Apologetics: May 2006 Archives

I can't count the number of times I've heard that Pascal quote about there being a God-shaped vacuum in our hearts. A friend once asked me where Pascal said it, and I said I didn't know. I'd never really spent any time reading Pascal. He assured that it was somewhere in the Pensees, but he wanted to know exactly where. I couldn't really help him. The problem is that no one could help him. Pascal never said any such thing. Douglas Groothuis provides a quote that does say something in the remote ballpark:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. [Pascal, Pensees #425]

Whenever anyone gives you a quote without providing a reference, assume the quote has been misattributed. If the reference includes a book but nothing more specific, always assume the quote has been misattributed before spreading on what might be completely false. People who can't cite page numbers (or section locations for older works) probably shouldn't be trusted. It's likely that, as in this case, the reality is much better than the legend. What Pascal really said is much more eloquent than what the urban legend says he said.

I've got one more post coming out of the conversation at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

One common complaint I hear about design arguments that involve laws at the outset of the universe being designed is that they simultaneously make two things true. Design arguments generally take some surprising fact in nature, and then they appeal to a designer to explain why the surprising fact makes more sense than it would otherwise. The fine-tuning argument, for instance, takes the extremely small range of cosmological constants that would allow rational life as a reason for thinking there must have been a designer who intended rational life to be possibile and formed the laws accordingly.

The objection then comes in. The anti-ID move is to say that there's a contradiction between two things. (1) The natural laws are such that the origin of rational life is unlikely (otherwise there would be no reason to appeal to a designer). (2) The natural laws are such that the origin of rational life is highly likely (otherwise there designer hypothesis has done no work, and we're right back where we started).

This argument is a classic equivocation. It says something that is true when you use your terms in one sense, and then it considers something else alongside it that is true if you use your terms in a different sense. When it puts them together, it gets a false conclusion because it doesn't account for the fact that these two things are not true in the same sense and thus can't combine in this way. A classic example of equivocation is saying (1) you put your money in the bank and (2) that the flooding in the river is overflowing all the banks, concluding (3) you better take your money out of the bank for fear that it will get waterlogged. It isn't the financial institutions that are being covered with water, and that's where your money is.

Chris Tessone has a nice post examining and evaluating the content of the Gospel of Judas. He isn't just pointing out where this book differs from orthodox Christian belief. He focuses in on several ethical issues where the Gospel of Judas is clearly inferior to the canonical gospels. His conclusion: like other gnostic writings, it's misogynistic, anti-body, exclusionary, and arrogant, not to mention anti-semitic. In some ways it's much worse than the more moderately gnostic Gospel of Thomas (though that one does have Jesus telling women that they should seek to become men). I asked some pointed questions of some top bibliobloggers to this kind of analysis, and no one probed to this level, so I was glad to see this.



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