bauckham’s book).

On the Reliability of Testimony (responding to arguments found in this post):

Godfrey seems to accept C.A.J. Coady’s argument concerning the nature of testimony (found in his Testimony: A Philosophical Study), but disapproves of its application by Bauckham to biblical scholarship. In response to Bauckham’s endorsement of Ricoeur’s axiom to “first trust the word of others, then doubt if there are good reasons for doing so”, Godfrey complains that

B[auckham] does not explain what sorts of reasons might prompt one to doubt a
report in the first place. Should one declare everything one hears and reads as
true until one runs into a blatant contradiction among the reports? What
safeguards are there against gullibility? One can imagine institutional leaders
and fraudsters of all stripes, but particularly political ones, finding such an
approach to all of their testimonies as a heaven(?) sent dream... Under what
circumstances can testimony ever be proven unreliable if it is treated as
reliable? To ask the doubting question is to break the first precept of treating
the gospels as reliable testimony!


On the contrary, Bauckham stresses at several points in his chapter that there is a complex dialectic between trust and criticism and that “in particular cases one cannot, in the same breath, both trust what a witness says, and subject it to critical evaluation.” (p.478, quoting Coady, p.46) What Bauckham has in mind is not that, once testimony is trusted it cannot be criticized. Rather, an initial general attitude of trust is appropriate to the evaluation of testimony, and is an epistemic virtue. He acknowledges that “there appears to be a wider range and number of possible factors making for distortion and falsification of testimony” and that this justifies, among other things, “the modern historian’s use of methodologically refined critical tools for assessing the testimonies that come to us from the past.” (p.479) It is just these tools which provide safeguards against gullibility, and which Bauckham employed throughout the rest of his book to arrive at the conclusion that the Gospels should generally be considered reliable historical sources, based on a number of lines of evidence, including but not limited to: 1) the apparent existence of a formal controlled method of transmitting the Jesus tradition, based on the efforts of persons who were the guardians of specific traditions, 2) the actual pattern of agreement and disagreement among the Synoptic traditions which suggests that a conservative force was at work in this transmission process (i.e. it did not radically change in its successive phases), 3) the conscientiousness of the evangelists to separate the time of Jesus from their own with regard to teaching and theological developments (based on the work of Eugene Lemcio) and 4) an overview of the psychology of eyewitness memory which suggests that the events the disciples witnessed of Jesus’ life and ministry were of such a kind as to be easily and accurately remembered.

In my exchange with him in the comments section, Godfrey insists that “Bauckham never explains what he means by ‘critical questioning’ of sources and nor did he demonstrate what he meant anywhere in the previous 17 chapters.” Here it must be admitted that Bauckham does not provide an explicit list of formal principles to be used when deciding whether or not to trust testimony. He does, however, exemplify the use of critical historical methodology throughout his book, which has been honed by historians for the explicit purpose of weighing the value of historical testimony. For example, in Bauckham’s chapter on Papias (ch.2), he deals with the fragments of sayings we have from Papias in the standard way, as to dating, corroboration with other accounts, internal evidence, historical plausibility, etc. And he states clearly at the beginning of the chapter that that is what he is going to do, i.e. re-examine the evidence from Papias concerning the origin of the Gospel traditions about Jesus. This is historical method, no different than, say, John Dominic Crossan arguing for the reliability of the Gospel of Thomas in reconstructing the teaching of Jesus.

A larger question, however, is whether we can explicitly lay out formal rules for deciding when to discredit testimony. I doubt very much whether this is possible except in general outline, or in very specific cases (such as the courtroom). We have all had the experience of coming to doubt someone else’s word on a particular issue, whether because of contradictions, a general impression of untrustworthiness, the word of a third person that the witness is untrustworthy (whom we trust even more), but it seems that the tests we tacitly apply to testimony cannot be employed mechanically in the same way in every situation, with different cognitive parameters. It is not incumbent on Bauckham to provide a checklist of the features of unreliable testimony. If Godfrey thinks that he can produce such a list, he should do so and in an instant solve every single problem concerning the reliability of sources current in historical studies.

Godfrey then insinuates that Bauckham intentionally ignores an argument by Coady to the effect that the authenticity of historical documents must be established before they are to be considered reliable. Apparently Godfrey thinks that this runs counter to Bauckham’s insistence that sources should be treated as reliable until proven otherwise. But actually Bauckham does insist that sources must be authenticated. In a response to a member of the Biblical Studies list, he states that “I have no difficulty with [critical scrutiny of historical documents]... My point is that it's critical assessment of a source as a whole. It is not an attempt to verify independently everything a source says. Once we regard the source as trustworthy, we trust it.” Again, Bauckham’s own book is a demonstration of just this concern, which Godfrey overlooks or chooses not to see.

If Bauckham had arbitrarily decided to trust what the Gospels say with no concern whatsoever for historical questions, he would not have composed a 500+ page book arguing that the Gospels put us in touch with the eyewitness testimony of those who were with Jesus and that we have good historical and psychological reasons (outlined in ch.13) to think that they give us reliable testimony. But Bauckham is concerned to argue that the Gospels as a whole are generally reliable, even if perhaps not in every detail. He thinks that one of the mistakes of form criticism was to focus on authenticating (or discounting) each and every pericope in the Gospels without taking a wider view of their generally reliability as a whole (Cf. the following comment on the Biblical studies list:

I am increasingly dubious that the criteria of authenticity really get us
anywhere. I think it is far more important to assess the general reliability of
the Gospels as historical sources (taking account, of course, of the fact that
they are also more than historical sources) than to try to assess individual
stories or sayings. Form criticism left us with only the latter sort of
assessment available to us. My approach is more in line with the way historians
generally approach their sources and also the way we deal with "testimony" in
everyday life. I think we have to live with a margin of error. A generally
reliable source may be unreliable here and there, but I doubt, owing to the
nature of our evidence in this case, we are very likely to be able to identify
where.

In any case, Coady certainly is not arguing that historical authentication consists of independently verifying each and every detail of our sources, which would contradict his insistence on the irreducibility of testimony as an epistemological category. The question concerns sources as a whole, and in this respect Bauckham is completely in line with Coady’s argument, which again I note Godfrey does not seem to object to.

to be continued...

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit.

After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would entail, at the level of fundamental reality, I proceeded (in my most recent entry) to consider what it means for me to intentionally foster contradictions. And so I reached the topic of enacted human sin.

This entry begins chapter 36, "the consequences of sin", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text.


.......[excerpt begins here]

In the previous chapter [i.e. the previous couple of journal entries], I began to discuss the reality of evil--not in the abstract, nor for potential special-cases (such as particular individuals who may honestly not recognize any responsibility they have to actual reality)--but in the most concrete and personal way I could find.

I began examining the reality of evil, by examining myself.

The person who thinks ethics are something we humans have created, says that good and evil are what we personally define them to be. I notice that such a person rarely, if ever, admits, "What I have done is evil". Usually, the gist of this sort of person is that we define 'good' as whatever we ourselves want to do, and 'evil' as whatever someone else wants to do (or wants us to do) that threatens our desires. Or he may perhaps say, "Very well, I agree that what I have done is 'evil', taking the average of human opinion into account. Nevertheless, it is what I wanted to do. I may be sorry I got caught, but if I could do it without getting caught (and especially punished) I would. I don't consider it to be something I should not have been doing." [Footnote: a more objectivistic secular ethicist wouldn’t go this route, I think, but would recognize instead that the violation of coherently fulfilling interpersonal relationships would be objectively evil in some sense--including when they themselves do it. Please refer to my chapter [as a pair of journal entries here and here] about this special class or subclass of ethical theory, for more discussion on their position--including important critiques.]

On the other hand, the person who thinks ethics are our irrational responses to our environments (natural, social, whatever), will say that our understanding of what is 'evil' is merely an irrational response that we happen to be suffering at the moment--qualitatively similar to having a headache. Such a person may find herself saying, "What I have done is evil"; but (if she sticks to her theory) she will probably eventually tell herself, "All that happened was that I reacted to the herd instinct, or to the parental instinct, or something of that sort." She will probably figure that if she can get a good night's rest, the feeling (being only a 'feeling') that she has done something wrong will go away by morning; and if not, then she may need to see a doctor.

But the person who thinks there is an objectively real and truly ethical standard that we may possibly willfully violate--for example, we Jews, Christians and Muslims [Footnote: and that special class of secular ethicists, too, to be fair]--shall in theory, and even sometimes in practice, say to ourselves:

"What I have done is evil. There may be excuses for other things I have done, but there is no sufficient excuse for this. I willfully chose to do something I should not have done, and I knew at the time I should not have done it."

This person--a person like myself--may easily agree that there are times when one of the other two explanations for 'ethical' feelings or 'ethical' behaviors do in fact apply. But we also maintain--and at bottom the proponents of the other two theories will also maintain--that those sorts of behaviors were not in fact good or evil.

Except: we ethical objectivists are likely to decide that there is never any such event that falls into the category of 'active ethical subjectivism'--the mere choice to define what is good and evil according to our whim.

We might agree that if such behaviors were possible, then those behaviors would not be good or evil at bottom. But typically what we will infer, and say, about such willful ethical finagling, is likely to be this:

"I did try to set myself up as the final authority for what really is good and really is evil, despite what I knew deep down to be true--and that is precisely where, and how, and why I did the evil thing."

In previous chapters, I have deduced that even though there may very well be 'ethical' situations which (merely) seem to be 'ethical' but are explained by one of the two subjectivistic theories, an objective ethical standard does nevertheless exist--and the standard is God's own interPersonal self-grounding behavior from all eternity.

God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in unity of deity) does not act against His own active self-existence--otherwise all reality would cease to exist, including you and me. Therefore He must also prefer for us not to do--not even to intend to do--that sort of thing to each other and/or to Him: to act in violation and non-fulfillment of interpersonal relationships. If, or when, we do so, we are acting against the grounding principle, even against the grounding action, of all reality, including our own derivative existence.

But when God created other free-willed entities--an entity such as I must presume myself to be, or else I cannot legitimately claim any argument or even mere assertion of mine to be reliably worth anything--then He willingly set up a situation where it remains possible for these creatures to actually choose to do what He Himself shall always refuse to do.

The existence of creatures who are not-God and who are not mere sock-puppets for God, entails the necessary possibility that, to a limited extent, these creatures might thwart God's intentions.

I say 'to a limited extent': it was God's enacted choice for them to exist and to have this potential capability. Their--our, my --misuse of that capability does not ultimately defy the power of God. My misuse defies a subordinate intention on His part, this intention being subordinate to the fulfillment of the greater intention on His part: that you and I shall exist as free-willed creatures who are not merely Him.

He set up a special situation, where a limited set of His wishes was within our power, by His own grace, to grant or deny.

That was the honor and dignity He granted to us: He put us in the position where we had some power to complete or deny His wish that He might have true sons and daughters.


I, for one, have denied that wish.


I have, at times, acted in ways which I knew then--and still know now--to be wrong.

I didn't want it to be 'wrong'. I wanted it to be 'right'--without wanting the character of my action to be changed.

I wanted to be the one who ultimately grounded what was true and what was good.

That may not have been the exact 'form' of what I was telling myself when I resolved intentively to do those things. But that is what it boils down to, at bottom.

I wanted not only to be God, but to be over against God.

And, in a way, I got my wish.

God has made it possible for me to do just that.

Not to the degree that I wanted, perhaps; but He made it possible for me to act toward myself, toward other created people (such as you), and toward Himself, with intentions God never chooses to have toward me, toward other created people (such as you), or within the unity of His own transPersonal self.

The way God treats me is based on the principles of the way He (as the substantial unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit) treats Himself. His application of those principles, toward me, must be somewhat different because I am not one of the Persons of God's Unity; but the principles themselves must still be the same, for God will be self-consistent. It is not intrinsically necessary for Him to do 'good' to me; but He (and everything else) would utterly die if He did choose to do 'evil' to me. Because He grounds all reality, and because I am still here, then I can be certain He never has nor never shall behave that way.

But, what happens to me, if I behave that way?


What happens if, unlike God, I do decide to be false to the best perception I have of what is true; or if I do decide to put my own desires first at the expense of giving love and justice to you? What happens if I willingly break the derivative unity that binds you and I together as people, and that binds God and myself together as people--the unities which are shadows of the self-existent independent Unity of God-to-God that grounds all of reality?

If God shall die if ever He chooses to do this--then what shall happen to me?


If I choose to breach my relationship with God; if I choose to turn my face from Him; if I attempt, insofar as I can, to cut myself off from the ultimate source of my life and power--then what shall happen to me?

Then, I shall die.


It is logically necessary, as a function of the relation of things, that I shall die.

It is ethically necessary, insofar as I have breached the principles of the Personal relationship that grounds the Life of God and of all other lives, that I shall die.


Look at me, you who are my reader. See me: the sinner.

Do you understand, now, the extent of what it means for me to sin? Do you not agree that I should and shall die for what I have done?

Well--I understand, at least.


And the 'size' of my sin does not matter.

Whether I even completed the action I hoped to undertake--but perhaps was thwarted in achieving (by God's good grace!)--does not matter.

I have violated the principles of interpersonal relationships: the principles which root and are rooted in eternity, by the God Who begets Himself in self-existence, and Whose action of self-begetting serves as the preliminary necessary causal ground for all other actions of God, including the creation of you and me, who are derivative creatures with our own interpersonal relationships--and what sort of relationships should those be, but mirrors in their own derivative degree of the love and justice which ground all of reality?

I will not say here that this-or-that particular expression of the relationship--this code or that law--is less or more accurate than others. I am certain there are less and more accurate ones; and whether or not I think I know which one is most accurate, I still am willing to recognize plenty of credit to others.

But establishing such a comparison, is not presently (or really ever will be) my goal. You yourself know some part of The Law; God would not leave you without at least the internal (and eternal) witness: you should choose to reject contradictions and actively work to foster interpersonal relationships of love and justice.

But only you--and God--can answer the question: Have you always done this?

Or, have you even once willingly chosen to disregard the light that you yourself believe you can see?

I know what the answer is, in my own case.

And so I will proceed; hoping that if your honest answer to yourself is qualitatively like my own, you will find the remainder of this book to be of more than merely intellectual interest.

[Next up: regarding the argument from evil.]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]

Speaking of the New Atheism movement...

My friend David Marshall, former missionary to Southeast Asia, now an increasingly prolific author of popular-level Christian apologetics, just alerted me that stock has arrived for his new book The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity.

I expect this is an expanded version of an article he was going to write for _First Things_ last year, on Dennett's (then-)new book about the (merely) evolutionary source of religion--when he heard Dawkins was going to release _The God Delusion_, he decided to just wait and do a full book addressing both authors as his primary topical focus. (That's an educated guess on my part; hopefully I'll be able to find a way to do an interview for the site.)

He has managed to snag a couple of good pre-press reviews, too, from people like Paul Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Thought at Duke Divinity School; and Rodney Stark, sociologist and historian, re-invested in recent years in the religious value of Christianity, but perhaps most well-known among scholarly Christians and sceptics alike for his famous, or infamous {g}, theologically neutral (indeed even naturalistic!) sociological analysis and assessment of the success of early Christianity in The Rise of Christianity.

I doubt any fan of Dennett or Dawkins is going to like what happens, no matter what; but in the past David has proven to be fairly fair about his targets--sometimes to the annoyance of people on our side who were hoping for more of a thrashing! (Not that he doesn't land pretty hard where he thinks it's warranted.) While I haven't read the book myself yet, I expect better-than-average results based on my past evaluations of his work. I'm hoping someone here on the Cadre will do a review (since I think I ought to recuse myself for association bias--as noted he's a friend of mine from years back.) But meanwhile, I can at least help announce that his book is heading for shelves soon! {g}

A couple of days ago, I published the tongue-in-cheek Freethinkers' Guide to Debating Christians on the Internet. While I published that as humor, there is some truth behind the guide: the majority of Internet atheists use the same rhetorical tactics when discussing Christianity. Often, these rhetorical tactics are not meant to be honest discussion, but rather to obscure the truth.

In the Guide, point number six read:

6. Make sure that in any discussion of their beliefs that you refer to it in the most arrogant, mean and nasty way possible. DO NOT SAY, "I do not believe in the Bible because I have seen no proof of it's authenticity." Rather say, "I have to much love in my heart to put my blind faith in some foul book responsible for so much bloodshed throughout history. It may serve for fools who enjoy forcing indigenous people into believing it at gunpoint, but for any real man with brains, it's just plain trash." -- Big, Nasty, Angsty emotional flags dripping with rhetoric are your FRIEND. Now is a good time to mention that "My biggest problem with xtians is that they hate."

My experience lately is that this is has become the favorite tactic among Internet atheists, and I think it has been spurred on by Richard Dawkins and the so-called New Atheists. Instead of making a simple straight-forward assertion, the Internet atheist feels the need to add to every answer all sorts of assumptive language and additional meaning-laden clauses that make it impossible to answer the question simply and in a straightforward way. As an example, in a recent exchange, an atheist commenter to the blog used assumptive language to assert that the Bible was myth as part of a longer comment. I responded that I rejected the idea that the Bible was myth. He responded:

Your mission: Explain to me how 5th-hand, greatly post-mortem accounts of a person's life are any different than the thousands of "miracle workers" and "faith healers" abound [sic] today. What makes Jesus's story any more believeable than that of David Wells or Peter Popoff, aside from their lives' timeframe lining up with ours? People have claimed for millennia, and still do, that they are the chosen ones, and that their powers can help and heal. Osiris-Dionysus and Apollonius of Tyana both had the same acclaim and life story as did Jesus, until Jesus's followers came along and co-opted the old myths into the name of Christ instead. Things haven't changed. If Jesus was the savior, then so is Mohammed, and so is Peter Popoff.

It is very difficult to have a conversation with a person like this. It's not that their claims are irrefutable, but rather there are so many of them built into the question that it would take a long time to respond to each part. For example, the first sentence asserts through assumptive language (1) the Gospels and Epistles were not written by the people traditionally claimed as authors, but by others five generations later; (2) they were written a long time after the events described; (3) they are not different in any significant sense from the accounts surrounding present day faith healers and miracle workers. Of course, books upon books have been written about each of these subjects, and it is impossible to give a complete answer to each assertion in the space of a few short minutes.

So, what happens? If you try to summarize a response, it leads to another assertion that is also loaded with assumptions. I sought to respond to the first clause by asking "What gives you the impression that these are 5th hand accounts?" and proceeded to explain that some scholars make good arguments that every one of the books of the New Testament were written prior to the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. I wrote in this manner not to prove the claim, but merely to try to get the writer to understand that his dogmatic claims were not as set-in-stone as he would like to have thought. Did that matter? Of course not. He continued by asserting another set of assumptive claims that showed he was not interested in conversation but merely wanted to tell me how wrong I was. Seizing upon my question "What gives you the impression that these are 5th hand accounts?" he wrote:

Because Jesus didn’t write the bible. From his alleged words (of which no one could’ve possibly scribed in wax, ink, or stone as quickly as he would’ve spoken) to the Bible you have in your hands is at LEAST 5 generations of hearsay, interpretation, and the good old game of “telephone”. I was being generous. It’s probably more like 10th- or 12th- hand accounts, what you are reading. That is, unless you’ve read the original tablets, scribes, and scrolls… which would themselves be at least 3rd- or 4th- hand themselves.

So, now he seems to assert that the Gospels cannot accurately recount the words of Jesus (which raises question about the oral tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the way that history was written at that time); he makes the mistake of equating the recording of the Gospels with the game of telephone; he completely blows off the fact that some scholars hold to very early datings in favor of his preference for a late dating; and he questions the ability to historians to use higher criticism to recreate lost texts. The entire subtext of the conversation is the argument from ridicule. He has no respect for the fact that others disagree with him. Rather, he merely shows disdain for the opposing view.

In my view, there is little point in having a conversation with a person like this. He doesn't want to deal with one point at a time, but wants to have me explain the entire cumulative argument for the existence of God and the accuracy of the New Testament in one brief blog entry or one comment. If I respond, he merely throws in more issues -- not as questions but rather as dogmatic assertions. If I respond to the assertion by pointing out that at least some scholars don't agree with the assertions, he ignores my response and merely presses forward by claiming his assertions more strongly.

In my experience, this is not an isolated case. This appears to be the generally used modus operandi of Internet atheists today. But this is not argument, but only heavy rhetoric disguised as argument.

Dr. John Mark Reynolds has recently written about Internet atheists from his own perspective in an article entitled The Weird World of Internet Infidels. In the course of the article, he notes that there is a huge gulf between intellectual atheists and what one finds on the Internet. He also cites an e-mail he received from an Internet atheist which uses assumptive language such as I am describing in this post. Dr. Reynolds writes, in part:

Christian philosophers or apologists (with only a few exceptions) soon gain respect for the intellectual powers of our colleagues on the other side. In the world of professional philosophy of religion, there is great mutual respect on all sides.

The same thing is not true, in my experience, for street-level infidel “apologists.” They show almost no respect for the strength of their opponents, are often unaware of the best attacks on their position, and engage mostly with sneers and disdain. Because of the vast size of American Christianity, it is possible for them to be utterly unaware of the force of the arguments of a Bill Craig.

Recently I wrote a blog post on non-religious reasons to admire Jesus, but the street reaction was illuminating.

Here is the sort of thing one often meets in the world of Internet infidelity:

Your savior is 2000 year old Jewish zombie, who is his own father, can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree…

And you question *other* people’s judgement if they DON’T believe that?!?

What was this person thinking?

It appears that he or she believes Christian doctrine so foolish that just “translating” our ideas into modern English will show them to be foolish. This would be effective, if this person had paid any attention to what Christian doctrine is. All those Christians who think Jesus is one of the “undead” must worry, but the rest of us don’t have to worry.

The other (charitable) possibility is the idea that Christians are so mentally fragile in their beliefs that a good dose of ridicule will wake us up to our intellectual difficulties. The religion of Charles Williams, Thomas Aquinas, and Eleonore Stump is not so likely to collapse under this sort of assault, but the Internet infidel has not respect for Professor Stump, if he or she is even aware that the good doctor exists.

The Internet infidel has (apparently) never asked why people believe the Christian story. Or if he has it has not occurred to him to ask the question charitably. The other possibility is that he or she simply intends to be offensive.

I think that Dr. Reynolds view is accurate on several fronts, but I do want to point out two points in particular. First, he says "Because of the vast size of American Christianity, it is possible for them to be utterly unaware of the force of the arguments of a Bill Craig." In my experience, most Internet atheists are aware of William Lane Craig and his arguments. However, most Internet atheists simply discount his arguments because they saw some webpage where some other atheists supposedly showed that Dr. Craig's arguments are weak or wrong. In other words, they know the arguments, but they have dismissed them without warrant. So, to the extent that Dr. Reynolds says that they are unaware of the "force" of Dr. Craig's arguments, I think he is absolutely correct.

Second, he says near the close of the quoted section: "The Internet infidel has (apparently) never asked why people believe the Christian story. Or if he has it has not occurred to him to ask the question charitably." I think that is at the heart of the harshness of the rhetoric. Atheists do ask why, but they aren't willing to listen to the answers with an open mind. That is why I find it so ironic that many atheists refer to themselves as freethinkers: their minds are absolutely and resolutely closed to the idea that Christianity may be true or that Christians may have good reasons to believe it. Any argumentation to the contrary is dismissed or ridiculed.

Too bad. It would be nice to occasionally have a real discussion on the Internet with people who are open-minded.

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