Friday, February 15, 2019

Dichotomized faith

Philosophers of science are well aware that a theory does not need to have answers to all anomalies in order to be well-supported and rationally accepted. We have ample, to my mind overwhelming, evidence, quite independent of our response to the question of the Canaanite slaughters, that God exists, that He is loving and all-good, that His goal is to redeem mankind, and that Jesus is God the Son who reveals the loving Father to us. That means that we can handle points where we do not know the answer while still retaining a robust confidence in the truth of Christianity. It is a brittle and irrational approach that says, "You must have an answer to everything or else your faith is vain and not founded on fact." Being an evidentialist, as I am, does not at all mean having to have all answers to all questions. On the contrary, it means viewing the totality of the evidence one has and trying, to the best of one's ability, to come to an intelligent and judicious conclusion. I believe that any fair-minded inquirer who investigates the evidence for Christianity will come to believe it to be true. This means believing that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the one true God and is a necessarily good and perfect God, worthy of all worship.

True, but misleading. I believe Lydia is open to denying that God issued those commands. She may also be also be open to denying the historicity of the war narratives. Or she may take the position that something like the war narratives happened but the narrator imputed that action to divine authorization, when in fact it didn't occur. There's a fundamental difference between offering justifications for the record as it stands, and considering an explanation that justifies divine goodness by rejecting the record as it stands. The latter option drives a wedge between a God who acts and a God who speaks.

I acknowledge that difference, Steve. But what is quoted there from me is directed against those who would take those passages to undermine Christianity itself and treat that as a "game over" issue. Christianity can't be true, etc.

But they're interrelated. The truth of the NT is inseparable from the truth of the OT. In addition, the truth of Christianity depends on its status as a revealed religion. If, however, the Bible is false in some respects, then God is not a God who is able or willing to communicate to humans.

I definitely take the author to be narrating historically. No fancy-dancy idea that the author was using an invisible metaphor or device or something. But I know that doesn't address all your concerns, Steve.

Are you referring to authorial intent or whether his intentions succeed?

I'm referring to authorial intent.

While the general principle is true that we don't need to have an answer for every objection if we have sufficient evidence for our position, the specific example is misleading, because it insinuates the lack of available justifications for OT holy war.

Would you at least be willing to admit that the quotation could be of legitimate value to someone who is ambivalent and uncomfortable with the answers given to the passage? The hope is to shore up people's confidence in Christianity even if they are not wholly on board (whether rationally or even psychologically) with the most common responses. To prevent such people from having their rational confidence in Christianity as a whole eroded.

Lots of moving parts:

1 There's the general epistemic principle, not even particular to Christianity, that if we have sufficient evidence for a belief, we're justified in holding that belief even though we may be at a loss to give satisfactory answers to some difficulties with that belief. That's certainly legitimate advice to give to a seeker or Christian who's struggling.

2. Then there's the example you use to illustrate your principle. That depends, since there are at least two directions in which that can be taken:

i) The OT holy war passages are true, but they raise moral/theodical questions for which there are no satisfactory answers. 

I think that's a legitimate position (although I don't think they're morally imponderable). 

ii) The problem is with the passages themselves. The solution is to concede that the passages are simply wrong. Nationalistic propaganda to rationalize the Conquest. They invoke divine sanction for something God did not in fact sanctions.

That's not a proper response.

3. Hovering in the background are different approaches to Scripture. Some professing Christians approach Scripture as historians. They engage and evaluate Scripture as raw historical sources. They sift the sources. A doctrine of inspiration never figures in their approach. 

4. Apropos (3), although some mileage can be gotten out of that approach, it fails to address the fact that Scripture is a theological document as well as a historical document. It makes claims about the nature of divine activity in the world. About a God who communicates to and through humans beings, of which Scripture itself is a product. So the revelatory status of Scripture is inseparable from biblical theism. The issue of inspiration can't be indefinitely bracketed. 

5. Along the same lines, that approach treats some parts of Scripture as potentially expendable. According to the argument, the Gospels were written closer to the events than OT narratives. Or at least it's easier to make a case for that. Therefore, we have a graded commitment to Scripture, where the Gospels are indispensable in a way that OT narratives are not.

However, a basic problem with that approach is that the Gospels (and NT writings generally) ground many claims in OT history. So OT history and NT history are inextricably linked.

In the last few years, the McGrews have risen to prominence in Christian apologetics, and deservedly so. They've risen on the merits. They've made, and will continue to make, fine contributions to the kingdom.

My problem with their evidentialism is not so much what it produces, but what it omits. To judge by what I've read (maybe I missed something), the fundamental problem with their paradigm is the dichotomy that lies at the root of their paradigm. Here's one way to put it: is Scripture a witness to supernatural events–or is Scripture a supernatural witness? 

There are two opposite ways to view Scripture. On the supernatural view, Scripture is God's word to man. God's self-revelation to humanity. God speaking to and through select individuals for his people. 

On the naturalistic view, Scripture is a record of man deifying his views of God, morality, and the world. A provincial, culturebound projection of human ideas and prejudices in the name of God. Scripture is essentially the same as other holy books. It only attained an artificial prominence because it enjoyed more powerful patronage when it became the state religion of the Roman empire and its European successors.

From what I can tell, the McGrews view Bible writers as (at best) note-taking bystanders to supernatural events–rather than individuals who've been taken up into God's supernatural activity in the world. They don't seem to view the Gospel writers as essentially different from Josephus or Tacitus, except in terms of content.

One could view them as both-and. There is nothing about our evidentialist apologetics that requires one to take such a position. I emphasize the "witness to supernatural events" largely because that is what is required in an apologetic context.

And one could perhaps argue that the rather astonishing accuracy of the Gospel authors is some evidence that they were, in fact, receiving divine aid. I've never tried to make that argument, but it's a possible argument. I've certainly made a related, converse argument: If the Gospel authors are making things up all over the place, there is no longer any reason to hold the products of their work to be "given to us by God," any more than that of the apocryphal Gospels.

I think it's pretty important to distinguish what one conjectures so-and-so might or might not think about a whole set of issues from what is actually part of so-and-so's argument or apologetics. Treating the Gospels or other parts of the Bible as historical documents (rather than divinely inspired) as part of the *argument* for Christianity is just avoiding begging the question. It certainly doesn't follow that anyone who avoids begging the question in that way actually *thinks that* the books of the Bible are no more than historical documents.

I'm not conjecturing. In his talk at the Atheist Christian Book Club last March, Tim McGrew said: "I'm not committed to inerrancy…I don't think much rides on it for me…It may be true, but it's a low stakes game. If the Gospels are historically reliable in the sense that Tacitus is historically reliable, then that's enough." 

Likewise, you've been outspoken about your own position. For instance: 

So this isn't just an apologetic strategy that you and Tim take, but derives from your actual views of Scripture.


Jonathan McLatchie, since you make extensive use of the argument from prophecy, if we're prepared to jettison the historicity and inspiration of the OT, where does that leave the argument from prophecy?

No comments:

Post a Comment