Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Mob Turns on Richard Dawkins

Reports are coming in of a dispute on  The history seems to be Dawkins has written a note claiming his blog forum will be more tightly moderated in light of abusive comments.  Ironically, the tight moderation will be enacted sooner than the 30 days stated because of the vitriol he received in response to his policy.

Christian bloggers of course have been on the receiving end of such vitriol for some time.  Trolls, flames, personal attacks and all the rest have been directed us for quite awhile now.  Of course I don't take part in the Schadenfreude which seems to be going around some sites, which seems to be amused by this.  These people are often the ones making insults against Christians.  Personally I'd rather the Internet be filled with a good deal more civility regardless of the topic on a forum than to see Dawkins get what he deserves.

Dawkins says in his post:

Surely there has to be something wrong with people who can resort to such over-the-top language, over-reacting so spectacularly to something so trivial. Even some of those with more temperate language are responding to the proposed changes in a way that is little short of hysterical. Was there ever such conservatism, such reactionary aversion to change, such vicious language in defence of a comfortable status quo? What is the underlying agenda of these people? How can anybody feel that strongly about something so small? Have we stumbled on some dark, territorial atavism? Have private fiefdoms been unwittingly trampled?

I believe the answer to this is: Richard Dawkins rose to fame by appealing to the mob, and now the mob has turned on him.  In his books and public statements, he has made attacks on religion which do not appeal to the intellectuals, but the mob mentality, using rhetorical flourishes to sneak past arguments which aren't valid.

The mob tends to love displays of violence and mockery.  They were the ones who flocked to the arenas during the Roman Empire, they were the ones who took part in lynching individuals, they were the ones who eventually took over French Revolution, turning on the founders.

This is the danger in the appeal to the mob.  One can encourage it to support you, but one can never fully control it.  One generally has to keep upping the ante for satiating the mob, because they become jaded.

The New Atheism has gained its appeal through pandering to the mob.  The attacks we have seen from them are that Christians are "stupid" and "irrational" and call for actions to put Christians "in their place."  The mob liked this, because of those Christians who insist that there are limits to what is acceptable behavior… limits which are unpopular in a hedonistic culture.

For long periods of time, we have seen the foul language, the insults used against the Christians.  So long as it was directed against the Christians, such things were tolerated.

However, once the mob grew angry at Dawkins and his attempts to control his site, the situation changed.  It wasn't Christians saying "You shouldn't do this."  It was Dawkins saying it.  The mob merely took their hostility to the next group "restricting" them.

So now they turned on him, using the vitriol long used against Christians against him.  The preferences of the mob have shifted further than Dawkins wishes to go, but the mob must be sated.  So once Dawkins tried to stop the mob, he paid the price.

He writes:

Be that as it may, what this remarkable bile suggests to me is that there is something rotten in the Internet culture that can vent it. If I ever had any doubts that needs to change, and rid itself of this particular aspect of Internet culture, they are dispelled by this episode.

However, he played a role in his own savaging.  By tolerating the vile attacks so long as it was directed against Christians, it becomes somewhat hypocritical for him to object when he falls out of favor and becomes the target.

Perhaps Dawkins will learn now that there is an objective standard for behavior, and that what is wrong to direct towards him is also wrong to direct against others… even Christians.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Credo and Clarifications: What I Believe About Scripture, Church and Evolution

In light of a recent post which gathered a good deal of attention, I thought I should deal with certain misconceptions over what I actually believe.  Since some atheists and some Christians seem to be under the impression I reject the authority of Scripture and of the Church.  Because of this I want to make a formal statement on this subject.

Do I Believe Scripture Contains Error?

Answer: No.  I believe Scripture is Inerrant.  My disputes are not over the words of Scripture.  Rather, my disputes are with those personal interpretations of Scripture which insist on being treated as Doctrine.  I do believe certain Christians misunderstand the idea of genre when it comes to reading Scripture and draw a meaning the Bible never intended to give.

I formally reject the idea the Bible is only symbolic or myth and repudiate any other view which claims Scripture contains error.

Do I Believe The Catholic Church Errs?

Answer: No.  I accept and submit to the authority of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church under the Successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, and do my best to keep to the teachings of the Church.

I believe the Catholic Church was established by Christ and was given the authority to bind and to loose, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church is given by Christ the authority to interpret Scripture

I do not go against the authoritative teaching of the Church and seek to constantly improve my understanding of her teachings to keep rooted in the Catholic faith.

That being said, I wish to also state that the Magisterium is living.  It does not contradict itself, but it can deepen the understanding of a teaching.  So we need to understand that the Current Successor of St. Peter has the authority to interpret the teachings of the Church in a binding way, but the Catholic in the pew does not.

This is why, when a radical traditionalist or a Young Earth Creationist Catholic cites an older council of the Church and accuses the the modern Magisterial teaching of contradiction, I accept the teaching of the Magisterium over the so-called interpretations of the individual.

What Do I Believe on Creationism, Evolution and the Teachings of the Church?

I believe that Genesis intended to affirm the truth that all creation is from God, and nothing exists which God did not will to bring into being.  However Scripture does not say how God chose to create the universe and all that which is in it.

Science appears to indicate the world is around 4 billion years of age.  I ground what I believe about the possibility of evolution in the teaching of Pope Pius XII who laid down the following requirements:

36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.  However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11] Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question. (Humani Generis)

The Church has not ruled that one may not believe in evolution at all, but requires us to remember:

  1. It hasn't been proven without a doubt and we are not to say it has been proven beyond a doubt
  2. Those who consider evolution have to consider both arguments for and against it.
  3. The Church has the authority of authentically interpreting the Scriptures
  4. We are to always submit to the Church should it make a ruling.
  5. We must believe the soul was directly created by God

Because the Catholic Church does not forbid a belief in evolution that accepts God as the cause of all which exists, those who claim Catholics that accept the possibility of evolution are heretics do not speak for the Church, but instead are guilty of rash judgment if they assume without proof that Catholics who believe in evolution deny the authority of the Church or the Bible.


I formally reject as false and unjust any accusation which claims I deny the authority of the Church or the inerrancy of Scripture.  I do submit to the Church with an act of will.  I will never disobey the Church and seek to avoid all instances of accidental departure from her teachings.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reflections on Biblical Literalism and Truth

We cannot say: creation or evolution.  The proper way of putting it is: creation and evolution, inasmuch as these two things correspond to two different realities.  The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not explain how a human person comes to be but rather what he is.  It explains his inmost origin and casts light on the project that he is.  And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments.  But in so doing it cannot explain where the "project" of the human person comes from, nor his  inner origin, nor his particular nature.  To that extent we are faced with two complementary — rather than mutually exclusive — realities.

—Pope Benedict XVI

In The Beginning (1986) page 65

I've spent the last few articles speaking of attacks on Christianity from without.  Now I see I need to deal with one one of the attacks from within.  This is the area of Biblical Literalism which is being brought to my attention. It normally shows up under the topic of Creation vs. Evolution but the problem actually runs deeper than just the meaning of Genesis in the account of creation of the universe.

The approaches I have heard tend to be under the assumption that a literal reading of a Bible passage must be taken literally (often the Creation accounts of Genesis are literally true), and anyone who says otherwise is denying the teachings of the Bible or the Church.  This leaves people with the dilemma of either denying science or God… and it doesn't even have to be such a dilemma.

It is because of this sort of accusation that I am writing on the issue and not letting it lapse into obscurity.

The Problem With Literalism

To be blunt, this is a gross misunderstanding of what it is to be true, and tends to be brought on by a reading of the Scripture in English without an understanding of the nuances of the original languages combined with the personal interpretation of Scriptures.

Biblical Literalism tends to make personal interpretation of what is literally true the over-all authority, and tends to be threatened by views which attack this personal interpretation, confusing the attack on this personal interpretation with an attack on the Bible.

Some Boundaries to Keep In Mind

What we first have to distinguish is the difference between truth and genre which truth appears in.  The Bible has books of history, books of law, books of prophecy, books of praise, moral discussions and other genres as well.  We need to know the genre of the book in Scripture in order to understand how to read it.  A book of the prophets is not written with the same intent as, say, 2 Samuel.  The Book of Lamentations is not written with the same intent as the Book of Leviticus.

You read History as history, Law as law and so on, not Law as history or History as poetry.

This requires study of course, though this study needs to respect the fact that we believe the Books of Scripture to be Divinely inspired and Inerrant.  This means we don't say, for example, that the Psalms are inaccurate because the stylized writing does not measure up to what happened to King David when he was pursued by foes.

Unfortunately most Literalists tend to forget this.

The Problem With Literalism

Imagine if you will, a society which decides to live accordance with a certain book of law which is discovered, but does not have an understanding of the background and meaning and context at the time when the book was originally written.  How probable is it that such an application of this theoretical book of law will match up with what those who wrote the laws in it intended?  The book still has to be interpreted as to what it means, and disagreements come from those who interpret differently.

This is the problem with Biblical Literalism.  If it is based on the interpretation of the reader who takes it literally, the conclusions drawn will be flawed if the original understanding is flawed, and a challenge to the interpretation is seen as a challenge to the Scripture itself.

Catholic and Non-Catholic Literalists

Non Catholic Literalists tend to deny any sort of authority outside of the Bible, and try to interpret it literally to the best of their understanding.  Catholic literalists tend to take the Bible literally as well, and to take Church documents literally as well… to the best of their understanding.  The problem is, if there is an error in what one thinks is the meaning, the conclusions will be thrown off.

The Problems: False Dilemma and the Lack of an Exclusionary Premise

There are two forms of argument the Literalist uses.  One is logically invalid.  The other is valid but begs the question

The common invalid form runs along these lines

  1. If you are a [Literalist] you [Believe the Bible is Inerrant] (If [P] then [Q])
  2. You are not a [Literalist] (Not [P])
  3. Therefore you do not [believe the Bible is Inerrant] (Therefore Not [Q])

The problem is, people can [believe the Bible is inerrant] and not believe everything in it was intended to have a [literal meaning] (for a silly example, Jesus saying "I am the Vine" does not mean we need to mulch Him).

The valid form some Literalists use often runs along these lines:

  1. The Bible is either [Literal] or [Allegorical] (Either [P] or [Q])
  2. My Opponent does not believe the Bible is to be taken [Literally] (Not [P])
  3. Therefore my opponent believes the Bible is [Allegorical] (Therefore [Q])

Even though valid in form, the argument has a problem.  It assumes that the situations can only be [P] or [Q], with no other choice.  If another option is available (Option [R] for example) or it is not an "All or nothing" situation in "Some [P] or Some [Q]" or even "Some [P] and Some [Q]"  (that is, some parts of the Bible are reporting history and others using symbolic language) then the first premise is false and the conclusion is not proven.

These are conditions the Literalist does not consider.

The Unproven Assumption

What is assumed with the Literalist perspective is that their reading of the Bible is correct and any other perspective on reading the Bible is wrong.  It would be a harmless thing for the most part, except it strays into categories the Literalist is not qualified to make judgment on.  Whether it is a Young Earth Creationist arguing that the Earth must be 6,000 years old more or less or whether it Robert Sungenis arguing that the Earth must be in the center of the universe, the assumption is when the Literalistic reading of the Bible appears to be contradicted by science, then Science must be wrong because Scripture cannot be wrong.

The argument possesses the error of Affirming the Disjunct:

  1. Either [The Bible] is true or [Science] is true (Either [P] or [Q])
  2. [The Bible] is true ([P])
  3. Therefore [Science] is not true (Therefore Not [Q])

However it confuses the interpretation of the Bible with the Bible itself.  The Interpretation is the Bible intended to formally teach the Earth is the center of the universe (As Sungenis holds) or that the Earth is 6,000 years old (as Young Earth Creationists hold).

Sure, Scientists can Err, but is it Reasonable to Say They Got it Entirely Wrong?

[Now for some boring technical discussions of science.  Please bear with me, because one of the problems with Literalism is a tendency not to understand science.  (The other is, ironically, not understanding scripture either).]

Now that we looked at the problems with the logic of the Literalist arguments, we need to also ask questions about whether their allegations are true but just not expressed logically (as an invalid syllogism doesn't mean the conclusion is necessarily false, but it means the syllogism cannot prove it true).

So what are we to say about people who insist on Young Earth Creationism or Geocentrism?

The problem is, in order for their interpretations of Scripture to be correct, it's not just that Science made an error in calculation or in an assumption.  It means that Science has to be dead wrong in things it has observed. 

Geocentrism, to be true means, that light has to either move faster than the 186,000 miles/second or that Stars are closer to us than we think.  The problem is we have references in our own solar system.  We know what the distances are from other planets to earth.  We know the speed it takes for radio messages to reach probes from Earth (I seem to recall that for the outer planets some probes took two hours to respond to changes, and data sent from the probes took two hours to reach Earth).  If we know the speed of light and we know how long it takes to receive and send data to a probe out near Neptune, we can reason how far away this probe is.  If it took Voyager 2 twelve years to reach Neptune (Launched 1977, reached Neptune in 1989), it stands to reason that Science could not be wildly inaccurate to plot a course to anticipate where Neptune would be twelve years after launch… especially if the Scientists were supposed to be wrong in assuming Heliocentrism.

Now I like to quote St. Thomas Aquinas' maxim and will do so again here… "Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine" (“Small error in the beginning; large [error] will be in the end”).  Errors in assumptions with astronomical distances tend to mean that if you are a few degrees off in your calculations, it may not be much deviation in travelling 20 feet, but if you are off a few degrees and the distance of travel is 2,829,691,159.88 miles (the distance to Neptune), such a difference becomes a vast distance.

Let's not even get started on how fast the outer universe would have to move to orbit the earth.  Occam's Razor is a good tool here.  We ought not to multiply causes unnecessarily.  When geocentrism has to explain retrograde movement, and why we can't detect the shifts which indicate the direction and speed a star is moving, the theory needs to be evaluated.

[The Geocentrism example may seem like a joke but it is not.  Robert Sungenis tries to argue Copernicus and Galileo were wrong about Heliocentrism, and some people actually believe this.  In his attempt to defend the Church at the time of Galileo, he puts himself in conflict with the Church today]

Likewise, in evolution, we are able to learn about things like the formation of rock, about the decay of carbon 14 in living things and so on.  Now of course it is limited in what it can do (it can't tell us the skeleton was of a man who died on June 6th 1426 at 10:17 am) but it can give us a general idea of how long it has been.  In a living creature the ratio of Carbon 12 to Carbon 14, the ratio stays stable.  Once the creature dies, the carbon 14 begins to decay and by comparing ratios, we can get a sense of how old a thing can be. This doesn't work on things never alive to begin with, and there has to be some matter to work with.  It is also only effective up to 60,000 years of age (though other isotopes can take us beyond this).

Literalists tend to object to the Carbon 14 dating because they claim "we can't know if the rate of decay is constant or not." The problem with such an objection is that we would need to investigate whether such a variability is so drastic as to throw off accuracy by ten thousand years or more.  However the argument of the Literalist is an Argument from Silence: There is no proof it stays constant, so it means it doesn't prove anything.

Again, if science so completely missed the boat as the Literalists claim, to be off by a magnitude of 1000 times, then it is not unreasonable to ask for the proof that such a variation of decay exists, because if such a variation could be established, it would make the method worthless.

The Dangers of Literalism

Pope John Paul II said in 1996 that "Truth cannot contradict truth."  However the Literalist has to essentially assert that Science must be entirely false when it dates the world to 4.7 billion years of age and says the Earth orbits the Sun.

The literalist argues he is protecting the "inerrancy" of the Bible, but in fact he is holding it up to ridicule.  Skeptics who take the literalist at its word point to the Bible and point to Science and says the Bible cannot be at all true.  The Literalist says the skeptic does not have faith (which is true), but the faith the Literalist demands is faith in their own interpretation of Scripture.  A look at St. Augustine's City of God (See books 15-16) takes the genealogies of Scripture prior to the Flood and points out that it does not follow that these ancient lines were talking about all the children born, or even first born children born, to a mentioned man, when it could mean that the Scriptures were talking about prominent children.

Because of this, the Literalist view provides a stumbling block for someone who understands science and thinks Christianity must be in contradiction to it.  Atheists assume we are fools, and intellectuals think they have to stop thinking to become Christians.

In a sense, the Literalists become a stumbling block when it comes to bringing the faith to the world.

The Wisdom of St. Robert Bellarmine

St. Robert Bellarmine was a cardinal at the time of the Galileo controversy.  He admitted he did not believe the earth orbited the sun (at the time it was a theory and not yet established as more than that), but he also realized that if it were proven so and because Scripture were inerrant, it would mean a misunderstanding of what Scripture meant, not that Scripture erred.  He wrote:

…I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun was in the center of the universe and the earth in the third sphere, and that the sun did not travel around the earth but the earth circled the sun, then it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false which has been demonstrated.

The Church recognizes that the idea of the Earth orbiting the sun has been demonstrated, but Sungenis and followers (as well as Young Earth Creationists) ignore Bellarmine's wisdom.  Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have expressed a belief in evolution… guided by God… and Pope Pius XII had laid down the differences between what one could believe in regards to evolution to what one could not believe.

Yet the Literalists insist that what was demonstrated was false and refuse to consider the possibility that they do not understand what Scripture means.  They insist all Christians accept their views or they are no Christians at all.

That takes a special kind of arrogance.

It Comes Down to Pride… or Lack of Faith

What are we to make of those who insist that dinosaurs coexisted with human beings and those that say that dinosaurs skeletons are here to test faith (and how do they reconcile that claim with Numbers 23:19)?   How do we assess those who believe that the universe must revolve around the Earth?  What do we think of those who claim that Science must be wrong because it goes against their view of the Bible?

Especially what are we to think of a view which calls those who disagree with them "heretics"?

Ultimately their view is one of either pride, in refusing to consider they are the ones who err, or else in a lack of faith which assumes that if the Bible does not match up to their understanding, it must be wrong.

Ironically such people are the opposite side of the coin from the so-called "New Atheists."  Both tend to assume a literal meaning of the Bible.  The Biblical Literalists accept the Bible as literally true and accept it.  The New Atheist assumes it is to be understood as literally true and rejects it.

Neither considers the possibility of their own error in understanding Scripture.

A Personal Example

Back in the early 1990s, I assumed cloning would never happen (I was dabbling around with the idea of doing a sort of Science Fiction novel in case you are wondering why I was assuming this) because all life was from God, and life would not be created apart from God.  Then in 1996, we got news of Dolly the Sheep, and this caused me to think.  Clearly Dolly was not fraudulent.  So was the Christian faith fraudulent?  I had not yet read St. Robert Bellarmine, but the answer I reached was close to what he said: I recognized that it was quite possible I misunderstood what God would do.

Fourteen years and a degree later I now know I made two errors back then.  First, the belief that cloning was the creation of life out of non-living matter.  Second, that I had a false idea about God's permissive will versus the free will of man.  These two errors of mine led me to believe cloning would be impossible.  If I hadn't considered the possibility I misunderstood the nature of God I would either have had to deny the existence of Dolly or deny the existence of God.

Recognizing the possibility of my own error saved me from making a greater one.


Not all people who believe in Creationism are Literalists in the negative sense.  However, many forget the Church does not insist we only accept Creationism or only accept Evolution.  The Church does require us to believe all creation comes from God and rejects the idea that anything exists apart from God.  We are required to believe God creates the soul directly (it does not "evolve.")

However, Biblical Literalism is a belief which mistakes a personal interpretation of the Bible for the Bible.

We would all be wise to remember that while the Bible is inerrant, personal interpretations are not.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Were the Gospel Accounts Myth?

The challenges that the Apostles were deluded or lying are not very probable given the consistent accounts of the Apostles and their willingness to stick to it through hardship and death.  Because of this, another theory arose, which says that the Apostles never claimed to have encountered Jesus literally resurrected, but instead the symbolic words they intended were transformed over time into mythical accounts where miracles were "added."

Again, for such a theory to be considered credible, we need to look into what sort of evidence is available to prove such a thing.  Without proof, this is an opinion based on nothing but the assumption that miracles could not happen.

I've dealt with this a little in a past article, but the time has come to look at the matter in more depth.

The Basic Charge and what it needs to establish

The general assumption is that the Apostles did not teach what the Christian faith teaches today, but over time the Church became overly literal with things which were meant to be merely analogy or spiritual.

Supporters of this idea will argue that certain religions (Islam, Buddhism) have accounts which arose later which are alien to the actual teachings of the religious founders.  Islam, for example, teaches that the only miracle was the Koran.  Later stories of Mohammed flying to the Moon on a horse are considered additions.  They cannot be established as being around during the time of Mohammed, and only arose later.

From this, some argue that the accounts of miracles and the resurrection of Jesus were not original, but instead added later.

What this theory needs to establish is the existence of actual accounts sans miracles, claims of Jesus to be God and so on.  Since it is generally not disputed that the person of Jesus existed [generally, the dispute is over whether He was God, not whether He existed], for there to be a myth, there needs to be something for the myth to be based on.  We know of the life of Mohammed without miracles.  Do we also know of the life of Jesus apart from the miracles told about Him?

Biblical Criticism is a good tool, but it is only as effective as the one using it

Biblical criticism can be quite useful to understand the context of what was said and done.  However it is a tool, and if one uses a tool improperly, the results will be poor.  So if someone comes to the Bible with pre-conceived notions of what can and cannot be possible before looking at the texts, those pre-conceived notions will affect what the person using the tool will see.

I bring this up because some people invoke "Biblical Criticism" claiming they disprove the accounts of miracles, when in fact what we have are people who do not believe miracles can happen believing they can be added later.

Looking at some objections to the "Myth" theory

For those who want to argue that the accounts of Jesus we know of are in fact myth which was tacked on to what really happened, certain objections need to be met in order to establish this theory.

1) The accounts of the Gospels are not in the style of myth.  We have the events tied to real places and real times.  There are no anachronisms.  The people behave as First Century AD Jews, not as Third Century pagans or philosophers.  We see details that an eyewitness could have noticed but not necessarily understood (Jesus writing in the sand in John 8:6 for example).  We see references to witnesses.  The Feeding of the 5000 is often derided as sexist for the line "besides women and children" in Matthew 14:21.  Such a view shows a lack of understanding of the law of the times, where a woman or a child could not be a legal witness to a thing.  So Matthew 14:21 is saying in effect Thousands of people saw this, and 5000 of them were legal witnesses.

Actual apocryphal gospels show us what a mythical version of Jesus is like.  The child Jesus creating real birds out of clay, getting angry at a playmate and killing him, bringing another child back to life to say who really killed him when the child Jesus stood accused.  We see frivolous actions in these apocryphal gospels.  In contrast, the real gospels show miracles worked as confirming the authority He had to teach.  They had a very real purpose, done to meet real needs.

2) The time required for myth to develop from real events is longer than the time the accounts we have first appeared.  Those who deny that the accounts we have were original try to claim that the Gospels were written in the second century AD.  The problem is, accounts which reference the Gospels indicate they were written in the first century.  Legendary accounts of Buddha or Mohammed come from generations after Buddha and Mohammed died.  Accounts of miracles existed with Jesus in the first century when those who knew Jesus were still alive.

The Epistles of Paul were undeniably written within 30 years of the death of Jesus, and they are referenced by early Christian writers which confirm them from the first century.

We need to remember that while in modern times people challenge the accuracy of Scripture because "it is so old."  However, reading the Christian defense of the faith in the times of the Pagan Roman Empire shows they had to answer a different charge — that it couldn't be true because "it was so new."

[These are both fallacies by the way.  To reject an idea because it is old or because it is new has no bearing on whether it is true.]

The claims of the "myth added later" requires a two level structure:

  1. The so-called "Historical" Jesus who lived and taught but did not, claim divinity, perform miracles or rise from the dead.
  2. The so-called "Mythical" accounts we have in Scripture today.

The problem is, we have no evidence of the existence of the first layer.  Instead we have individuals who seek to remove the miracles, claims of divinity and resurrection and claim this was the "first layer."  All we do have are the accounts of Scripture which existed from the first century.

This presupposes "Miracles can't happen" however, which requires proof, and cannot merely be assumed to be true.

St. Augustine made an excellent point about this sort of objection, saying:

[A]t this time the words of one Helpidius, speaking and disputing face to face against the said Manichaeans, had begun to move me even at Carthage, in that he brought forth things from the Scriptures not easily withstood, to which their answer appeared to me feeble. And this answer they did not give forth publicly, but only to us in private,—when they said that the writings of the New Testament had been tampered with by I know not whom, who were desirous of ingrafting the Jewish law upon the Christian faith; but they themselves did not bring forward any uncorrupted copies. (Confessions.  Book V, Chapter XI Section 21. Emphasis added)

3) The Gospel Accounts do not omit details embarrassing to the Apostles or the Faith.  The first who saw the open tomb were not the Apostles, but women.  In first century Judea (and the Roman empire) women were not considered to be reliable witnesses and could not testify in a court of law.  A mythical account would doubtlessly be reluctant to open itself to such a charge as some could argue that the fact meant the account was not reliable.  Jesus rebuked Peter.  If the accounts we have were a myth, why was this not downplayed?  The Apostles were not triumphantly waiting for Jesus to rise again.  They were in hiding, thinking that Jesus had failed.  They ran away.  If the accounts of Scripture we have were "mythologized" then why do we see such failings so prominently displayed?

Because of this, we are faced with two choices.  if it is not a true account, it must be a lie… which brings us back to the problems of deception.  The Apostles specifically reject a mythic interpretation (2 Peter 1:16-19), insisting the accounts they have given are what they were eyewitnesses to:

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

If someone wants to claim that another wrote this in the name of Peter, but Peter did not teach this, we again have the problem of deception, because this account plainly says they were eyewitnesses.

The Significance of these Objections

The significance of these objections demonstrates problems with the theory of myth which assumes that the miraculous could not have been original, and is in fact a lack of belief that the seems to be the motivation for the theory to begin with.

The problem is, if mythical interpretation is to be considered as a credible theory, we need to explain how the so-called "myths" arose so quickly and so consistently across the Roman Empire, instead of being localized to one area and disputed in others.  Greek mythology, for example, has many different variants of the same story where central elements of the story vary widely depending on the story.  Athens, for example, tended to deny or downplay elements about Athena which other regions.  (See Robert Graves' The Greek Myths for examples of these sorts of discrepancies).

In comparison, the Gospels do not have these sorts of contradictions.  We do not see a case where one account says "Jesus did X" and another where it says "Jesus did NOT do X."  Instead we see one account saying "Jesus did X", a second saying "Jesus did X and Y" and a third not commenting on it at all.  These are not contradictions, but rather differences which can be explained by different people having different impressions of the same event.

We don't see one copy of a gospel found in one area of the Roman Empire saying one thing, and another copy found on the opposite side of the empire saying something contradictory.  With the exception of certain copyist errors and glosses, we find a consistency which is remarkable in an age with no instantaneous transfer as we have today.

This anticipates the so-called "Telephone Game" theory which claims that passing on information from one to another will lead to a distorted message.  How can such a theory account for the consistent records which we do have?

Conclusion: Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine

Again, as with the previous theories, we see a theory which is not a conclusion based on the gathering of evidence, but is instead the reading of evidence based on a conclusion already drawn of what must have happened to begin with.  Because miracles are assumed to be impossible, the reasoning is that there must be another explanation for the accounts.

However, if the assumption is wrong, the conclusions will doubtlessly be in error as well.  As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, "Parvus error in initio magnus erit in fine" (“Small error in the beginning; large [error] will be in the end”).

The way to avoid this is to eliminate preconceived notions and actually study Scripture and Christian teaching to see what was said, and look examine the reliability of the sources without deciding in advance that whatever does not fit our views must have been "added later."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jesus Died The Apostles Lied? A Look At Another Claim Against the Resurrection

Preliminary Note

This article is dealing with the claim the Apostles lied about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Those who think I am overlooking the concept the Apostles were deluded should see the article HERE where I discussed some issues.

Looking at the Claim that the Apostles Lied

A theory given by certain cynical individuals runs along these lines: Jesus died, and the Apostles deliberately claimed Jesus rose from the dead while knowing He did not.  These individuals will argue that because Miracles cannot happen and it is not probable that it was a delusion, it is most likely the work of a deliberate deception.

I find this theory interesting because many of those I have encountered who use it argue that the people of the Middle East in the First Century AD were so primitive that they believed some (hitherto unexplained) scientific phenomenon was a miracle.

Yet for this belief to have continued on for two thousand years, it's not enough to claim over a billion stupid people to explain this.  To continue fooling people (including individuals who are intelligent), the people who created such a deception would have to be quite brilliant in order to create something that people would die for or radically change their life for and never be detected as false.

So the question arises, if we are to consider the charge of deception: Were the apostles stupid and superstitious peasants?  Or were they evil masterminds who perpetuated a fraud which lasts until this very day?  They couldn't be both.

What The Resurrection Means.  What Apostle Means.

We need to be clear about what this allegation means.  Unlike certain wishy-washy Christians who try to reduce the Resurrection to some sort of "feeling" that Jesus' teachings would live on, the Christian belief is that Jesus was literally executed by the Romans and rose from the dead.

The Apostles were those who witnessed the risen Christ and testified they saw Him.

Therefore, when dealing with the idea that the Apostles lied, it means they did not see the risen Christ, yet claimed they did see Him.

I've dealt with Deluded Apostles already, so now we need to consider the option of them not being fools, but knaves who deliberately created a lie which led thousands of people to martyrdom.

Considering Some Objections To This Concept

If we are to give the "conspiracy to lie" theory any credibility, it needs to provide the evidence to back up what was asserted in its claim.  The basic idea is that the Apostles knew Jesus died, but said He rose again contrary to what they knew.  However, there are several problems such a theory needs to address.

Let's consider the following:

1) Cui bono?  (Who benefits?)  If the Apostles deliberately lied, what did they hope to gain from it?  We have no evidence that any of the Apostles recanted what they believed.  They were tortured and reviled for what they preached.  Nor do we have any evidence of the apostles receiving material gain.  They were not wealthy men who stayed at home while exhorting followers to provide their every need and luxury.  They travelled and died in areas all over the Roman Empire preaching this doctrine.  Such a devotion does not sound like a fraud.

I have run across some who have tried to say that yes, the apostles lied but dying for a lie was not unreasonable because "who know what religious fanatics are thinking?"  This is a contradiction in terms however.  If the apostles believed what they taught to the point it encouraged "fanaticism" in them, then clearly it was not a lie which they fabricated.  If it was a lie, it could not encourage religious fanaticism in the people who knew it was a lie.  If someone else, other than the apostles invented this lie, where are the objections from those who knew differently?

2) The unanimity of the Apostles on the subject.  As I said above, the Apostles didn't just remain in one place.  They travelled widely in spreading the Gospel message.  Now in the days without immediate communication, they could have gone far and wide and questions asked by the people preached to would doubtlessly have gone beyond what the Apostles could anticipate for a fabrication they worked out on their own.  if they lied about Christ, one would expect a deviation of facts in the stories told as each Apostle had to improvise.

Instead we have a largely consistent agreement on the facts.  The different accounts have some variations, but only on small details and are consistent with individuals emphasizing what stuck most in their mind.  Scriptures remain very consistent across wide areas of the empire… we need to remember that before the days of the printing press, all copies were made by hand.  On occasion we see copyist errors, but no divergence on the message itself.

3) The Sincerity of the Apostles.  This is the flip side of #1 above.  We all know of those false religions where the founders gained materially from the religion they started.  Even in Christianity, we know of individuals who have abused their ministry for personal gain.  Did the founders of the religion do these things however?

However, the Apostles did not act for material gain.  They travelled, preached and eventually died because they believed what they taught was of vital importance for everyone.  Consider the words of Philippians 1:

19 Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Disagree with Paul if you like, call him insane if you like, but this is a man who believes that to live is a mission to serve Christ and to die is to gain by being with Him forever.

5) The Body of Jesus would be a very permanent way to disprove the conspiracy.  If Jesus was still in the tomb, why was it not produced to prove them liars?  If it was no longer in the tomb, how did it leave the tomb?  Are we to believe a band of Jesus' followers who were in hiding snuck past armed guards and moved a large rock, stealing the body without a trace?  Would the Romans have tolerated such a lawbreaking on their watch.

Since the Apostles proclaimed the message of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, those who wanted to disprove Jesus would have been in a good position to do so.  Their adversaries would have been in position to root them out and disprove them by showing discrepancies from the witnesses who saw Christ.

The Lacking Piece of the Puzzle

The accusation that the apostles must have lied either requires being backed by evidence or else is based on a prior conviction that it could not have been true and therefore must have had another cause.

However evidence that the apostles lied is lacking, and the behavior of the apostles seems to indicate that they believed they had seen Jesus alive.  Considering the challenges against Christianity revolve around demanding physical proof for spiritual things, one would think it reasonable to insist on physical proof for assertions of a physical explanation.

Because evidence is lacking to prove any such point, it is not reasonable to claim that the apostles must have lied.  One is still free to believe it of course, but it must be recognized that such a belief is merely a personal opinion.

This is not the Argument from Silence fallacy.  Christians don't argue "You can't prove [A], therefore [B]."  They believe the witness of the Apostles was credible, while the claims against are not credible.  Anyone wishing to credibly argue otherwise needs to demonstrate why their own claims are believable and those of the Apostles are not.

However, instead of providing this credibility, the attacks I have seen all revolve around "it's impossible, so there must be another reason for it."  This assumes as proven however what needs to be proved (that it is impossible).  Neither I nor any other Christian are irrational for refusing to accept a claim which has no more basis than personal opinion that miracles are impossible.

"More Probable"?

Now, if one wishes to show misrepresentation, one must remember certain things must be demonstrated under law.  I find those guidelines useful to assess what needs to be proven with this claim:

  1. What was said was a deliberate misrepresentation of facts.
  2. An intentional, or fraudulent, misrepresentation occurs when a defendant knows that he or she is making a false statement of material fact.
  3. the defendant intended for the plaintiff to rely on the false statement.
  4. the plaintiff ordinarily needs to prove that he or she justifiably relied on the defendant’s statement
  5. Finally, the plaintiff must show that he or she was injured as a result of the misrepresentation.

Since a lie is defined as an intentionally false statement, the charge of the lie is to say two things: that the statement made was false, AND that the false statement was made deliberately.

So, first of all someone who would accuse the apostles of misleading others needs to prove that what they said was a deliberate misrepresentation.  Second, that the apostles knew they were making such a statement.  Third, that the apostles intended those they preached to would rely on their claims.  Fourth, that the ones preached to were justified in relying on what the apostles said.  Finally that the believers were injured by the misrepresentation.

Points 3, 4 and 5 rely on points one and two being established as true.  So, to claim a lie, the statemtn that Jesus rose from the dead needs to be shown to be a deliberate misrepresentation, and the Apostles need to be shown as knowing the statement was false.

Unless those points are proven, the claim that the Apostles lied is a merely a statement with no basis in fact.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Considering the Charge of Delusion and Resurrection Accounts

The account of the Resurrection is ultimately the center of the Christian faith.  As St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:

14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

Because of this, those who would deny the teaching of Christians and wish to refute it need to attack the teaching and try to prove a claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Two Categories for Charges

In looking at these charges, we need to consider their basis.  Why should we accept them as credible?  The possibilities are:

  1. Either they are based on evidence
  2. Or they are based on the assumption the supernatural cannot happen

Accusations based on the first category do need to be addressed.  Avoiding this can make it seem like we live our faith in ignorance.  However, accusations based on the second assumption are guilty of begging the question.  The claim that the supernatural cannot happen is something to be proven, not assumed to be true.

The Focus of This Article

For the purposes of this article, I am limiting myself to two possibilities: That Jesus died but did not rise again, and that Jesus did not die, but everyone believed He did.  I am quite aware there are other claims made, but let's keep things manageable.

Now, there are two basic possibilities to explore with this objection: One, the claims of Jesus dying but not rising and Two, the basis of Jesus not dying to begin with.  The underlying association for both is that the Apostles were mistaken in what they believed.

The first claim tends to run under the following syllogism

  1. The dead cannot live again
  2. Jesus was dead
  3. Therefore Jesus cannot live again

The second set runs under the following syllogism:

  1. The dead cannot live again
  2. The apostles saw Jesus alive
  3. Therefore he had not died

Enthymemes Assumed But Not Proven

In both cases the major premise needs to be proven.  This is something which has never quite been proven, and those who argue it tend to hedge their words in phrases like "it is more reasonable to suppose that…"  Ultimately in these disputes, there is usually an enthymeme (a premise assumed but not spoken) which demonstrates the principle issue to be considered.

In disputes with atheists, this is a dispute over whether an all powerful God exists.  If an all powerful God exists, then there is no reasonable argument that such a God could not raise the dead.

In disputes with religious or spiritual beliefs, the principle dispute is over the authority of Christ and whether God would have raised Jesus from the dead.  If Jesus Christ did have authority, then His resurrection is not against what God would do.

Ultimately, such disputes need to address the primary assumption (that God does not exist or that Jesus Christ was not His Son) before moving on to the actual debate of the Resurrection.  However, it is commonly assumed by those who reject the Christian belief that their view is true, and the attacks are focused on the claim that their beliefs are the reasonable ones and those which disagree are not.

The conclusion of their argument is that since they believe it impossible that Jesus was raised from the dead, it is more reasonable to explain the Apostles claim with another cause.

The Hallucination Theory

The Hallucination theory is based on the idea that if someone thought they saw a man known dead walking around it is more probable that the person hallucinated.  This seems to assume Hume's theory.  There are several objections however which this theory requires an answer to if it is to be considered reasonable:

Hallucinations are things which happen to individuals.  It is true that a group of people might see an object and not understand what it was, but we would see large discrepancies in testimony because each individual would be interpreting this in their own mind.  However, we see that the testimony of scripture attests to Christ being seen by Mary Magdalene, the disciples sans Thomas, the disciples with Thomas, the disciples in Emmaus, the apostles fishing, etc. 

Hallucinations tend to last for seconds or minutes.  The Christian claim is that Christ was among the apostles for 40 days.

Hallucinations do not interact with the world.  Yet the account is that Christ did interact with the world.  Thomas touched the wounds in his side, Christ ate with his apostles.

If the apostles were hallucinating, where was the actual body which could have proven their claims were false?  If the Sanhedrin wished to stop a delusion from going around all they would have to do is to produce the corpse of Jesus.

From this we have two considerations:

    1. Either the sources are inaccurate or
    2. The sources accurately attested to the fact that the Apostles saw something consistently

However, if the sources are to have been considered inaccurate, the question must be asked: On what basis can we make this claim?  What we have is an idea which rejects the testimony because the accounts contain miracles.  If this is to stand, then a valid disproof of the existence of the miraculous needs to be given.

Instead, this theory tends to reject all testimony which runs counter to the assumption that a miracle did not happen.  This is not reasonable however.  Without evidence to support the theory there is no reason to hold it as what did happen or was more likely to happen.

The "Jesus Did Not Die" Theory

The empty tomb is a hard thing to answer.  The Romans could not produce a body.  The Jews could not produce a body, and if Jesus was executed, the claim of the Resurrection could have been immediately shot down by showing his corpse.

Because of this, some people try to argue that Jesus was not really killed.  Now, to deny He was not executed is not reasonable (though the Koran [Sura 4:157-8] claims this) because even non-Christian sources attest He had been killed by the Romans.  The Roman historian Tacticus in his Annals, the Babylonian Talmud, the Greek Satirist Lucian, the Syrian stoic Bara Bar-Serapion and  Jewish historian Josephus (Though some references to the divinity of Christ are considered latter additions.  However, even with those removed, it attests to His being crucified) all report he had been executed.  So to argue He was never crucified requires some evidence to what actually did happen to him.

Given the crucifixion was a horrendous and disgraceful way to die, it is unlikely the Scripture writers would have chosen to invent this account of the death of their founder if a more "respectable death" had existed.

Because of this, some try to allege that Jesus was crucified and was presumed dead, but He later regained consciousness and escaped.

Now there are some very real problems with this assumption which need to be answered before it can be considered as anything more than idle speculation:

1) Jesus surviving the crucifixion needs to account for the fact that the Romans made sure a person was dead before removing him from the cross.  Soldiers who permitted a condemned man to escape would pay for it severely.

The fact that the soldiers broke the legs of the other prisoners crucified to hasten their death shows they were determined to make sure the prisoners were in fact dead.  Jesus, being seen to be dead, did not have His legs broken to be sure.  However He had a spear thrust into his side (see John 19:31ff), which shows the Romans left nothing to chance.

2) The spear thrust, described in John 19:34 attests to the flow of blood and water which, in medical terms meant Jesus' lungs had collapsed and indicate He died of asphyxiation (the normal method of death on the cross) [See here for an interesting medical description.  See here to go to the beginning of the report.  The JAMA issue it appeared in can be purchased here].

3) The body was totally encased in winding sheets and entombed (John 19:38-42).  Claims he had merely lost consciousness need to explain how those who wrapped Him did not notice He was still breathing and also need to explain how He was not constricted and suffocated if wrapped when unconscious.

4) The accounts of the Resurrection convinced the Apostles He was gloriously alive, not half dead and injured (remember, assumptions that Jesus had regained consciousness and staggered back to the Apostles still have to account for the Roman practices of crucifixion).  Would the Apostles seeing a half dead man think He had risen from the grave?  Or would they have assumed He had merely escaped death?

5) How did a half dead man escape from the tomb, which was sealed and guarded?  Who moved the stone? (a half dead man could not)  If the apostles aided Him, it follows that they knew the truth and lied about it, which shoots down the idea of "sincere but deluded" and takes us back to the idea of "what did the apostles gain for lying?"  Moreover, if the Apostles overpowered the soldiers why were they not considered yet one more band of armed revolutionaries (which no document of the time alleges)?

6) If Jesus was alive and escaped, where did He go?  There are no credible documents of this.  Accounts of this type fall into categories of "pseudo-history" such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the like, not serious documents.  We again would move away from the "sincere but deluded" apostles and into the "willful fraud."

Such arguments in favor of the "unconscious Jesus" theory has to presuppose the inaccuracy of the texts, which requires proof if it is to be taken as anything other than idle speculation.

The Underlying Problem with the "Sincere But Deluded" Arguments

Whether one believes Jesus died and the Apostles were deluded about the belief He rose again or whether one believes Jesus never died to begin with, a crucial element is missing: evidence.

The Christian believes the testimony of the apostles to be reliable, that the apostles did encounter the Risen Christ and this encouraged them to preach their message to the world, even at the cost of their lives.  On the other hand, the person who denies this insists on another meaning and tends to call the Christians foolish for believing the testimony of the Apostles.

However, we are not unreasonable in asking "On what basis do you make your claims?"  If one wishes to assert that the accounts of the Resurrection are false, we must require evidence that backs up their claims.  To merely argue…

  1. [Miracles] cannot [happen] (No [A] is [B])
  2. The [Resurrection] was a Miracle ([C] is a part of [A])
  3. Therefore the [Resurrection] could not have [happened] (Therefore [C] is not part of [B])

…requires proof of the major premise or proof that the accounts of the death and resurrection of Christ were not accurate (which does not establish that miracles can't happen but seeks to deny it happened in this case).

Otherwise the claim is not reasoned, but merely an opinion without backing.

A Caveat

I do not make the argument that because there is no proof for these claims that it automatically means the opposite (the Resurrection happened) is true.  This would be the Argument from Silence fallacy (There is no proof for [A], therefore [B] is true).  Certainly there are many studies about the Scriptural accounts which need to be considered, and people who wish to study the Christian claims need to look at.

However, in all these cases, we need to recognize that presupposing that something can't be true is going to lead to pre-determined conclusions.  if the presumption is false, the conclusion cannot be said to be proven true. 

Most Christians do not accept Tertullian's maxim I believe because it is absurd.  Most believe because they find the testimony credible and the arguments against lacking credibility (this is not addressing the gift of faith of course, which is not apart from reason).  Christian apologetics are based on showing the credibility of the beliefs of Christianity.

If one wishes to deny the beliefs of Christianity, it is their right of course.  However, we are not being unreasonable in requiring the basis on which the rejection is made and assessing such claims.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Reflections on the Church and Politics

"I've always thought liberal and conservative were terms used not to think but to avoid thinking.  You can classify anything as liberal or conservative, then simply declare yourself one or the other, and all your thought for the rest of your life can be a knee jerk."

— Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell (page 17)

(Character of "CS Lewis" in a Socratic dialogue)

One of the tendencies I have noticed in the modern world is to place things into political categories.  Topic [A] is deemed conservative and is thus rejected by liberals.  Topic [B] is deemed liberal, and thus is rejected by conservatives.  I suppose it is natural in terms of partisan politics, but the problem is that often such categorical thinking is not limited to politics, but instead applies these categories to apolitical subjects or institutions.

Unfortunately this also is applied to the teachings of the Church, and the Church is deemed "liberal" by the conservatives, and "conservative" by the liberals.

The Falsity in an Either-Or Dilemma

…the parties have a great interest in winning the election, not so much in order to make their doctrines triumph by the President-elect's help, as to show, by his election, that their doctrines have gained a majority.

—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

The logical form I have seen employed by conservatives and liberals in attacking the Church (or seeking to use the Church terminology as a mark of credibility for their ideologies) is a false dilemma, which runs as follows:

  1. The Church either supports [A] or [B].
  2. The Church doesn't support [A].
  3. Therefore the Church supports [B].

So if the Pope doesn't support Israel or Marxists in Central America (these can be [A]) on an issue, he is promptly accused of supporting the PLO or despotic governments (these can be [B]).

The problem is with the major premise: "Either [A] or [B]."  If I partially support one of the options, if I reject both options or if I prefer a solution outside of [A] or [B], the major premise is false and the conclusion is not proven true.

Yet it is this error which liberals and conservatives use to either denounce the Church (when it condemns what they support) or make it appear their entire platform has legitimacy (when on an issue there are similarities between Church teaching and party platform).

Is Social Justice Liberal?

In light of the Church making certain statements on "Social Justice," I've noticed both liberals and conservatives seeking to hijack the term.  Many liberals interpret "Social Justice" as "Expanded government control of private enterprise," and seek to label anything which is not expanded government involvement as being "against Church teaching."

On the other hand, many conservatives also believe "Social Justice" is "Expanded government control of private enterprise," and conclude the Church is run by liberals.  The syllogism above becomes:

  1. The Church either supports [Expanded government control] or it favors [laissez faire]
  2. The Church has spoken against [laissez faire]
  3. Therefore it favors [Expanded government control].

Of course, reading Caritas in veritate, we see that the Church favors neither model.  It recognizes that the individual role has a part to play, it recognizes the need of the state to protect the rights of the person… and it insists that without a Christian approach, a system will end up dehumanizing people, regardless of intent.

When the Church speaks of social justice, it is wrong to apply the political meaning of the term to the Church, which speaks of the morality which is binding on all societies.  The error of the false dilemma comes in assuming there is only one (partisan) solution and anyone who criticizes elements of the solution or praises certain elements of that solution must endorse the political platform which the term is associated with.

The Church teaches that the person has certain rights and dignities as a person which cannot be taken away by law.  Practices in a nation which deny these rights and dignities are to be condemned, regardless of the ideology which commits the injustice.  When an economic system or a political structure, or the customs of a nation allow this sort of injustice, the Church must speak on what is right and wrong, regardless of the political parties which believe in one choice or another.

So to invoke certain phrases from the Church is meaningless unless one understands the context of what the Church means.  "Social Justice" is assumed to be a "liberal" issue, and therefore it is assumed any solution must be "liberal" in nature… what the Church actually says and intends on the topic is immaterial to both factions.

Is Abortion Conservative?

The Church views the issue of abortion along these lines:

  1. It is never licit to directly cause or will the death of an innocent person
  2. the unborn child is an innocent person
  3. Therefore it is never licit to directly cause or will the death of an unborn child.

Because of this, the Church has no choice but to condemn murder in keeping with the teaching of God. In the Ten Commandments, the Hebrew word translated as Kill in Exodus 20:13 is רָצַח (ratsach), which means "murder" or "slay." 

If the unborn child is living, the direct killing (slaying) of the unborn child is as unjust as infanticide.  This also shows why capital punishment or wars are not the same case as abortion, so those who oppose abortion yet believe capital punishment can be licit are not inconsistent (as John Grisham once argued in his rather poor novel The Appeal).

Yet the key issue of whether or not the unborn is a person never gets addressed by those who favor abortion rights.  For them, the sole issue is whether or not the woman has the right to engage in sexual activity without repercussions.  However, even if one rejects Christian morality the issue of a 'woman's right to control her fertility" becomes moot if the unborn is a person, because no person can decide to arbitrarily end another person's life out of expedience.

During the 2008 election the argument tended to run:

  1. [Republicans] [oppose abortion] (All [A] is [B])
  2. [The Bishops] [oppose abortion] (All [B] is [C])
  3. Therefore [the Bishops] are [Republicans.]  (Therefore all [C] is [A])

The problem is that the argument claims that abortion is a Republican issue and therefore anyone who agrees with the issue is a Republican.  However anyone who opposes abortion who is not a Republican makes the conclusion false… the conclusion is not supported by the premises, and is a non sequitur.

Another logical problem is the Genetic fallacy.  Because opposition to abortion is equated with "conservative," it is rejected on account of the source.  However, the fact that conservatives agree with the Church on the issue does not mean the condemnation of abortion is not true.

The Underlying Problem

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279

- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280

Both the conservative and the liberal who reject the Church position and label it as "proof" of favoring the other side assume their own view is correct, and their submission to Church teaching only goes so far as it mirrors what they believe.  When the Church teaching goes against a party platform, it is accused of being "partisan."

However, the Church's self-confessed interest is dealing with the salvation of souls and telling people to turn from sinful acts towards the truth.

Speaking of "what is just," for example, is different than saying "only party [X] is just."  The former is a statement of what is.  The second is ideology.

Before accusing the Church of "being liberal" or "being conservative" one has to understand what in fact the Church teaches and means in its statements.  If one recognizes the Church as the body Christ established on Earth to carry out His work of salvation, then it does have authority to bind and to loose.

Under such a view, worldly partisan views need to be compared to, and judged by, the teaching of the Church, and not the Church view be compared to and judged by the partisan world view.

Friday, February 5, 2010

On False Comparisons and Other Errors Used In Attacks on the Christian Faith

Usual Preliminary Disclaimer

I recognize that not all atheists reason as the example used here, and not all of those who do phrase it the same way.  However, it is growing in popularity among certain so-called "New Atheists" who have used it, thinking it "proves" religion is unreasonable.  Because of this, this sort of challenge needs to be analyzed.

I am also quite aware that another challenge (which I reject) to the Apostles, the claim they were deluded, exists.  That claim is NOT the topic of this article.  One topic at a time is enough.

The Challenge

Awhile back I came across an atheist objection to the actions of the apostles and the Christian argument: that their actions reflected that they truly believed what they were attesting to, and they had no material gain from any deception.

The Basic Issue Under Dispute

The Basic issue disputed is the argument that if the Apostles lied about having seen the risen Christ, then what did they gain from it?  They did not gain materially.  They did not recant their claim when threatened by death.  If it was a lie, then what did they gain from their deceit?

This challenge I have seen sought to deny that the sincerity was a valid point by using the examples of other false religions and their founders, seeking to imply that just as these others had people who claimed revelations which were false, so too the actions of the apostles could have been from similar cause.

The Syllogism

The syllogism they used ran along these lines:

  1. [Mormonism] is a [religion] ([A] is [B])
  2. [Mormonism] is [false] ([A] is [C])
  3. Therefore [religion] is [false] (Therefore [B] is [C])

(This argument has been used with whole religions or individuals from religions in [A])

It has been expressed in other ways of course, but when turned into a syllogism, this is what it breaks down to.  "Breaks down" is a good choice of words as they syllogism has a large flaw right off the bat.

The Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle

The problem with the argument presented is it has the fallacy of the undistributed middle.  The fact that [A] is related to both [B] and [C] does not show [B] is necessarily related to [C].  We can show this by changing the terms of the syllogism:

  1. [Bill] is a [Cat]
  2. [Bill] is [Orange]
  3. Therefore [Cats] are [Orange]

Since cats can be other colors than orange, the fact that [Bill] is [orange] does not mean all [cats] are [orange].  Likewise, if [Mormonism] is [false] it has no bearing on whether [religion] is [false].  So, from this it follows that the examples of "New Age", "Mormonism" or other groups being false only says that these examples fall into the categories of [religion] and [false], but cannot say other groups fall under these considerations.  (See Figure 1):


(Figure 1: Knowing that [A] is part of both [B] and [C] does not mean all of [B] must be in [C])

However, this fallacy is what people do assume when they assume that because Joseph Smith founded a religion and that he behaved in a dubious manner it follows that because the Apostles founded a religion, they too must have behaved in a dubious manner.

The Fallacy of the Hasty Generalization

Another fallacy this argument tends to slip by is the argument of Hasty Generalization, which says because samples 1,2 and 3 from a certain group have a characteristic, all members must have this characteristic.  This can be illustrated in this example from the short story Love is a Fallacy by Max Shulman (Well worth reading):

“Next we take up a fallacy called Hasty Generalization. Listen carefully: You can’t speak French. Petey Bellows can’t speak French. I must therefore conclude that nobody at the University of Minnesota can speak French.”

“Really?” said Polly, amazed. “Nobody?”

I hid my exasperation. “Polly, it’s a fallacy. The generalization is reached too hastily. There are too few instances to support such a conclusion.”

This fallacy is often employed against religion, on the grounds that "Religion A is nonsense, Religion B is nonsense and Religion C is nonsense.  Therefore all religion is nonsense."  The problem is, to say "all religion is nonsense," this can only be established if all religions are shown to be nonsense.

Christians need not defend Islam or New Age claims for example, because the errors displayed by these groups do not prove Christianity is false.

The Fallacy of the False Analogy

The fallacy of the false analogy comes into play when a person says:

  1. [Situation 1] has elements [A] [B] and [C]
  2. [Situation 2] has elements [A] [B] and [C]
  3. Therefore [Situation 1] and [Situation 2] are the same.

The problem with this is that if [Situation 2] also has elements [D] [E] and [F] and [Situation 1] does not, then the situations are not equal.

For example, if a College Admissions department considered two students who were both A students, both presidents of the student body, and both valedictorians, it might seem arbitrary to exclude one from the college and admit the other.  However, if one student also had a record of suspensions, criminal acts and the like, we could see the choosing one and excluding another is not arbitrary as the situations were not the same.

Another example from Love Is A Fallacy can illustrate the point:

“Next,” I said in a carefully controlled tone, “we will discuss False Analogy. Here is an example: Students should be allowed to look at their textbooks during examinations. After all, surgeons have X-rays to guide them during an operation, lawyers have briefs to guide them during a trial, carpenters have blueprints to guide them when they are building a house. Why, then, shouldn’t students be allowed to look at their textbooks during an examination?”

“There now,” she said enthusiastically, “is the most marvy idea I’ve heard in years.”

“Polly,” I said testily, “the argument is all wrong. Doctors, lawyers, and carpenters aren’t taking a test to see how much they have learned, but students are. The situations are altogether different, and you can’t make an analogy between them.”

“I still think it’s a good idea,” said Polly.

Joseph Smith and St. Paul Walk into a Comparison…

So if one wished, for example, to say St. Paul and Joseph Smith were both "founders of religion" (many skeptics claim that Paul invented Christian beliefs and the original Christians were merely Jews who happened to think Jesus was a human messiah), one would have to look at both examples and see if the comparison was fair.  If there are more differences than similarities on key issues, it would not be correct to say the two were alike.

Lets look at some of the ways Joseph Smith and St. Paul

  1. Joseph Smith claimed to have encountered Christ.  So did St. Paul
  2. Joseph Smith claimed all religions were false and he had been directly revealed a new religion.  St. Paul recognized the Christians did in fact follow what God taught better than he did when he persecuted them.
  3. Joseph Smith, at his peak, had many physical benefits, was mayor of a town etc.  St. Paul endured many hardships in order to spread his teaching and did not acquire physical gain for his work.
  4. Joseph Smith did not accept martyrdom but died in a shootout during a jailbreak attempt.  Reports are mixed as to whether he killed anyone, but he was known to have been shooting with a revolver smuggled in for him.  St. Paul was executed for being a Christian, but not for any particular crimes.
  5. Joseph Smith claimed new revelations which supported his doctrines, claiming other Scriptures were "altered."  St. Paul used the existing Scriptures and teachings of the Christians to explain how the Christian teaching did not contradict the gospels.

Of these five points, the only point of similarity is both men claimed to have encountered Christ.  On four of these points, their behavior and teaching was radically different.  So if one wished to claim both were equally self serving, the question is: Where is the evidence to show their behavior was alike?

The Illogic of the Attack

These points of comparison show that attempting to lump together St. Paul and Joseph Smith as an attempt to deny the sincerity of the Christians who were martyred for their faith, or the claim the Christian faith must be false because other religions are false are not based on any real similarity between the two, but comes from the assumption that all religions MUST be false and anyone who claims a religious experience must be lying.  However, this assumption must be proven.

The fact that another religion may have false teachings or immoral members do not show that Christianity is false.  To seek to lump the two together to imply "guilt by association" does not prove the two are both false.