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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ethics, God, and Debate

Read this long article and the comments that follow.


JJ

For those who don't have the time to read a long article, I'll try to sum it up:
A "religious studies" professor states that he is completely different from a theology professor because he focuses on how and why religions exist (from a social level) whereas theologians focus on defending a made up set up beliefs (from an errant view). He is thus, naturally, frustrated that the two are so often lumped together. There's also a bit about how theology leads to no knowledge but only lies because god doesn't exist...

The comments tear this article apart (for the most part), though there is a rather interesting comment that seems to agree.


I've not really had an idea of what to say about all this, but it reminded me of a debate recently held at my alma mater. Now, people can disagree that God exists, but I think Craig did a good job of showing that God does exist. And, from the articles linked at the bottom of the announcement, Craig had the better argument.

But, as Doug TenNapel points out:

Hitchens won the debate. It's not the argument of the debaters, it's the condition of the audience that wins the day. While few of Dr. Craig's arguments are dispersed through culture, even religious culture, I've been raised on most of Hitchens' arguments. Dr. Craig's arguments are true and well-reasoned by difficult to comprehend on a first hearing. Hitchens' arguments are what we'll find spoken against God on prime time television, at the water-cooler, I've even heard some of them on Animal Planet. Culture generally makes Hitchens' argument by default. And it's easier to claim the skeptic's nothing than affirm the something of God...

I find this kind of thing fascinating, and important to consider.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

P.S. There is a new Box Day Flair at the bottom of the Widgets page.

24 comments:

Susanne Barrett said...

I know Doug TenNapel -- we went to college together. His senior art show was very, very cool!

Luke said...

What a small world! <smile> Very fun.

~Luke

Meg_L said...

You remind of of Dawkin's quote: "We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."

JJ Ross said...

I love the power of all the stories and characters though, i religious books as well as all other books and stories. I surely learn life lessons and how to live from reading and studying them, and isn't that a form of immortality too, timeless in the narrative, better than ordinary human reality confined to the mortal coil! :)

boremetotears said...

"I've even heard some of them on Animal Planet."

Now I'll be up all night wondering if Christopher Hitchens is swiping content from Animal Planet! ;)

~Lynn

Ken said...

We love to listen to William Lane Craig debate. He is always gracious and really knows his stuff. I read a lot of the blog responses to the Craig-Hitchens debate and plan to get the audio so I can listen to the whole thing, but, both having followed Craig and bludgeoned by Hitchen's sophomoric rhetoric on religion in the popular press (he seems to do better on other topics), my immediate thought is that it is not fair to pair amateurs like Hitchens against pros like Craig in a "scholarly" debate.

Luke said...

Meg, I like that quote. There aren't many of Dawkins that I like, but that's a good one <smile>.

JJ, there is certainly much to be said for the power of story. Jesus certainly used it frequently. And Sonlight's rather big on stories as well <smile>.

Lynn (finally! a shorter moniker <smile>), <laughing> That's hilarious! The point remains, however: The common arguments people tend to use against God are quite ubiquitous in our culture, despite people like Craig offering very good counter points.

Ken, that does appear to be the problem: There is a huge discrepancy between scholarship and popular theology which leads to the "Animal Plant" problem referenced by Lynn. I would love to get the "top dogs" from both camps together and see what comes of it. Far too often the arguments are segmented and don't have the opportunity to really work them out (as Lynn's post about The Friendly Atheist really demonstrate well, for me, at least).

~Luke

Ken said...

I think that is right Luke, though after listening to and reading the scholarly literature Ben Witherington, N.T. Wright, Gary Habermas, Craig Blomberg, and others on the Christian side against JD Crossan, Marcus Borg (nominal Christian), Robert Price, and there ilk on the atheist side for twenty years or so, I am wildly underwhelmed by atheist arguments. The reality is that these guys have been debating each other for years. The best against the best. Even the ID guys seem to have the upper hand these days with buffons like Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Meyers trying to argue against serious questions brought by Behe, Dembski, and many others. To me, it all comes down to the historicity of the resurrection. People argue around that issue, but in the end, the facts are incontrovertible. Something big happened and there is no good way to explain it other than that Christ was resurrected. Of course, as Christians, we believe everything hinges on that. The theories of the deniers all seem pretty foolish when the facts are made known. Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright, The Christology of Jesus, and many more scholarly work make this all pretty clear. A lot of the debates between the best of the scholars are out there (Check Craig's site). The reality is that Borg, Crossan, and Price do not really fare much better than Hitchens against the likes of Craig.

JJ Ross said...

Do I understand Ken to argue then, that there is no difference between theology and religious studies, that nothing need be taken on faith, that all disciplines in fact are just theology?

Ken said...

That is a silly question JJ. Reread my post. We are talking about scholarship, not faith.

JJ Ross said...

Right, that's what I read and was asking, why would you say it's silly? -- you are saying that your religion is based not on philosophy and faith but "historicity" and "incontrovertible facts" and "scholarship." Which sounds like an argument against the one being made by these professors of religious studies, to distinguish theology from the objective realm in which all religions are studied, not just one embraced and practiced.

JJ Ross said...

Btw in Myers and Hitchens et al, you've set up biologists and atheist political commentators as if they were the ones under discussion on this point. Which they aren't -- your argument with them hasn't much to do with THIS argument. AFAIK, they are neither theologians nor experts in religious studies.

Ken said...

Another straw man, JJ. That is why your contribution is silly. I have said nothing about faith. Only scholarship. You are the one talking about faith. You are the one making statements about my faith. You said

"you are saying that your religion is based not on philosophy and faith but "historicity" and "incontrovertible facts" and "scholarship."

I never said that. All I talked about was the scholarship. You know nothing about my faith.

Have a great day.

JJ Ross said...

Ken, you're in a whole different debate all on your own, apparently. Maybe your own rereading of your own post is what's called for then:

"To me, it all comes down to the historicity of the resurrection. People argue around that issue, but in the end, the facts are incontrovertible. Something big happened and there is no good way to explain it other than that Christ was resurrected. Of course, as Christians, we believe everything hinges on that. The theories of the deniers all seem pretty foolish when the facts are made known."

Ken said...

Weren't we talking about scholarly debate? Where in there did you see the word faith. It must be from that cognitive psychology stuff.

JJ Ross said...

". . .as Christians, we believe everything hinges on that."

Not faith? Okay -- belief then.

Ken said...

There you have it. "As Christians" we can talk about faith. That is why the "As Christians" modifier was added. This whole conversation was about the relative merits of the scholarly arguments between atheists and believers. You were the one that accused me of basing my faith on historicity and facts rather than faith and philosophy. That is the beauty of Christianity. Unlike any other religion, at its core, it is truly historical. For what it is worth, Christian faith in its orthodox form is a reasoned and rational faith. That reason and rationality derive, partially, from the historical record. I do not know where you got the philosophy thing. Nobody I know puts the philosophy before the faith.

I am tired of this he said/she said conversation. I am through.

JJ Ross said...

Luke, your title for this post, "Ethics, God and Debate" is looking more and more fitting! Using language and ideas words to light up rather than burn up ideas and other people, is more ethical (and more Christian too if I read my bible's power of story right.)

Luke said...

Ken and JJ, I think it's great that my posts inspire discussion. I'm less thrilled when it moves outside of that, but that kind of thing happens.

I'm going to try to sum up both points here and add my observations. If I've misrepresented you, please correct me--I'm going off a single read-through:

Ken's summary: From my observation, atheists are losing the debate because their arguments are tired and they haven't answered the good questions brought up by solid Christian thinkers. What's more, the real issue of our faith is the Resurrection, and that hasn't been put down.

JJ's summary: If Christianity is linked to historical facts--and these are irrefutable--then it has very little to do with faith at all, and should therefore be on the same plane as other more observable studies. But this is not the case: Christianity is a belief, and there is much to be said for studying how and why this belief is what it is and has changed over time. Theological discussion has its place, but it is not the same as studying the origin and transformation of religions.

Fair?

Luke's observations: You two were, if I'm reading you right, talking past each other. And, honestly, I'm not sure what either of you were trying to say to the other <laughing>. Because, I agree with Ken (and the Bible) which states that our belief rests solidly on the historicity of Christ's resurrection. And that is where the debate ultimately ends. On the other hand, I think JJ is right as well: There is much to be gleaned from a look at where our faith comes from, and ultimately will make us better Christians if we understand it. History has certainly shown how humans get off course when they focus solely on being right. I've seen it in debate often: No longer is it about truth, but about being right.

So, you're both right (I think). But you we're really arguing with each other either. You were making different points. Almost like:
Ken: I like blue!
JJ: Well, I like red!
Ken: What does that have to do with blue?
JJ: It's a color.
Ken: But it's not my favorite.
JJ: What does that have to do with my preference in color?
Ken: What?
JJ: See!

...at least, that's my impression. Or, maybe I'm just showing how completely lost I am at this point <laughing>.

But, ultimately, yes, JJ: We should be loving. Of course, sometimes the most loving thing to do is solidly beat people <smile>.

~Luke

JJ Ross said...

Luke, as my southern grandma used to say, I Suwanee! You are not only right imo about each of our vantage points but you articulate them BOTH better than either of us did! :D

JJ Ross said...

But the beatings? No, sorry to say violence and whipping each other much less our innocent children, is one of the many reasons I cannot take bible power of story literally as a prescription for modern living and loving.

Luke said...

JJ, I don't think you got my point... and that's okay: I was being vague in an attempt at humor while still making a point: Loving does not mean letting people do whatever they want if it is destructive to others (and themselves). Even Jesus went after people with a whip--now, did he "beat" them? hard to say as the text is very ambiguous--when they were causing all sorts of problems.

And as for your ideas on discipline and raising children, I've certainly read and heard quite a bit on it. Of course, I've read and heard quite a bit on the other side as well. That is a very interesting topic... and I'll leave it at that for now <smile>.

~Luke

JJ Ross said...

So. . .either metaphorically if not literally, you mean Ken and I needed to be "beaten" by you as the discussion leader for our own good then, or that he should beat me for mine, because he's got the faith? -- you're right then, too vague for me to get any useful point.

Oh well, must've been wrong again, thinking we could speak the same language. ;-)

Luke said...

JJ, ...nope, that's not what I meant. Sorry. I hate when I don't communicate well. <sigh> Trying again:

My point in regards to the discussion: While I believe we should always strive to be loving in our speech--that does not mean that we have to be weak about it. We can speak forcefully and actively seek to set people wrong when they are, but we should still be loving.

My broader point was against the slide I see toward allowing people who do wrong to continue because it's "loving"... which I think is a very wrong idea about love.

And we are speaking the same language, but we're looking at what the other says from a very different perspective... which, because of the lack of similar context, makes it harder to communicate <smile>.

~Luke


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