Apologetics: September 2006 Archives

Idolatry and Isaiah 40-66

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I've been reading through Isaiah, and I've just started the second half of the book (chs.40-66). Contemporary scholarship generally assumes these chapters are not written by the 8th century prophet Isaiah, despite the book's seeming attribution of the book to him. The main reason is that they seem to be about a time much later, the return from exile in the 6th century. Stylistic considerations are also cited, but this turns out to be a bit of ad hoc special pleading, since the same stylistic features are present throughout the first half of the book, and these scholars then pull themselves up on their own bootstraps by insisting that those earlier chapters must also be later additions. At some points this gets even as ridiculous as to minimize the contributions of Isaiah to only a very small component of the overall material even of chapters 1-35. It's taken rather to be the additions of this great school Isaiah must have founded, and thus it gets attached to his book because it's in the Isaianic prophetic school. All this makes me wonder what was so great about Isaiah to have merited this great school attributing all these great prophecies to him if what he actually did was only this tiny amount of material, none of it resembling in content most of the stuff that somehow ended up getting attributed to him.

Suffice it to say that I'm not even close to convinced that Isaiah did not write these chapters. He may not have delivered them as addresses, as he did the earlier chapters in the book, but the argument that he couldn't have written the second half of the book doesn't leave me very convinced, which leaves me taking the text's claim as the most important evidence available, and all the text does is introduce the book as the prophecy of Isaiah, with no new introduction of a new unit with other author information once you hit this second major section.

As I was reading chapter 42 this morning, something occurred to me that I hadn't thought of before.

I've been teaching an introductory philosophy course this semester with a new text for my God unit, Thinking About God by Greg Ganssle. It's designed to be usable for high school or introductory college/university courses, and it's just about the lowest level of detail that I would want to use for this course. I'm supplementing it some with other readings also, but it's nice to spend a lot of time just in one book after using lots of scattered readings in past versions of the course.

One thing that I found really interesting was in the section on the logical problem of evil. The logical problem of evil presents three traditional attributes of God (omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness) and then seeks to derive a contradiction if you admit to the existence of evil (which pretty much all traditional theists will do, and thus it's a problem even if the person presenting the problem doesn't happen to believe in evil, because the theist does, and it's supposed to be a contradiction for theism). Now it so happens that hardly any philosopher today accepts the logical problem of evil as a good argument, for several reasons, but in the process of explaining why Ganssle hits on an interesting issue that I hadn't thought of before. One way some people have resisted theists' attempts to respond to the problem of evil might actually help the theist in surprising ways.

The Presumption of Doubt

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About a month ago, I was going to blog about Ben Witherington's Justification by Doubt, but I got distracted, forgot, and it got off the first screen of my blogging file. I remembered it last night as I was going to bed and thought I should post a link to it before I forget again. Witherington points out a very strange standard in mainstream biblical scholarship. It's as if the word 'critical' has become a synonym for the word 'scholarly', when calling something critical actually amounts to speaking of a person or work's willingness to doubt positive claims. Somehow it's become a virtue not to believe anything you see but to think that some more complex conspiracy theory about the text underlies it rather than what might be seen as a more straightforward reading of the only information we have, which is what the text itself says.

Then this skeptical approach is called objective, as if it's less biased to assume from the outset that someone is misreporting the information but without any evidence that there's any deception. I have to agree that much of biblical scholarship is like this, and I cannot see how this constitutes critical thinking in the way that philosophers encourage us to submit our views and arguments to careful scrutiny. It seems to me that the push toward doubt is at least an attitude and plausibly a view, and there ought to be an argument for doing so if it means moving away from what the key evidence we have (the text itself) actually says. Such arguments should themselves be submitted to careful scrutiny, i.e. critical thinking, and they should not simply be presumed. Maybe there are good arguments, and if so maybe we should accept them, but this equation of doubt and skepticism with critical thinking and careful scrutiny seems to me to be a thoroughly uncritical acceptance of a bias.

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