An Inconsistent “Truth”

Ben’s third argument is another familiar one, though it seems odd to see it presented as though it were a positive evidence in favor of the Christian gospel.

A third feature of the Gospels vouching for their authenticity as eyewitness testimony is the one we have already discussed: The superficial inconsistency of detail. I think this suffices to justify a dismissal of factual infallibility. To my way of thinking, testimonial cogency is superior to factual identicality insofar as the former compels belief and the latter invites us to suspect a conspiracy. I therefore see no reason why we should equate divine involvement with infallibility. And I certainly cannot see the logic in your objection that noting the discrepancies between the different narratives is tantamount to demonstrating their overall falsity. It only disproves the falsity of inerrancy. It doesn’t disprove the hypothesis that 2015 years ago an incandescently mysterious event occurred which has been filtered through to us in the form of a collection of scattershot Greek texts which, over, as a result of their transaction with the divine, may yet be regarded as Holy.

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The embarrassing gospel

One of the problems with writing a blog is that you have to keep coming up with something to write about. I think, though, that I’m going to have no shortage of material for the next few days, thanks to our new commenter, Ben, and his arguments from Christian apologetics. Continuing with his second comment, he presents us with the Christian version of the criterion of embarrassment.

The second self-authenticating feature is our justification in applying, to several key details in the Synoptic Gospels, the so-called criterion of embarrassment. This is a principle of historical analysis which states that any detail problematic to an ancient account can be presumed true on the logic that the author would not have invented a detail problematic to his account.

The criterion of embarrassment can indeed be used as a legitimate tool by historians. But, like any tool, it can also be misused, whether by incompetence or malice, much like the same chisel can be used both to carve the sculpture and to destroy it. We thus need to not only identify the use of the tool, but also verify whether it has been applied correctly.

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CS Lewis’ argument from literary style

Most believers who comment on my blog are kind of drive-by commenters: one post and then they’re gone. But there are exceptions, and not all of them are outright trolls. Sometimes, they even provoke some interesting discussions, and I think (I hope!) that we’ve got one now.

By way of background, this past Easter season brought a lot of attention to a post I made in February 2012 about Matthew’s story of the guards at the tomb. It has been getting consistent hits in my “Popular Pages” log, and has attracted a few comments, most of which are of the “post and run” variety. Two of them, however, are from a commenter named Ben, and these are the ones I’m referring to.

The second of these is quite long, but he brings up some interesting material, and I’d like to address some of it here, starting with his citation of CS Lewis’ argument from literary style. Ben writes:

Here you, the nonbeliever, loudly object that the Gospel forms the main part of the evidential basis for its own claim. And on the face of it this would appear to be a formidable objection…

[The] problem is one which Christian apologists are able to meet with surprising assurance and lucidity. And they do this by drawing our attention to the unique self-authenticating features of their source material.

I can definitely agree that their assurance is surprising, given the nature of their argument.

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The agnostic believer

Those who sincerely attempt to reconcile Christianity with fact and reason eventually discover, if they persist, that the Gospel is not consistent with unbiased objective truth, as I can testify from personal experience. The unfortunate believer who encounters this problem has a couple of choices. One choice—the choice I made—would be to allow the true facts of reality to lead me out of the ignorant and superstitious traditions of Bible and Church. Call this the Truth Trumps Traditions choice.

The alternative would have been for me to turn my back on truth, closing my eyes to it and deciding that truth cannot (and should not) be known by man. My own search for truth led me only to the brink of apostasy, and what good is that, right? To stay faithful, I would have to decide that knowledge of the truth must be the enemy of faith, and would need to reject this knowledge as something that all faithful believers should oppose.

Believers who choose this latter path become the world’s most agnostic philosophers, denying that we can know even part of the truth. Faith turns into a kind of communal solipsism, where each believer has only his or her subjective beliefs to cling to, unsupported by any knowable truth, unverified and unverifiable. It’s a worldview founded on dogma, of which the cornerstone is the denial of the idea that real-world truth can be known by any mortal. It’s the ultimate in agnosticism.

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The subjective choices of religion

Our old friend Murk has returned with a reply to a comment on one of my older posts. Rather than let it languish in the past, I’d like to reply to it up front. Let’s start by reconstructing the thread of the conversation so far.

KEVIN: Yeah, murk. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. You see, there’s this little problem you theists have. It’s one of a plethora of choices. You claim that your choice is the correct one. OK, fine. But every single person who believes in the supernatural makes the same claim.

MURK: Let me see if i get this straight – many choice = non-existence? by analogy then since there are many counterfeit moneys there is no real one? the counterfeit is dependent on the real my friend.

DEACON DUNCAN: Not quite. The problem is not just that there are many choices, it’s that all the choices are based on subjective preference, in the absence of any objective means of demonstrating that any of them is actually true. After all, if you had objective proof that any of them were correct, you’d be walking by proof, not walking by faith.

So far so good, eh? Granted, Murk is making a bad analogy with his counterfeit money example, and I didn’t address that specifically. I wanted to focus on the weakness of the theological argument, which is the lack of a “gold standard” against which you can apply the various conflicting theological positions. We know that counterfeit money is fake precisely because there is a real-world standard to compare it to. No similar standard exists for the innumerable, conflicting versions of the story about what god(s) ought to be, and what he/she/it/they expect from us.

Turnabout’s fair play, so Murk wants to pick apart my response and see if he can find any weaknesses in it.

” it’s that all the choices are based on subjective preference,” is this an objective claim? if so by what standard?

My replies are below the fold.

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The next Harold Camping

I’ve actually picked up a couple new commenters at Evangelical Realism recently. One of them is tokyotodd, whose philosophical arguments I touched on yesterday. The other is Mike Gantt, who reminds me a lot of Harold Camping (without the end-of-the-world fixation). Speaking of his views on hell, he writes:

I came to it by reading such Scripture passages in context, thus allowing its words to be understood in the ancient milieu in which they were uttered. It is the distorting lens of institutional Christianity and secular modernity that obscure the Bible’s plain teaching on the subject.

Like Camping, Gantt seems to make no distinction between “the Bible’s plain teaching” and his own personal interpretation of the Bible. He can readily see that other people, including William Lane Craig, have interpretations that are wrong (i.e. that conflict with his interpretation), and he even goes so far as to claim that the institution that created the Bible is also at fault for distorting it (i.e. producing teachings that conflict with his interpretation). But it’s very difficult to challenge his interpretation because, in his words, you’re not challenging his opinions, you’re challenging the plain teaching of Scripture.

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Gospel Disproof #45: A self-fulfilling prophecy

Back when I was an active member in the Church of Christ, I got myself in trouble with the pastor and the elders because I pointed out some discrepancies I’d found between what the church teaches and what it was actually practicing. For example, one of their big teachings is that the church has to have New Testament authorization for everything it does, and yet they’d taken it upon themselves to substitute grape juice instead of wine in the weekly communion. They had all kinds of arguments about why this exception—or “necessary inference,” as they called it—was ok, but these inferences were fairly easy to expose as mere rationalizations.

They, unsurprisingly, didn’t want to hear it, and the eldest of the elders took it upon himself to warn me about the error of my ways. “You think too much,” he declared. “You’re on the road to atheism. Everyone I’ve met who thought about the Bible like you do ended up as an atheist.” If he’d come up to be and literally dumped a bucket of ice cold water over my head, my emotional reaction (at the time) would not have been much different.

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An odd response

My latest post at Evangelical Realism seems to have attracted the attention of a self-described “New Evangelist” named David Roemer. It’s an odd response, though. My post was about William Lane Craig’s problems with the doctrine of Hell and Christian exclusivism, and, well, see if you can tell what (if anything) Roemer’s response has to do with the post he’s responding to.

There are three theories about our purpose in life: 1) To serve God in this world in order to be with Him in the next. 2) Life has no meaning. Man is a “useless passion” is the way Jean Paul Sartre put it. 3) To achieve self-realization and serve our fellow man.

There is a considerable amount of evidence for #1, some for #2, but none at all for #3. # 3 is irrational because we can achieve self-realization in different ways. The problem of life is deciding how to achieve self-realization. Concerning # 1, we are not guaranteed salvation. It is something to hope for with “fear and trembling

That’s the whole post response, including the two missing punctuation marks at the end. But what does he mean by this odd response?

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Why God can’t heal amputees

One of Mighty Timbo’s lost posts addresses the question of why God does not heal amputees. As with the question of why God doesn’t show up, though, he phrases the issue in such a way as to miss the most important aspects of the question.

The Atheist has likely never been witness to a miraculous healing or work of God, and when evidence is provided to him of one will often seek a scientific explanation. If none can be found it will often be labeled as a “fluke”, rather than a miracle, they then look to the miraculous things God didn’t do to prove he doesn’t exist, which is where this question comes in.

Notice how he tries to make it sound like the atheist’s problem, as though there were something wrong with seeking scientific explanations. But the atheist’s approach isn’t really the problem here. The problem is one of consistency.

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God’s evil addiction

There’s an old joke about a woman who keeps hitting herself in the head with a hammer. When they asked, “Why are you doing that?” she replied, “Because it feels so good when I stop!”

Yesterday we looked at Mighty Timbo’s story about how God allegedly healed his wife years after a serious car accident left her disabled and in pain. It’s a great story because it points out a huge flaw in the Christian theology of healing. Think about it. God supposedly could have healed her any time he wanted. He could have healed her a year earlier than He did, or within a few weeks of the crash. Heck, He could have prevented the crash in the first place. Instead, He chose to allow her to be seriously injured and to go through several years of pain and disability, just so that He could take the credit where her suffering finally stopped.

At least in the old joke, the woman was wielding her own hammer, and could stop whenever she liked. But this business of God putting us though sin and suffering and evil just so that it will seem so good when He stops—yikes!

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