Apologetics: January 2005 Archives

This is part II in a series on meta-ethics begun here. See that post for more details.

I was going to treat emotivism next (and possibly some of the other non-cognitivist views if I get a chance to write more than what I covered in the class handout I wrote on meta-ethics that is serving as the basis of this series), but I just finished an email to someone who had made a claim that I see frequently from Christian apologists that just seems to me to be a mistake. In this case, it was about subjectivist views about religion. At least that's what I think is the most likely interpretation of it. The point I want to make applies to that and to subjectivism about ethics, so it's relevant to what I've been talking about. Before I move on to non-cognitivist ethics in my next post, it would be good to point out why I think this objection doesn't succeed against the subjectivist view I covered in my last post. It fails to grasp what the view is really saying and thus is refuting a straw man.

Dating the Edomite Nation

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Archeologists have confirmed the presence of an Edomite nation at the time the biblical accounts say there was an Edomite nation. A number of scholars have tended to doubt that there were any nations in that part of the world in the eleventh to tenth centuries, when David and Solomon reigned in Israel. According to that view, David and Solomon were chieftans of a small group of Hebrews, and Edom didn't exist as more than a small tribe until the Assyrian period in the eighth to seventh centuries. That whole view is threatened by this find.

There's been a real reversal in scholarship on issues like this. About 50 years ago the general attitude was to doubt anything in the Bible that didn't have specific evidence (besides the record in the text) confirming it. Over the last 20-30 years, the general trend in biblical scholarship is to focus more on the final text and less on whether the historical elements are genuine, but interestingly, while they're doing that, we keep finding more and more that confirms the general picture that the evidence available 50 years ago didn't support (but didn't disconfirm either). This is just one among many such finds that are showing with ordinary standards of historical research that the general picture of the historical shape of things presented in the Bible is accurate, and a number of historical views that were once considered fundamentalist reactionism are now fairly mainstream among biblical scholars. Since that thesis was considered irrational 50 years ago (even though there was no evidence against it), this is a major redirection in the tendency of scholarly opinion.

Evolution Stickers

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I was toying whether to say something about the evolution stickers fiasco. I didn't get around to completing my decision on whether I would. Sam has now beaten me to it, and I think she says everything I wanted to say (and a little more).

I know it's bad blogging practice not to link to the background to what I've just mentioned. I'm too burned out dealing with someone who turns out to be a semi-troll and a lot more people than I expected who have completely misinterpreted my words and actions with regard to the World post.

Therefore, I'm not going to comment further on the evolution stuff or seek out the links to the background on that or link to the posts I've just referenced on my own blog (which won't take too much work to locate if you really care and don't already know). Sam links to the background on the evolution stuff, anyway, so when you read her post, which was the point of all this, you can get the background from there.

Razorskiss has a new carnival, the Apologetics Carnival. I missed the first one because I was apparently behind in reading the sites that I read that linked to it. Judging by the topic, I would have had virtually nothing to say anyway, since it was all meta-apologetics, and all the posts I glanced at were such wide-open, big picture, paint-with-a-broad-brush, forest-over-the-trees sort of thing that I'd be just out of my realm even trying to say something about it.

The second one is coming up quickly, and it's still meta-apologetics rather than doing apologetics, but the way it's not well-defined leaves an opening for some of what I do well partly because it's so undefined, if I can pull it off. The topic is Digital Salt, whatever that means. The goal is to see what people come up with when there's no further explication. See Razorskiss for more. There doesn't seem to be any submissions information, though, so perhaps those in charge could come up with some soon, since the deadline is less than 40 hours away.

James Ossuary

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Mark Goodacre or NT Gateway (which I highly recommend as a great New Testament studies blog) has some insights into what now seems to have been the James Ossuary hoax. For anyone unfamiliar with the story here, someone had found what was apparently an ossuary containing the remains of someone who had a good chance, given the information recorded on the box, of being James, the half-brother of Jesus, the author of the epistle of James, and the most prominent elder in the congregation at Jerusalem during the time much of the New Testament was being written. It turned out that the part of the inscription that most supported such an identification had too many suspicious elements, and most scholars now think it a fraud.

Goodacre's thoughts on this were interesting. Two of his points had occurred to me before. The ossuary didn't really add to our knowledge in any substantial way. I wasn't even sure why people were making a big deal about it. Also, there wasn't an incredibly strong argument that it was even James's ossuary to begin with. As I recall, Ben Witherington, the scholar who had defended its authenticity the most after the suspicious elements were made clear, thought that there were probably at least three men in that general area who could have fit the characteristics described by the inscription. That's not exactly a conclusive connection, even if the inscription was authentic. So why was this making all the headlines as if it established something important?

Theodicy and Irrationality

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Stuart Buck says it's irrational to bring out the problem of evil after the tsunami as if this somehow changes anything. I think he's absolutely right.

If people were already prepared to maintain religious faith in the face of a 100% death rate (and all the lesser evils that already exist in the world), it is irrational to act as if the problem of evil has suddenly arisen simply because a minute percentage of the world's population faced death in one incident.

Not to minimize how bad it is for those involved, this is really only .000025% of the world's current population who have died all at once. Compare that to the history of the world, and it's not a huge change. People die in much worse ways than this. They just don't often do it in such large numbers at once. This isn't really any more of a problem for theodicists than any other natural deaths that are more spread out.

Christian Victimology

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Here's another one I wanted to make an extended comment on, but it's been almost two weeks now, and I haven't had the opportunity, so I wanted to say something. Christian victiomologists are at it again. As I've explained before in more detail, victimology is focusing on victimhood when it's only barely present (if at all), not to seek solutions to any genuine problems but merely to contribute toward one's own sense of alienation and a group solidarity based on resentment toward the group that has, whether rightly or wrongly, been perceived to be victimizing one's own group. In my more detailed post (linked above), I gave a few examples of the phenomenon, some having to do with race or ethnicity, some having to do with religion or lack thereof. Christians, particularly the more extreme elements of the religious right, are no strangers to victimology, and that's what's going on in this case.

This is my fourth post for Joe Carter's collaborative project Jesus the Logician (which would better be described as Jesus's Reasoning).

In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus caps off his diatribe against the rich scribes who dress majestically, love popularity, and receive much honor from human beings but who are merely showy without real piety and in fact devour widows' houses. As he looks up while saying this, he sees rich people depositing their gifts to the temple, while a poor widow put in just two coins. He says, "this poor widow has put in more than the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4, NIV)

Here's my third posting for Joe Carter's collaborative project called Jesus the Logician (I don't agree with the name).

In Matthew 10:40-42, Jesus uses what's called a hypothetical syllogism. The logical form of the argument is:

1. If A then B.
2. B then C.
3. Therefore, if A then C.

Jesus' Reasoning in Mark 7:1-23

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Here is another entry in Joe Carter's collaborative project of what's being called Jesus the Logician (though I oppose that name).

Mark 7:1-23 has a lot in it that I could talk about, and I hope to get around to it at some point in my Mark Tidbits series, which I have not abandoned. I have a partially-written fourth post in that series that I keep moving forward because I haven't had the time to finish it when I haven't had something else higher on my priority list at the time.

Jesus' Reasoning in John 9:1-3

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I've been putting off contributing to Joe Carter's collaborative project of what's being misnamed Jesus the Logician, but here we go finally. Here's an instance of Jesus' reasoning strategy with his disciples that I think fits what Joe is looking for. John 9:1-3 contains a good example of a false dilemma. Jesus' disciples give him this dilemma, and he responds with the common philosophical practice of going through the horns of the dilemma by denying either of the options presented to him and saying they simply haven't listed all the options. A more exhaustive dilemma would have contained at least a third option, and that third option isn't as problematic as the two they mention.

Jesus the Logician?

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Joe Carter has begun what he's calling the 'Jesus the Logician' Project. The goal is to show how Jesus used sound reasoning, and different bloggers are contributing through discussing particular examples of Jesus' reasoning. Doug Groothius' paper "Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist" is a good example of the sort of thing Joe is up to here.

I think the name is off. A logician is not someone who uses good reasoning but someone who studies the nature of reasoning itself. The content of the logician's study is good reasoning. As Joe acknowledges, Jesus didn't do that kind of extremely abstract study (at least in any public records we have). Jesus used logic, but he didn't talk about logic itself. Then what's going on here is that Jesus isn't being shown to have been a logician but simply that he used good reasoning. Even though the name is a misnomer, I'm still going to contribute. My first post (of at least one) will follow shortly.

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