Thursday, November 25, 2004

Apocalypse redux

<< Just one comment on this: you say there are three basic positions on the afterlife. But what about the position that there is no afterlife? That's my position. >>

Actually, if you go back and carefully reread what I said under option #2 (no one is saved), you'll see that I expressly mention the position you take. So I think I've covered the bases.

<< In my opinion, the concept of an afterlife has two main sources - 1) an inability to accept the finality of death and 2) a carrot-and-stick way of getting people to behave in whatever way is considered desirable by a given religion -- if you do bad things, you go to hell (or are reborn in a lower caste or as a lower life form), if you do good things, you go to heaven (or are reborn into a higher caste); if you accept Jesus Christ, you go heaven, if you don't you go to hell, etc. etc. >>

This is the standard Marxist-cum-Freudian critique. By way of reply:

i) There is no doubt that the fear of death makes a doctrine of the afterlife appealing.

ii) It would be viciously circular to say that I fear death because I fear hell, and I fear hell because I fear death. So when it comes to a causal relation between a general fear of death and a specific dogma of death, wish-fulfillment won't do the job.

iii) As a practical matter, no one except the occasional cult-leader draws up a shopping list of his fears and longings, and then concocts a religious creed that offers a point-by-point answer to his shopping list.

So this is a highly artificial explanation of how folks come to faith. It's a classic outsider's description which betrays no familiarity an insider's motives. That's not surprising, coming from Freud and Marx--since they didn't associate with Christians.

iv) If wish-fulfillment were the incentive, then we would expect various religions to make the terms of admission into a glorious afterlife easy to achieve.

However, most every religion, excepting evangelicalism, makes the attainment of a glorious afterlife very arduous and uncertain. Hence, the projectival theory is a just paper theory that fails to comport with the concrete phenomenology of faith which it purports to explain.

v) There is a basic tension between your two explanations: social control would fit with your second explanation--which affirms heaven and hell alike--but runs counter to your first explanation; for if fear of death is the driving dynamic, then the leading motive would be to affirm the assurance of heaven, but disaffirm the possibility of hell.

vi) Another weakness with projectival theories is that they cut in more than one direction, for they can be deployed to explain unbelief just as easily as belief.

For example, we could conjecture that Freud didn't believe in God because Freud had a dysfunctional relationship with his own father, and transferred his hang-up to God, as the archetypal father-figure.

In fact, there's a book-length treatment of atheism from a Freudian perspective. Cf. Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless.

Or one could say that someone rejects the Christian faith because he rejects Christian sexual morality, and he rejects Christian sexual morality because he wants to be sexually promiscuous.

Indeed, if you read testimonies by folks who left the church, this is one of the favorite reasons they give. E.g., E. Babinski, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists (Prometheus Book 1995).

Or one could say that someone rejects the Christian faith because he finds the idea of a divine Creator and Judge and affront to his personal autonomy. Once again, you can find this reason given in the literature of infidelity.

In sum, your alternative theory either explains too much or too little.

<< It's extremely presumptuous of religious people, whether Christians, Muslims, or Hindus, to assert there is an afterlife when that this totally unprovable. There is no evidence whatsoever of heaven, hell, or reincarnation. Just because the Bible asserts something doesn't mean the assertion is true -- the Bible was written by mortal humans, who even contradicted each other in various places. You may believe these human beings were only conveying what God told them (through what means I don't know), but there's no way you or anyone else can prove this. >>

First off the bat, I wasn't trying to make a positive case for the Christian doctrine of the afterlife. I was merely responding to the incoherent allegations and baseless assertions of Kristof.

You, by contrast, do make the effort to outline an argument for your own position. That's not surprising since you're ten times smarter than Kristof. By way of reply:

i) As to the question of evidence, there is, first of all, a preliminary question regarding the rules of evidence. What counts as evidence? Oftentimes in secular science we get a circular standard of evidence according to which the only thing that counts as evidence is evidence consistent with materialism and natural law.

There are different reasons for affirming or denying the possibility or reality of the afterlife. This depends, in part, on our point of departure. Do we reason from matter to mind or mind to matter?

The secular humanist typically operates with a presumptive materialism. But I don't regard this as philosophically warranted. We know our mind better than our body. We are in direct contact with our own minds, whereas the body and the external world lie at the end of a nerve impulse.

What is more, mind and matter, thoughts and things, seem to occupy different domains. When I think of a red colored thing, my thought is not a red colored thing.

ii) This goes to the general question of what is termed, in philosophy of mind, the irreducibility of consciousness. If materialism is true, then mind must be reducible to matter.

One of the interesting features of this debate is that a number of the philosophers who deny that mind is reducible to matter are card-carrying materialists, viz., John Searle, Thomas Nagel, Colin McGinn. They would like nothing better than to be able to carry out this program, but they can't.

iii) In their desperation, some secular thinkers (e.g., Michael Ruse, Richard Dawkins, the Churchlands) relegate consciousness to an illusion. This radical position is dubbed eliminative materialism. It is also self-refuting, for if, true, there would be no mind to assert the proposition in the first place.

iv) Another problem with materialism is the relation between mind and math. What are numbers? Are numbers things or thoughts? If thoughts, are they merely human thoughts, or do they inhere in some timeless mind?

It is noteworthy that a number of the greatest mathematicians and mathematical logicians have subscribed to some version of Platonic dualism-cum-realism, viz., Cantor, Frege, Godel, Hardy, Penrose. And in the case of Cantor and Godel, this has a theistic aspect.

A couple of stimulating treatments of the above issues are:

John Byl, _The Divine Challenge_ (Banner of Truth 2004).

David J. Bartholomew, _Uncertain Belief: Is it Rational To be a Christian? (Oxford 1996), chapter 3.

The classic attack on dualism is:

George Berkeley, Three Dialogues Between Hylas & Philonous, R. Adams, ed. (Hackett,
1988).

The classic defense of dualism is:

Hywell Lewis, The Elusive Mind (Allen & Unwin, 1969)

I myself have debated the pros and cons of physicalism in a section of my essay entitled _I'm glad you asked_.

iv) Another challenge to materialism comes from literature on the paranormal, encompassing such diverse phenomena as possession, the near-death-experience, out-of-body experience, uncanny animal abilities, ESP, &c.

Back in my 20s, I myself had a series of paranormal experiences. In subsequent research I found out that there's a name for my experience: Old-Hag Syndrome.

For some interesting literature on this complicated subject, one can consult:

D. Bartholomew, Uncertain Belief, chapter 5.

Felicitas Goodman, How About Demons? Possession and Exorcism in the Modern World (Indiana U Press 1988).

Gary Habermas & J. P. Moreland, Beyond Death (Crossway Book 1998)

Rupert Sheldrake, Seven Experiments (Riverhead Books 1996). He also has a website.

It is, of course, true, that specific doctrine of the Christian afterlife derives from the Bible. I have given some of my positive personal reasons for believing in the Bible in my essay on _Why I Believe_.

I've also written some essays defending the veracity of Scripture, viz.,
_Who wrote the Bible?_
_Bible or Babel_
_Vanity of Vanities_

--as well as a section on alleged discrepancies in my aforementioned essay on _I'm glad you asked_.

There is also a large literature on the veracity of Scripture. Representative titles include:

_Allis, O. The Old Testament (P&R, 1972).
_Archer, G. (Moody 1994). A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.
_____, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan 1982).
_Barnett, P. Is the New Testament Reliable? (IVP 1986).
_Blomberg, C. The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel (IVP 2001)
_____, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP 1987)
_Comfort, P. (ed.). The Origin of the Bible (Tyndale 1992).
_Currid, J. Ancient Egypt & the Old Testament (Baker, 2001).
_Frame, J. "God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence," in J. Montgomery, ed., God's Inerrant Word (Bethany Fellowship, 1974), 159-177.
_____, "Scripture Speaks For Itself," ibid., 178-200.
_Guthrie, D. Introduction to the New Testament (IVP 1990).
_Harris, R. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures (A Press, 1995).
_Helm,P. The Divine Revelation (Crossway Books 1982).
_Hemer, C. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Eisenbrauns 1990).
_Hengel, M. The Four Gospels & the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (SCM 2000).
_Kim. S. The Origin of Paul's Gospel (Coronet 1984).
_Kitchen, K. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003).
_Lightfoot, J. Biblical Essays (Baker, 1979).
_Linnemann, E. Historical Criticism of the Bible (Baker 1990).
_Mauck, J. Paul on Trial (Nelson 2001)
_Metzger, B. The Text of the New Testament (Oxford 1992).
_Neuer/Yarbrough, Adolf Schlatter (Baker 1995).
_Porter, S. The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research (Sheffield 2000)
_Robinson, J. Redating the New Testament (SCM, 1976).
_Stonehouse, N. Origins of the Synoptic Gospels (Baker, 1979)
_Tov, E. Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress 1992)
_Wegner, P. The Journey from Texts to Translations (Baker 2001)
_Wenham, J. Christ & the Bible (IVP 1973)
_Winter, B. (ed.). The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting (Eerdmans/Paternoster
1993-96)
_Yamauchi, E. Africa & the Bible (Baker 2000)
_____, Persia & the Bible (Baker 1990)
_Young, E. Thy Word is Truth (Eerdmans, 1981)
_Zahn, T. Introduction to the New Testament (Kregel 1953).

This is in addition to all of the conservative commentaries on various books of the Bible.

A subset of this general subject would be literature on the quest for the historical Christ. Representative titles include:

_Barnett, P. Jesus and the Logic of History (Eerdmans 1997)
_____, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity (IVP 1999).
_Blomberg, C. Jesus and the Gospels (Broadman 1997)
_Bock, D. Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Thomas Nelson, 2004)
_____, Jesus According to Scripture (Baker 2002)
_____, Studying the Historical Jesus (Baker, 2002)
_Bruce, F. Jesus & Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Eerdmans 1974).
_Davis, S. Risen Indeed (Eerdmans, 1993).
_Evans, C. Jesus & His Contemporaries (Leiden: Brill, 1995)
_Guthrie, D. A Shorter Life of Christ (Academie Books 1970)
_Harrison, E. A Short Life of Christ (Eerdmans, 1968)
_Johnson, L. The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth
(Harper SanFrancisco1997).
_Ladd, G. I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Eerdmans 1975)
_Longenecker, R. Life in the Face of Death (Eerdmans, 1998)
_Moore, P. (ed.), Can A Bishop Be Wrong? The Scholars Challenge John Shelby Spong
(Moorehouse, 1998).
_Schlatter, A. The History of the Christ (Baker, 1997).
_Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah (IVP 1996)
_Stonehouse, N. The Witness of the Synoptic Gospels to Christ (Baker 1979)
_Strimple, R. The Modern Search for the Real Jesus (P&R 1995)
_Twelftree, G. Jesus the Exorcist (Hendrickson, 1993).
_____, Jesus the Miracle Worker (IVP, 1999).
_Warfield, B. "The Historical Christ," Christology & Criticism, Works, vol. 3.
_Wenham, D. Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Eerdmans 1995)
_Wilkins/Moreland (eds.). Jesus Under Fire (Zondervan 1995).
_Witherington, B. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (IVP 1997)
_Wright, N. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (IVP 1999)
_____, The Contemporary Quest for Jesus (Augsburg/Fortress 2002)
_____, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress 2003). Definitive.
_____, Who Was Jesus? (Eerdmans 1993)

All-in-all, I'd say that the evidentiary ball is definitely in the unbeliever's court.

Steve

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