Posts tagged ‘philosophy’
In this, our third essay on the psychological and rhetorical techniques that underlie evangelical Christian apologetics, we will examine some evangelical Christian claims that seem devilishly difficult to prove wrong. We have all heard such claims. They would include the following:
- If you de-convert from Christianity, you never really were a Christian at all
- All Christians, in right relationship with God, experience peace in the face of adversity
- If you sincerely seek God you will find Him
- “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.” (Matthew 17:20, NIV)
What I will argue is that such statements either are not actually claims about the world at all, and hence insulate themselves from disconfirming empirical evidence by defining it away, or else they are claims/predictions, but rely on vague, ill-defined subjective states and thus, are impossible to confirm. In each case, I will elucidate the issues involved and then tie it in with the relevant psychological issues…
I don’t really mean to, but I find myself debating people a lot. Imagine me as some sort of super geek who pushes her glasses against her nose, raises an index finger, and says “Umm, actually…” in a nasally voice. Except I don’t wear glasses. But it’s a usefully tool of illustration, so just pretend that I do. Anyway, in my many debates, I’ve found that I encounter the same stumbling blocks to critical thinking repeatedly. They’re the same ones that I dealt with during my journey from credulous Christian to skeptic, and they are as follows:
Recently I was debating Chiropractic with an intelligent person. I presented her with evidence against the efficacy of Chiropractic and evidence that neck manipulation can and does cause strokes. I tempered that by saying that Chiropractic has been found to be helpful for certain kinds of lower back injuries, but no more helpful than massage and physical therapy, which don’t put you at risk of a stroke. I could tell she was considering what I had to say, and I was hoping that maybe, if nothing else, she’d think again before she let a Chiropractor twist her neck. She didn’t argue or challenge any of my points, and even admitted they were “interesting” but she told me that she was going to continue to visit her Chiropractor. Why? Because “he’s a close friend of the family and is trusted by us.”
Now I’m sure that her Chiropractor is a good person, and I’d bet with certainty that he’s never caused a stroke, but the fact that someone is a friend doesn’t make them right, and just because a friend is a Chiropractor doesn’t lend Chiropractic any actual validity. That’s emotional thinking…
So the other day I was watching my son eat lunch.
Of course, “eat lunch” sounds much more, well, contained than anything usually accomplished by most 22-month olds. He grabbed big spoonfuls and/or handfuls of his mac & cheese and shoved them, fist and all, into his mouth, depositing most of it, losing a bit, and in the process coating his face, hands, hair, shirt and table in gobs of that inimitable nuclear orange cheese sauce. This was something that did not bother him at all. I found myself wishing I could focus on anything in the world as well as he focused on his mac & cheese. This kiddo really likes to eat.
And he had not a shred of self-consciousness. He did not care how he looked or how messy he was. He simply enjoyed his meal, and with a singularity of innocence and pleasure that makes sappy, sentimental parents like me want to weep. He had no awareness in the world that I was watching him, or indeed of anything else at all. He was entirely immersed in the immediacy of his experience, with no thought to what anyone else thought. I found it both striking and beautiful.
And it got me thinking about this matter of “self-consciousness”. The capacity to lose self-consciousness – to be present and fully immersed in the messiness of one’s bodily existence, and to live (if only briefly) without pride, shame, or false modesty – is a rare quality…
Selflessness or altruism means putting the interests of others above yourself. Just as “selfishness” has negative connotations in society of self-interest at the expense of others, “altruism” is often thought of as kind or generous acts for others. This view is wrong. It is wrong because the originator of the term himself, Auguste Comte, meant it to mean precisely what it implies: acting for the sake of others with no thought to oneself.
It is this true original definition of altruism that I am using here, and I will use altruism and selflessness interchangeably.
Selflessness is irrational. It is irrational because it demands that the beneficiary of your actions be others. Does it suggest who these others should be? That is a decision an individual would make for himself based on his personal values. But, since altruism dictates that we should hold our interests or values in no regard when acting, altruism actually states that the personal value of the beneficiary be irrelevant to our action! By this “logic” not only would giving money to a drug-dealing rapist be just as moral as giving money to an orphanage, it would be more moral!
Why is that? It comes down to personal values. To suggest that some people are more worthy than others to benefit from acts of generosity implies that one has made a value judgment oneself in such matters based on a personal evaluation of worth…
I bought Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem on the strength of reading his Misquoting Jesus, and I wasn’t disappointed.
There are three things about Ehrman’s writing that help me sit up and listen to what he is saying.
First, he is world renowned scholar in his field. He has been teaching the bible at university level for years and knows the book and its documents and the scholarship associated with it inside out.
Secondly, he is a very able communicator. The substance of the Misquoting Jesus is the scholarship surrounding the New Testament documents – a very technical subject. Despite this, he wrote a very readable book for the non-expert. In God’s Problem he looks at the subject of suffering and examines how, for him, the answers as to why we suffer provided in the bible seriously fail to convince him that an omnipotent and loving god exists.He moves with ease and grace through the theology and philosophy of the Old and New Testaments, all the time reminding us that despite the words, suffering is a very human problem. The modern day examples of suffering he discusses are personal and real, and cry out for answers. We may be able to detach ourselves from the suffering of Old Testament nations, but, as Ehrman reminds us, the obscenity of the Holocaust is closer to home, as is the suffering of our family members and neighbours…
It was just over a year ago that I seriously considered a range of theological, philosophical and empirical data regarding the existence of God and the likelihood that any theistic religion, particularly Christianity, was true. As I read books, blogs and web sites, I occasionally stumbled across the term, presuppositionalism. I quickly gathered that this is a branch of Christian apologetics that starts with the premises that God is real and that Christianity is true, and then seeks to find rational support for those premises. I probably don’t need to point out to you that this method of reasoning is circular. Presuppositionalists try to weasel out of that charge by claiming that there are different types of circularity, that their method does not rely on mere vicious circularity (which they agree is a logical fallacy) and that all methods of inquiry rely, to some degree, on presuppositionalism. Therefore, even if they are guilty, so is everyone else.
Presuppositionalists claim that their presuppositions – 1. that God exists and 2. that the Christian version of God is the correct one – are not unreasonable and are, in fact, the only ones by which humans can make any sense of the world. Naturalists, on the other hand, claim that humans are capable of observing and testing data in the world and drawing sound conclusions about the nature of the universe on the bases of their tests and observations…