Thursday, September 29, 2011

Self authenticating irrationality

It has been a while since I have written and I have read quite a few things that I would like to talk about including Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. What I would like to discuss today, though, is a peculiar form of irrationality advocated by William Lane Craig in Reasonable Faith.

In Chapter One titled How do I know Christianity is true?, Craig puts forward a radical claim that Christians know that Christianity is true by the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit. He makes the bold claim that belief in God is properly basic like Pythagorean's Theorem. Supposedly we perceive God like we perceive a tree. He does not even consider that this supposed perception of God could in fact be something else.

Worse, he insists that the self-authenticating witness could only lead to Christianity and that anyone else, say a Mormon or Muslim, has only a false witness or misinterprets the true witness. He does not seem even open to the possibility he could be wrong and that his supposed experience of God is no more valid then the Muslims or Mormons experience. He does suggest a test to see if the experience is the same by asking Mormon and Muslim apostates to Christianity if their experiences of God are the same. However, this would be a clearly biased experiment since when someone commits apostasy, they are more likely to become more devoted to their new belief. We would actually need to ask not only those who defected to Christianity but those who defected from. We could even include Atheists as a control.

To defend his claim since he is directing this at Christians he quotes from the Bible. He suffers a blow to his credibility by referring to the author of First and Second John as the apostle John when he should know that neither epistle was written by John. Tradition ascribed these epistles to John because of the similar writing style with the Gospel John, which Craig also quotes but does not name the author. None of the books of the Bible were written by any of the 12 apostles as they were all illiterate. In the unlikely event that any of them were taught to read, it would have been Hebrew, not Greek. None of them spoke Greek either, they spoke Aramaic, but the books of the New Testament were all written in Greek by people who were proficient in Greek. They do not bare the marks of being originally written in Aramaic then translated and transcription was always done as word for word transcribing.

So Craig defends his faith with an irrational appear to an experience he cannot confirm is actually God and denies the authenticity of any non-Christian experience of the same sort. I am still waiting for God's message to me. Perhaps he will wait to reveal himself on my death bed, but I would not count on it. Perhaps Craig is right, and I will humbly admit that I could be wrong, but I see no reason to think so.

7 comments:

Friar Tuck said...

This self-authenticating witness sounds very strange indeed, and I'm not entirely sure what is meant by it. Since you've read "Mere Christianity" you should recall Lewis' point about simple religions. They just don't work, because real things aren't simple. Evangelical Christianity has done a great deal to simplify Christianity, at the expense of no longer describing something real, as Lewis says.

"None of the books of the Bible were written by any of the 12 apostles as they were all illiterate. In the unlikely event that any of them were taught to read, it would have been Hebrew, not Greek. None of them spoke Greek either, they spoke Aramaic, but the books of the New Testament were all written in Greek by people who were proficient in Greek."

This would be true, if the Jews were just like the people of antiquity, but they weren't at least in this respect. The Jews strongly encouraged literacy among their people, precisely because the Torah was a written document read at the synagogues. Early years of childhood were spent learning to read the Torah and they were also encouraged to learn the language of their trade.
Further, they would be more likely to know Greek than Hebrew, because the version of the Torah used in those times was the Septuagint, which was translated into Greek for precisely the reason that so few Jews knew Hebrew.
Also, since Greek was the lingua franca of the empire and certainly a part of culture in Israel since the conquest of Alexander (some few hundred years before Christ) it seems reasonable that they would speak Greek as well.
So, it is not unreasonable to believe that the books in the New Testament were written by the Apostles.

"I am still waiting for God's message to me. Perhaps he will wait to reveal himself on my death bed, but I would not count on it."

One of the things we need to realize is that God is the most ardent defender of free will. He will not force Himself on you unless you open up to Him. This seems to me to be the reason Jesus couldn't perform miracles in Nazareth, because He was rejected and wouldn't force His love on people who didn't want Him.

Further, in our own times there are examples of such people who opened up to God. John C. Wright recounts his own experience of trudging arduously through reason to conclude his Christian friends had a more coherent view of the world than his atheist friends, though he simply couldn't accept the first principles that Christianity opposed without evidence. He then made the atheist's prayer and some days later had a mystical experience. Here is one recounting of his experience: http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/09/a-question-i-never-tire-of-answering/

Another atheist who had a similar experience of opening up a little is Jenifer Fulwiler. Here is her story: http://catholic-video.blogspot.com/2011/08/jennifer-fulwilers-conversion-story.html

God does not force Himself on us, but when we open even a crack up to Him, He can and will change us.

Friar Tuck said...

"However, this would be a clearly biased experiment since when someone commits apostasy, they are more likely to become more devoted to their new belief. We would actually need to ask not only those who defected to Christianity but those who defected from. We could even include Atheists as a control."

This is a strange argument concerning bias that you have brought up before. Of course someone is going to be biased toward his own beliefs, and atheists are not excluded from this. I find it strange that you focus on rejection of testimony based on "bias" rather than actually examining the data.

For example, if I become convinced that something is true, then of course I'm going to be biased toward it, for precisely the reason that I'm convinced that it is true.

So, you might suggested that St. Paul, Mr. Wright, or Mrs. Fulwiler are biased in discussing there experiences, but this doesn't even begin to look at the evidence.

Certainly, there are irrational biases, which would be defined perhaps by a lack of evidence or reasoning. However, a bias based on evidence and reason would not be irrational at all.

For example, you are biased toward atheist beliefs. I could go on to make the claim, therefore all of your rejections of Christianity, all of your arguments against religion, your anti-religiosity is based on this bias and thus worthless, irrational, and need not be considered.

However, I know you are smarter than that. I think you are honestly looking at these things and examining them. I think that you are not convinced, and your bias is based on this lack of evidence and evidence in your favor. Thus, I don't merely reject your experience and arguments merely because you have a bias, but rather I look at the truth of your claims.

Verl Humpherys said...

By bias I am referring to the suggested experiment proposed by Craig of asking Christians who changed from one faith to Christianity. There is an experimental bias and I proposed in my post a way to remove such bias by speaking with former Christians.

Verl Humpherys said...

I cannot claim to have proficient knowledge of early first century Jewish literacy. From what I have heard and read from scholars, the literacy rates were low especially among the poor. While they may have been taught to understand Greek so that they could listen to the Septuagint read in Greek, this would not mean they are proficient enough in the language to write or have transcribed writings in Greek. Also, even if they learned to read Greek, this does not mean they could write Greek.

However, a big reason to think that none of the writings were by the apostles is simply because none claimed to have been written by them with a few notable exceptions. The Gospel of John only claims that the beloved apostle was a witness used and not the actual writer. First and second Peter were written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem which was after Peter had been executed. There are some apocryphal writings such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospels of Thomas and even a Gospel of Judas all of which date to the second century.

Friar Tuck said...

"a big reason to think that none of the writings were by the apostles is simply because none claimed to have been written by them"

I'm confused. A lack of evidence in the texts themselves is definitive proof they weren't written by the Apostles? I'll grant that it makes the question ambiguous considering that alone, but I don't think it is anywhere near showing they were certainly not the authors.

"The Gospel of John only claims that the beloved apostle was a witness used and not the actual writer."

My translation reads: "This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things..." (John 21:24, emphasis mine) and at least a dozen other translations I found state in some form that it was the beloved disciple, who wrote it. I'll grant, as I read in a article I'll leave at the end, that authorship in antiquity could mean: 1) the person himself, 2) a scribe being dictated to, or 3) in the tradition of.

"First and second Peter were written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem which was after Peter had been executed."

This could work as an argument if we shared one presupposition, i.e. that miracles and prophecy is not possible. It is possible, upon the presupposition that miracles are possible, that Peter could have known about the coming destruction of the temple. At this point we have left an argument about the authorship of the text and must examine our contradictory presuppositions.

"There are some apocryphal writings such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospels of Thomas and even a Gospel of Judas all of which date to the second century."

I'm not sure how this contributes to your claim. Your claim is that none of the New Testament documents were written by the Apostles. You note that some documents were spuriously attributed to the Apostles.

This is similar to some arguments I've heard against miracles. Some claims of miracles have been shown to be fake, therefore all miracles are fakes. The missing middle premise would need to be: If some miracles are fake, then all miracles are fake, which is a logically fallacious claim.

The question here would be to ask why were these considered apocryphal and the others not.

Also, the authorship of the texts reached a consensus as early as the mid second century.

Next, I will say that Matthew was a tax collector for the Romans. He would certainly to have been required to read and write Greek for this position. This would make sense that Matthew and Q, the earliest writings, seem to be attributed to the Apostle Matthew.

Further, it seems at least plausible that a scribe could have written it for them, and with their studies of Greek in childhood and further need through trade, they would be able to read if not write it themselves.

In addition, it seems plausible that if such men were willing to die for this belief, they would have taken time to learn to write Greek with some proficiency in order to convey this message worth dying for.

Finally, back to different presuppositions, it is certainly not impossible that they could have learned Greek through an infusion of grace, in a similar way as St. Catherine of Sienna claimed God the Father taught her to read and write.

Gospel of John: http://www.thesacredpage.com/2007/03/authorship-of-fourth-gospel.html

Gospels: http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0834.htm

Apocryphal Documents and the Canon: http://www.catholic.com/video/canon-of-scripture-what-criteria-did-the-early-christians-use-to-determine-it

Verl Humpherys said...

The verse I have for the New American Standard Bible for John 21:24 is "This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true." The author of John is not claiming to be this disciple only that he used this disciple as a source. If he really used this beloved disciple or is only making this claim to gain credibility for his writing as was popularly done, we cannot be sure.

"This could work as an argument if we shared one presupposition, i.e. that miracles and prophecy is not possible. It is possible, upon the presupposition that miracles are possible, that Peter could have known about the coming destruction of the temple. At this point we have left an argument about the authorship of the text and must examine our contradictory presuppositions." The author of the Epistles attributed to Peter does not speak directly of the destruction of the temple but uses the popular comparison between Rome and Babylon that dates after the destruction of the temple. The fallacy you have used is the fallacy of special pleading. Either we can date texts based on the contents or we cannot and the entire endeavor is pointless.

Friar Tuck said...

I'm not sure how you are reading John. It seems to say, "This is the disciple who ... wrote these things." This seems clear to me that the beloved disciple "wrote these things."

"The fallacy you have used is the fallacy of special pleading."

I disagree. I thought you were suggesting that it is impossible he could have known about the destruction of the temple, but this is under the presupposition that prophecy is impossible. If one grants miraculous prophecy, then it is possible.

This is not a fallacy of special pleading. According to wikipedia, the fallacy of special pleading is: "a form of spurious argumentation where a position in a dispute introduces favorable details or excludes unfavorable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations themselves."

The additional consideration that I made was miraculous prophecy. As I mentioned the difference between us is a difference of presuppositions, which would regard the proper consideration of miraculous prophecy. However, under my presupposition that it is at least possible, and certainly there is a plethora of evidence for this, in Scripture and throughout human history.

If you wish to enter into a proper criticism then we can. However, it does not seem to me to be fallacious to say:
1. Miracles are possible.
2. St. Peter performed miracles and was granted divine insights at times.
3. Therefore, St. Peter could have been given divine insight into the destruction of the temple before it occurred.

I thought you had claimed it impossible for St. Peter to know about the destruction of the temple. However, in a universe where God exists, it is possible he would have this knowledge. Whether he did or not, I cannot say for certain, but the impossibility is not demonstrated and thus neither the impossibility of the authorship of St. Peter.

However, if your claim is merely about a popular comparison of Rome and Babylon, your argument limps, for this letter could have been the first use of it and what made it popular later, perhaps even especially after Peter's execution making the comparison all the more acute.