CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

One thing I like about apologetics (both for theism and atheism), despite its bad reputation for cherry-picking facts, indulging in ad hominems and breeding false confidence, is that it focuses entirely on what is to me the most interesting question in the academic study of religion: the cognitive status of religious truth-claims. There's certainly a place for more phenomenological, descriptive studies of particular religious experiences, religious history and so on, but generally scholars in religious studies refrain from advancing arguments for the truth of any particular belief or belief system.

Denys Turner wants that to change: "[this is] how I envision Theology being done within the university-as argument between traditions of truth-claim in contestation over the truths they make claim to."

William J. Abraham has issued a similar challenge to religious scholars:

"We need more than armchair possibilities and thought experiments; we need actual claims advanced in some detail and with some care...Proponents of divine revelation need to advance in some detail the particular claims they think are secured, the relevant epistemic considerations they deem appropriate, the precise arguments they think straighten their case, and the way they propose to handle standard defeaters and objections...Thus it is up to Moslems to advance the claims of Mohammed; it is up to Mormons to argue the case for Joseph Smith...Indeed, it is the mark of a serious theological tradition derived from divine revelation to own up to this responsibility and explain itself in public...Let each tradition speak for itself and say its piece. In turn, let critics be free to develop whatever objections they deem relevant." (Crossing the threshold of divine revelation, p.153)

So what does Turner think of the so-called 'new atheism' which is creating such headaches for thinking Christians? Apparently, not much:

"Unhappily today...atheists are in practice mostly runts, being intellectually under-weight and having little of interest to contribute to family life, not even decent levels of disagreement. There is in fact an important role for the university theologians in the re-education of atheists in what it would be worthwhile having them around to deny, because, even looking at it from their point of view, the superficiality of their negations gets them nowhere near a proper denial of God, but often little beyond the abandonment of an infantile fairy tale: so that they are not even very good atheists. Likewise, there is far too little in common between what a Flew or a Dawkins tells us does not exist and what any theologians claim does exist for their denials to offer any real theological stimulus, so that there is a certain lopsidedness to the theological argument. The atheistical challenge being so generally lackadaisical, the consequence is that hardly anyone really argues about God any more, not even theologians much." (Fields of Faith, p.35)

And lest you be tempted to think that this is just a brash, dismissable outburst, try reading his Faith, Reason and the Existence of God for a mental workout. I have to admit that, having just started doing further reading in the more sophisticated theologians such as Miroslav Volf, Robert Adams and Robert Jenson, Turner seems to be right about the current state of discussion between theists and atheists. There are a few exceptions, such as Graham Oppy's Arguing about Gods or Nicholas Everitt's The Non-Existence of God. But it's clear that there's still a long way to go before atheists can lay claim to a serious, intellectual vital tradition with a clear atheist identity, especially in a time when a theologian like Volf can appropriate Nietszche as the preferred dialogue partner for a major work on Christian ethics!

19 comments:

I need to shut off my computer and read some of these books. ;-)

William J. Abraham has issued a similar challenge to religious scholars:

"We need more than armchair possibilities and thought experiments; we need actual claims advanced in some detail and with some care...Proponents of divine revelation need to advance in some detail the particular claims they think are secured, the relevant epistemic considerations they deem appropriate, the precise arguments they think straighten their case, and the way they propose to handle standard defeaters and objections...Thus it is up to Moslems to advance the claims of Mohammed; it is up to Mormons to argue the case for Joseph Smith...Indeed, it is the mark of a serious theological tradition derived from divine revelation to own up to this responsibility and explain itself in public...Let each tradition speak for itself and say its piece. In turn, let critics be free to develop whatever objections they deem relevant." (Crossing the threshold of divine revelation, p.153)


I wish Billy would actually do that and stop wasting his time on the Methodists. Don't get me wrong, he could. It would be awesome if he ever got around to doing it.

Very interesting thoughts. I've been trying to figure out just what 'apologetics' is and isn't. I'd appreciate more thoughts on this topic, if you care to post them.

Btw, the man quoted again in comment #2 sounds like he's found a worthy challenge to lay down. I echo the commenter. He should do it...

The intellectually lazy neo-atheists are annoying. They never make any positive arguments for their beliefs, preferring to dishonestly pass the burden of proof on to theists (and responding to theists' arguments with little more than "nuh-uh!"). When these atheists do make arguments, they resort to making grossly exaggerated negative arguments against theism and using vicious slurs against theists. Then they cluelessly wonder why they always get slaughtered in debates.

Turner claims that atheist are intellectually under-weight and writes "what a Flew or a Dawkins tells us does not exist". Turner has obviously not even bothered to read Dawkins' books or listen to his lectures. If he Turner had he would know that Dawkins describes himself as a 6.9 point atheist and often explain his reasons why he thinks it is highly impropable that a god exists. (Flew changed his position around the time the book quoted was written.)

Atheists have also addressed this "There is in fact an important role for the university theologians in the re-education of atheists" while talking to Christians/Muslims/Mormos/Zeus/Realian believers. Whose theology should I study? Even every 30k Christian denomination has their own theological variation. People can be "experts" in theology by claiming there is one/multiple/trinity god or Jesus was a son of God/prophet/avatar/just a rabbi. Most scientists just think theology is irrelevant because if is faith based. Scientist would probably take theologican more seriously if theologians would believe evidence like in the claim of transubstantiation.

Denys Turner wants that to change: "[this is] how I envision Theology being done within the university-as argument between traditions of truth-claim in contestation over the truths they make claim to."
Turner seem to be unaware of tons of studies related to science and spirituality (google serotonin or "god helmet" for example), or evolutionary science that addresses theological truth claims. Theologians are aware of these studies and often cite them.

Turner further writes "The atheistical challenge being so generally lackadaisical" where atheists can point out that no matter what evidence is presented for evolution, fundamentalist will not believe it.

Turner also wrote" atheists are .... having little of interest to contribute to family life". This is just a joke, right?. Or does he cite some stats or evidence. Surely he is not a "intellectually under-weight" when it comes to evidence of his claim?

Abraham wrote "Proponents of divine revelation need to advance in some detail the particular claims they think are secured". It is not like people have not tried this, but these mutually exclusive Christian/Muslim/Mormon faith based claims seem to just stay as claims. Presenting solid evidence is what is need.

JD Walters wrote:
"try reading his "Faith, Reason and the Existence of God" for a mental workout."
I would recommend reading a basic college level physics book for mental workout... ;-)

Jason, atheism is a negative position, so they can not make positive proof. However if you talk to humanists or scientists they will tell about their beliefs and will cite evidence why they believe what they believe. They will usually also accept the burden of proof if they make the claim. Atheist don't have to prove the negative, just like Christians don't need to start providing evidence that pink unicorns don't live in Antarctica.

If you listen debates with an open mind, you will see that sometimes theists win, sometime atheists win, sometimes debate result is a tie...

Pink unicorns do live in Antarctica! They do I tell you!

Peter,

Turner is well aware of Dawkins' arguments and what kind of God he thinks doesn't exist. I was quoting from a very short chapter in an edited volume on the future of religious studies. When he refers to Flew he is talking about the earlier, atheistic Flew who wrote on the burden of proof, etc.

As for which theology you should study, study the one you think is most sophisticated, rigorous and relevant to the totality of human experience. If you stop throwing lazy one-liners at us and take up Turner's challenge, you would see that the list of candidates for plausible theologies is actually very small (for me the only 'live' Jamesian options are a robust Christian theism or a comprehensive scientific naturalism). And Turner is certainly no creationist. But atheists harping on evolution is just one more example of why they can't be taken seriously. They skip over far too many argumentative steps in going from 'creationists are stubborn in their rejection of evolution' to 'evolution makes the existence of God unlikely'.

I should make clear about his 'family life' remark, though: that's out of context. The family he is referring to is that of theologians who are well-equipped to debate the status of religious truth-claims. It has nothing to do with biological families or how atheists raise their children, etc.

As for that mental workout, I have taken college courses in mechanics, electromagnetism, diff. equations, computer science, neuroscience and philosophy. And I think that reading a good theology book is right up there with poring over those eigenfunctions.

JD Walters said...
"for which theology you should study, study the one you think is most sophisticated, rigorous and relevant to the totality of human experience."

There are so many of those known, dead and unknown religions and you need to study long time for many of them to know which one if any really explain things. A new religion is formed every week! And why would the most sophisticated, rigorous and relevant theology be right? God/spirits/devil could just try do confuse us. How do you find solid ground?


JD Walters said...
"If you stop throwing lazy one-liners at us"

lazy one-liners seem to answer the Turner quotes


JD Walters said...
"and take up Turner's challenge,"

Sure, with $68.00 USD pdf file he would like that. If he really wants to engage people, he should price it accordingly. Maybe you could highlight his best arguments for his conclusions. Just out of interest does he also study Eastern, dead or hypothetical religions/theologies?


JD Walters said...
"you would see that the list of candidates for plausible theologies is actually very small"

I have heard this argument before and never really understood why it always leads to particular set of facts. At the same time you can shrink wrap any theology with another e.i. "I got a revelation that unicorn created Yahweh/Allah and Yahweh/Allah does not know that, and I received an additional revelation that...". One theological options is that a god wants us to believe in wrong things and is messing with our minds, options are just endless.


JD Walters said...
"atheists harping on evolution is just one more example of why they can't be taken seriously. They skip over far too many argumentative steps in going from 'creationists are stubborn in their rejection of evolution' to 'evolution makes the existence of God unlikely'."

Most atheists, like Dawkins, claim that evolution proves that theologies (including their god(s)) that claim "young earth creation" are wrong. I'm sure you find some misguided atheists that say evolution killed all gods...


JD Walters, thanks for the "family life" correction. I find the "family" a bit strange here considering many religions don't really respect atheists and at least one of them still advocates killing openly atheists people. Theologian are wondering where the atheists are, yet many scientists/atheists have formulated theories about the religion like "religions evolved as a natural process", "religions is just misfiring of natural functions" or "religions are just memes with their own life". Theologians do not seem to contribute to those discussions, for a certain reason.

Very interesting thoughts. I've been trying to figure out just what 'apologetics' is and isn't. I'd appreciate more thoughts on this topic, if you care to post them.

Btw, the man quoted again in comment #2 sounds like he's found a worthy challenge to lay down. I echo the commenter. He should do it...

William J. Abraham ("Billy") My old professor at Perkins and erstwhile coffee drinking partner at Ihop. He's from Belfast, went to Trinity and Oxford, brilliant thinker, posativiist and Methodist.

Apologetics is supposed to be an intellectual defense of the faith. But there are many different approaches. In general Evangelicals try to give accounts that demonstrate truth claims of the faith. While liberals don't bother with truth claims, me just try to demonstrate man's need of God.

you don't find much liberal apologetics on the net since liberals don't believe in hell they are not worried about getting anyone saved. Man's need of God in a liberal reading is emotional and existential not soteriological.

Turner claims that atheist are intellectually under-weight and writes "what a Flew or a Dawkins tells us does not exist". Turner has obviously not even bothered to read Dawkins' books or listen to his lectures. If he Turner had he would know that Dawkins describes himself as a 6.9 point atheist and often explain his reasons why he thinks it is highly impropable that a god exists. (Flew changed his position around the time the book quoted was written.)

Dawkins is an idiot. did you nko whe did not earn his chair and he's not really a professor. He's a curator at the meuseium and his chiar was bought for him by a rich friend. he's not a great scientist or thinker. He is extremely ignorant about all matters of theology. He says theology is not a real subject and not real knowledge and he says that because he doesn't want to have to read any of it.

I will put the brilliance of people like Abraham up against the Dawkins's of the world any day.

Abraham wrote "Proponents of divine revelation need to advance in some detail the particular claims they think are secured". It is not like people have not tried this, but these mutually exclusive Christian/Muslim/Mormon faith based claims seem to just stay as claims. Presenting solid evidence is what is need.


of course tons of solid evidence has been presented everyday on message boards all over the net. Go to my stie and get it any time. But a funny thing happens when i confront atheist with the evidence. they just don't like. it's never good enough, they somehow always manage to read the wrong thing or lie about what it says or not understand it. funny thing that is.

http://www.doxa.ws/

the home of solid evidence

"But a funny thing happens when i confront atheist with the evidence. they just don't like."

Amongst a jury of peers, not all see the evidence in the same way, and that is not necessarily the fault of the presenter or the receiver of said evidence.

Maybe God, if he exists, is still preparing that person to understand the truth you present.

D Walters said...
"for which theology you should study, study the one you think is most sophisticated, rigorous and relevant to the totality of human experience."

There are so many of those known, dead and unknown religions and you need to study long time for many of them to know which one if any really explain things. A new religion is formed every week! And why would the most sophisticated, rigorous and relevant theology be right? God/spirits/devil could just try do confuse us. How do you find solid ground?


start in general and work your way to specifics. See which tradition appeals to you in the bradest terms, then see who the major thinkers are in that field, then look some of their specific works.

there are some good general survey books that are meant to introduce the reading to an overall general knowledge.

I suggest an old book, late 80's but it's still real good for a general intro. Tensions in Contemporary theology by a guy named Gundry.

J.L. Hinman said...
"[Dawkins] says theology is not a real subject and not real knowledge"

Scientist often see this because there is no objective peer review in theology. Muslims/Christians/Raelians all claim they are right and as an outsider how can you verify the claims. Everybody seems to be a theological expert, and when everybody is an expert, nobody is.

J.L. Hinman said...
"start [studing theology] in general and work your way to specifics. See which tradition appeals to you in the bradest terms..."

My whole point was how do you even know that you got the general terms correctly (nature/amount/type of god(s)). And why would any tradition be right, maybe the "right" religion has not emerged yet.

Scientist often see this because there is no objective peer review in theology.

Hu? you kidding/ where'd you get that idea?

Muslims/Christians/Raelians all claim they are right and as an outsider how can you verify the claims. Everybody seems to be a theological expert, and when everybody is an expert, nobody is.


there's no peer review in war either. but that doesn't stop secular academia from having refereed journals, and theology ahs them too.

J.L. Hinman said...
"start [studing theology] in general and work your way to specifics. See which tradition appeals to you in the bradest terms..."

My whole point was how do you even know that you got the general terms correctly (nature/amount/type of god(s)). And why would any tradition be right, maybe the "right" religion has not emerged yet.

see I admit it's a different way of looing at thing than science. But that doesn't mean it's not valid. now how do you know? you don't you don't have to. all you have to know is it works. if it works you can assume it's pretty near right.

what do I mean "works?" vast body of data proves that religious experince makes your life dramatically better. better health, less depression, more happiness, this huge list of things that shrinks call "self actualization." we have enough self actualization going on in religion that it makes it pretty clear it's basically in the "right zone." Then it's just a matter of finding a tradition that speaks to you.

J.L. Hinman said...
"Hu? you kidding/ where'd you get that idea [that there is no objective peer review in theology]?"

I don't see Hindus, Buddists and Muslims reviewing and agreeing with Christian flavor of theologies, or is there a peer review system for this. Theology does not seem to get anywhere when people do not agree even on a basic things.


J.L. Hinman said...
"there's no peer review in war either."

Many aspects of wars have been studied extensively. You should visit an military academy and follow their literature.


J.L. Hinman said...
"I admit it's [theology] a different way of looing at thing than science. But that doesn't mean it's not valid."

It does not mean it is valid either, so how do we check a particular theology is right?


J.L. Hinman said...
"now how do you know?"

I don't. I'm just asking people studing theology that how do they know they are right..


J.L. Hinman said...
"vast body of data proves that religious experince makes your life dramatically better"

So how does that prove that your theology is correct?


J.L. Hinman said...
we have enough self actualization going on in religion that it makes it pretty clear it's basically in the "right zone."

Come on. This is like doctors claiming both placibo and medical treatments would be in the "right zone".


J.L. Hinman said...
"Then it's just a matter of finding a tradition that speaks to you."

I already asked why any tradition must be right? Is it possible that the "right" religion has not emerged yet?

J.L. Hinman said...
"Hu? you kidding/ where'd you get that idea [that there is no objective peer review in theology]?"

I don't see Hindus, Buddists and Muslims reviewing and agreeing with Christian flavor of theologies, or is there a peer review system for this. Theology does not seem to get anywhere when people do not agree even on a basic things.


You are talking about religious traditions and I'm talking about academic thinkers. But you seem unaware of ecumenism. There are ecumenical councils set up all over the world with participating churches such as RCC and C of E UMC and so forth. They talk to Buddhists and Muslims.

J.L. Hinman said...
"there's no peer review in war either."

Many aspects of wars have been studied extensively. You should visit an military academy and follow their literature.


tons of aspects of religion have been studied scientifically and the data shows it's good. vast body of scientific work shows religion is one of the best things in the world. stop listening to ignorant people and open your eyes.


J.L. Hinman said...
"I admit it's [theology] a different way of looing at thing than science. But that doesn't mean it's not valid."

It does not mean it is valid either, so how do we check a particular theology is right?


yes it does mean its valid. silly comment. of course it's valid and its validated by science and logic and history.


J.L. Hinman said...
"now how do you know?"

I don't. I'm just asking people studing theology that how do they know they are right..


vast body of scientific data


J.L. Hinman said...
"vast body of data proves that religious experince makes your life dramatically better"

So how does that prove that your theology is correct?


it works. that's exactly what atheists say when I ask "how do you know science is true. "O because it works." well religion works. it does what it is supposed to do.


J.L. Hinman said...
we have enough self actualization going on in religion that it makes it pretty clear it's basically in the "right zone."

Come on. This is like doctors claiming both placibo and medical treatments would be in the "right zone".

they are! apparently you are also unaware of the thinking about placebo now. they don't look at it as bull shit. they see it as genuine part of healing because you can have healing. who cares if it's your mind doing the healing? It works.

your analogy is inappropriate because I told you the data is supplied by scientific investigation. its' measured scientifically. I mean by that the extent to which religious experince produces self actualization



J.L. Hinman said...
"Then it's just a matter of finding a tradition that speaks to you."

I already asked why any tradition must be right? Is it possible that the "right" religion has not emerged yet?

what do you mean by "right?" you mean everything it is says is 100% accurate? even science can't do that.

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