Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Narrow Mind

I recently listened to several episodes of Pastor Gene Cook Jr's podcast. I'd mentioned previously that I thought he did a very interesting interview with a critic of presuppositional apologetics. I thought I'd give a call and see how a he might approach my methodology. So I called in today. He and his co-host Jonathan Goundry spoke with me for the full hour. You can listen to it here. It was a respectful and fun conversation for all of us I think.


DagoodS said...

I downloaded it to my iPod. Will listen to it tomorrow to/from work. Thanks for the link

DagoodS said...

I’ve had a chance to listen. Some random impressions in no particular order:

The Gospel At first, I found this question to be a bit odd. Of COURSE we know the standard definition of the gospel—it was drilled into us for decades. But I realized the hosts did not know who they were dealing with, and on reflection, it seemed to be a good question to cut to the chase. Were they dealing with a nominal Christian? A Roman Catholic? A complete novice?

Since I know your background, I wouldn’t have asked this question. They didn’t know your background—it was a good question.

The Box One thing that always disappoints, and did in this show, is how many Christians have these boxes. They have a standard answer for a certain box, and once they…quite…manage…to…squeeeeezzzeee…you…in…the…(huff, huff)…box—THEN they are ready with a response.

A common one is “since you (naturalist skeptic) do not believe in the supernatural, you a priori (before-the-fact) dismiss the Bible.” I listened to the hosts attempt to fit you in this box, waiting to pounce once you were there. They asked, “So you don’t believe miracles can happen?” Opening the box; inviting you in.

Consistency in Morality Ah, the methodological 3-card Monte. The shell game. Let me show you how they did it.

Assume for a moment, I want to develop a consistent way to determine whether an act is immoral. The Method I declare is this: “Whatever I determine, in my opinion, is immoral will be immoral at that point in time.”

Note the consistency. It will always, always, always be consistent. In fact, it may be impossible to be inconsistent—since the determination is based solely on what I determine at any given time. If I determine something different later, I will still be consistent within my method. Today I determine murder is immoral. Consistent—It is what I determined. Tomorrow I determine murder is not immoral. Consistent—It is what I determined.

But is that really what we are looking for when we ask about consistency in a morality determination? NO! The “consistency” they demand of the skeptic is NOT on the method—rather it is on the act. That murder is consistently immoral (within whatever method we use) yesterday, today, last week and two years from now.

See, if they really wanted “consistency” in a method, all I have to say is, “sure—it is what I determine.” The method is consistent.

This is not academic sophistry. See, the meaning the Christian uses for “consistency” within the paradigm of God determining morality IS on the Method. Not the act. This distinction is critical. They said God can do what he likes with his creation. (Curiously they don’t even agree with this, unless they agree God can act immorally with his creation. They would have to limit him either by his own nature, or by moral character.) Within the times of Tanakh, God can order murder, rape, genocide and infanticide. Now, God will not. Is it “consistent”? Sure—because the method (NOT THE ACT) is “whatever God determines. Note the act itself went from moral to immoral!

The methodological switch being played is when the Christian talks of “consistency”—they want to refer to their own method--that of “whatever God determines.” Yet when asking the skeptic for “consistency”—they are asking about the act--not the method. Beware the switch.

Intellectual Assent This one kinda flew back and forth. First they said, “Christianity is not based on intellectual assent.” If I wasn’t driving, I would have fallen out of my chair in shock. Of course it is based upon intellectual assent. No one says, “I completely and utterly disagree with every proof and claim of Christianity. Therefore I believe.”

There must be a point of knowing what is being said, and intellectually agreeing with. I was going to list some verses, but there are too many to list! (Rom. 10:9-17) In fact, part of the premise of Christianity is that we skeptical atheists actually “know” there is a god—deep down in the base of our intellectual thought. (Rom. 1:20)

Later, the hosts clarified by saying first God makes a “change in the heart” which then allows intellectual assent. What is a “change of the heart”—I wondered? Since we know “heart” is a euphemism for certain kinds of thought processes (the muscle doesn’t actually think)—isn’t this a change of the mind? Isn’t this saying, “God changes your intellectual non-agreement to intellectual agreement”?

But if God doesn’t make this change—you can’t intellectually assent. But it is still your fault for not intellectually assenting! But Christianity isn’t based on intellectual assent. But Romans says you have already intellectually assented to God’s existence.

This is quite muddled, and the hosts should have straightened it out.

No wonder they fell on the sword of 1 Corinthians. That this is foolishness to the world. (And then they boasted how Christians beat worldly professors. If it was foolishness—shouldn’t they be losing to the world? A bit of talking out of both sides of their mouth.) So we are back to believing something is completely foolish, yet intellectually agreeing with it. Christians agree to foolish things?

Author of John Ugh. The reason one should have their Bible at the handy in these discussions.

The two passages referred to by the hosts— John 13:23 and John 20:2-10, only refer to “the disciple who Jesus loved.” While we may suspect the author was referring to himself under this avatar, there is nothing that states this was the author of the book! If so, the author refers to himself in third person (as near as I can tell—if a Greek student tells me differently, I will look it up). [Oddly, those who hold Luke to be being the author of Acts rely upon “we” passages. In John the fact it is third-person is “evidence” for John; in Acts the fact it is in first-person is “evidence” for Luke.]

We also have to deal with John 19:35 and John 21:24 specifically indicating the author was getting this from a third person. Not to mention the extreme difficulties in lining up the Gospels of individuals who supposedly saw the same events—particularly Matthew with John.

Bauckham, in Eyewitness Testimony rejects Matthew the Disciple and John the Disciple as being the actual authors of the Gospels. It is not only in the skeptical world in which the authorship is questioned.

Interesting talk. Part of the problem of these things is there is so much ground to cover, even for the most cursory backdrop (on both sides) it is hard to do so in just one hour.

Jon said...

Thanks for sharing, DagoodS. Let me also offer my own random impressions to your own comments.

I agree that the gospel question was a good question. It gives them a sense of my knowledge level of Christianity, and as we both know a lot of Christians really don’t know what they are talking about on this question.

To your point on consistency, you say for them it is method, for me they demand that my method produces a consistent answer through time. You say their method does not produce a consistent answer through time, but I think they’ll deny that. They’ll say God could kill a child today, and for all we know he may. If God-breathed writing tells us he needs to, then he will. So I think they think they’re consistent both in methodology and in action.

The authorship thing was a little frustrating. Too bad I don’t know the bible better. Add to the texts he mentioned John 21:24 and maybe that’s what he really meant to say. This doesn’t mean that the author is somebody named John, but that it is the “beloved” disciple. He probably knows that critical scholars deny the authenticity of this final chapter of the book of John, so for me he should expect I wouldn’t accept that.

I also looked up the Luke passages. The author of Acts makes some “we” statements in Acts 16 implying that the author was present during Paul’s second missionary journey. If you couple this with evidence outside the book of Acts I guess some people conclude that Luke was present on the second missionary journey. Further all the manuscripts of the gospel of Luke include the name “Luke” in the heading and so a person might infer that Luke is the author of Acts and the Gospel of Luke. But this is not a denial of what I was trying to say. When I said the book was anonymous what I meant was the author doesn’t identify himself. I understand that Christians think the authors can be identified and they have arguments for their views. By saying the texts were anonymous I’m not trying to beg the question and say nobody knows who the author was, but only that the author doesn’t identify himself.

None of this matters to me too much. Even if the author did identify himself by a name or some other way, this doesn’t change the fact that these are extraordinary claims. Herodotus attaches his name to his claim of the Temple of Delphi defending itself with technicolored armaments, but I still don’t believe it.

DagoodS said...

Thanks for the interaction. I hope you understand I wasn’t being critical of how you did—I think you did fine! Always easy to Monday morning quarterback…

Let me explain what I mean by method vs. acts in the field of absolute v relative morality. Under relative morality, we determine morals relative to the society, time, place, environment, etc. in which the act occurs. There IS no “this is always immoral for all persons at all times in all places.”

Of course, the standard response is that morals become a matter of opinion (which is essentially true), and that we cannot use our morals on what God did in the Tanakh. (Untrue. I can use my morals how I want. This is an attempt to force a person with relative morality to use absolute morality within the definition. Frankly, it is a misunderstanding of what relative morality is.)

Under the heading of morality being the same for all persons at all times, the topic of “consistency” came up. The problem is—there were acts which were moral at one time, and are considered immoral now. Things like killing all Jebusites, polygamy, slavery, and eating pork comes to mind.

When asking the Christian moral absolutist “what about this inconsistency” they retreat to claiming the “consistent” moral is that one needs to obey God. It is not the act of murder which is always immoral—oh my no! It is whether God wants the murder to occur that makes it moral or immoral.

Instead of looking at the act—say polygamy—the “method” the Christian uses in order to hope to maintain consistency, is that it is not the act—the act could be anything: rape, infanticide, eating hasenpfeffer—it is whether God declares such an act moral or immoral.

Yet if all we are talking about is consistency—isn’t the same method, “whether I declare an act moral or immoral” just as consistent? Regardless of the act—genocide, slavery, wearing clothes of mixed material.

Jon: They’ll say God could kill a child today, and for all we know he may.

You weren’t saying this, but this does raise an interesting question. We know God told humans to commit infanticide. Numbers 31. Under this method—that infanticide was moral.

I would think Christians would have to admit it is possible for God to directly speak to humans today. Even with a closed canon (the person isn’t claiming God told them to add it to the Bible), and with closed revelation (a harder concept to support) it remains possible for God to directly speak to a human. [The hosts of the show, if they said it was not possible, would have to abandon their own claim of God doing anything with his creation he desires.]

So if another human told a Christian that God said for him/her to commit infanticide—the Christian could neither object from the stand-point of naturalism, NOR from a moral standpoint. It would both be possible AND moral, under this framework!

Jon said...

Yeah, I think I'm getting you on consistency. All kinds of ethical systems are perfectly consistent, like relativistic ethics or "whatever I decide", etc. I think at one point Gene said something like "If you want to be consistent, and you want to be able to point to something other than a feeling" as if pointing to a feeling was an inconsistent way of doing ethics. As you said it's pretty much consistent by definition.