Monthly Archives: April 2012

Tim Keller argued off point and slipped toward ad hominem


I thought I would let some time go by before I picked up the following matter.

I replied to a Tim Keller blog post back on April 10. My reply, which can almost stand without reference to the original post, was:

What about text criticism? Sure, the Bible has always had its critics, but consider how the impact of the critics has changed. The plain language of the Bible includes discrepencies, or at least what appears to be discrepencies, about basic factual information. People are more likely to believe higher-order matters like doctrine and theology when the lower-order matters like basic facts are clear and sound. And now, many middle-class kids have taken university courses like Intro to the New Testament, so they are faced with lower-order difficulties that make higher-order propositions harder to believe. My full argument is here: https://liturgical.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/why-factual-discrepencies-in-the-bible-are-a-barrier-to-faith-lower-order-and-higher-order-concerns/ All the best, Colin

This argument may or may not be valid, reasonable, or crazy.

But notice how Keller, in his reply, did not actually address the argument.

Rather, he took on completely different issues that were not warranted by either my comment or the blog post to which I linked. Keller’s reply:

Colin — Ross Douthat does not mention text criticism as a big issue nor would I. Text criticism of the Bible actually supports confidence in it, if taken as a whole. Bart Ehrman, yes, claims that text criticism undermines out trust in the Bible, but his own teacher–Dr Bruce Metztger of Princeton, the leading text critic in the world–always taught the opposite, namely, that text criticism shows we can have more confidence in the Bible than any other ancient text. That is, we have far more confidence that we have the actual words of the original words of the Bible than we do that we have the original words of Plato, Aristotle, or Homer, etc. Bart Ehrman’s view of text criticism is a minority view among text critics. If you are going to recommend his views as the basis for making faith and life choices, you should at least read a couple of books by Bruce Metzger, Ehrman’s mentor.

Notice that Keller argues against (1) liberal interpretations of the data from text criticism and (2) Bart Ehrman. He also says (3) if Bruce Metzger was Ehrman’s mentor, I should read Metzger. Then, (4) he follows with a suggestion that I use Bart Ehrman as a “basis for making faith and life choices.”

However, what was my argument? It was actually a bundle of arguments. My arguments, summarized in the comment and given more space in the link that appeared in the comment, were (1) lower-order concerns influence beliefs about higher-order concerns, and (2) Ehrman-like critiques of the New Testament are being used in many university classes today (critiques that focus on factual discrepencies in Scriptural records), and (3) students might be persuaded by Ehrman-like views of lower-order concerns to reject Christianity’s higher-order concerns.

I did not argue for liberal interpretations of the data from text criticism, nor did I argue for Bart Ehrman in general, nor did I argue that Ehrman’s take on text criticism is accurate.

I argued that Ehrman’s take might be influential. I also used Ehrman’s work as an example of what might be taught in many universities.

I did not recommend Ehrman’s views as a basis for “making faith and life choices,” period. (Read my blog post again here, or scroll back up to see my original comment on Keller’s blog.)

I have certainly used some of Ehrman’s writings, in previous posts, to wrestle with issues of both apologetics and personal devotional use of the Bible. But that’s different from making Ehrman a “basis” for “faith and life choices.”

In fact, in my post that I linked to from the comment, I wrote something that Ehrman emphatically disagrees with: “I think believing in the Nicene Creed, based on the testimony of Scripture, makes sense. As ancient testimony, the Scriptures reasonably could support the Creed.”

So Keller’s reply was essentially an ad hominem attack, taking the focus off my points and placing the emphasis on me. It’s a dishonest argumentative move, and it certainly doesn’t have a drop Christianity in it.

Keller simply did not address my argument. I’m confused and distressed because Keller is held up by many as one of evangelicalism’s sharpest minds.

My fear (not an argument, but a fear) is that people will do with Keller the same thing that they do with so many political, religious, and media figures: make him into an infallible source, above any critique.

Is all this too much for an exchange over a blog post? No. Because our names and our discussion are now (and nearly forever) searchable and findable on the Internet.

Furthermore, when a highly regarded public figure makes a strong reply, many people do not realize that the reply is off-topic because they are already enamored with the public figure. Think of debates between political candidates, when every supporter believes his or her candidate won.

What do the words “truth” and “accuracy” and “intellectual honesty” mean to you?

Church service attacked in Kano, Nigeria; at least 15 dead


Excerpts from coverage of the attack of a church service in Kano, Nigeria (fatality figures vary):

According to the AP:

Gunmen attacked church services on a university campus Sunday in northern Nigeria, using small explosives to draw out and gun down panicking worshippers in an assault that killed at least 16 people, officials said.

The attackers targeted an old section of Bayero University’s campus where religious groups use a theater to hold worship services, Kano state police spokesman Ibrahim Idris said. The assault left many others seriously wounded, Mr. Idris said.

According to AFP:

Explosions and gunfire rocked Bayero University in the northern city of Kano, with witnesses reporting that two church services were targeted as they were being held on campus.

One of the services was being held outdoors, while the second was inside a building, but with an overflow audience outside, witnesses said.

Officials were unable to confirm casualty figures, but an AFP correspondent counted six bullet-riddled bodies near one of the two sites.

At least another dozen bodies could be seen on a roadside by the university, but the exact number was unclear.

Musical instruments and half-eaten meals could be seen at the site of one of the services….

Witnesses said the attackers arrived in a car and two motorcycles, opening fire and throwing homemade bombs, causing a stampede. They said worshippers were gunned down as they sought to flee.

According to Voice of America:

Emergency service personnel say they heard three bombs, followed by gunshots, but by noon they were still not allowed on the scene.  Later in the day, as casualty reports trickled in, witnesses said gunmen had attacked a church service with small explosives, shooting people as they tried to flee.

Police say the attackers fled on motorcycles before security personnel arrived on the scene.

This comes after nine were killed in an attack on media houses Thursday in Abuja and Kaduna. An Islamist militant sect known as Boko Haram claimed responsibility for those attacks, saying the media had issued false reports about the group’s plans and activities. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says the government is doing all it can to fight the group that is believed to be responsible for more than 1,000 deaths since it began attacks in 2009. 

In January, coordinated bombings in Kano killed nearly 200 people, and crippled the city’s economy.  In recent months, President Jonathan has been actively seeking foreign logistical assistance to combat the group, especially from the West.  On Saturday, he condemned the group as he visited the site of one of Thursday’s bombings.

“A terror attack on any part of the country is an attack on all of us, and indeed the whole world because terrorists’ method is to ensure they have maximum damage, so the whole world will begin to look at their direction for relevance,” he added. U.S. lawmakers are considering naming Boko Haram a terrorist organization, which could move more American resources to Nigeria.

Many Nigerians have criticized the Jonathan government for being unable to stop Boko Haram, including the country’s national security adviser who suggested the ruling party is partially to blame for the security crisis.  Adam Yusuf is a cook who left his wife and five children in Kano to work in the capital, but he says he is constantly afraid for his family.  Like many Nigerians, he says the government needs to find out what Boko Haram wants and negotiate, rather than trying to fight.

“Call them together and negotiate what they need,” said Yusuf .  “Why are they doing so?  Because of what?  It is simple because fight[ing] cannot solve the problem.  Dialogue.”

Boko Haram says its goals are to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, and procure the release of all imprisoned members.  But Yusuf says no one really knows what they want.

House Tea Party Caucus: traitors to their alleged cause of liberty


According to Forbes magazine:

CISPA, or the Cybersecurity Intelligence Sharing And Protection Act, passed the House yesterday. The bill is full of problematic intrusions into individual privacy and online liberty, and yet those members of the House who associate themselves with limited government were largely responsible for its passage.

Reason magazine reports:

The complete roll call shows 206 Republicans voting for the bill, 28 against. Democrats went 42 to 140 in the opposite direction. The Republican No column includes some fairly libertarian-friendly names, including Amash, McClintock and Rohrabacher (who also this week earned the honor of being bannedby vile Afghan kleptocrat Hamid Karzai). Voting for the legislation were great libertarian nopes Ryan, Flake and Duncan. The name Paul shows up in the not-voting lineup.

TechDirt.com reports:

The vote followed the debate on amendments, several of which were passed. Among them was an absolutely terrible change … to the definition of what the government can do with shared information, put forth by Rep. Quayle. Astonishingly, it was described as limiting the government’s power, even though it in fact expands it by adding more items to the list of acceptable purposes for which shared information can be used. Even more astonishingly, it passed with a near-unanimous vote. The CISPA that was just approved by the House is much worse than the CISPA being discussed as recently as this morning.

Those clowns in the House Tea Party Caucus should no longer be trusted. This is a complete violation of trust and betrayal of principle.

The secret knowledge of the elite


“Understandably, all magic lore originally has the character of secret knowledge, to protect the professional interest of the guild.” — Max Weber, in The Sociology of Religion (quotation found here)

Umberto Eco on theory and narrative


“Those things about which  we cannot theorize, we must narrate.”   — Umberto Eco

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5Books to Read Before College

Jack White / The White Stripes on vinyl!

Books Mentioned on this Blog

New Music on vinyl!

Vice and the New Testament


The New Testament suggests that rules never change desires. If anything demonstrates that truth, look at the war on drugs: nearly $1 trillion spent, tens of thousands of lives lost, and still the drug cartels remain strong and lethal, killing people along the Mexico-Texas border and violently protecting their interests in Baja California. That’s why it’s time to Legal It — even if Mexico’s war on drugs is kind of working.

 

 

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? (NT Wright)


Tom Wright’s overview of his historical work on the resurrection narratives helped me balance Bart Ehrman’s point of view.

So much depends upon / a drunken text message / sent by a farmer / attempting poetry


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‘Amish: Out of Order’ — my review of the new National Geographic Channel series


logo for National Geographic Channel

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My new column for the Weekly Surge reviews the National Geographic Channel series premiere of “Amish: Out of Order.” Please read it here.

 

Memories make us human, memories good and bad and neutral


When someone tells you not to be influenced by The Past, agree with him and then ask him to tell you about a formative relationship in his childhood. After he answers, ask him why he allows himself to be influenced by The Past. Who can really function without memory? The mind has to constantly reference memories, even when its attention is focused in the present moment. It can do no other. It has to learn and make adjustments in behavior based on what it has learned. Without remembered names, humans don’t know anything — as Dana Gioia said in his poem “Words,” “To name is to know and remember.” Isn’t it true that when a man loses his memory, he loses himself? His self?