Monday, April 13, 2015

Paul Moser

On Facebook I got into an impromptu debate with Paul Moser, philosophy prof. at Loyola U.

Paul K Moser I had hoped that the Dover decision would change the landscape, but no such luck.

Paul K Moser I doubt that the apostle Paul would offer himself as a divinely inspired historian of the earliest human times. He even makes a historical mistake in 1 Cor. 1:14 (part of the Bible) and then tries to correct it.

Paul K Moser Wrong, and it isn't about 'gut feeling' for me. Where's the evidence or even the claim that 'Paul got *the* story of redemptive history wrong'? It isn't a matter of all-or-nothing here as the fundamentalists and fundaevangelicals suggest. Those crowds want a pristine book (aka sledgehammer) that God has not given us. We need candor here, not fear that distorts.

Paul K Moser John, Suppose one says that the author(s) of Gen. 1-3 made some mistakes, in the areas you suggest. Why would that be the end of the world? We don't have to subject our theology to what we perceive to be mistakes; nor do we have to ask science to conform to those mistakes. What am I missing? NOMA still seems alive in this case.

Steve Hays Why assume Paul made a mistake in 1 Cor 1:14. Why not view that as a rhetorical device: an underestimate to minimize the significance of baptism, in relation to those (with whom Paul is shadowboxing) who overestimate it's importance? An understatement would fit Paul's rhetorical strategy at this stage of the argument.

Steve Hays Moser fails to appreciate the status of Christianity as a revealed religion. It's about a God who speaks as well as acts. A God who speaks to and through people.

Steve Hays I'm curious as to why a philosopher (Moser) thinks a judicial ruling (the Dover decision), ghostwritten by the ACLU, should "change the landscape" of a scientific, philosophical, and theological debate. Does he think judges should also adjudicate the divine hiddenness argument?

Paul K Moser Well, for starters, Kenneth Miller and other expert witnesses destroyed the case of the Discovery Institute.

Steve Hays Of course, that's a one-sided analysis. The claim is easily reversible:

Paul K Moser As for 1 Cor. 1:14, we really don't have to stand on our heads when interpreting Paul. He isn't playing rhetorical games here, despite the demands of some far-fetched theories, such as inerrancy.

Steve Hays 

i) I'm struck by your tactic of attempting to preemptively discredit criticism by dismissing it in advance as the work of "fundamentalists" protecting inerrancy. For a philosophy prof., you resort to anti-intellectual gimmicks and tactics. That sets a poor example for your students. 

ii) If you imagine that ancient letter writers composing public epistles didn't employ rhetorical devices like understatement, I wonder if how much you've bothered to study the genre, if at all. 

iii) Actually, Richard B. Hays offers the very interpretation I'm proposing. He's not a "fundamentalist" or "fundaevanagelical." 

"The 'afterthought' of v. 16 functions rhetorically to emphasize the relative triviality of the issue of who baptized whom: 'Well, all right, so I did baptize the household of Stephanas, but beyond that I don't even know whether I baptized anyone else!'…Perhaps this is merely an elaborate rhetorical flourish on Paul's part, a reductio ad absurdum of the Corinthians' tendency to magnify the messengers and miss the message." 1 Corinthians (WJK, 2011), 23-24.

Paul K Moser Yes, inerrancy is an ideological fiction of fundamentalists and fundaevangelicals -- no doubt about it. It doesn't take much study to see this. Paul included a false statement in the letter that became part of the Bible, in 1 Cor. 1:14. There's no reason to think that he started with the intention to include a false statement -- none whatever. You don't need to go ad hominem here; just focus on evidence to prop up your dubious theory of inerrancy. Good luck.

i) It's ironic that you accuse me of going "ad hominem" when your own responses are littered with ad hominem dismissals. You resort to prejudicial labels. Don't you think a philosophy prof. should cultivate a capacity for self-criticism? Isn't that a professional as well as personal responsibility? 

Likewise, taking philosophical shortcuts like prejudicial labeling is not an intellectual virtue. 

ii) Once again, R. B. Hays is not a "fundamentalist" or inerrantist. You've become wedded to a tendentious narrative which you impose on the discussion in spite of the facts. It's not commendable for a philosophy prof. to take intellectual shortcuts and retreat into an unfalsifiable characterization of the opposing side. 

iii) To say an understatement is a "false statement" is a philosophically and literarily crude mischaracterization of a rhetorical device. It's especially ironic when you attack the "literal" interpretation of Genesis. 

What makes you think it wouldn't fit with Paul's rhetorical strategy to use irony and indirection to critique the Corinthians? Raymond Collins, who's certainly no "fundaevangelical" inerrantist, discusses Paul's use of Classical rhetoric in chapter 1 (and 1 Cor generally), and says his omission of Stephanas in v14 may have been "disingenuous." Sacra Pagina: First Corinthians, 75-76,84. 

Paul K Moser Why do I have so little patience with your self-serving epicycles? Your bad ideology of inerrancy turns many people away from Christian faith, and even faith in God. I have seen this firsthand among educated people.

i) Because intellectual patience is an intellectual virtue and philosophical prerequisite. Flinging angry epithets around is the way village atheists behave. 

ii) Is it your position that verbal revelation is not a fixture of the Judeo-Christian faith? 

iii) What's wrong with people turning away from something they no longer believe in? If the Christian faith must stand for certain things, and some people cease to believe in what it represents, should they not opt out? 

Isn't that necessarily a part of taking the Christian faith seriously? The intellectual integrity of the Christian faith depends, among other things, on being inconsistent with contrary beliefs. 

Put another way, what about the danger of living in a fool's paradise? If you just keep modifying "Christian faith" to make it amendable to your unquestionable prejudices, didn't you already leave it far behind in principle? If it's not worth losing, it's not worth having.

Paul K Moser Oh please, now you're going to resort to moral scolding? Have a good day. I'm done here.


  1. Wow, Moser doesn't strike one as a pleasant person, to say the very least! And Facebook is a very informal setting. He may be a well-published professor, but God forbid he's your advisor or you're one of his grad students! Again, to say the very least, Moser sounds like he could become very bad-tempered very fast.

  2. Sometimes disagreement with the ideas and views of others brings out what may seem like iill-temperedness. It's an opportunity for grace.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. David Byron is now making Moser look out matched. If arguments like Moser's is what we have to deal with, then ... wow. Nothing to worry about.

  5. Steve, I like the Chicago statement, though it has all the limitations that a statement will always have. However, I view inerrancy/infallibility as a stance or attitude toward scripture. It seems clear to me that we know an error when we see one, or an inconsistency. I may not be able to lay that out in every circumstance but in general it seems to be the case. So issues like phenomenological language in scripture are not a problem, as the Poythress article you posted pointed out, and anyone who uses those as evidence against an error free text is being dishonest IMHO. On the other hand issues of historical accuracy are based on trust. I see that the gospels to have a case for historical reliability and the Bible as a whole, where it can be "verified" by archeology and historical research (think the Mereneptah stele etc) is accurate. Anyother issue that may arise can be dealt with in a manner of trust. So, if there is not any evidence for a certain person in the bible, I can trust scripture because like a trusted friend I believe it is telling the truth. This isn't easy to put into a nice statement and deal with all the multiple issues that may arise, but I think it adequately gives us a stable basis for faith and life.

    I don't know... just my thoughts on the matter. I usually do not find critiques of inerrancy to be terribly helpful. The easiest way to show that scripture is not inerrant is to find one clear case of error. For me that would be a contradiction in the text, because historical proofs for an errant text would be subject to the tenability of historical research. However, when I look at the supposed contradictions people point to I am underwhelmed. As Moser showed through out the discussion his reasons for rejecting something like the doctrine are strained at best (appeal to evolution, appeal to a bad interpretation of matt 5, appeal to a hilarious understanding of 1 Corinthians 1:14, which wouldn't prove his case even if he had that right).

    Do you think that inerrancy, is at best, a helpful name for a family of positions?

    1. It's true that inerrancy can designate a family of positions. And it can devolve into the same complexities as hermeneutics. Consider different schools of hermeneutics.

      It's a question of starting points. Do we start with the principle of divine revelation. What are the dynamics of divine revelation?