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Evidential ammo for the Christian soldier

Do you have kids? Do you know any Christian young people, perhaps heading off to college this fall, who you hope will remain Christians all their lives?

Then I have a suggestion: Don’t leave them intellectually unarmed.

I am an unabashed evidentialist in the area of apologetics, and I think evidentialism can be defended on philosophical grounds. But even suppose, per impossible, that it couldn’t. I encourage my readers to consider from the point of view of outcomes that it is a dangerous thing to send your carefully nurtured young Christian off to college and off into the world without arming him with evidence for his faith. I have heard more stories than I care to remember in which young people had questions about Christianity, went to a pastor, and were given poor answers or no answers at all. In one such story, a young man went with his doubts to his pastor, whose only response was to push the Bible across the desk and ask him, “This is the Word of God. Do you believe it?” The young fellow thought for a moment and then said, “No.” And that was the end of that.

So I have asked my Resident Expert to suggest some accessible ammo for the Christian parent, teacher, or friend. He suggests the three B’s—Bennett, Blaiklock, and Bruce.

Edmund Bennett’s, The Four Gospels from a Lawyer’s Standpoint (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1899) is an old book, but all the better for that. Delivered repeatedly as a lecture within his lifetime, it can be read all the way through easily in an afternoon. It was published in 1899, is now in the public domain, and can be downloaded from the Internet and/or printed. Bennett’s style is spare, lively, and accessible. I suggest skipping the introduction, which is a slightly sappy call for ecumenical unity (in which he includes Unitarians), and moving directly to the meat of the book.

The greatest value of Bennett’s approach is his use of a now little-known type of evidence for the contemporary time period and historical genre of the Gospels—the noting of undesigned coincidences. Undesigned coincidences, which are far more numerous in the New Testament than Bennett can convey, provide a powerful argument against any thesis that places the writing of the Gospels (and Acts) late and regards them as “developments of the faith community” rather than as historical documents written by people actually acquainted with the times and events described.

Here are just a couple of examples: Bennett points out that in Matthew 26 Jesus is tormented by being struck and told, mockingly, to prophesy about who struck him. Bennett notes that in Matthew there is no mention of any reason why Jesus should not have been able to identify his tormenters by ordinary means. But Luke 22 states that he was blindfolded. Upon reflection, one can see that the omission of the blindfolding in Matthew is not what one would expect from someone writing a fictionalized or “developed” account, since its omission makes the narrative itself somewhat odd.The fact that the two narratives fit together in this way is best explained by their being separate accounts of a real incident.

Nor is Luke always the one to give the explanation. In Luke 9, Bennett notes, we find the bare statement that the disciples told no one about the transfiguration—a surprising reticence on their part, considered in the abstract, and one that would not be left unexplained in a late document intended to be “filled in” with made-up material developed in the “faith community”—but it is Mark (ostensibly the earlier Gospel) that says in chapter 9 that Jesus told them not to tell about the event. As Bennett says, “Is that a contrived variation, or is it the natural and accidental difference into which honest witnesses constantly fall?”

New Zealand classicist E. M. Blaiklock (1903-1983) has written many books relevant to Christian apologetics. His Compact Handbook of New Testament Life features his characteristic beautiful prose, combining historical erudition with vivid expression and clarity. He must have been a wonderful teacher. Blaiklock confirms in more external detail and at greater length than Bennett the historical veracity of the New Testament documents and the familiarity of the authors with the Roman, Greek, and Jewish worlds of the 1st century A.D. prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Blaiklock tells the story of the 19th century archeologist W. M. Ramsay and his growing confidence in the historicity of Luke. “It was gradually borne in upon me that the narrative showed marvellous truth,” said Ramsay. “In fact, beginning with a fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first-century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations.”

As but one example of Luke’s historical deftness and familiarity with actual mid-first-century facts, Blaiklock mentions Luke’s account of the riot in Ephesus. The city clerk (Acts 19:38) rebukes the crowd by telling them, “There are proconsuls”—that is, to whom they can take any complaint, instead of rioting. Normally there would have been only one proconsul for the province, but just at that particular time there seem to have been two as a result of the assassination of the previous proconsul Silanus by the two imperial stewards at the urging of Nero’s mother, an event independently documented by Tacitus. Says Blaiklock, “The tactful plural in the official’s speech seems to be evidence in a single letter of the aftermath of political assassination, and the delicate relations between a ‘free city’ and Rome.”

George Rawlinson, in The Historical Evidences of the Truth of the Scripture Records: Stated Anew (1860) makes a similar point regarding the New Testament authors, specifically with regard to the exceedingly messy history of Palestine:

The political condition of Palestine at the time to which the New Testament narrative properly belongs, was one curiously complicated and anomalous; it underwent frequent changes, but retained through all of them certain peculiarities, which made the position of the country unique among the dependencies of Rome. Not having been conquered in the ordinary way, but having passed under the Roman dominion with the consent and by the assistance of a large party among the inhabitants, it was allowed to maintain for a while a species of semi-independence, not unlike that of various native states in India which are really British dependencies. A mixture, and to some extent an alternation, of Roman with native power resulted from this arrangement, and a consequent complication in the political status, which must have made it very difficult to be thoroughly understood by any one who was not a native and a contemporary. The chief representative of the Roman power in the East—the President of Syria, the local governor, whether a Herod or a Roman Procurator, and the High Priest, had each and all certain rights and a certain authority in the country. A double system of taxation, a double administration of justice, and even in some degree a double military command, were the natural consequence; while Jewish and Roman customs, Jewish and Roman words, were simultaneously in use, and a condition of things existed full of harsh contrasts, strange mixtures, and abrupt transitions….These facts … render the civil history of Judaea during the period one very difficult to master and remember; the frequent changes, supervening upon the original complication, are a fertile source of confusion, and seem to have bewildered even the sagacious and painstaking Tacitus. The New Testament narrative, however, falls into no error in treating of the period; it marks, incidentally and without effort or pretension, the various changes in the civil government….Again, the New Testament narrative exhibits in the most remarkable way the mixture in the government—the occasional power of the president of Syria, as shown in Cyrenius’s “taxing”; the ordinary division of authority between the High Priest and the Procurator; the existence of two separate taxation—the civil and the ecclesiastical, the “census” and the “didrachm;” of two tribunals, two modes of capital punishment, two military forces, two methods of marking time; at every turn it shows, even in such little measures as verbal expressions, the coexistence of Jewish with Roman ideas and practices in the country—a coexistence which (it must be remembered) came to an end within forty years of our Lord’s crucifixion. [Emphasis added]

Something Rawlinson here alludes to cannot be stressed too strongly and explicitly, though modern skeptics and Christians alike are all too prone to forget it: In a world without contemporary methods of communication and information storage, lacking even so much as a printing press, such detailed information would not have been widely preserved and available for a later “novelistic” fictional treatment of the times by the “Christian comunity,” even had anything remotely like the genre of historically accurate fiction been known, as indeed it was not. The sure and even casual movement of the New Testament writers within the first-century world is overwhelming evidence of the genuine first-century nature of the texts and, even more specifically, of their origin at the times when they themselves purport to be written and when details of circumstances would have been available to eyewitnesses. Blaiklock, with his classicist’s historical eye and eloquence, shows us external evidence that dovetails well with the internal evidence cited by Bennett.

The third book in the group of recommendations is F. F. Bruce’s small textbook on textual scholarship, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Bruce introduces the student to textual scholarship and to such matters as text families and questions of canonicity. One limitation in Bruce is that he accepts (a conservative version of) the Q hypothesis and hence accepts Markan priority, placing Luke’s writing not long before A.D. 70 and Matthew’s writing not long after. These commonplaces of textual scholarship (Markan priority, Q, and a Matthew after 70) deserve to be questioned and corrected by the strong patristic considerations in favor of Matthean priority which in turn support an earlier dating for Matthew. These are laid out by Wenham.

Nonetheless, Bruce is in no sense a liberal scholar, and he answers the question in his title clearly in the affirmative. One of his most useful comments concerns a point which skeptics often use to confuse the unwary: The canonical books of the New Testament did not somehow “become” authoritative by being said, centuries after the events, to be canonical by the Church. We should not think that there is no independent or rational way to tell which books were authentically of apostolic origin, as though the Church had been left to make a mysterious, black-box decision. Rather, the canonical books were declared to be so on the basis both of external evidence and indeed strong traditional tracing of their provenance and on the basis of internal evidence that distinguishes them clearly from other texts not included in the canon. It behoves all Christians to be aware of this and not to give aid and comfort to the skeptic by arguing that it is impossible to tell why some books should be canonical and others not.

Bruce also does not share the anti-supernatural bias of so many in New Testament studies, though it is possible that some sources on which he is relying for his acceptance of the two-source hypothesis were directly or indirectly affected by such a bias. But Bruce’s own treatment of the inclusion of miracles in the texts is sensible and objective. He does not reject texts as late on the basis of the circular argument that they include miracles—the argument that, since miracles obviously do not happen, they must have been added long after the ostensible time of the events recorded. He joins Bennett and Blaiklock in showing the reader how these matters should be approached—in a scholarly fashion and without any double standard to bias us against religious material.

It is worth stressing that each of these books is short, readable, and hence unthreatening. (Moreover, the two still under copyright--Blaiklock and Bruce--are inexpensive.) Bennett can and should be read straight through (except for the introduction). Blaiklock and Bruce can be read or studied more selectively, though it would be easy to read them through as well. All of them and more besides could easily be assigned for a college or high school course on Christian evidences, perhaps for a home school or Christian high school. Together they have the potential to ground the student in a sensible, rational, historical approach to Christianity and evidence that may be new to him but should become a normal part of his mental life and a defense against the assaults of the enemy.

Comments (79)

But even suppose, per impossible...

Per impossible?

Who do you think you are? Bill Buckley?!

I agree with your enthusiasm for evidentialism, with the caveat that students should learn about the validity of different kinds of evidence and the contingency of knowledge for finite humans.

The resources of historic Christianity are incredible, and often it's enough to simply point to volumes addressing questions and dilemmas, though of course it is better to learn the material.

I'm not sure if this violates copyright, but you can find an older version of F. F. Bruce's excellent text on the New Testament documents online. Thanks for posting these. I plan on reading Bennett's concise piece this afternoon!

The reason I'm wary of evidentialism in theology is that it too easily elides into rationalism. Thus, at least among educated, conservative Protestants and liberal Catholics, there's a tendency to substitute a scholarly for an ecclesial magisterium. That's because, denying any divinely-bestowed infallibility to the latter, they see it as corrigible mostly by the former.

Of course I have nothing against theological scholarship: the last thing I'm generally accused of is anti-intellectualism. The more facts we know, the better. But if the doctrinally expressible content of divine revelation is to be transmitted as an object of divine faith, rather than as a set of data for scholarly opinion-making, then a scholarly magisterium ultimately has to be corrigible by some criterion of orthodoxy internal to Christian tradition itself. From that point of view, the purpose of theological scholarship would be to present the historically ascertainable facts in a way that provides a "motive of credibility" for what is really an object of faith. Such a motive will not compel intellectual assent, but it can and should be used to defend Christian truth against its "cultured despisers." So to that extent, I like the sort of book Lydia recommends. But the arguments such books contain often turn out to be mistaken, or at least reasonably questionable. So their usefulness varies and is never absolute.

The reason I'm wary of evidentialism in theology is that it too easily elides into rationalism.

Ah, well, I've often referred to myself as a Christian rationalist, so I guess I'm not too perturbed there.


Of course I have nothing against theological scholarship:

Actually, in the particular context I have in mind in the main post, historical scholarship is far more what is needed and called for--particularly without an anti-supernatural bias.

But the arguments such books contain often turn out to be mistaken, or at least reasonably questionable.

So do the arguments of theological books. There is certainly no intrinsic superiority of theology as a discipline over history as a discipline. It seems exceeding odd to say that "such books" often contain arguments that "turn out to be mistaken." I can't imagine what such a sweeping claim could mean. Books of history? Books of history of the first century? Books of apologetics based on history? Books about the reliability of the New Testament? In any event, it seems to me that a severe narrowing of reference class is called for here. Indeed, I'd be the first to say negative things about the discipline (too often, pseudo-discipline) of NT scholarship, beginning with the statement that too often NT criticism proceeds in a manner that a hard-headed historian would find laughable. There is even a story about a plagiarism case in which the "methods" of NT criticism were used in court and rightly laughed out of court. It is apparently the supernatural content of such writings that seems to induce idiocy in those practitioners who start out assuming that miracles do not happen. But you will notice that I have expressly stated that the three books I recommend do not have this problem and are, indeed, free of those distinctive problems that often bedevils such discussions. This isn't to say that they are free of all errors. Indeed, I've stated my inclination to disagree with F.F. Bruce in the direction of urging a still earlier date for Matthew. However, they are hardly to be lumped together with much of what sadly passes for scholarship in NT studies and related fields and are, indeed, exceedingly useful. So I encourage you to restrict your reference class to the actual books I recommended rather than to some wider and much more vaguely defined reference class of "such books." If you were to do so, I think you would find that some sort of sweeping generalization about their widespread mistakes and unreliability would be falsified.

"Reasonably questionable" is either so weak a criticism as to be pretty much pointless or else so strong as to be open to the same point made in the previous paragraph: A Christian who thinks Christian historical apologetics is so very, very shaky should study it himself and practice a bit separating the wheat from the chaff rather than assuming that it's all just so up in the air as to be arbitrary and that therefore we might as well not bother.

Lydia:

I think you're missing the point of my criticism, which might be my fault. I'm not terribly worried about the scholarly quality of this or that book used for apologetical purposes; some of them are very good, some are very poor, and most fall somewhere in between. And since I have not read the books you recommend, I have nothing to say about their scholarly quality. What worries me is that many people, especially smart, young, conservative believers concerned with the defense of the faith, too often get the impression that Christian faith stands or falls with quality scholarship. I myself was once such a young person, and I've known many others. Such people fear that their whole worldview could come crashing down with the next archeological or textual discovery. But the Gospel gives us no reason whatsoever to accept such an attitude; rather the contrary, I should think ("out of the mouths of babes..." etc). So then the question is what role the kind of works you recommend ought to play.

In my experience, the use of such works, at least for the purpose you seem to have in mind, is to show the young and/or the wavering that traditional Christianity can hold its own on scholarly grounds against the alternatives. E.g., it was consulting such exegetical luminaries as Raymond Brown and James Barr that adequately armed me against the neo-Gnosticism of Elaine Pagels when, as an undergraduate, I took Intro to NT with her. That's what makes the kind of thing you recommend apologetically useful. The particular details in such works are usually less important than the overall quality of the works themselves. But once we've got and use the right scholarly stuff, it needs to remain clear that no rational argument, however sound, can make the Christian faith intellectually compelling. The best such arguments can do is show how genuine, divine faith is compatible with intellectual responsibility.

Best,
Mike

I do appreciate the clarification, Mike. And great kudos on having been armed against Pagels! That is, indeed, a _very_ important role for apologetics--to arm people with good, reasonable material against the Pagels (or shd. it be Pagels's?) of the world.

Such people fear that their whole worldview could come crashing down with the next archeological or textual discovery.

To my mind, the solution to that is to understand the force of a _cumulative_ case such that one has the proper sort of intellectual tough-mindedness rather than thinking of one's view as, from a _rational_ point of view, highly fragile. You won't catch a good scientist throwing a view that is overwhelmingly well-supported from multiple angles and multiple disciplines over because of the next (apparent) discovery. Or, to use perhaps an even better analogy, even if you became momentarily disoriented and had some hallucinations, you would not merely on that basis conclude that there had never been a real physical world to which you had access. People who knew what was what (even in general outline) didn't turn a hair when that silly thing came up last year (if I recall correctly) claiming that they had found the body of Jesus! Not because Christianity is not grounded in history but because this was obviously sensationalist and wildly conjectural pseudo-history instead.

I'm a big fan and fashioner of cumulative-case arguments myself, in natural as well as revealed theology. All I'd insist on is that, in making such a case for traditional Christianity, one can only show that traditional Christianity is consonant with reason. But that's not enough, since other Weltanschauungen are too. Mortimer Adler, e.g., knew for decades before his conversion to such Christianity that it was reasonable; but when asked why he did not convert, he replied: "Faith is a gift, and I have not been given it." Thank God he was given it before the end.

Mike,

Here, I think, is the crux of the disagreement:

[I]t needs to remain clear that no rational argument, however sound, can make the Christian faith intellectually compelling.

You think this is true. Lydia thinks that it is false. Before you dismiss her as misguided, you might want to pause for a moment to consider her credentials both as an epistemologist and as a student of this particular issue.

Ah, well, I'm a probability-theory geek, and I'd say that perfect rationality involves, inter alia, believing a conclusion that is very strongly supported by the evidence, as I do believe the truth of at least mere Christianity is.

However, the devils also believe and tremble. I had an earlier post on that. I shd. put the link here. I think it's very useful to remember, what is incredibly easy to forget in these days, that believing that God exists is not the same as loving Him. You may remember the end of that very powerful novel by Greene, The End of the Affair. The protagonist has come to believe in God. And what does he do? He tells God, "Leave me alone forever." Most people assume that being convinced by reason that Christianity is true equals being convinced by reason to be a Christian. Not so. One could be convinced by reason of the overwhelming probability of Christianity--not merely that it was _consistent_ with reason, but that denying it was _irrational_--and nonetheless hate and rebel against God. _Usually_ nowadays rebellion takes the form of pretending that there is no good reason to believe in God, or not looking into the matter, or something else that entails _not_ believing in God. But the devilish possibility is one that shd. always be kept in mind and is, I believe, an important key to understanding the nature of saving faith.

But I suspect that we will be agreeing to disagree. :-)

Tim and Lydia:

I hold the position I do because I believe that traditional Christianity requires it. If one could prove the truth of the Christian faith, then assent to it would be one of reason rather than faith. That seems incompatible with what Scripture and Tradition tell us: faith is a gift of grace that cannot be earned or achieved, but only received by free choice. Of course the mind needs to be properly disposed, which is where arguments are useful.

Best,
Mike

Mike,

I think the word "prove" is a red herring, as in this sense I do not think that one can prove one has hands. But the case that I do have hands is, in a very straightforward sense, intellectually compelling -- absence of strict proof notwithstanding.

Lydia's remarks at 9:48 are also very pertinent.

For the rest, I disagree with the claim that if there is intellectually compelling evidence there cannot be faith. My sympathies on this point are all with Chillingworth, Butler, Paley and Whately. It is, as you know, a very old argument.

But we can let it rest there, as this is really a side discussion to the main post.

And let me add my congratulations to you on your having escaped the intellectual clutches of Pagels. (Why are such people let loose?)

Mike, I do think it's important to address the question, "What is faith?" And I think evidentialists can do a better job than has sometimes been done at addressing this question directly. That's why I have tried to do so as in my earlier comments, as well as at much more length in this post:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/07/is_jesus_rose_from_the_dead_a.html

I do agree that faith is a gift from God. I also agree that saving faith is not merely "head knowledge" and needs to be something "more than" or "other than" or "beyond" apportioning one's degree of credence to the evidence. But that is not at all the same thing as my agreeing that saving faith means, in fact, having a degree of credence greater than that warranted by the evidence. Rather, I would say that faith is just a different category from "degree of belief." My own inclination is to take it that the faith Christianity requires is the assent of love and submission to God rather than an assent of belief that goes beyond reason. That assent of love and submission can be very hard to maintain in the face of passion, temptation, ennui, anger, pain, etc., which is why C.S. Lewis said, rightly in my view, that faith is opposed not to reason but to emotion (or he may have said instinct). I think we all know people who claim to have lost their Christian commitment for intellectual reasons when obviously other causes were operating. They needed faith--including the faith actually and honestly to look for rational support for their belief in God rather than readily embracing shallow and dogmatic skepticism as a much-desired beloved.

I say all this not because I expect that we will convince each other on the point but because I do think it is important for the evidentialist to show that he has thought through this very question. It's quite legitimate theologically to protest, "God doesn't send people to heaven merely for engaging in an honest evaluation of publicly available evidence." No, indeed. They must also commit themselves to Him and become His loving and obedient children, which is a good deal harder.

Hi Lydia, I hope to not ire you with this question, it's really innocent and I want to understand you more, since I see [in my thinking] a few inconsistencies.

In your understanding, is there a difference between "apologetics" and "evangelism"?

Lydia:

I've looked at your Resurrection post and agree that it outlines a good case for belief. I also agree with much of what you say in your previous comment. Our area of disagreement does not seem that great to me. Still, I do have a point to make that you might not agree with.

Even when presented with a "good case for belief," a person who has not yet accepted the divine gift of faith can usually find plausible reasons to question some of the premises of such a case. I've seen that happen time and again. Those questions melt away only if the person "surrenders" to the grace of faith and thus loses their motivation to question the premises. From my college days onward, I've seen that happen too--though I first became acquainted with the phenomenon by reading C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy as a high-school student. My hunch is that you'd concede all that without conceding that accepting the gift of faith means going beyond what the evidence rationally warrants. In that case, the question becomes what constitutes rational warrant.

I rather like Newman's approach in The Grammar of Assent, but he didn't have the benefit of some our contemporary analytical tools. Since you're a specialist in epistemology and I am not, I doubt I have anything distinctively philosophical to offer that you haven't heard and considered already. My position is really more theological than philosophical in any case.

In the case of Christianity, the proposed object of assent is divine revelation, which is fundamentally the Person of the Incarnate Logos himself. Accordingly, the gift of faith comes more through an encounter with that Person than through argument. That is Ratzinger's position too. An argument, of course, can be the occasion for such an encounter, often by way of removing artificial intellectual obstacles to perceiving or staying with the encounter. At other times, a well-constructed argument such as yours can "connect the dots" for somebody when they would not have done so for themselves. But even that works only if, under the Spirit's influence, they are already disposed to see what there is too see. Good arguments can begin or facilitate the process of freely receiving the gift of faith in the encounter, but they cannot substitute for it.

Tim's point that "intellectually compelling" argument is not the same as "proof," is technically correct, where 'proof' is understood deductively. So I concede that lack of such proof does not equate with lack of intellectual compulsion. But I don't find that especially pertinent. A person resistant to the gift of faith can always justify, in their own terms, importing negative considerations into what would otherwise be the "compelling" ensemble of factors in a cumulative-case argument. I agree that those considerations are often "emotional," but I don't think they're merely emotional in most cases. The so-called "problem of evil," e.g., is often emotionally motivated, but it does present a serious intellectual challenge. I find that people overcome the challenge only when their spiritual gestalt has been reset in some way, freeing them for the needed encounter.

As Tim says, of course, this is "a very old argument" and we're not going to resolve it here. But I'm enjoying the discussion.

Best,
Mike

Valuable for our young people and for those of us in the fray....
C-CS

Brad, good question. I would say that evangelism is _always_ aimed toward the goal of bringing people to saving faith in Christ and, as such, may not make use of apologetics if that doesn't make sense in the context. For example, suppose someone comes to you and says, "I need Jesus. I've been a rotten skunk all my life, I know that's wrong, and I need to turn to God. Will you help me?" This is not a person who is questioning the truth of Christianity. This person accepts that truth and is asking to be, in the Protestant phrase, led to Christ. Or an evangelist might come in and simply give a gospel message, might simply tell the truth of our sin, our need of a Savior, Jesus' life, death, and resurrection for our sin, etc. There are other examples of evangelism that makes sense without apologetics.

On the other hand, apologetics might not be directed to a particular audience with a highly specific goal of bringing that audience to Christ. In some cases, one might be said to be engaging in apologetics even while making or addressing merely one argument--giving one's answer to the problem of evil or making the cosmological argument or whatever--where one knows perfectly well that that one strand isn't enough to justify Christianity uberhaupt. Or one might write an historical work like the Blaiklock handbook I mention above that is simply professional and scholarly, presents material obviously relevant to Christian belief, but never makes any sort of push or call for acceptance of Christ within the work.

So the two are related but different activities. I often use the term "apologetics" where others prefer "philosophy of religion," "natural theology," etc., or where the phrase "well-done first-century history" might even apply. Those terminological corrections seem to me to have some point to them, though I'll probably still slip back into using "apologetics" sometimes for those types of things.

Mike, you are right about my response. I have _definitely_ seen the phenomenon you describe, but I would say that the person in that case is probably being irrational, if the case is really being presented to him well. What it doesn't mean is that the available rational case is truly ambiguous. Man is indeed in rebellion against God, and it's certainly most common in our own day and among the intellectual classes for that rebellion to take the form of claimed insuperable intellectual problems with belief in the _facts_ of Christianity. Sometimes these are extremely frivolous. I know of one militant new-minted atheist (a deconvert) who complains repeatedly that God doesn't perform miracles for him, personally, right now, to overwhelm him with the evidence. "If apologists are the best God can send, He's a pretty poor God," is almost word-for-word one of his complaints. This is so _obviously_ a weak anti-Christian argument that one feels impatient with it, but he's obviously very satisfied with it.

As you say, the problem of evil is indeed a legitimate intellectual question, though answerable. And sometimes the person with whom a questioner is in contact do a poor job of answering. So some individual unbeliever needn't be being wildly irrational regarding the evidence he has at the moment. I would urge, though, that often unbelievers and those losing their faith are too easily satisfied after only a cursory investigation, if that, and that they don't seem to realize that the nature of the question puts a greater burden on them of trying to find better answers. In any event, if more of them would become truly _noble_ pagans instead of cheap, gimcrack Internet infidels, they would be in a better position to return to Christ if they encounter more information later. It's funny how seldom _that_ happens.

I've also actually known it to happen that someone is very nearly "convinced into" Christianity. So that does happen, though usually only for a person of exceptional intellectual honesty.

I used myself to make more of the "encounter with Christ as a person" idea until I was forced in honesty to admit to having had no highly specific personal experience that corresponded to such a description. Having been a Christian since I was a very young child, I had to admit that all of my _experiences_ _could_ be explained away and that my Christianity was not founded on my being able to say, "Ah, but I've _met_ Jesus." Those who have had such experiences are a continual fascination to me. You are perhaps familiar with the science fiction writer John C. Wright (I only heard of him a few months ago) who has some amazing stories to tell of God's converting him from atheism more or less by force, beginning with a heart attack after he sincerely prayed that if God existed, God would show himself to him.

I do agree that people can choose to resist a good argument and that God can move them to stop doing so, sometimes in no very dramatic way, but definitely by His will and quiet action. I certainly think prayer is very important for anyone involved in answering questions from questioning Christians and sincere non-Christians. Answering questions from insincere non-Christians is probably a waste of time.

As you say, I think there are broad areas of agreement between us but one area of disagreement concerning the meaning of faith and its relation to the strength of the intellectual case for Christianity.

...beginning with a heart attack after he sincerely prayed that if God existed, God would show himself to him.

Is that supposed to be a warning or a sign? Sorry if that is too cheap and gimcrack.

Michael,
Welcome. I've been impressed with your style of argumentation, even though we will likely disagree on everything politically speaking. One of the things that is right with the world is when people understand the limitations of their own arguments, so I appreciate that degree of reflective honesty.

Re: rational warrant I found this paper the other day-
http://lawpapers.blogspot.com/2009/06/plantingas-belief-cum-desire-argument.html

If you want a book that will clobber all of the basic atheist arguments and then some, I recommend The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day. It may not be quite as intellectual as the Last Superstition, but it is incredibly accessible to the average teen Christian or fence sitter. It's probably best for those that aren't very strong or who their Christian parents know are falling away and will probably succumb to the arguments of the average atheist. It makes no attempt to teach the Christian faith, but rather to actively undermine a significant portion of the claims made against religion.

Lydia, "gimcrack Internet infidels" is a keeper. I'm going to remember that one.

Lydia,

Mike T. beat me to a mention of Vox Day. In general, I think that what you call "the cumulative case" for intellectual Christianity is extremely useful and important for young people. In my own case, being immersed in a secular and mostly liberal world, I found myself surrounded by people making what I now know to be stupid statements/arguments about the Bible and Christianity in general; but had no firm grounding in the historical evidence or philsophical arguments to be able to counter the standard secular/atheist arguments. That is why this knowledge is so important -- it helps to understand we live in a country in which A LOT of people treat someone like Sam Harris as smart and well-informed; when the exact opposite is closer to the truth.

Lydia:

I assume that, as a philosopher, you won't be offended by my focusing on the areas of disagreement.

I have _definitely_ seen the phenomenon you describe, but I would say that the person in that case is probably being irrational, if the case is really being presented to him well. What it doesn't mean is that the available rational case is truly ambiguous.

This makes me think of Peter's confession: "You are the Messiah". Jesus did not say that Peter was acceding to the rational cogency of the pertinent arguments. He said: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." I think the same goes for the Resurrection. When Jesus said to Thomas: "Blessed are they who have not seen, yet believe," I don't think he means that we are blessed by virtue of recognizing a good cumulative-case argument when we see it. That can be the case, and occasionally is; but it ordinarily is not the case. Following Tradition, I think Jesus means that we are blessed when we choose to receive the gift of faith from God through the Church. That choice can be shown to be rationally justified, and I think you do a good job of that. But it doesn't follow that failure to see how is "irrational;" all that follows is that it would be mistaken. Irrationality would only follow if "justified" meant "necessitated," which I don't think even you are claiming. Given as much, this-or-that less demanding Weltanschauung can be shown to be rationally justified too, even though not rationally necessitated. That's another reason why I don't believe that argument can suffice to induce the assent of faith. Argument suffices only to rationally justify such assent.

I used myself to make more of the "encounter with Christ as a person" idea until I was forced in honesty to admit to having had no highly specific personal experience that corresponded to such a description. Having been a Christian since I was a very young child, I had to admit that all of my _experiences_ _could_ be explained away and that my Christianity was not founded on my being able to say, "Ah, but I've _met_ Jesus." Those who have had such experiences are a continual fascination to me.

I'm like you: I haven't had such an experience either. They are special and blessed cases. But when Ratzinger and I speak of the "encounter" with the Person of the Lord, we don't mean that one necessarily knows it as such, at least not at first. That's why the encounter can usually be "explained away." Rather, what we mean is that certain experiences—perhaps of love, of beauty, of compunction, or even of rational illumination—are objectively such an encounter, and that the response of faith, if made, consists precisely in coming to see them as such.

Perhaps I can flesh that out by citing my own case. When I began my reflective inner life as an adolescent, I noticed two things about the world. First, there is a great and pervasive beauty which intimates something larger behind it, even more beautiful yet unseen; we long for that, yet cannot grasp and hold it. When I first read Lewis, I recognized such an experience as what he meant by 'joy'. Most of us have had that experience. Second, life teems with evil, suffering, and tragedy that seem to mock said beauty and would kill "joy" if we let it. Such are life's "slings and arrows." At a certain point—I cannot say precisely when—I concluded that life is absurd unless the slings and arrows existed for the sake of causing us to turn in faith to whatever it was that "joy" intimates to us. Given the natural order plumbed by natural science, I concluded that it made more sense to see life as making sense than to see it as absurd. At that point, I could see how the Cross and the Resurrection had to go together. So I made an assent of faith, and I've been a traditional Christian ever since. In my case, the process leading up to that consisted in what I'd calll "the encounter." I can now see many other things as such encounters.

Such an assent is rationally justified, and can be shown to be such. But it is not rationally necessitated. I think that's a far more typical way of coming to faith than crediting the premises in the sort of argument you give. I took that more typical way long before I had ever heard such an argument. Given that I have taken it, I can see and appreciate the quality of your argument. But it don't think it's justifiable to say that somebody who doesn't is ipso facto irrational.

Best,
Mike

Mr. Law:

Thanks for the compliment. I agree that you refute Plantinga's argument. But I don't think anything much follows about the rational justifiability of classical theism. For I do not share the kind of Reformed epistemology Plantinga professes, and I think his argument depends on certain premises supplied by that kind of epistemology.

If you don't think that classical theism is rationally justifiable, perhaps you could explain why in my thread "ID, the God of the gaps, and metaphysics."

Best,
Mike

This makes me think of Peter's confession: "You are the Messiah". Jesus did not say that Peter was acceding to the rational cogency of the pertinent arguments. He said: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."

Indeed.

Yet, it would seem that only the rational, those who are persuaded principally by reason as opposed to divine revelation itself, are those worthy of the name Christian.

No wonder St. Francis was called The Fool; he should've converted to Christianity soley by the intellectual prowess and skilled debating powers of Christ as well as the evidentiary case put forward for Christianity as opposed to his tremendously silly act of surrendering himself to the grace of Faith.

Of course, most saints of ancient Christendom were more so such primitives given to such irrationality and, therefore, prone to commit such risible acts; no wonder they met with an ultimately gruesome fate.

Even Mother Teresa herself was such a dolt; have her put up a case for Christ, and she'll only speak in such drivel about opening your heart to the Lord and letting Him in. Just what kind of compelling argument for Christ is that?

Surely, only those who engage in superb argumentation, demonstrating superior reasoning for the case of Christianity, submitting unassailable arguments for Christ are indeed the true believers and, quite certainly, only the rational will inherit the Kindgom of God -- not to mention, the exalted such as the cognoscenti of modern Christendom.

The preface of the Irrational Atheist explains why Jeff and I say that it is an excellent book for getting down and dirty with most atheist arguments:

"What’s your obsession with these guys?" a reader e-mailed to ask after my fourth column addressing the intellectual sins of the three leading New Atheists was published on WorldNetDaily, the independent news site where I write a weekly opinion column. After all, the Creator God of the Universe is presumably capable of defending himself, and the elephant is what it is, regardless of what I, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, or anyone else might imagine it to be based upon our different experiences of it.

When it comes to understanding God, are we not all blind men feeling up an oversized mammal?

And while I am a believer, a non-denominational evangelical Christian to be precise, my purpose in writing this book is not to defend God, or even to argue for the truth of my particular religious faith. Instead, I intend to defend those who are now being misled into doubting their faith or being misguided into feeling more secure in their lack of faith on the basis of the fraudulent, error-filled writings of these three men. I do not make this triple charge of fraudulence lightly, nor is my doing so a fearful response to their churlish disregard for what to me and millions of other individuals is the central element of human existence.

There is simply no more fitting description of the cerebral snake oil that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are huckstering to the unwary reader—and the media—under the false label of science and reason. I am confident that no one, not even the most purely rational, über-skeptical agnostic or card-carrying ACLU atheist, will take serious exception to my charge by the time they finish this book.

It took me some time to decide what this book should be titled. Part of the challenge was due to the fact that it addresses the philosophical and ideological arguments of three very different men. If the book were to solely address Sam Harris, I should likely have entitled it The Incompetent Atheist. In the case of Christopher Hitchens, I could have reasonably named it The Irrelevant Atheist. And given the way in which the eminent Richard Dawkins has apparently decided to abandon empirical evidence, the scientific method and Reason herself in embracing a quasi-medieval philosophical ontology, The Ironic Atheist would surely have been most fitting.

In the end, I settled upon The Irrational Atheist for the following reason. This book is a direct challenge to the idea that atheism is the proper philosophical standard for human reason, that being an atheist is an inherently rational perspective, and that religion has no place in a rational, civilized society.

This is not a theological work. The text contains no arguments for the existence of God and the supernatural, nor is it concerned with evolution, creationism, the age of Earth, or intelligent design. It contains no arguments from Scripture; in attacking the arguments, assertions, and conclusions of the New Atheists, my only weapons are the purely secular ones of reason, logic, and historically documented, independently verifiable fact. This is not a book about God, it is about those who seek to replace Him.

At first glance, it may seem crazy that a computer game designer, one whose only significant intellectual accomplishment of note is to have once convinced Michelle Malkin to skip an opportunity to promote herself, should dare to dispute an Oxford don, a respected university professor, a famous French philosopher, a highly regarded journalist, and an ecstasy-using dropout who is still working towards a graduate degree at forty . . . okay, perhaps that last one makes sense. As Gag Halfrunt is reliably reported to have said of the immortal Zaphod Beeblebrox, I’m just zis guy, ya know?

But don’t be tempted by the logical fallacy of the Appeal To Authority; after all, in this age of academic specialization, an evolutionary biologist is less likely to be an expert on the historical causes of war and religious conflict than the average twelve-year-old wargamer, and even a professor in the field of cognitive studies may not have spent as much time contemplating the deeper mysteries of intelligence as a game designer who has seen many a sunrise while experimenting with the best way to make the monsters smarter.

So, I should like to encourage you to think of this book as an intellectual deathmatch, keep track of the frags, and see if I don’t manage to exorcise the unholy trinity of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens once and for all.

The opening of the first chapter should, after it has finished disturbing many of its readers, suffice to prove that this is not a theological work aimed at advancing religion, rather than directly attacking the core claims of modern atheists:

I don’t care if you go to Hell.

God does, assuming He exists, or He wouldn’t have bothered sending His Son to save you from it. Jesus Christ does too, if you’ll accept for the sake of argument that he went to all the trouble of incarnating as a man, dying on the cross, and being resurrected from the dead in order to hand you a Get Out of Hell Free card.

Me, not so much. I don’t know you. I don’t owe you anything. While as a Christian I am called to share the Good News with you, I can’t force you to accept it. Horse, water, drink, and all that.

So, it’s all on you. Your soul is not my responsibility.

Ari,

Mother Theresa had a complicated relationship with her faith. It was not by any means a simple matter of opening her heart to God. Here are two of her letters:

July 3, 1959
In the darkness...

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The child of your love--and now become as the most hated one--the one You have thrown away as unwanted--unloved. I call, I cling, I want--and there is no One to answer--no One on Whom I can cling--no, No One.--Alone. The darkness is so dark--and I am alone.--Unwanted, forsaken.--The loneliness of the heart that wants love is unbearable.--Where is my faith?--even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness.--My God--how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing.--I have no faith.--I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart--& make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me--I am afraid to uncover them--because of the blasphemy--If there be God,--please forgive me.

September 1959
Part of My Confession Today
My own Jesus,
...They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God--they would go through all that suffering if they had just a little hope of possessing God.--In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss--of God not wanting me--of God not being God--of God not really existing (Jesus, please forgive my blasphemies--I have been told to write everything). That darkness surrounds me on all sides--I can't lift my soul to God...

Step2:

I don't think it unique that Mother Teresa had to wrestle with her own faith; indeed, I can find countless similar ponderings and skeptical reflections amongst the most stalwart ancient saints themselves who were battled against devils that taunted even them which attempted to bring doubt to their own faith as well.

If you were to read biographies of The Fool himself from both Protestant, Catholic and even secular sources; there, too, you would find such an individual that seemed beset by doubts; however, the triumph is found in the victory won in the end.

Yet, I guess only those with the eyes of Faith can pay witness to such triumph while others simply mock it unceasingly, be they secular or the modern Christian sophisticate.

Point is, I hardly see Paul of Tarsus himself rely on his superior reasoning abilities in order to advance the case for Christianity; I should think he depended more so on grace than anything else.

Even further, I should think that pagans who were converted to Christianity by means of the latter are hardly less Christian than those who converted by reason alone.

Lydia,
Peter walked on water. What is the probability of this happening. In fact, it is exactly when Peter, 'took account of the winds' ( IOW, Peter realized that walking on water is not something humans can do) that he began to sink. Obviously the evidence is strong for the Truth of Christianity. GK Chesterton saw this a came to this through his collosal intellect. I think Mike's only "main" point was to say that evidentialism and probabilities are absolutely secondary to Divine Faith. I would hope that you agree with this.

Pat, I've made clear what I believe divine faith means. That, I suspect, is an area of disagreement. Peter did not in any event need to think in terms of some sort of general probability of walking on water. After all, there was Jesus, right in front of him, doing it and calling him, not to mention all the other miracles he had seen Jesus do himself. As Nicodemus said, "We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles except God be with him." Actually, Scripture is very strongly evidential.

Mike, I think I may have been unclear, but in any event, I think there may be a misunderstanding. When I spoke of irrationality, I was speaking of the skeptic (of the sort you'd mentioned before) who makes frivolous and empty objections for the sake of making objections to an argument that actually is good. I was making no pronouncement about people who believe and what sort of arguments they have or don't have.

Actually, Scripture is very strongly evidential.

Why, St. Thomas himself being perhaps the Patron Saint of evidentialism, of course.

Ari, in case you haven't noticed, I'm ignoring you, and in particular your trademark hysterical misrepresentations of my position. If you went on a vacation for a while there (I think we got a bit of a break), feel free to go back again.

Lydia, I'm with you on this one.

Accordingly, the gift of faith comes more through an encounter with that Person than through argument. That is Ratzinger's position too. An argument, of course, can be the occasion for such an encounter, often by way of removing artificial intellectual obstacles to perceiving or staying with the encounter.
I think it is mistaken to understand "encounter with that Person" wholly apart from the realities of creation such as arguments. In preaching, for example, the words a non-believer hears are often "the encounter with the Person." Encounters with the Logos, at least for created human beings with bodies, are never merely abstract experiences where "faith" is somehow downloaded into a person apart from the created realities of words or thoughts or arguments or paintings or books or people, etc. This is part of why the Logos became incarnate.

And I see that Lydia has already addressed the misunderstanding that evidentialists view faith merely as a matter of cognitive rationality apart from the spiritual affections of the heart. Evidence is for the "heart" as well as the "mind."

Albert:

I think you're misrepresenting my position. The Person in question makes use of all good means to manifest himself to us—including arguments, for those with the ability and disposition to evaluate them fairly. I just don't think that any argument, either in principle or in practice, should be thought sufficient to compel the assent of faith.

Best,
Mike

I just don't think that, either in principle or in practice, any argument should be thought sufficient compel the assent of faith.

AMEN to that!

Scripture is replete with examples where the assent of Faith itself was by means of the Spirit and not by sheer rapidity through the very ganglia of an argument at some winning contention; as if the Holy Spirit was merely nothing more than some Yalie token ensconced within an unassailable argument and nothing but.

Thanks very much, Lydia, for the recommendations. I love stuff like this.

Blessings,

Steve

My 2 cents: Evangelism is God's work through men[normally], apologetics is mans work with the help of the Holy Spirit. An act of evangelism is nearly [by biblical definition] irrational. The foolishness of God confounding the wise, and the Apostle Paul, determining to know nothing but Christ and him crucified are a few examples. I know that Paul "reasoned" from the scriptures also, but again, the things of the spirit are spiritually discerned, and the flesh cannot discern them no matter how well the case is laid out. You cannot argue someone into the faith nor did the Apostle Paul, but you can convince someone who is born again but is unaware of the truth. Reasonableness to the truth of God are only reasonable to those with the Spirit. Apologetics is meant to answer the critic so that faith grows to the point that it produces fruit, and sometimes[usually] the harshest critic is our own flesh. People dont choose to be born again, they discover that they are while they begin to agree with the foolishness of God-during an act of apologetics.

Don't forget Richard Bauckham (anything by Bauckham is great, but try Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) and Craig Blomberg's books on the historical reliability of the Gospels.

Matthew, yes, Bauckham is good, and I have heard good things about Blomberg's books on this subject as well. Steve, thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad the post was useful!

Thanks for this post Lydia, I am often asked to recommend easy to read, comprehensive books for the layperson. I am reading Blaiklock currently but I will track down the others you mention too.

I would also recommend Kenneth Kitchens On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Kitchens gives an excellent and extremely thorough, yet accessible, treatment of historical, archeological, cultural evidence for the reliability of the Old Testament narrative. I am yet to read anything as thorough.

Mike, Lydia, Tim,

IS THE RCC ANTI/EVIDENTIALIST?

Mike said:

I hold the position I do because I believe that traditional Christianity requires it. If one could prove the truth of the Christian faith, then assent to it would be one of reason rather than faith. That seems incompatible with what Scripture and Tradition tell us ...

Being a Roman Catholic (as Mike is, too), I wonder about the Roman Catholic tradition. Is it compatible with evidentialism?

Recently, Alvin Plantinga wrote: Here there are fundamentally two views. According to 'evidentialism', the source of positive epistemic status for religious belief, if indeed it has such status, is just reason—the ensemble of rational faculties including, preeminently, perception, memory, rational intuition, testimony, and the like. ... On this view, the existence of cogent arguments for a religious belief is required for rational acceptance of that belief, or at any rate is intimately related to rational acceptance. Some who endorse this view believe there aren't any such cogent arguments; accordingly they reject religious belief as unfounded and rationally unacceptable ... others hold that in fact there are excellent arguments for theism and even for specifically Christian belief. Here the most prominent contemporary spokesperson would be Richard Swinburne, whose work over the last 30 years or so has resulted in the most powerful, complete and sophisticated development of natural theology the world has so far seen ... The other main view, one adopted by, for example, both Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae) and John Calvin (1559), is that belief in God in the first place, and in the distinctive teachings of Christianity in the second, can be rationally accepted even if there are no cogent arguments for them from the deliverances of reason; they have a source of warrant or positive epistemic status independent of the deliverances of reason. (SEP, Religion and Science)

Evidentialism, as defined, does not require that one has to know cogent argument for her religious belief. It is sufficient that such an argument exists.

Now my question: which view is officially and formally preferred by the Roman Catholic Church (Magisterium, Tradition)? The first, or the second one? Or neither?

It seems to me that it is, in a sense, the first one - evidentialism. This is the case, I think, at least with respect to the belief that (traditional) God exists. So it seems to me on the basis of some sayings made by orthodox catholic Czech philosophers I know, or by J.-H. Nicolas (a distinguished French theologian), or by the ex-priest A. Kenny (in his books Five Ways and What is Faith?). E.g., Nicolas, in his book God in Trinity, says that faith implicitly implies that it is possible for us to know God's existence and attributes by the light of reason.

Maybe the Roman Catholic Church holds evidentialism only with respect to the belief that God exists (and has such and such, traditional, attributes), but with respect to other religious beliefs (like those about the Trinity, the Resurrection of Jesus, the Atonement, etc.) the existence of cogent arguments is not required. I don't know.

Note that it is probably a Roman Catholic dogma that the existence of God can be known by faith. Cf. the First Vatican Council (the constitution "Dei Filius") and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 31, 36-38).

The First Vatican Council teaches that miracles make the faith credible:
"If anyone says that
divine revelation cannot be made credible by external signs, and that therefore
men and women ought to be moved to faith only by each one's internal experience or private inspiration:
let him be anathema."

Moreover, "the church herself by reason of
her astonishing propagation, her outstanding holiness and
her inexhaustible fertility in every kind of goodness, by her catholic unity and her unconquerable stability, is a kind of great and perpetual motive of credibility and an incontrovertible evidence of her own divine mission." Ibid.

But these two points on the external signs and the excellence of the Church do not have to amount to much. See. e.g., the Catechism, § 812, where we find some interesting ambivalence:

"Only faith can recognize that the Church possesses these properties from her divine source. But their historical manifestations are signs that also speak clearly to human reason. As the First Vatican Council noted, the "Church herself, with her marvellous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything good, her catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her divine mission." Vatican Council I, DS Filius 3: DS 3013." (In Latin: "Solum fides agnoscere potest Ecclesiam has proprietates ex fonte habere divino. Sed earum historicae manifestationes sunt etiam signa quae rationi humanae clare loquuntur. « Ecclesia per se ipsa — commemorat Concilium Vaticanum I —, ob suam [...] eximiam sanctitatem [...], ob catholicam unitatem invictamque stabilitatem magnum quoddam et perpetuum est motivum credibilitatis et divinae suae legationis testimonium irrefragabile »")

One also naturally asks: what do "credible," "motive of credibility," etc. mean here? Consider the new paper (linked by Tim above) written by Tim and Lydia on the resurrection of Jesus. I wonder whether their (epistemic) probabilities would be too high in the eyes of the Council. E.g., Tim and Lydia suggest more than 0.9999 for the Resurrection, and, as I understand them, they would estimate the probability of the specific tenets of Christianity given the resurrection also as quite high. And the Council does not clearly constrain in the way of the probability interval. Once I asked, via e-mail, Trent Dougherty; he replied that "credible" just means “worthy of rational belief” and that it doesn’t rule out more -- it is consistent with (indeed, it is entailed by) credibility that the probability (in the relevant sense or senses) is very high. He added that the lower bound would be vague, but it seemed to him that 0.5 is clearly below the greatest lower bound.

Last point. We can read in the bold apologetical texts that we can be reasonably morally certain that Christianity is true. Yet, how is the moral certainty construed when we are said this? Tim admitts of taking moral certainty as exceeding the probability value of 0.9999. See homepages.wmich.edu/~mcgrew/plantinga.pdf , and search for "moral". Trent (a Catholic evidentialist) notes that he is not morally certain in this sense about the truth of Christianity, and that some esteemd Catholic authors construe moral certainty in a weaker way: "some scholastics who said that moral certainty was enough certanty to act in good conscience (and, I'm assuming, not using Pascalian wagering). So I think it could be much lower, but of course vague or context-sensitive." http://xcatholics.blogspot.com/2008/02/faith-doubt-and-certainty.html

I guess that the Roman Catholic is bound (by the Tradition or the Magisterium) neither to antievidentialism, nor to evidentialism.

An explicatory note

I said: "Note that it is probably a Roman Catholic dogma that the existence of God can be known by faith."

Right now, I can't support this claim by particular references. Maybe I (or someone else) could later.

Then I said: "Cf. the First Vatican Council (the constitution "Dei Filius") and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 31, 36-38)."

Here's a puzzling slip. For these references pertain to another point: a Roman Catholic dogma that the existence of God can be known by natural reason.

VV:

As a Catholic, I believe Vatican I's dogma (call it 'GKR' for 'God can be known by reason'). The biblical proof-text for that is Romans 1:20. It does not, however, follow from GKR that the truth of doctrines distinctive of the Christian faith can be established by rational argument. In fact, Vatican I explicitly denies that such doctrines can be so known:

If anyone says that in divine revelation there are contained no true mysteries properly so-called, but that all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles: let him be anathema (Dei Filius, Canon 1, Ch. 4).

Whether that is compatible with evidentialism or not depends on how strongly one construes 'evidentialism'. A weak evidentialism, according to which there is evidence showing that Christianity is rationally justifiable, is certainly compatible with it. A strong evidentialism, according to which "all" the doctrines of Christianity can be "demonstrated," is not compatible with it.

Best,
Mike

But these two points on the external signs and the excellence of the Church do not have to amount to much. See. e.g., the Catechism, § 812, where we find some interesting ambivalence:

"Only faith can recognize that the Church possesses these properties from her divine source. But their historical manifestations are signs that also speak clearly to human reason.

Vlastimil,

Nice work.

It seems to me that the Catechism is engaging in a subtle piece of sabotage. If the divine source of the Church cannot even be recognized (let alone proved) except by faith, how does this not nullify the Vatican I statements? Furthermore, how does this not render completely meaningless the very next sentence about "signs" speaking "clearly to human reason?"

Moreover, to suggest that external signs "do not have to amount to much" is, I believe, not accurate. According to Pope Leo XIII, "Reason declares that from the very outset the Gospel teaching was rendered conspicuous by signs and wonders which gave, as it were, definite proof of a definite truth" (Leo XIII, Æterni Patris).


This from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

But much misunderstanding exists regarding the meaning and office of the motives of credibility. In the first place, they afford us definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation; but this knowledge precedes faith;

In other words, the external signs of the Church permit us to know with certainty (i.e., moral certainty) the truths of revelation prior to faith. Faith itself is supernaturally added to this.

I think it is fairly obvious that the Church is evidentialist with respect to what can be known about the truth of divine revelation.

George:

The very paragraph you quote from the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia also quotes the following canon from the same chapter of Vatican I's Dei Filius that I've already quoted:

If anyone says that the assent of Christian faith is not free, but that it necessarily follows from the arguments which human reason can furnish in its favour; or if anyone says that God's grace is only necessary for that living faith which works through charity, let him be anathema.

Given also the canon I've previously quoted, we may fairly conclude that, if the definitive teaching of the Church about "the motives of credibility" otherwise postulates a version of evidentialism, that version cannot be one which presents the assent of faith as the result of a rationally compelling argument. If it did, faith would have to be considered superfluous; but the Church has always taught otherwise. What, then, to make of the two other statements you quote: the one from the CE article itself, the other from a papal encyclical?

The CE statement (call it 'CE') that you quote seems to me ambiguous. It could be taken to mean that the truth of the deposit of faith in general, and of the Catholic Church's claim to authority in particular, can be known by reason alone prior to faith. But taken together, the two canons I've quoted from Vatican I logically rule out CE's being orthodox if it be taken in the present sense. Taken more charitably, CE could mean instead that the content of divine revelation can be established in a "definite and certain" manner by the rational "motives of credibility" cited by the article. But rationally establishing what the content of divine revelation is does not suffice to establish its truth. For, from the fact that I know what some set of propositions S means, and even know S to be credible in light of such-and-such considerations, it does not follow that I actually believe S. All that follows is that I know (a) just what I'd be believing if I believed S, and (b)what reasons can and should be given for believing S.

Leo XII's statement calls for making a similar distinction. One can and ought to call the "signs and wonders" he cites "definite proof" of divine revelation, including the Church's claim to authority, in the sense that anybody who adequately understood what such things signify would be caused to believe divine revelation. However, it does not follow that a person with the requisite understanding possesses it without faith. For all that Leo says, it might the case that only by faith can one adequately understand what such things signify. Once one has the requisite faith, one could see such things as "definite proof" without having been able to see them as such before.

Accordingly, what CCC §812 says about the motives of credibility can be harmonized with Vatican I and Aeterni Patris. Of course I admit that harmonizing texts in tension with each other is more difficult than finding inconsistencies. But as biblical scholars can attest, the subject matter makes that inevitable.

Best,
Mike

Vlastimil,

E.g., Tim and Lydia suggest more than 0.9999 for the Resurrection...
Small correction: the claim is not that the probability of the resurrection exceeds 0.9999, but rather that even a prior (im)probability P(R)= 10^-40 would be overcome by a cumulative Bayes factor of 10^44 and leave a posterior probability of about 0.9999. We make no attempt to argue for a specific prior probability for R or for theism -- though the latter point is, indirectly, a matter addressed by many of the other essays in the volume.

I just want to answer something Mike Liccione said yesterday: I think there is often an ambiguity between being able to know a specific doctrine by natural reason alone and being able to know by evidence available to anyone--public evidence--that a particular revelation is from God. It has always seemed to me that the various Roman Catholic statements to the effect that certain truths cannot be "known by natural reason alone" make most sense as statements that those truths must be revealed--i.e., that they cannot simply be deduced from one's armchair. This is similar to what GK Chesterton said when he said that God had to reveal himself through a story in history. But that certainly need not mean that it is not by reason that we figure out that a particular putative revelation (for example, the teachings of Jesus Christ) really does come from God. And indeed God's repeated provision of signs and wonders in Scripture as attestation of the bona fides of a putative prophet seems to show that that is God's normal way of proceeding--which is an evidentialist way of proceeding. It involves appealing to people's ability to infer both a) that a given event happened, be it a healing, a resurrection, or the falling of fire from heaven in the time of Elijah and b) that the best explanation of this event is God's intention to endorse a messenger and his message. The message itself will contain the specific doctrines that we could not have figured out otherwise.

Tim,

Right, but I guess you take P(R)= 10^-40 as quite a generous estimate, don't you?

***

Lydia, Mike,

Lydia said:

It has always seemed to me that the various Roman Catholic statements to the effect that certain truths cannot be "known by natural reason alone" make most sense as statements that those truths must be revealed--i.e., that they cannot simply be deduced from one's armchair.

Something like that has been my view, too.

***

Consider again the texts.

ON THE ONE SIDE:

(a) CCC, §812: "Only faith can recognize that the Church possesses these properties [one, holy, catholic, apostolic] from her divine source."

(b) CCC, §770: "It is only "with the eyes of faith" that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life." (The Catechism of Trent cited.)

(c) The Catechism of Trent, article 9: "... with regard to the Church, the pastor should teach how to believe the Church can constitute an Article of faith. Although reason and the senses are able to ascertain the existence of the Church, that is, of a society of men on earth devoted and consecrated to Jesus Christ, and although faith does not seem necessary in order to understand a truth which even Jews and Turks do not doubt; nevertheless it is from the light of faith only, not from the deductions of reason, that the mind can grasp those mysteries contained in the Church of God which have been partly made known above and will again be treated under the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Since, therefore, this Article, no less than the others, is placed above the reach, and defies the strength of the human understanding, most justly do we confess that we know not from human reason, but contemplate with the eyes of faith the origin, offices and dignity of the Church."

(d) Vatican Council I, Dei Filius: "If anyone says that in divine revelation there are contained no true mysteries properly so-called, but that all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles: let him be anathema."

(e) Ibid.: "If anyone says that the assent of Christian faith is not free, but that it necessarily follows from the arguments which human reason can furnish in its favour ... let him be anathema."


Now compare (c), (d) and (e) with what Lydia said. It seems to fit, doesn' it? And maybe (a) and (b) can be interpreted similarly (?).

ON THE OTHER SIDE:

(f) CCC, §156 "So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit." Vatican Council I, Dei Filius: 3 DS 3009. Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability "are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all"; they are "motives of credibility" (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is "by no means a blind impulse of the mind". Dei Filius: 3: DS 3008-3010; Cf. Mk 16 20; Heb 2:4."

(g) CCC, §812: the "... historical manifestations are signs that also speak clearly to human reason. As the First Vatican Council noted, the "Church herself, with her marvellous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything good, her catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her divine mission." Vatican Council I, DS Filius 3: DS 3013"

(h) Cath. Enc. 1911: "... the motives of credibility ... afford us definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation ..."

(i) Aeterni Patris: "Reason declares that from the very outset the Gospel teaching was rendered conspicuous by signs and wonders which gave, as it were, definite proof of a definite truth ..."

The statements (f)--(i) are bold, and I agree that my suggestions about the signs' epistemic strength not amounting to much was misguided.

Accordingly, the moral certainty the signs can give us should be construed strongly. A Cath. Enc. 1911 (Certitude) has it: "As regards certitude concerning the fact of Divine revelation, the Vatican Council teaches that the proofs are not, indeed, such as to make assent intellectually necessary (De Fide, cap. iii and can. v), but that they are sufficient to make the belief "agreeable to reason" (rationi consentaneum) ... It is, then, moral certitude that is attainable by the reason as to the fact of Divine revelation."

***

Further, how is the claim that there are intellectually compelling arguments (though not if there would be no revelation or with evident premises evidently entailing the conclusions) for specifically Christian doctrines (or even for the whole Creed or the whole Roman Catholic teaching) inconsistent with (a)--(i)? This claim is rather entailed by (f)--(i). As Mike said "A weak evidentialism, according to which there is evidence showing that Christianity is rationally justifiable, is certainly compatible with it. A strong evidentialism, according to which "all" the doctrines of Christianity can be "demonstrated," is not compatible with it." So, was there ever any real difference between Mike and Lydia wrt to the epistemic strength of apologetics?

***

Another issue is the one raised by Plantinga in the SEP entry I cited: whether the existence of cogent arguments for a religious belief is required for rational acceptance of that belief. I remain agnostic as for the view on the RCC on this.

***

Another interesting statement is this:

(j) CCC, §156: "What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe "because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived". Vatican Council I, Dei Filius: 3 DS 3008."

(The whole par §156: "What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe "because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived". So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit." Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability "are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all"; they are "motives of credibility" (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is "by no means a blind impulse of the mind"." Latin: "Motivum credendi id non est quod veritates revelatae lumini nostrae rationis naturalis tamquam verae et intelligibiles appareant. Credimus « propter auctoritatem Ipsius Dei revelantis, qui nec falli nec fallere potest ». « Ut nihilominus fidei nostrae "obsequium rationi consentaneum" esset, voluit Deus cum internis Spiritus Sancti auxiliis externa iungi Revelationis Suae argumenta ». Sic Christi et sanctorum miracula, prophetiae, Ecclesiae propagatio et sanctitas, eius fecunditas et stabilitas « divinae Revelationis signa sunt certissima et omnium intelligentiae accommodata », 163 credibilitatis motiva quae ostendunt quod « fidei assensus nequaquam sit motus animi caecus ».")

Here's an Trent Dougherty's (who's an evidentialist) treatment (linked above):
"Necessarily, if God said it, it is true ... However, what God has revealed is not a matter of necessity but is a contingent truth and must be attended by what Vatican I calls “external signs” or natural evidence. The doubts which attend my faith therefore are not doubts about God’s knowledge or veracity but rather doubts about whether for some particular thing, God has revealed it."

Similarly Edward Feser in The Last Superstition, the section on the relation of faith and reason. Or maybe we can again interpret (j) as Lydia suggested.

***

What about this?:

(k) Vatican Council I, Dei Filius: "... if anyone says that God's grace is only necessary for that living faith which works through charity, let him be anathema."

Now, how is (k) inconsistent with the Cath. Enc. 1911 passage cited above by George?:

(l) "But much misunderstanding exists regarding the meaning and office of the motives of credibility. In the first place, they afford us definite and certain knowledge of Divine revelation; but this knowledge precedes faith ..."

Well, I do not see how it must be inconsistent. Especially if faith faith is, as George suggested above, something extra wrt the knowledge. Say, a supernatural habit, with specific characteristics which are not exhausted by the works of charity.

AGAIN AD ROMANS 1:20

Mike:

... God can be known by reason ... The biblical proof-text for that is Romans 1:20 ...

Is it? In that passage we are said that "the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful"

Could you come with some specific ways to know God or theistic arguments Paul is here alluding to? Speaking about pagans generally, he is not alluding to a specifically Christian or Jewish apologetics (Christian or Jewish miracles or prophecies). Is Paul thinking of some arguments a la Aquinas' Five Ways? If so, such arguments should exist among pagans in some epistemically solid form even before the Greek philosophy (esp. Aristotle). But in that case they would not be known generally but only among the elites.

In a comment the recent W4-thread "Design, Theism, and Romans 1:20," Lydia answered to that question as follows: "I've often wondered what you are asking myself. Paul doesn't say. He alludes to the law written in the heart in a different part of that passage. Whether we shd. take it that this means he's got something like the moral argument in mind throughout I'm not sure. I imagine he has something fairly un-philosophical in mind--something on the level of looking up at the heavens and seeing the grandeur about one and thinking that someone must have made it. Obviously the biological knowledge we have now is not something Paul could have been alluding to, because he didn't have it."

But could such a hunch make the unbelief unexcusable? That would seem like an unjust moral judgment.

Perhaps we should then say that Paul is rather talking about people who had already believed in the existence of God but failed to worship him properly or began to hate him than about people who failed to infer His existence.

Indeed, the (negative and somewhat skeptical) apologist John Ellis, in his book Knowledge of divine things from revelation, not from reason (available at Google Books), suggests that Paul did not have in mind some evidence for the existence of God but rather some evidence for some attributes of God on the assumption that God does exist. Similarly Sam Graf and Jonathan Prejean (who's a Catholic) in a discussion with Wm. Vallicella (http://maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1163024547.shtml ).

Given that, Romans 1:20 is a doubtful biblical basis.

VV:

Regarding Vatican I's use of Romans 1:20, I really don't see the difficulty. The text of Dei Filius specifies neither what Paul himself precisely had in mind--which is a matter of opinion--nor the sense in which what the dogmatic canon says relates to whatever it was Paul had in mind. All the dogma implies, logically, is that some sort of knowledge of God "can" be had by reason alone. That, I should think, is compatible with several possible interpretations of Romans 1:20.

You ask:

(k) Vatican Council I, Dei Filius: "... if anyone says that God's grace is only necessary for that living faith which works through charity, let him be anathema." Now, how is (k) inconsistent with the Cath. Enc. 1911 passage cited above by George?:

I already answered that in my reply to George. My view is that the CE passage is ambiguous and unhelpful.

Further, how is the claim that there are intellectually compelling arguments (though not if there would be no revelation or with evident premises evidently entailing the conclusions) for specifically Christian doctrines (or even for the whole Creed or the whole Roman Catholic teaching) inconsistent with (a)--(i)? This claim is rather entailed by (f)--(i). As Mike said "A weak evidentialism, according to which there is evidence showing that Christianity is rationally justifiable, is certainly compatible with it. A strong evidentialism, according to which "all" the doctrines of Christianity can be "demonstrated," is not compatible with it." So, was there ever any real difference between Mike and Lydia wrt to the epistemic strength of apologetics?

I think there is a difference between Lydia and me, but it's subtle. I shall explain it in my reply to her.

Best,
Mike


Lydia:

It has always seemed to me that the various Roman Catholic statements to the effect that certain truths cannot be "known by natural reason alone" make most sense as statements that those truths must be revealed--i.e., that they cannot simply be deduced from one's armchair...But that certainly need not mean that it is not by reason that we figure out that a particular putative revelation...really does come from God. And indeed God's repeated provision of signs and wonders in Scripture as attestation of the bona fides of a putative prophet seems to show that that is God's normal way of proceeding--which is an evidentialist way of proceeding. It involves appealing to people's ability to infer both a) that a given event happened, be it a healing, a resurrection, or the falling of fire from heaven in the time of Elijah and b) that the best explanation of this event is God's intention to endorse a messenger and his message. The message itself will contain the specific doctrines that we could not have figured out otherwise.

I agree that reasoning along the lines of (a) and (b) is consistent with Catholic doctrine about the motives of credibility. But I think it needs to be stressed that such reasoning is not, from a Catholic doctrinal point of view, intellectually compelling apart from the grace of faith. That is to say, there's no reason to think that, without the divine gift of faith, a person would be able to see both the premises cited by (a) and the abductive inference described by (b) as ones it would be just plain irrational to reject.

Best,
Mike

Here's a question, Michael: As you are intending the phrase "the grace of faith," does everyone who receives it accept Christianity? That is, if someone receives what you have in mind as "the grace of faith" and sees that it would be just plain irrational to reject a & b in some particular case, does this automatically mean that he will become a Christian? Or could he see all that and still say, "Leave me alone, God"?

Mike,

If the various interpretations of the Romans 1:20 are just compatible with GKR, how is the former a "biblical proof-text" for the latter (as you said)?

As for the CE passage, you replied to George: "... the two canons I've quoted from Vatican I logically rule out CE's being orthodox if it be taken in the present sense."

I just still can't see how.

"... rationally establishing what the content of divine revelation is does not suffice to establish its truth."

The bold texts in (f)--(i) talk about the intellectually compelling establishing that X is a revelation from God. And if X is such a revelation, then X is true; see (j) and the comments to it.

"... from the fact that I know what some set of propositions S means, and even know S to be credible in light of such-and-such considerations, it does not follow that I actually believe S."

OK, you can perform a reduction of cognitive dissonance, be intelectually dishonest, and the like. Maybe the words "intellectually compelling" are misleading and the dispute is terminological? The words, as used by me or the McGrews, should not imply the absence of the factor of will, irresistible assent, etc. Maybe I, Lydia, and Tim should have rather used "morally certain", "epistemically very strong and good argumentt", etc.

"All that follows is that I know (a) just what I'd be believing if I believed S, and (b)what reasons can and should be given for believing S."

That's not all, I guess. The reasons are also said to be irrefutable and most certain. See again the both graphically and epistemically bold passages in (f)--(i).

"For all that Leo says, it might the case that only by faith can one adequately understand what such things signify. Once one has the requisite faith, one could see such things as "definite proof" without having been able to see them as such before."

A good point. Yes. Maybe. (That was my hypothesis few years ago. Now I don't know.) Maybe not and the straightforward interpretation of the CE passage (that knowledge via the external signs can "precede" faith) is right. In fact, I remember my fundamental theology professor, one of the most orthodox people in the Roman theological faculty stuff at the Czech university in my town, suggested in his lectures something like that: people, in principle and at least for some time, can know, and some of them in fact do know, that (Roman Catholic) Christianity is true even without having the supernatural gift of faith. I'll have a look at my notes and ask him for some references.

"... there's no reason to think that, without the divine gift of faith, a person would be able to see both the premises cited by (a) and the abductive inference described by (b) as ones it would be just plain irrational to reject."

But I still see no reason for your position neither.

I guess Michael has in mind something not entailing the commitment to act on its content, say "faith" as explicated by the Compendium of the CCC, §28: "Faith is the supernatural virtue which is necessary for salvation. It is a free gift of God and is accessible to all who humbly seek it. The act of faith is a human act, that is, an act of the intellect of a person - prompted by the will moved by God - who freely assents to divine truth. Faith is also certain because it is founded on the Word of God ..."

There can be "dead faith."

Lydia:

Here's a question, Michael: As you are intending the phrase "the grace of faith," does everyone who receives it accept Christianity? That is, if someone receives what you have in mind as "the grace of faith" and sees that it would be just plain irrational to reject a & b in some particular case, does this automatically mean that he will become a Christian? Or could he see all that and still say, "Leave me alone, God"?

Actually, you've posed two distinct questions, and I would not answer both in the in the same way. :)

My answer to the first would depend on how you're using the word 'receives'. I think everybody is offered the grace of faith at some point—even if only at the moment of death—and in that sense "receives" it from God. But I don't think everybody accepts it, and some choose decisively against it. With that distinction in mind, I'd answer your first question 'no'.

My answer to your second question would have to be similarly qualified. Since I don't think the grace of faith is irresistible in most cases, I don't think that everybody who is offered it accepts it. But I would agree that somebody who does freely accept it would, if they happen to know and understand a good argument in favor of Christianity, find it intellectually compelling. And it's quite conceivable that the moment of acceptance of grace just be the moment in which some such argument is seen to be compelling. I suspect that such even happens on occasion. But as a condition for the free acceptance of the grace of faith, it is unnecessary as a rule. The general rule is weaker: the person who accepts the grace of faith finds Christianity rationally justifiable as distinct from rationally compelling.

VV:

1. When I use the term 'proof-text' for Romans 1:20, I do not mean that the verse must be interpreted in a particular sense which happens to prove Vatican I's dogma interpreted in a particular sense. All I mean is that the dogma is true in some sense just in case the verse is true in some sense. I really don't think that's controversial.

2. I think much of the difficulty between us does indeed arise from how the phrase 'intellecually compelling' is being understood. By that phrase, I refer to an argument which effectively establishes its conclusion, in the sense that (a) the premises are true; (b) the argument is logically valid; and (c) anybody who knows (a) and (b) could not help affirming the conclusion (whether the argument is deductive or, like Lydia's favored sort, inductive). The question at issue is whether, according to the Catholic Church, the truth of divine revelation in general can be established by such an argument. I should say yes. But it does not thereby follow that anybody can "know," without the grace of faith, that (a) and (b) are both the case. In fact, I believe that such a claim is itself arguably incompatible with the Catholic dogma that personal acceptance the grace of faith is free. So before we can discuss whether or not that belief of mine is true, we need to agree on a working definition of 'intellectually compelling'. I'm not sure we've got one yet.

So, Michael, you are saying that anybody who finds the case for Christianity rationally compelling is ipso facto a Christian? Do I have this right? Because, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that they could not do so without receiving the grace of faith, and if they receive the grace of faith, that is in itself a matter of actually becoming a Christian.

This seems to me incorrect, both scripturally and philosophically. Scripturally, because of the fact that the devils also believe, and tremble. I suspect that the devils have even more compelling evidence for the existence of God than most of us do, and in that sense are intellectually forced to admit that God exists. Nonetheless, this has nothing to do with their receiving grace, as they are still in rebellion against God. Philosophically, it seems incorrect, because it is so easily conceivable, if perhaps not a very frequent occurrence, that a human being could do something very much like what the devils do--something rather like what Maurice does at the end of _The End of the Affair_. It seems there that he has become intellectually convinced that God exists, and his response to that is to demand that God leave him alone forever.

I suspect that the devils have even more compelling evidence for the existence of God than most of us do, and in that sense are intellectually forced to admit that God exists. Nonetheless, this has nothing to do with their receiving grace, as they are still in rebellion against God.

If according to Catholic doctrine, man loses sanctifying grace if in mortal sin; how much more the fallen angels who no longer share in God's supernatural presence?

That is, I can't believe Protestant theology has decayed to such extent so as to actually believe that the devils themselves still actually possess "grace" even after The Fall.

And, if anything, the fact that the devils themselves possess such compelling "evidence" and, yet, rage against God makes an even greater case for Dr. Liccione's position, if anything.

Even Judas, along with all the upper echelons of Jewish society, had paid witness to all the miraculous events surrounding Jesus and, yet, they rejected the notion that He was actually the Son of God.

Lydia:

Your criticism of my position overlooks the distinction I accept, as a Catholic, between truths knowable by reason (inclusive-)or divine revelation, and truths knowable only by divine revelation. One truth belonging in the former category is the existence of God, which is actually the example you use. I think people can and do find arguments for that truth intellectually compelling without thereby finding arguments for truths in the latter category intellectually compelling; otherwise, it would not be possible to be a theist without being a Jew or a Christian, which is contrary to fact.

As for the devils believing and trembling, I'm not sure how much of the content of divine revelation they know by abductive argument from observable facts, as distinct from some form of direct perception or intuition. My arguments concern only knowledge of divine revelation accessible to humans who have not experienced the "Christ-event" in person.

So your take, then, Michael, on the devils example is that your position is not applicable to them, because they have experienced the "Christ event" in person?

As for the other point, is it not pretty easily conceivable that someone _should_ intellectually conclude that even Christianity (not simply the existence of God) is true and yet, _analogously_ to the devils, simply reject the claim on his loyalty and decide that he wishes to fight against Christ? Sure, it would be unusual, but one can make up a story very much along those lines, so I do not see that it should be ruled out as impossible.

Lydia:

I don't profess to know whether the demons have had direct experience of the "the Christ-event" or not. Such speculations are beyond me--although I like Mel Gibson's treatment of Satan in The Passion of the Christ. My opinion is that, given their non-sensory mode of perception, the demons' "pain" in the presence of the holy (be it that of God directly, or of his chosen ones) causes them to know a lot more of the content of divine revelation than do humans who are not committed Christians. The amply confirmed reports of exorcists seem to indicate as much. But assuming that's so, my arguments about general human cognition of divine revelation remain untouched.

As for your other point, I readily grant the conceivability of the human scenario you suggest. All I'd insist on is that having come to the prior conclusion that Christianity is true cannot, given the nature of the subject matter and the natural cognitive capacities of our race, have resulted from having been rationally compelled to do so in the absence of the gift of faith. That's of course the human not the demonic case.

So you would say that in the human case the person must have been, if only for a brief time (perhaps only a moment) actually _accepting_ the gift of faith, and in that sense he was for that time actually a Christian, but must then have "fallen away," even if very shortly thereafter, in order not to become a Christian in the ordinary sense of considering himself to be one? That seems to me a gerrymandered way of looking at it, at a minimum.

It seems to me that the sort of case you describe obtains very rarely if at all. If my position required saying otherwise, it would indeed be "gerrymandered." Far more common, I think, is the case in which somebody has accepted and enjoyed the gift of faith for an appreciable time, and thus has come to know that Christianity is true, but loses said gift over time by a slow accumulation of choices that are incompatible with their Christian witness. That's why, e.g., Vatican II could fairly say something like this: "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in her, cannot be saved" (Lumen Gentium §14; emphasis added). One can come to know the full truth by means of accepting the gift of faith, but cease to know it by gradually repudiating the gift without realizing as much until it is too late.

Aristocles,

I'm not getting your point. Could you explain or reformulate it?

***

Michael, Lydia,

I checked the notes to the lectures in fundamental theology Dr. Eduard Krumpolc, a Czech Roman Catholic priest and theologian of a classical, neo-scholastic brand.

In a series About the Revelation, he proclaim the thesis: Ut homo factum revelationis cognoscat per criteria externa, non requiritur per se lumen internum supernaturale subjectivum.

My summary of the main points of his lecture on the issue, as I understand it (!):
-- Without the (external) signs (that is, the miracles and the like), we couldn't know the fact of revelation. (cf. Lydia in the above comment, July 19, 2009 3:31 PM.)
-- From the signs we can infer (not necessarily deductively) by natural reason the credibility of and the duty to believe in that what was revealed.
-- The great epistemic strength of the signs can be known after conversion by the believer due to his faith.
-- God often supplies specific graces of concentrating the attention or suppressing the passions by which the subject is helped in making the mentioned inference.
-- If the subject knows the signs only partially and their strenghth is, consequently, not great or sufficient, God can supply the grace of a supplementary, non-public, miraculous sign or revelation.
-- If the (objective epistemic) strength of the signs known by the subject is great or sufficient, but the subject currently does not see or appreciate it, God can supply the grace of healing his natural reason.
-- Yet, strictly speaking, such graces are not (identical to) the grace of faith -- lumen fidei, as it is sometimes called. They are rather the final preparations for faith. And they are not necessary for the knowledge of the fact of revelation. To deny that is, according to Krumpolc, to contradict the intention of Aeterni Patris (§5) and (f) cited above.

(Aeterni Patris, §5: "... reason declares that the doctrine of the Gospel has even from its very beginning been made manifest by certain wonderful signs, the established proofs, as it were, of unshaken truth; and that all, therefore, who set faith in the Gospel do not believe rashly as though following cunningly devised fables, but, by a most reasonable consent, subject their intelligence and judgment to an authority which is divine. And of no less importance is it that reason most clearly sets forth that the Church instituted by Christ (as laid down in the Vatican Council), on account of its wonderful spread, its marvellous sanctity, and its inexhaustible fecundity in all places, as well as of its Catholic unity and unshaken stability, is in itself a great and perpetual motive of belief and an irrefragable testimony of its own divine mission.")
-- Faith is something extra, special; a supernatural habit. The Compendium of the CCC, §28: "Faith is the supernatural virtue ... The act of faith is a human act, that is, an act of the intellect of a person - prompted by the will moved by God - who freely assents to divine truth."

I add that living faith, mentioned in (k) above, seems like something extra to mere faith. Living faith is similar to Lydia's saving faith: "Saving faith ... is the commitment of the whole person. It is loving and following Jesus." http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/07/is_jesus_rose_from_the_dead_a.html

I wonder whether there is some evidence that this position is heterodox (at lest from the Roman Catholic view), and/or whether there is some approving evidence for it in the (Roman Catholic) tradition and/or magisterium.

Mike,

As for

The amply confirmed reports of exorcists ...

If they were amply confirmed, why not much more turmoil about them in the media? (I raised a similar question in a comment to a recent thread on contemporary Catholic miracles at Alexander Pruss's Blog.

Michael, Lydia, Tim,

Michael said:

I think much of the difficulty between us does indeed arise from how the phrase 'intellecually compelling' is being understood. ... we need to agree on a working definition of 'intellectually compelling'. I'm not sure we've got one yet.


Yes. Let's see some accounts of compelling and epistemically good or successful arguments.

I. Wm. Vallicella (maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1124423619.shtml) on his concept of a compelling and a good argument:

Compelling argument is
1. deductive
2. valid in point of logical form
3. free of informal fallacies (such as petitio principii)
4. with all the premises true
5. with all the premises known to be true by the consumer of the argument, either directly in virtue of their self-evidence, or indirectly in virtue of their derivability
6. with all the premises relevant to the conclusion.

Comment: Firstly, is not the satisfaction of the 5th condition entailed by the satisfaction of the 3rd? Secondly, is the 6th point necessary? Thirdly, I don't think this concept captures the McGrews' inductive concept (at least because of the point 1).

Vallicella's concept of a good argument (for a statement P) is such that there can be (on the same body of evidence) good arguments even to the contrary (for non-P). Such a concept, I'd say, is too weak for the McGrews.

II. William Lane Craig (inspired by Stephen T. Davis, God, Reason, and Theistic Proofs, 1997, pp. 1-14) says that a necessary condition for good arguments is this:
1. all the premises are true
2. all the premises are more plausible than their contradictories
3. no informal fallacies.

See WLC, 2000, Five Views on Aplogetics, pp. 49-50; Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (with J. P. Moreland), 2003, pp. 58-59.)

Comment: Firstly, that is not sufficient; the conclusion can be improbable on the premises, taken as a whole. Secondly, I don't think the McGrews require (1) for a good argument. Thirdly, maybe (objective) epistemic probability rather than (subjective) plausibility is needed.

III. Richard Swinburne (The Existence of God, 2004, p. 6) says about good argument that
1. its premises, as a whole, necessitate or probabilify the conclusion
2. all the premises are known to be true by those who dispute about the conclusion.

Comment: Firstly, even if both (1) and (2) are satisfied, the argument as a whole (the premises + the argument) can fail. E.g., if both the probability of the conjunction of all the premises (which are true and known) and the probability of the conclusion on the premises have value 0.7, then the argument as a whole has a probability of mere 0.49 -- so, it is not shown that the conclusion is probable. (I assume that one can be correctly said to know a true statement with the probability of 0.7.)

IV. Graham Oppy (Arguing about Gods, 2006, pp. 1-14) says that good (=successful) argument is one which would persuade all reasonable people who have hitherto failed to accept the conclusion.

Comment: What is meant by "reasonable"? Can't there be relevantly good argument which fail to persuade people who are, generally or mostly, reasonable? What if they are emotionally blocked or intellectually dishonest when it comes to the disputed issue?

V. So, how should be an epistemically good argument construed? Well, I've found no satisfactory account, not even at the SEP. Yet, I guess the McGrews would say that good argument establishes (shows, makes evident) the conclusion as probable on the basis of probable premises. Both the premises and their connection with the conclusion have to be sufficiently firm (making the argument as a whole probable) and clear (transparent).

In other words, a good argument for subject S at time t is such a collection of statements P1, P2 … Pn and Q that:
1. Pr(P1 & P2 & … & Pn) > 0.5
2. Pr(Q|P1 & P2 & … & Pn) > 0.5
3. Pr(P1 & P2 & … & Pn) and Pr(Q|P1 & P2 & … & Pn) are such that(P1 & P2 & … & Pn & Q) > 0,5.
4. it is evident or readily evident to S at t that (1) and (2) and (3).
By "readily evident" I mean here that if S at t carefully considered P1, P2 … Pn and Q, it would be evident to him at t that (1) and (2) and (3).

Comment: Firstly, the probability is of objective, epistemic sort. Secondly, including (1) and (2) is somewhat redundant, however, the redundancy seems to me to make the explication more intuitive as an explication of the preceding par. Thirdly, maybe mere exceeding the 0.5-bar is too weak and we should insert something like significant exceeding the 0.5-bar. Fourthly, there would seem, at least in the case of the McGrews, to be epistemic basis (B, for short) which is kept implicit in the notation. More explicit notation would be Pr(P1 & P2 & … & Pn|K), Pr(Q|K & P1 & P2 & … & Pn), and the like.

Fourth, I suspect K should consist of the maximal conjunction of the currently internally evident or internally readily evident information or beliefs. I mean:
beliefs about what one's own beliefs (currently) are,
beliefs about what one himself is trying or intending to do,
beliefs about one's own idiolect,
Cartesian beliefs like I exist now.
beliefs about one's own immediate sensation,
beliefs regarding the content (though not regarding the accuracy) of our memories,
certain beliefs about some mathematical, logical and conceptual truths.

Fifth, so, a modified version of the proposed explication of good argument would be the following. A good argument for subject S at time t is such a collection of statements P1, P2 … Pn and Q that:
1. Pr(P1 & P2 & … & Pn & Q|K) > 0.5
2. it is evident or readily evident to S at t that (1)
3. K consists of all that internally evident or internally readily evident to S at t.

Sixth, of course, it is not always evident what is evident to a given person.

Seventh, good argument, as explicated, allows for approximations. Maybe Tim and Lydia would not say that their argument for the resurrection of Jesus (linked above) for the conclusion that that the resurrection of Jesus is highly confirmed (by the conjunction of the testimony of the women who knew him, the testimony of his disciples, and the testimony of St. Paul) is a good one, in the proposed sense. Yet, I guess they would agree that their argument at least approximates the quality of being a good argument, in the proposed sense.

I wonder whether my suggestions capture Tim's and Lydia's idea of a rationally compelling (or good) argument.

Please, excuse my verbosity. I just esteem the issue as funamental and not explored enough. (By the way, WLC said, in his critical review of the mentioned book by Oppy, available at WLC's web Reasonable Faith, this: "... Oppy's project fails at a fundamental level. ... he must provide a rationally compelling argument for his account of successful argumentation - which he has not even attempted to do." But who has ever attempted to do that? Me not; I've just provided here a scant account, with almost no support of it. And finally, it isn't even clear what WLC himself means by the "compelling argument".)

Vlastimil,

This link takes a minute or two to load, but it makes for an interesting profile on how to make a compelling argument.

http://honors.uoregon.edu/faculty/profiles/data/Arguing%20with%20God.pdf

Thanks.

Erratum: Instead of "B, for short", there should have been "K, for short".

Vlastimil,

I myself would prefer to keep things as simple as possible. If we assume that a _compelling_ argument is better than a merely _good_ argument, that it is something like a _super_-good argument, then I suppose that the conclusion should be at least something like "very probable," however one interprets that in terms of some sort of high probability range.

In that case, I would prefer to keep things very simple and say (something like) that S has a compelling argument for P at t just in case S has at t foundational knowledge f1-fn such that, on the basis of that foundational knowledge (via, almost certainly, a highly complex set of intermediate evidential relations with other propositions), if S is completely rational, S accords a high probability to P.

This relatively simple explanation has the virtue that we do not have to make statements about the probability of the _intermediate_ (non-foundational) premises of S's argument, which may have many different probabilities but "channel" the force of the foundational evidence to P.

Ari,

That is, I can't believe Protestant theology has decayed to such extent so as to actually believe that the devils themselves still actually possess "grace" even after The Fall.

Um, no, I'm the one who thinks this _doesn't_ have to do with special grace. Michael is the one who thinks that one has to have grace to accept that Christianity is true, even on the basis of argument. But he says that doesn't apply to the devils, because on his view they aren't accepting it on the basis of evidence but rather on the basis of some sort of super-human direct experience, and his ideas about the necessity for grace apply only to humans.

Michael,

It seems to me that the sort of case you describe obtains very rarely if at all. If my position required saying otherwise, it would indeed be "gerrymandered." Far more common, I think, is the case...

I agree with you that it doesn't occur very often, but that's irrelevant if your position makes it _theologically impossible_ for a person to believe that Christianity is true on the basis of evidence without being, at least briefly, a willing recipient of the special grace of Christian faith. Because that then implies that in a rare case where a person admits that Christianity is true factually but nonetheless hates God and Christ (perhaps becoming a devil worshiper, for example), he was in some sense a Christian in some brief period of time before "losing" it, which seems ridiculous. It makes far more sense to admit that mere intellectual conviction on the basis of good evidence just doesn't, in and of itself, necessarily, theologically require the willingness to receive the special grace of faith.

The reason you think it does, I'm gathering, is because quite frankly, you don't think the evidence for Christianity is nearly as strong as I think it is. I really do suspect that that is at the crux of our disagreement.

Lydia,

Thanks.

... we do not have to make statements about the probability of the _intermediate_ (non-foundational) premises of S's argument, which may have many different probabilities but "channel" the force of the foundational evidence to P.

I guess our accounts of compelling argument could be equivalent. If there are non-foundational channeling premises in S's compelling argument, then there are also corresponding premises which satisfy the conditions I proposed.

E.g., if the Resurrection (R) is a non-foundational channeling premise for the existence of God (T), then there are premises P1-Pn such that Pr(P1 & P2 & … & Pn & R & T|K) is high, and so such that Pr(P1 & P2 & … & Pn|K) is high.

For instance, consider a part of your paper on R:

1. D: at least 13 specific men (mostly the disciples of Jesus) witnessed, in the face of clear threat and danger, that they empirically encountered the risen Jesus (in the specific circumstances after his crucifixion). Probable on K, by the consensus of the NT scholars, etc.

2. So, it is generous to the opponent of the resurrection of Jesus (R, for short) and suppose only D': precisely 13 witnessed for the risen Jesus; D' being equivalent with the conjunction: D1 and D2 and ... and D13. From (1).

3. The ratio
Pr(D1 and ... and D13|K and R)/Pr(D1 and ... and D13|K and nonR) determines whether
(D1 and ... and D13) confirms R. By the calculus.

4. Suppose for now D1-D13 are independent, in the following sense:
Pr(D1 and... and D13|K and R) / Pr(D1 and ... and D13|K and nonR) =
(Pr(D1|K and R) * ... * Pr(D13|K and R)) / ((Pr(D1|K and nonR) * ... * Pr(D13|K and nonR)) =
(Pr(D1|K and R)/Pr(D1|K and nonR)) * ... * (Pr(D13|K and R)/Pr(D13|K and nonR)). Assumption.

5. Pr(Di|K and R)/Pr(Di|K and nonR) is at least 1000. Probable on K.

6. So, it is generous to say it equals 1000. From (5).

7. Pr(D'|K and R)/Pr(D'|K and nonR) = 1000^13 = 10^39. (Di describes one testimony ouf of D1-D13.) From (4) and (6).

8. But if
Pr(D1 and ... and D13|K and R) / ((Pr(D1|K and R) * ... * Pr(D13|K and R)) >
Pr(D1 and ... and D13|K and nonR) / ((Pr(D1|K and nonR) * ... * Pr(D13|K and nonR)),
then the number10^39 is an underestimation. By the algebra and (7).

9. The antecedent in (8) holds because, as you say in the paper on R, "if multiple witnesses are able to influence one another to remain steadfast in some story in the face of unpleasant consequences for telling that story, this is itself evidence that they believe that the story is true rather than that they are colluding in a lie", etc.

10. So, the number 10^39 is an underestimation. From (4)-(9).

11. So, D' highly confirms R. A fortiori, D highly confirms R. From (3) and (10).

...

(R) Probably, Jesus rose from the dead.

...

(T) Probably, God exists.

As you see, your argument could be (a part of) a good argument in the sense I proposed.

Moreover, it seems that for any good inductive argument, there is a corresponding good deductive meta-argument proceeding from the foundations by means of the apriori rules of deductive and inductive logic to the conclusions about the probability of the given events (the conclusions about the probabilities of the events being derived from the foundations, including the fundamental deductive and inductive logical principles).

***

Lydia to Michael:

... you don't think the evidence for Christianity is nearly as strong as I think it is. I really do suspect that that is at the crux of our disagreement.


I think that rather the magisterium's statements (a), (b), and (k) explain Michael's position -- which at least seems to fit with them nicely.

***

... that ... implies that in a rare case where a person admits that Christianity is true factually but nonetheless hates God and Christ (perhaps becoming a devil worshiper, for example), he was in some sense a Christian in some brief period of time before "losing" it.

If we define Christian as a person a person who believes that Christianity is true AND is also psychologically committed to follow it (act in harmony with its precepts), then that is not implied.

Maybe the magisterium doesn't think the evidence for Christianity is as strong as I think it is. :-) But I'd like to think, for purposes of having Catholic evidentialist allies, that the magisterial statements are interpretable otherwise.

If we define Christian as a person a person who believes that Christianity is true AND is also psychologically committed to follow it (act in harmony with its precepts), then that is not implied.

I have trouble understanding the notion of a person who has willingly accepted the special "grace of faith [in Christ/Christianity]" without taking that person to be at least to some extent committed to follow it. I was still focusing on Michael's idea that the "grace of faith" is needed in order to see even that Christianity is true.

On your technical points, Vlastimil, you are to some extent noticing that we are treating propositions (e.g., the testimony of the disciples) for purposes of simplification as things that can be conditioned on when, in fact, they do not have probability 1. This is a simplification that will come up most of the time when a strong foundationalist engages in a Bayesian argument. Technically what one is really conditioning on is the specific foundational evidence of probability 1 (e.g., memories of reading the texts, memories of evidence about the texts' origin and provenance, the sensory experience of reading such evidence) that supports a proposition that the disciples testified in such-and-such a way.

The notion of a meta-level deductive argument consisting of statements about probability is an interesting one, but it's one I'm a bit wary of for rather complex reasons having to do with something like the following: One could have a channeling proposition A (this is not represented by any of the ones you mention from our argument) that did not itself end up having probability greater than .5 but that _rose_ in probability from something still lower as a result of the addition of some relevant evidence. In turn, P (the proposition whose truth or falsehood we happen to be focusing on as the conclusion of a given argument) would experience a shift to a higher probability as a result of this same evidence whose force was channeled to P by A. In the sense we discuss it in our Erkenntnis paper, A could be regarded as a "premise" for P, even though it still does not have probability greater than .5. At the moment I'm having trouble coming up with an example, but it does seem to be theoretically possible.

Um, no, I'm the one who thinks this _doesn't_ have to do with special grace. Michael is the one who thinks that one has to have grace to accept that Christianity is true, even on the basis of argument

I'm not entirely certain if that is indeed the case.

In my own understanding, it is grace not unlike sanctifying grace that enable the Fallen angels to once stand in the presence of God; however, just like we mortals, that which is graciously bestowed to enable the divine can, in fact, be lost.

Within the Catholic construct, it is grace that enables one to know of Christ that He is indeed Son of God; without which, one cannot truly know of Him and even accept Him as such.

Scripture is replete with support for exactly this. I don't quite see how you can find such a premise not only unpersuasive but even unscriptural.

Further, in Catholic theology, though grace is what enables one to know of and even accept Christ; he loses sanctifying grace (properly speaking, that supernatural gift of God to intellectual creatures (men, angels) for their eternal salvation) when he commits a mortal sin (which is actually a lost of grace due to the very nature of the sin, which is an absolute turning away from God) and, thus, loses eternal salvation.

I believe it may be that "Once Saved, Always Saved" protestantism that might be conflating that very definition of Grace which we Catholics continue to hold as such.

In any case, I appreciate the frank response even though I might disagree with it (or even Dr. Liccione, for that matter, if he happens to hold the very view you contend he has).

Lydia:

What VV said about my position relative to the Magisterium's is true. That said, I don't think our disagreement is about the strength of the "evidence" for Christianity. I agree that there is at lease one good abductive argument that Christianity is true. But from my standpoint, that is not the issue.

With the Catholic Church, I hold that the assent of faith is a free response to grace. The occasion for that assent can be learning a good abductive argument; but that is not the typical case, and in fact the assent of faith cannot, for humans, be that of rational compulsion. If it were, then the assent of faith would be neither free nor distinguishable from that of reason—a result which seems to me unbiblical as well as un-Magisterial. I hold that, without freely accepting divine grace that moves the intellect and the will, a person cannot come to see the argument as establishing its conclusion beyond reasonable doubt, even if the argument objectively does just that. If they choose to resist said grace, they can always come up with a plausible reason for questioning, if not the argument's validity, then at least one of the premises, and thus question the argument's conclusion without incurring the charge of outright irrationality.

Such questioning could, and in my experience often does, take the form of questioning the interpretation of received, "revealed" data assumed by the argument. That is a key reason why I place such high value on Magisterial authority. Without some such divinely established authority to adjudicate definitively among conflicting interpretations of the sources, there is no reliable way to present the interpretations themselves as anything more than human opinions. And if they are nothing more than human opinions, no argument relying on them can yield a conclusion that is stronger than that.

Best,
Mike

Lydia,

Ad this:

I have trouble understanding the notion of a person who has willingly accepted the special "grace of faith [in Christ/Christianity]" without taking that person to be at least to some extent committed to follow it.

Me not for I suspect that many people have that sad: they believe it (the Creed, etc.) all but do not want to follow it -- occasionally (probably after and in time of sinning "mortally", as the Catholics say), their faith, which is said to be a supernatural gift they freely and willingly continue to accept (though they could reject it by some appropriate mental gymnastics), is not a living (saving) one; it's dead. As if they accepted the grace only to the point of mere believing, without being really committed to follow it in their action. Quite a schizophrenic and unstable state, though some can persist in it for years, the other gradually loose their (mere and dead) faith quite quickly, the other become committed, thus establishing the equilibirum of the one or the other sort. Of course, I am not sure this is not a heterodox view on the grace of faith.

VV:

You're talking about what the Letter of James calls "dead" faith. Such talke is obviously orthodox. Of course some Lutherans would not agree...;)

Lydia:

Thanks for this post. I've really been enjoying it -- and some of the follow up discussion. The line of argument you refer to as 'undesigned coincidences' is one that I came across about a year and a half ago while listening to an old television rebroadcast (of all people) Gene Scott in an address called something like "Supernatural or Super Nut." I've not been able to find a copy of that lecture online -- and I haven't heard it since then. About the same time, I also found some discussion of this line of thought in a book by Irwin H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible (1943). The books is somewhat uneven, and its prose sometimes borders on the hyperbolic -- but it contains the following passage in Chapter 6:

"With joy he [the president of the theological seminary] got me [Irwin Linton] out of his library Paley's 'Evidences,' Paley's 'Natural Theology,' and Paley's 'Horae Paulinae.' This last is a book that no infidel has ever even tried to answer. It especially appeals to a law-trained man, for it is a keen cross-examination of the Epistle's of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles for those subtle, undesigned, impossible-to-manufacture correspondences and agreements in minute details which only truth running through diverse testimony or writings can produce. Everyone who has listened to lawyers cross-examining witnesses in court has doubtless wondered why they took the time and trouble to ask such unimportant, trifling questions. There is a reason. False witnesses can agree in advance on many things about their story--the many things about which they can anticipate being questioned; but they cannot anticipate the trifling, unimportant details. The possibilities are too innumerable, and harmony in these small and unexpected matters is more significant than agreement in salient, pertinent things. The first can be artificially produced; the second cannot. If the testimony of several witnesses agrees on a large number of such matters, they are infallibly telling the truth. Paul in his letters and Luke in his history agree on a large number of of such matters, and are found on study to be in harmony in regard to almost numberless humanly undesigned, incidental things, and, as no one on earth can dispute, this fact alone proves that both writings are true and grew out of real happenings. If you love careful reasoning, read the 'Horae Paulinae' " (pages 74-75).

I thought this was a nice description of the style of argument that your post was addressing. After some investigation, I recently found the entire text of Horae Paulinae (an 1822 printing) online at Google Books here:
http://books.google.com/books?id=oqIXAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Horae+Paulinae#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Irwin Linton goes on to suggest that this same argumentative style (of arguing from undesigned coincidences) can be found on the topic of the resurrection in Dr. R.A. Torrey's, The Bible and Its Christ (1906); a book I have not read, but which I discovered (just today) is available online here:
http://books.google.com/books?id=hCAsAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1&dq=The+Bible+and+Its+Christ#v=onepage&q=&f=false online here:

Again, thanks for bringing up this particular post -- as I have been interested in exploring this sort of work for some time now. I'm currently reading Boyd and Eddy, Lord or Legend? Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma (2007), which is good in many respects -- but they make no use of this kind of argumentation.

Say "Hi" to Tim for me. I think of both of you often.

Below is a summary of a new argument by
BROOKE ALAN TRISEL:

Not sure where the error in reasoning occurs...

(1) If humankind was created for a purpose by God and had a role to play in carrying out this
purpose, then God would want us to have a possibility of achieving our role so that he would
have a possibility of achieving his goal.

Support for premise (1): God, if he created humanity, could have created us as a means to achieving another goal or as an end itself with no further goal in mind. If he created us as a means to an end, then he presumably cares about achieving this goal. Thus, he would want us to be able to help him realize this goal.

(2) For us to have a possibility of achieving the purpose for which we were created, we would need to understand our role in carrying out this purpose.

Support for premise (2): By remaining silent, it would seem that God would be undermining himself in achieving the purpose he conceived, which would not make sense. Would God, who some Christians believe is all-knowing, engage in this self-defeating behavior?

(3) The purpose for which humanity was created is unclear in the Bible and elsewhere.

Support for premise (3): Christians are conflicted and/or confused about what their role in the world is supposed to be. It would also be necessary to explain why God chose to tell some human beings their purpose (in the Bible), but not those who lived in pre-Biblical times. Worse yet, if God had made his purpose clear in the world we would not expect to see the plethora of religions that have existed, do exist, and will exist. Moreover, it seems that unaided human reason is unable to discover this role.

(4) Despite the lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life, God has not provided any
clarification about his purpose or our role.

Support for premise (4): Christians are still conflicted and confused about what their role is supposed to be. If God is omnipresent and watches over humanity, as many Christians believe, then God has observed the uneven distribution of theistic belief, and the conflicting interpretations of the passages in the Bible, for the last 2000 years. As God observed this, and reflected on the goal for which he purportedly created humanity to help realize, what would it make sense for him to do? Would it make sense for him to remain silent or would it make more sense for him to clarify his purpose and our role? Which approach would make it more likely for him to realize his goal?

(5) God would not have chosen to remain silent about our role in carrying out his purpose
because, following from the first premise, this would be self-defeating.

Support for premise (5): God, who some theists claim is all-knowing, would not have engaged in the unwise, irrational, and self-defeating conduct of creating humanity for a purpose, but then choose to remain silent about our role in carrying out his purpose.

(6) Therefore, humankind was not given a role to play in carrying out a purpose of God.

Support for premise (6): God’s continuing silence about his purpose and our role is evidence that we were not created by God to fulfill a purpose. God, if he exists, would have provided us with feedback by now if he had created humanity as a means to fulfilling an end given our lack of clear comprehension as to what that might be.

Kevin Vandergriff, I'm reluctant to have an old thread of mine on a different apologetics topic turned into a general repository over the years for all the anti-Christian arguments that people would like to see answered. There is someone who has done this on an old thread of mine at my personal blog. I've allowed it to go on there and generally have answered the OT questions that he posts from time to time, but I would prefer that it not start here at W4. As you know, my e-mail address is available through the author page, and if you would like me to address a completely unrelated anti-Christian argument that is bothering you, feel free to ask by making contact with me that way. I won't promise to answer with any special speed, but I usually do get around to such correspondent questions if they don't come too frequently and if I'm convinced that the correspondent is asking in good faith, as I'm pretty convinced that you are. Thanks!

Sorry Lydia,

I was feeling frustrated at the time, and sort of just desperately threw this at you. Thank you for helping me so much in the past, and in the present:)

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