Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Sword Has Spoken, the Matter Is Settled

In a new book[1] on an altogether different subject, David Berlinski makes an observation about Islam and in the process quotes the eighth century Arab poet Abu Tamman who reportedly said: "The sword is more telling than the book."

Assuming the accuracy of the quote, and without knowing the context of this remark from Abu, several things come to mind. Before listing them, I'm assuming that the prima facie meaning of "the book" as a reference to the Qur'an is correct, making "the sword" either that of Mohammed or of Muslims in general.

Given the above, several things follow (and whether Abu meant any one of the following, all of the following, or all of the following and more, the following are nonetheless true and the statement of Abu is thus apropos):

1) Muslims believe that the Qur'an is a miraculous work of Allah, the greatest proof of the truth of Islam, and, therefore, the greatest single factor or motive force in swaying people to become Muslims. However, the Qur'an has in fact never been an especially effective tool in seeing people, societies, and nations turn to Islam; the distinguished tool that gets this prize is the sword, first wielded by Mohammed (and his companions), and then later by his dutiful followers. It is an undeniable even if uncomfortable fact that the nations' people that converted to Islam did not do so through the means of peaceful Qur'anic suasion. Instead any and every nation, with few possible exceptions, that has ever embraced Islam, beginning with what was then (and still is) pagan Arabia (for it just swapped one form of paganism for a suped up Mohammedan version) down to the present day, has always and only converted by force and through much bloodshed and cruelty.

This is very different than Christianity where the Bible, which is not claimed to be a miracle in the same sense that Muslims hold the Qur'an to be (i.e., a miracle on the level of a literary production whose diction, rhetoric, style, etc. are held to be more poetic and beautiful than any other written work), and yet the Bible has been the effective tool in the reclamation of sinners that Muslim theory says should be true for the Qur'an. Once again, whereas Christians do not believe the Bible is necessarily, from a literary standpoint, on the level of something by a Dante or a Shakespeare, though it is quite moving in places even from a literary and poetic standpoint, nevertheless, they do hold that it was verbally inspired by God and is the very power of God unto salvation, the very seed that the Spirit uses to implant and create faith in the heart.

2) Since the Qur'anic text itself was determined by the sword under Uthman, the book only says what the sword of a certain faction determined for it to say.

3) If a Muslim wants to be sure of entrance into paradise, the only means this side of that great harem in the sky is through Jihad in the cause of Allah, i.e., through the act of fighting and spilling the blood of infidels rather than through faith or trust in the person and deeds of Allah or even by means of conformity to Allah's character and/or will as revealed in the Qur'an.

Hence, if you want to know about the veracity and real character of Mohammedanism, then you must ultimately look past all the idle remarks and spilled ink about mercy and compassion and look to all the spilled blood instead, especially when the ink is not without copious references to the sword anyway.
[1] The Devil's Delusion: The Scientific Pretensions of Atheism

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Necessity of Deriving Our Apologetic Method From Scripture

The Bible subjects the apologetic enterprise, as it does everything else, to the Lordship of Jesus Christ: "Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense..." (1 Pet. 3:15); and "...take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor. 10:5) Since the prerequisite to giving a reasoned defense is setting apart Christ as Lord, since we are called to make every thought obedient to Christ as Lord, and since the Bible is the source of our knowledge of Christ and of His will, then of necessity we must derive our apologetic methodology from Scripture.

When calling on and reasoning with men and women to submit to the authority of God, or for the truth of the Bible as the Word of God, it would be inconsistent to subject the truth of this conclusion to norms and standards or to a general method that is itself hostile to that authority from the outset. We would, in effect, be arguing for the authority of Christ or His Word on the basis of some other authority, which tacitly assumes that this other authority is more authoritative than the Lord or more trustworthy than His Word.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Credo Quia Absurdum Est

Misquotation is no passing fad among atheists; indeed, they have been at it for a very long time, even if not for billions of years. One of their favorite people to misquote, at least when it comes to the Christian understanding of the relationship of faith and reason, is Tertullian, a second century church father and Presbyter in North Africa.

Once upon a time, Tertullian is supposed to have said "credo quia absurdum est", which is Latin for "I believe because it is absurd." But as intimated, this is an atheist fairy tale, for Tertullian never said it, at least not the Tertullian of history who is an altoghether different person from the Tertullian of atheist-faith.

Of course if it magically turned out that Tertullian did say such a thing, it would hardly be damaging to the cause of Christ since other views have been held among believers, and much more widely, such as the Thomistic view - intelligo ut creedam ("I understand in order to believe"), and also the Augustinian view - credo ut intelligam ("I believe in order to understand").

According to the Thomistic view, reason precedes understanding and is made the foundation for faith; and according to the Augustinian view, faith is seen as the precondition of reason, that without which there can be no true understanding (because reason would then have no pou sto or fixed reference point for predication).

It is quite apparent from the whole scope of his writings that Tertullian was more of a proto-Augustinian than anything else on this matter, and one of the better single examples of this from his writings is the following:

"For philosophy is the material of the world’s wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy… What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the Academy to do with the Church? What have heretics to do with Christians? Our instruction comes from the porch of Solomon, who had himself taught that the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart. Away with all attempts to produce a Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic Christianity! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after receiving the gospel! When we believe, we desire no further belief. For this is our first article of faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides." (The Prescription Against Heretics, VII.)

The above quote does reveal that Tertullian posited a stark antithesis between the world's wisdom, starting from its own autonomous speculations or reasoning about things (represented by Athens), and the wisdom that is from above (represented by Jerusalem), the reason that begins with God's revelation and, in simplicity of heart, goes on to produce an orthodoxy without any admixture of foreign elements. Nevertheless, it does not show a rejection of reason or advocate the notion that faith is antithetical to reason, unless that reason takes unbridled speculation, rather than God's revelation, as its starting point. Indeed, it was the same Tertullian who said the following about reason, rooting reason in God and seeing the world as open to rational investigation for this very reason:

"For reason is a property of God's, since there is nothing which God, the creator of all things, has not foreseen, arranged and determined by reason; moreover, there is nothing He does not wish to be investigated and understood by reason." (On Repentance, Ch. 1, vs. 2)

In any case, Tertullian never said that he was a Christian because Christianity is absurd. The closest one can get to a comment like this is the following from his De Carni Christi ("On the Flesh of Christ") written against the heretic Marcion:

"The Son of God was crucified: I am not ashamed--because it is shameful.
The Son of God died: it is immediately credible--because it is silly.
He was buried, and rose again: it is certain--because it is impossible." (Ch. 5, v. 4)

All sorts of considerations factor into a correct understanding of what is seen here, but the most relevant thing, beyond the fact that it isn't the same as what atheists and others have quoted Tertullian as saying, is the following: it is just because the central claims of the Christian Gospel are, from the perspective of the world's wisdom, shameful, silly, and impossible, that they are, from the perspective of that wisdom that is from above, altogether believable. In other words, unbelieving and believing wisdom have two different starting points and therefore end up evaluating the same thing very differently.

[As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1, unbelieving wisdom, starting from a rejection of God, or at least, leaving God out of account, and reasoning according to its own crooked standards, will always deem God's revealed truth as weak and foolish, while believers will see it as the power of God and the wisdom of God. Given the antithesis between believers and unbelievers, given that unbelievers begin with themselves as autonomous, while believers begin with God as absolute, given that unbelieving wisdom proceeds according to its own darkened understanding and believing wisdom is lit up by the revelation of God, they will always have radically different evaluations of such things.]

This understanding is bolstered by the fact that the context of Tertullian's remarks are in fact in reference to 1 Corinthians, where it is written:

"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.' Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

A somewhat different interpretation of this passage in De Carni Christi, one that is not contrary but complementary to the overarching (proto-)Augustinian approach of Tertullian that was briefly sketched above, has also been suggested and is a widely held interpretation. Lindberg and Numbers explain it this way:

"...Tertullian was simply making use of a standard Aristotelian argumentative form, maintaining that the more improbable an event, the less likely is anybody to believe, without compelling evidence, that it has occurred; therefore, the very improbability of an alleged event, such as Christ's resurrection, is evidence in its favor." (Lindberg and Numbers, God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, p. 26)

In a footnote (#34) to this, the authors go on to explain:

"That is, resurrection of the dead is so improbable an event that the apostles would not have believed in the resurrection of Christ if they had not been faced with incontrovertible evidence that indeed, on this occasion, the improbable occurred. This fact makes the resurrection of Christ more probable than some other event; the occurrence of which might have been accepted merely on the basis of general plausibility".
No doubt the above accounting of things will be unsatisfactory to some atheists and other unbelievers who like to represent Christians as anti-intellectual and anti-rational, but it will remain a misquotation and a misinterpretation nonetheless. All that can be done with such as will not be confused with the facts (credo qui absurdum est), those who prefer the obscurantism of unbelief to the reason that is born of, rests upon, and thrives in the context of faith, those who refuse to humbly acknowledge their weakness and foolishness outside of Christ who is the wisdom of God and the power of God, is give them a little taste of their own medicine. Only a little taste, because the following from atheist Richard Lewontin is accurately quoted.
"We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door." (Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons, The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997)
The larger context of these remarks does not, as some atheists have averred, help extricate them from the very ugly epistemological situation that would arise if Lewontin is correct.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Brief Observation On Acts 17

Few would doubt that Paul took God's revelation as his starting point when witnessing to Jews, but many suggest he followed a different method when dealing with Gentiles or those who made no profession of faith in the Scriptures. However, it should be observed that no such distinction is made or intimated when it says, "he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the Godfearing Gentiles, and in the market place everyday with those who happened to be present." (vs. 17).

Although there certainly would be differences of a sort between the way Paul spoke to Jew and Greek, no indication exists that would suggest that these differences were of a methodological sort.

As an example of the sort of differences that did obtain, consider that the apostle named names when he spoke to a Jewish audience about Jewish figures and events, but refrained from doing so when speaking to a Greek audience about those same things (e.g., the apostle does not explicitly mention by name Adam or even Jesus in Acts 17 even though he does refer to them). The manner or form of speaking was different, but the matter or content was not.

Similarly, and to the point, Paul did not formally or directly quote the Scriptures or cite chapter and verse when speaking to a Gentile audience, but he nevertheless did reason with them from God's revealed truth, whether that which is found in the Old Testament, and there are many allusions to key O.T. passages in Acts 17, or the deposit of truth that belonged to him as an apostle of Christ: "That which you worship in ignorance, I proclaim to you."

Accordingly, the apostle's method as seen in Acts 17, is to boldly proclaim the truth of God, the fact that God is the self-existent creator of heaven and earth, and that God raised Jesus from the dead, proving thereby that the final judgment will come through a man, "the man of God's own choosing". Paul does this in such a way as to indicate that there is an antithesis between the truth that he is proclaiming and the view espoused by his hearers. Paul knows the truth but his hearers are culpably ignorant, groping after God even though He is near at hand, the very atmosphere of their lives. Though unbelievers vociferously deny that this is so, it is tacitly assumed in all that they do, from erecting an altar to an unknown God (thereby displaying their ignorance) to making certain unwitting remarks, as their own poets illustrate (thereby displaying that they know better and are without excuse).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Atheists Say the Silliest Things - Part II.

"You’re basically killing each other to see who’s got the better imaginary friend." - Richard Jeni

Atheists like Stalin killed more people than anyone last century because they had no Friend.

"It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists and were religion not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so." - Ernestine Rose

"It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are naturally prone to be selfish and ungrateful and need to be taught to share and say, "Thank you."

The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next. - Anonymous

The evolutionary mechanism of one age is the entertainment of the next. (q.v., Entelechy; natural selection; the hopeful monster theory; punctuated equilibrium; panspermia; etc.)

"One of the most frightening things in the Western world, and in this country in particular, is the number of people who believe in things that are scientifically false. If someone tells me that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, in my opinion he should see a psychiatrist." - Francis Crick

And what shall we do with those, who, in the name of that same science, go on to assert that life on earth is the product of interplanetary sperm being sent to our planet by little green men? Sound familiar, Francis?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Apologetics and Aesthetics

The wide-ranging, foundational perspective provided in God's word allows Christians to take anything as the proximate starting point for a discussion of the truth as it is in Jesus. With God as our ultimate starting point, we may take any fact in hand and show the necessity of relating it to Jesus Christ if it is to be intelligible and salvageable. As one writer observed:

"The Beauty of Van Til's philosophy is that, since God created everything and everything reveals God, one may begin with literally anything when speaking to an unbeliever. The only limitation is a believer's familiarity with the subject matter." (Joseph A. Fielding III, "The Brute Facts: An Introduction to the Theology and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til", The Christian Statesman, March-April, 2003)

With the above in mind, the more our knowledge is expanded to include the salient points of the various disciplines and activities that men and women are interested in, the better equipped we will be to present to them the intellectual challenge of the gospel and press the claims of Christ upon them.

(One of the practical ramifications of this is: for unbelievers who are otherwise apprehensive about a "religious" discussion, a topic that is presumed to be neutral or "unbeliever-friendly" can often rope them in. Furthermore, unbelievers are more apt to participate in a discussion over a topic they consider especially important, or a topic about which they consider themselves to be especially well informed.)

And so, for example, by enriching our understanding of something like aesthetics, if we run across an unbeliever who belies an interest in anything beautiful or artistic, the more ably we will be prepared to show them the One who makes sense out of it all - Jesus, who is altogether lovely, the fairest among ten thousand.

As a quick illustration, if a believer was to talk to an ancient adherent of Platonism in art, they might ask him or her how the Demiurge (Plato's finite creator) really provides a pou sto (or foundation) for the imitative aspect of art (i.e., mimesis). After all, the Demiurge is not ultimate, independent, self-explanatory, or self-contained; consequently, he/it cannot account for mimesis in the final analysis. To this, the die-hard Platonist may respond that the Demiurge rests on something further back, which itself rests on something further back, and so on until we get to "God" or the "Form of the Good." The problem with this, amongst many others of course, is that it is the Demiurge, not the "form of the Good", that sullies his hands with the chaotic and otherwise unformed matter of this world. In other words, what such an exercise will show is that Plato's ultimate, his postulated "form of the Good", is good for nothing as far as mimesis is concerned. Hence, the would-be Platonist is left without any ultimate foundation for making what he does intelligible.

The Christian solution is found in Colossians 2, for there we are told of the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness (Gr. Pleroma) of the Godhead in bodily form. In other words, Jesus is no Demiurge, no emanation, no lesser being that is strewn somewhere along a continuum of created or contingent things, but is the Pleroma of God, the radiance of the Father's glory and the exact representation of His being. By Him all things were made and in Him all things hold together. He upholds all things by the word of His power. His creative and ongoing providential activity accounts for mimesis in a way that Plato never dreamed of.

From an exercise like the above, we can then move on to proclaim that this same Jesus can save the one whose "good works", like Plato's forms, are good for nothing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

God's Revelation: The Foundation of Knowledge

God's revelation is foundational to all knowledge because it provides the framework that is necessary to account for knowledge and the means that we ought to use to attain and extend it. In God's revelation, we learn of His existence, something about His character and attributes, and of His works of creation and providence. In terms of these truths, we are able to see reason for what it is, a tool to be used in faithful submission to God, and are able to evaluate the facts for what they are - things subject to the plan of God.

The idea presented above, i.e., that revelation is foundational to knowledge, is not to be confused with the idea that man only knows what he reads in the Bible. Though some have held this view, the truth is that God's revelation (In Scripture and nature) provides the context in which we can use our minds and senses to obtain knowledge of many other things about which the Bible does not speak directly. Indeed, God's revelation claims to provide the foundational-perspective that is necessary to obtain knowledge of anything, but it does not claim to tell us directly everything that we know.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Atheists say the silliest things

[Atheist quips/quotes are in black; my replies are in blue]
"Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived" - Isaac Asimov

I think Asimov missed his calling. He should have joined Gideons International. (If any atheists have the courage of Asimov's convictions here, I'll supply the Bible's if you stock the hotel rooms.)

"Atheism is not disbelief in the existence of God (for who can prove a universal negative?); rather, atheism is the lack of belief in God." - common atheist saying

I think Atheist comedian Woody Allen said it better: "There's no way to prove there is no God. You just have to take it on faith."

"If God doesn't like the way I'm living, let him tell me, not you." - Anonymous, T-Shirt

If atheism is true, let Noone tell us so, not you.

We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes. - Gene Roddenberry

We must question the logic of those who grant the fault-ridden character of humans at one point, only to turn around and presume they are in a position to evaluate the actions of the Almighty at the next.

Since the Bible and the church are obviously mistaken in telling us where we came from, how can we trust them to tell us where we are going? - Anonymous

When you get where you are obviously going, you will change your mind about where you came from.

Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain and presumptuous desire for a second one. - Richard Dawkins

Thankful to whom, exactly? (Rom 1:18ff)

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. - Christopher Hitchens

Okay, consider it done.

You do not need the Bible to justify love, but no better tool has been invented to justify hate. - Richard A. Weatherwax

You don't need the Bible to justify hate, it is just part of the ordinary course of nature. So quit complaining as if there is something wrong with it.

To say that atheism requires faith is as dim-witted as saying that disbelief in pixies or leprechauns takes faith. Even if Einstein himself told me there was an elf on my shoulder, I would still ask for proof and I wouldn’t be wrong to ask. - Geoff Mather

Since Einstein is dead, if he did give you proof that there was an elf on your shoulder, how would you prove that he did so? Would you say things like the following: "Who else could have come up with such a brilliant proof?" "But look at how it has all the earmarks of a proof designed by Einstein." "If Einstein didn't appear to me, would I risk being ostracized by the scientific community by claiming that he did?"

God should be executed for crimes against humanity. - Bryan Emmanuel Gutierrez

Sounds great. First we should have some people predict it, then we should have people there to witness it, and after He rises from the dead...ooops.

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it. - Mark Twain

Death is a lot worse the second time around.

Which is it, is man one of God’s blunders or is God one of man’s? - Friedrich Nietzsche

That depends who you are asking:

Open Theist: Yes; Yes
Arminian: Yes; No
Calvinist: No; No

Atheism is a non-prophet organization. - George Carlin

Yeah, just look at George Carlin. He doesn't occupy a prophetic role to atheists or profit from his atheism, does he?