Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

The blind men and the elephant: an argument for religious pluralism?

From Please Convince Me, a post by Aaron outlining 7 problems with the blind man and the elephant story.

Here’s the set up:

Maybe you’ve heard the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. In this parable, six blind men feel a different part of an elephant and come to different conclusions regarding what the elephant is actually like.

One blind man grabs the tusk and says, “An elephant is like a spear!” Another feels the trunk and concludes, “An elephant is like a snake!” The blind man hugging the leg thinks, “An elephant is like a tree!” The one holding the tail claims, “An elephant is like a rope!” Another feeling the ear believes, “An elephant is like a fan!” The last blind man leaning on the elephant’s side exclaims, “An elephant is like a wall!”

This parable is often used to illustrate a view known as religious pluralism. Like the blind men, no religion hasthe truth. Rather, all religions are true in that they accurately describe their personal experience and the spiritual reality they encounter, given various historical and cultural backgrounds.

There are various types of religious pluralism, but one way to define it is as follows: “the view that all religious roads – certainly all major or ethical ones – lead to God or to ultimate reality and salvation.”1 This idea is commonly reflected in such statements as “All religions basically teach the same thing” or “All roads lead to the top of the mountain.”

The elephant parable, while attractive to many, suffers from a number of problems.

And here’s one problem:

Problem #4: The parable commits the self-excepting fallacy.

The religious pluralist who tells this parable claims everyone is blind, except the religious pluralist himself! In other words, there is an objective perspective presented here. However, if all religious views are essentially blind, this would include the religious view of religious pluralism. But the religious pluralist conveniently exempts himself, having somehow escaped the spiritual blindness which has enveloped all other religious views and has come to see the truth of religious pluralism! In so doing, the religious pluralist claims to have the only objective perspective:

In fact, he wouldn’t know that the blind men were wrong unless he had an objective perspective of what was right! So if the person telling the parable can have an objective perspective, why can’t the blind men? They could – if the blind men suddenly could see, they too would realize that they were originally mistaken. That’s really an elephant in front of them and not a wall, fan, or rope. We too can see the truth in religion. Unfortunately, many of us who deny there’s truth in religion are not actually blind but only willfully blind. We may not want to admit that there’s truth in religion because that truth will convict us. But if we open our eyes and stop hiding behind the self-defeating nonsense that truth cannot be known, then we’ll be able to see the truth as well.5

5 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 49.

Read the whole thing!

UPDATE: Greg West of The Poached Egg tweets an announcement of his post on the same topic.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Paul Copan on whether the Bible endorses slavery

Before I link to Paul Copan’s article, (H/T The Poached Egg), I want to say that I actually don’t see why atheists are so bothered by slavery, since there no such thing as morality if atheism is true. If atheism is true, then slavery isn’t wrong. It’s just unfashionable in some societies who have evolved one way, versus other societies that have evolved to think slavery is OK. Whatever has evolved is right, on atheism – there is no transcendent objective standard by which atheists can condemn any practice as wrong. They also can’t prescribe moral behavior, for at least two reasons. First, there is no reason to be moral on atheism if you get more pleasure from being immoral and you can escape the consequences. Second, there is no free will on atheism, because matter is all there is and the interactions of particles in motion is determined by the laws of physics that govern matter.

Having said that, let’s assume slavery is wrong, which it is on Christian theism, and see what Paul Copan has to say about the practice of slavery and the Old Testament.

Excerpt:

We should compare Hebrew debt-servanthood (many translations render this “slavery”) more fairly to apprentice-like positions to pay off debts — much like the indentured servitude during America’s founding when people worked for approximately 7 years to pay off the debt for their passage to the New World. Then they became free.

In most cases, servanthood was more like a live-in employee, temporarily embedded within the employer’s household. Even today, teams trade sports players to another team that has an owner, and these players belong to a franchise. This language hardly suggests slavery, but rather a formal contractual agreement to be fulfilled — like in the Old Testament.3

Through failed crops or other disasters, debt tended to come to families, not just individuals. One could voluntarily enter into a contractual agreement (“sell” himself) to work in the household of another: “one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself” (Leviticus 25:47). A wife or children could be “sold” to help sustain the family through economically unbearable times — unless kinfolk “redeemed” them (payed their debt). They would be debt-servants for 6 years.4 A family might need to mortgage their land until the year of Jubilee every 50 years.5

Note: In the Old Testament, outsiders did not impose servanthood as in the antebellum South.6 Masters could hire servants “from year to year” and were not to “rule over … [them] ruthlessly” (Leviticus 25:46,53). Rather than being excluded from Israelite society, servants were thoroughly embedded within Israelite homes.

The Old Testament prohibited unavoidable lifelong servanthood — unless someone loved his master and wanted to attach himself to him (Exodus 21:5). Masters were to grant their servants release every seventh year with all debts forgiven (Leviticus 25:35–43). A slave’s legal status was unique in the ancient Near East (ANE) — a dramatic improvement over ANE law codes: “Hebrew has no vocabulary of slavery, only of servanthood.”7

An Israelite servant’s guaranteed eventual release within 7 years was a control or regulation to prevent the abuse and institutionalizing of such positions. The release-year reminded the Israelites that poverty-induced servanthood was not an ideal social arrangement. On the other hand, servanthood existed in Israel precisely because poverty existed: no poverty, no servants in Israel. And if servants lived in Israel, this was voluntary (typically poverty-induced) — not forced.

Read the whole thing. And if you think that’s interesting, you can listen to this debate on slavery and the Bible.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is there a Tea Party faction within the Christian Church? Who is it?

Did someone say "Tea Party?"

Did someone say "Tea Party?"

Consider this report by a non-Christian who attended the recent “On Guard” conference in Dallas, Texas. (H/T Melissa of Hard-Core Christianity)

Excerpt:

Over the weekend, I attended the On Guard Conference 2010, a Christian apologetics conference. Before you read any further I must quickly explain my history with Christianity.

Back in high school, I was holy rollin’ like a 80-year-old on a Rascal. I  knew for sure I was going into the ministry and was entirely prepared to spend the rest of my life in the service of God. Several things happened about which I would write a book (and might one day). The short version is, my church was populated with small-minded, bigots. The church split twice and once because of a situation I was involved in. A poor black woman living out of an old rusted mustang barely survived two lots down while the church sent money to missionaries in Honduras. By the time the church had sucked my soul from me and spit me out, I turned my back on it all.

Fast forward to now. I have two children and I live in Texas. They will be exposed to Christianity in some form. We visited many churches (and synagogues since they are technically Jewish) and nothing appealed to me. The primary problem I have is that traditional worship is a broken record, especially when handled by Southern Baptists. There is only so much of the same catch-phrases, slogans, and cliches I can take before I hit toxic cynicism. The other problem I have is with modern worship. There is only so much canned slides, unfamiliar songs, and slick (but only re-purposed traditional) sermons I stomach. Where others claim tradition, I claim “rut”. I was on the other side long enough to see all of these things as meaningless.

I kept myself at such a distance from religion for so long, that aplogetics is entirely new to me. Christian apologetics is a discipline (and I would argue a culture as well) within Christianity where Christians defend their faith through logic, reason, and even science. Yeah, I know, sounds crazy. But here’s the kicker:

In my entire life, not once have I ever seen or heard a Christian say these words: “I’m not afraid for anyone to question me about my faith. I have nothing to hide [intellectually].”

Keep in mind, growing up Southern Baptists means growing up knowing very little about your own faith and spending time around other people who are openly hostile to those who don’t believe the same way.

For me, I don’t know what I believe anymore. I feel burned by a long history of disappointments by my own faith. In a nutshell, God to me is very similar to my own father. He came around, did his business and is long gone. I don’t and probably will never believe God is much more than a designer who set up some sophisticated systems that still work today but has moved on to other interests. I frankly think it’s absurd to believe God takes the time to help somebody have the strength to make it through a job interview while somewhere else around the world a child is sold into a life of sex slavery. But I digress.

So my attendance at the conference is me intrigued by the kind of intellectual topics presented because that’s not the Christianity I know or see on TV.

He summarizes the conference and then ends with this:

So the conference was great. So great in fact it occurred to me if actual mainstream Christianity was like that instead of the feelings-based judgment frontal assault I grew up with, I might have never left the church. However, the conference seemed to be geared toward two types: believers (meaning Christians who want to defend their faith) and atheists, who comprise the main apologetics boogie man. “Atheist” was used constantly to refer to the kind of people they needed to stay prepared for.

As a guy who lost his faith long ago, I never doubted God’s existence.  However, since I think he is a deadbeat dad, I have many questions and am looking for meaning without being convinced God is real. My struggle with faith has lasted me about 25 years. I would like to have seen a session on reconciling the Bible as a whole. For instance if Intelligent Design is really using science as I heard, how do they address the Adam and Eve question? I also would like someone like Dr. Moreland to discuss why he gets three angels and conversations with God directly when clearly God never bothered with me to begin with.

The premise on which they build many of their arguments is their belief. I don’t have that. So while I enjoyed the conference overall, I walked out of there with more questions. But isn’t that kind of the point? For the first time in over two decades, I felt mentally stimulated by a religious event. In that, I’m intrigued.

And what do we learn from this?

Well, I will try to be civil, but what I really want to do is rant against the postmodernism, irrationality, mysticism, pietism, relativism, inclusivism, universalism, hedonism, etc. that has got us to a point where something like 70% of young Christians who grow up in the church abandon it as soon as they go off to college. The church is a club that is run by people who want nothing to do with the honest questions of people who are less interested in feelings, intuitions, amusement and community and more interested in truth. And we are failing these honest questioners, because we are too busy having fun and feeling happy.

I have a very good idea of why the church is losing all of it’s young people. And we need a tea party revolution in the church to get people to come back.

So here’s my stand:

  • The church believes that belief in God’s existence is divorced from logic and evidence, but I believe that God’s existence is knowable, rational and supported by publicly-accessible evidence
  • The church thinks that people become Christians because they like Christianity, but I believe that people become Christians when they think Christianity is true
  • The church believes you can seek happiness without caring about the moral law, and their job is to make you feel accepted no matter what you do, but I believe that we need to set out clear moral boundaries and explain to people using non-Biblical evidence what damage is caused if those boundaries are broken
  • The church believes that reading the Bible and attending church as therapeutic, but I think that the Bible and church are for clarifying my obligations in my relationship with God and for setting out the broad goals that I will use when I develop my life plan to meet those goals by solving problems using my talents in the way that *I* think is most effective – and my plan doesn’t involve making you feel happy, by the way
  • The church thinks that the Christian life consists of singing, praying and not disagreeing with anyone or thinking that we are right about anything, but I think we should get off our duffs and start studying to think about how our Christian convictions apply to the world around us in every area of life, from politics to economics to foreign policy to marriage and parenting and beyond
  • The church believes that Christianity is true for them while other religions work for other people, but I believe that religions are assessed by whether they are true or not – and that other religions can be mistaken where they make false claims
  • The church believes that evangelism is done without using apologetics or focusing on truth, but I think we should all be prepared by watching debates, holding open forums, hosting speakers and conferences, and generally training ourselves to engage with the outside world in the realm of ideas
  • The church thinks Christianity is a faith tradition, but I think Christianity is a knowledge tradition

Anyway, check out these other posts for more snarky defiance.

Mentoring

Apologetics advocacy

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

MUST-HEAR: A great debate on whether the Bible condones slavery

From Justin Brierley and the Unbelievable radio show, also known as the “If You Like” radio show.

Topic: “Does the Bible Condone Slavery?”

The MP3 file is here.

Details:

The Bible is often criticised for either supporting or not condemning the institution of slavery.  So how should we treat portions of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments that relate to slavery?  Why does the Old Testament contain laws regarding the treatment of slaves? Does Paul condemn or affirm the institution?

Bob Price is a former US church minister whose doubts about the Bible led him to ultimately reject evangelical Christian faith.  He says that the Bible is a book that reflects the time it was written in.  Slavery was acceptable and the early Christians regrettably followed suit, and did not challenge the prevailing status quo.

David Instone-Brewer is a New Testament Scholar at Tyndale House, Cambridge.  He says that, in its cultural context, the Bible goes as far as it can towards an anti-slavery message and that Christians have been at the forefront of anti-slavery movements.

My previous post on this topic is here.

My thoughts

This debate is the greatest debate I have heard in months! This is that Robert M. Price guy who is an expert in the historical Jesus who hates evangelical Christianity and has 2 PhDs. He’s extremely radical. But in this debate he was totally awesome. He was so easy to listen to, and he made perfect sense. Everything he said was moderate and reasonable.

And the Christian guy that Justin lined up was solid and well-prepared. About two-thirds of the time, the Christian they get is some useless pastor with no training. But this time Justin got a great scholar – winsome and informed. He made our side look good.

Related goodness

I noticed that Brian Auten linked to this Tawapologetics review of Rodney Stark’s book on history and Christianity, and it includes a section on Christianity and the practice of slavery. In my home, we have all of Rodney Stark’s books on our bookshelf.

Here are the main points from the slavery part:

  • First, slavery has been an institution in human cultures since before the Egyptian pyramids, all around the world.
  • Second, while European nations did delve into widespread slavery, the Church was hardly complicit in the practice.
  • Third, how monotheism provided the moral framework to condemn and outlaw slavery.
  • Fourth, details on the formation of the anti-slavery movement and Christianity’s involvement in it.
  • Fifth, enlightened secularism had little impact on the abolitionist cause.

I knew some of that stuff already from reading about the history of slavery and the abolition movement in Thomas Sowell books. But if you don’t know about it, you should read the book review.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Frank Turek shows why every Christian should learn apologetics

A series of 5 video clips delivered in a standard evangelical church.

About Frank Turek:

An eight-year veteran of the United States Navy, Frank served as a Naval Aviator in the Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf. He has a Doctorate in Apologetics, a Masters Degree in Public Administration, and has taught courses in Leadership and Management at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.. Frank and his wife Stephanie reside near Charlotte, North Carolina and are blessed with three incredible sons.

Wishing vs. knowing: which is Biblical?

Did the universe come into being out of nothing?

Is the universe designed?

Is there evidence for an intelligent cause of living systems?

Why should we trust the Bible?

I would say that the quickest way for us to stop the decline in church attendance is to embrace what you see Frank doing in these videos. We need a lot more naval aviators with PhDs speaking about WHY Christianity is true in the churches. We have enough emotivism, postmodernism, relativism, universalism, fideism, mysticism, anti-intellectualism and hedonism in the church – now let’s have some truth for a change. Let’s have some evidence. Let’s hear some alternative views. Let’s see some arguments. Let’s see some debates.

Frank’s web site is here.

Mentoring

Apologetics advocacy

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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