Tim Keller

How can there be just one religion?

In this talk, pastor and author Tim Keller addresses the objection of religious exclusivity and whether it is reasonable for Christians to claim that Jesus alone is the “way, the truth, and the life”.

Book Review: The Making of an Atheist by James Spiegel

Chris at the Cloud of Witnesses blog reviews the new book by James Spiegel on the influence of immorality, broken paternal relationships, and other psychological factors in why many embrace atheism.

An Interview with J.P. Moreland on Christian Worldview Integration

One of the greatest challenges for Christians in the academic world is to think faithfully and consistently as Christians. Too often, the knowledge claims of the Bible and the intellectual resources of Christianity are ignored or squandered by Christians themselves. While many Evangelicals may be involved in the academic world and in the common human project of understanding ourselves and the world, many do not make an impact as Christians because of a failure to connect and integrate their theological beliefs with the knowledge claims of academic disciplines.

InterVasity Press have launched a new series of books aiming to address this need and equip Christians in the task of integration. Edited by J.P. Moreland and Frank Beckwith, the Christian Worldview Integration series will cover topics from economics to biology, showing how the knowledge claims of Christianity might be blended with the knowledge claims of one’s own academic discipline to form a coherent, satisfying worldview. So far, two in the series have been released: Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective by Paul Spears and Steve Loomis (read Frank Sanders’ good review here) and Psychology and the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology by John Coe and Todd Hall, with Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft by Frank Beckwith on the way. The other anticipated topics and authors are:

The Evangelical Philosophical Society blog has posted a great interview with J. P. Morealand on the series (part 1 and part 2) that is worth reading.

Here are some of the questions:

  • In its best and most sincere effort, how do Christian worldview integration endeavors with academic disciplines tend to go? How does the approach of the series differ from what is typically published in this area?
  • Is “integration,” ultimately, a philosophical issue with bearing upon other disciplines? How should theology contribute to the conceptual work of philosophy in the area of “Christian integration”?
  • The “integration of faith and learning” has become a slogan, if not a fad of sorts, for many Christian intellectuals and educators. But I get the sense that “integration” as a vision and an endeavor is far more than a slogan or fad for you and this series.
  • Christian work at the intersection of the sciences is an important area of integration, especially given the authority that scientific knowledge has within Western cultures. Are the positions of “theistic evolution” and “Christian physicalism” the result of proper integration or a failure to understand genuine integration between Christian truth and other disciplines?
  • How should Christians approach, use and present the teaching of scripture when engaging in genuine integration between what the Bible claims and what is claimed by extra-biblical sources of knowledge?
  • Does the holistic character of discipleship and spiritual formation demand integration? If so, how and why?
  • How and why is integration work interrelated with Christian apologetics work?
  • If Christians neglect to engage in integration work, what are the costs or consequences?
  • What are the top three issues or concerns that Christian faculty should confront when attempting to integrate their Christian beliefs with their discipline?
  • In the years to come, what would you like to see happen in the area of integration and this series among self-identified Christian universities, colleges, and seminaries?

Stargate Universe and the Inference to Design

Stargate Universe breaks the old formula of the sci-fi television franchise. It is edgier, grittier, and darker than what we’ve come to expect from the world first created by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. Since that modest film in 1994, two popular television spin-offs (SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis), and several direct-to-DVD films have explored the expanded universe and taken an ever-increasing fanbase along for the journey.

The new series is about an unprepared, under-equipped team of scientists and soldiers who must evacuate their base and step through an intergalactic Stargate. They find themselves several galaxies away from home and on a ship of Ancient design that has been traveling through the universe for thousands of millennia. In order to survive and find some way to get home again, they must work together and confront internal and external difficulties.

In one of the episodes, an astro-physicist is describing their predicament in a video-journal segment onboard the ship:

“The odds of coming out of FTL [Faster-than-Light] on the outer edge of a star-system are astronomical. Throw into the fact that there are three potentially habitable planets, plus a gas giant to act as a comet catcher on the outside of system, we’re talking miraculous. . . So, there’s a chance now that we’re gonna live. . . . though, our definition of habitable just means the surface temperature range allows for the presence of liquid water and since the primary’s a Red Dwarf the planets must have a relatively short orbital radius just to fall within that range, which means there’s a likelihood that at least one or two of them will be tidally locked, meaning one side will always be facing the star, which increases the prospect of geological instability due to tidal stresses, and I can’t stand earth-quakes. . . . but it might be nice.”

It’s a interesting statement and highlights some poignant points in the contemporary debate concerning teleology and the anthropic principle:

In the past, the Stargate writers have not bothered to explain the existence of so many life-hospitable worlds. Of course, this is their prerogative. Stargate is fiction and we can expect a certain amount of suspension-of-belief. In the past the scientific community assumed that there would be an abundance of planets able to support the existence of advanced life given the abundance of stars in the universe. But this speech reveals that the writers are aware that of late this assumption has been strongly questioned.

This character points out a handful of the many requisite conditions, all of which fall within very narrow parameters, for advanced life to be able to survive. Her speech emphasizes how very fortunate they were to have even a few of these requisite conditions fulfilled, yet how very far they were from an ideal scenario. The effect for the viewer is to understand that this was no coincidence or random circumstance, even though the result was less than optimal. Indeed, latter on other characters assume contrivance and deliberation is responsible for the extremely fortunate location of the ship when it exited FTL. The intelligence immediately suspected as responsible is the ships automated computers, and this is later confirmed – though not for the reason they first suspected. In short, the Stargate Universe writers had their characters and viewers make an inference to design.

My question is then, what makes this inference to design so very reasonable?

First, it was recognised that the high improbability of their location when they exited FTL was not sufficient to justifiably make the inference to design. There were also the multiple factors that multiplied improbability on improbability so “miraculous” was an apt description. Still, this extreme improbability would not have been enough had each of these factors together not fallen within specific narrow parameters that would allow for their continued existence.

Second, the inference to design could be made as the best explanation. In the absence of any good reason to think that the fortune of their location was due to other explanations, they were justified in accepting intelligent design as the best explanation. This is true when alternate naturalistic explanations, such as chance and physical necessity, are exhausted.

Third, the inference to design was made easier when they had an intelligence that could plausibly be responsible. The initial hypothesis was that when power failure was immanent the ship’s computer activated a program that told it to drop out of FTL at the nearest system with a habitable planet they had a chance of surviving on. The crew of the ship had an intelligence available that could explain their fortunate circumstance, so they could easily make the inference to design. Objectors to teleology sometimes accuse the proponents of design of circular reasoning – the only reason for accepting a designer, they say, is because one already believes there is a designer. The trouble with this response is; it is not the only reason. The First and Second considerations above are others. The point here is to emphasize that if one already has good reason to think there is intelligence capable of said design, then the inference to design is even more reasonable.

Yet even if there was no intelligence apparent to them they were still justified in suggesting some form of intelligence was responsible. That is, even if they could know nothing more of the nature of this intelligence, they would still have good reason to think that some agent with intelligence and causal potency exists. For even if the crew of the Ancient ship had known nothing of computers yet somehow been aware of their extremely fortunate circumstance, they would be justified in their inference to design. Similarly, if the ship were instead a translucent bubble with no apparent computer system, the crew would be justified when apprised of their fortunate circumstance in making an inference to some form of intelligence responsible.

The next question to consider is this: if the Sci-fy channel can appeal to this teleological intuition, why can’t Christian’s wishing to develop a teleological argument for God’s existence also do this, since the intuition seems so fully reasonable?

The planet that we occupy is suitable for the existence and the sustaining of advanced life. The conditions for any planet being suitable for the existence and the sustaining of advanced life are many and variegated, and each condition falls within narrow parameters, such that if any one fell outside that minute safety zone advanced life could not have come to exist nor be sustained. Because of the extreme improbability of finding conditions suitable for the existence and sustaining of advanced life, expectation of finding planets suitable for the existence or sustaining of advanced life is low, yet we find advanced life not only existing but also thriving on our own planet. We are in a position to understand at least some of the conditions and narrow parameters that earth fulfills to make possible advanced life’s continued existence. We have no reason to think such fortune would be physically necessary. Chance fails as a superior explanation when multiple independent conditions with high specificity render the description “miraculous” or else improbable in the extreme. We are therefore justified in making the inference to a designing intelligence responsible for the existence and sustaining of life on earth. This fits more naturally with a theistic worldview than an atheistic worldview.

Panel Discussion of Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell

On January 28, the C.S. Lewis Society hosted a panel at Tampa, Florida, to discuss Stephen Meyer’s new book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. The audio from that discussion is now available on the Society website. Download it here.

On the panel was the book’s author Meyer, mathematician and popular author David Berlinski, and apologist and professor of theology Tom Woodward. Radio host Michael Medved chaired the exchange. The discussion lasts for over two hours and explores the evidence for  intelligent design and Meyer’s central claim that the information in DNA demonstrates a designing intelligence behind the origin of life.

Stephen Meyer’s book is available on Amazon.

Here are some of the book’s endorsements:

Signature in the Cell delivers a superb overview of the surprising and exciting developments that led to our modern understanding of DNA, and its role in cells.   Meyer tells the story in a most engaging way.  He retained my interest through many areas that would normally have turned me off.  He is careful to credit new ideas and discoveries to their originators, even when he disagrees with the uses to which they have been put.  The central idea of the book is that the best explanation of the information coded in DNA is that it resulted from intelligent design.  Meyer has marshaled a formidable array of evidence from fields as diverse as biochemistry, philosophy and information theory.  He deals fairly and thoroughly with even the most controversial aspects and has made a compelling case for his conclusion.  The book is a delightful read which will bring enlightenment and enjoyment to every open minded reader.
—Dr. John C. Walton, School of Chemistry, University of St. Andrews

Signature in the Cell is the quintessential work on DNA and its implications for intelligent design.
Greg Koukl, host of Stand To Reason

How does an intelligent person become a proponent of intelligent design? Anyone who stereotypes IDers as antiscientific ideologues or fundamentalists should read Dr. Meyer’s compelling intellectual memoir. Meyer as a student became fascinated with the ‘DNA enigma’—how the information to produce life originated—and at considerable risk to his career hasn’t given up trying to solve the mystery. Meyer shows how step-by-step he concluded that intelligent design is the most likely explanation of how the DNA code came to be, but he’s open to new evidence—and in so doing he challenges defenders of undirected evolution to have the courage to explore new alternatives as well.
— Dr. Marvin Olasky, provost, The King’s College, New York City, and editor-in-chief, World

In this engaging narrative, Meyer demonstrates what I as a chemist have long suspected: undirected chemical processes cannot produce the exquisite complexity of the living cell. Meyer also shows something else: there is compelling positive evidence for intelligent design in the digital code stored in the cell’s DNA. A decisive case based upon breathtaking and cutting-edge science.
Dr. Philip S. Skell, National Academy of Sciences and Evan Pugh Professor at Pennsylvania State University, emeritus

(HT: Brian)

Five Arguments for God

The Gospel Coalition have released the seventh article for their Christ on Campus Initiative, entitled “Five Arguments for God”. The essay is written by well-known apologist and Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, William Lane Craig. Weighing in at thirty pages, Craig’s article re-examines five arguments for the existence of God and particularly how these arguments hold up against the popular criticism of Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Craig writes:

“It’s perhaps something of a surprise that almost none of the so-called New Atheists has anything to say about arguments for God’s existence. Instead, they do tend to focus on the social effects of religion and question whether religious belief is good for society. One might justifiably doubt that the social impact of an idea for good or ill is an adequate measure of its truth, especially when there are reasons being offered to think that the idea in question really is true. Darwinism, for example, has certainly had at least some negative social influences, but that’s hardly grounds for thinking the theory to be false and simply ignoring the biological evidence in its favor.

Perhaps the New Atheists think that the traditional arguments for God’s existence are now passé and so no longer need refutation. If so, they are naïve. Over the last generation there has been a revival of interest among professional philosophers, whose business it is to think about difficult metaphysical questions, in arguments for the existence of God…

The New Atheists are blissfully ignorant of this ongoing revolution in Anglo-American philosophy. They are generally out of touch with cutting-edge work in this field. About the only New Atheist to interact with arguments for God’s existence is Richard Dawkins. In his book The God Delusion, which has become an international best-seller, Dawkins examines and offers refutations of many of the most important arguments for God. He deserves credit for taking the arguments seriously. But are his refutations cogent? Has Dawkins dealt a fatal blow to the arguments?

Well, let’s look at some of those arguments and see.”

The five arguments that Craig covers are:

1. the cosmological argument from contingency
2. the kalam cosmological argument based on the beginning of the universe
3. the moral argument based upon objective moral values and duties
4. the teleological argument from fine-tuning
5. the ontological argument from the possibility of God’s existence to his actuality

It is an excellent overview and along with the other articles (see our post on the CCI here) together offer valuable material for campus ministries (or anyone else).

The article can be read here or downloaded as a pdf.

The Ten Most Popular Philosophy Articles from Think

Cambridge University Press has collected the most downloaded articles in 2009 from their journal Think: Philosophy for Everyone (which includes Groothius’ article, as previously posted).  The journal has contributions from leading philosophers, with articles by Alvin Plantinga, Paul Helm, Anthony Flew, Michael Ruse, Richard Swinburne and our own New Zealand philosopher, Matt Flannagan.  If you’re not fortunate enough to have subscription access via an academic institution, the free samples are a good introduction to some of the issues in the field.

Here are the top articles:

Who Designed the Designer?: A Dialogue on Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion
Douglas Groothuis
Think , Volume 8 , Issue 21 , Mar 2009 , pp 71-81

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues that any designer capable of creating the universe and the things we find in it would have to be at least as complex as his creation. If complexity requires a designer, then the designer will require a designer, and so on to infinity. Rather than actually providing an explanation for complexity we see around us, those who invoke a cosmic designer merely postpone the problem. Here, Douglas Groothuis challenges Dawkins’s argument.

Why Hobbits Cannot Exist
Ben Kotzee and J.P. Smit
Think , Volume 8 , Issue 21 , Mar 2009 , pp 29-36

Kotzee and Smit explain why, if unicorns don’t exist, then they could not possibly have existed. In fact, even if horned horses were discovered somewhere, they would not necessarily be unicorns. The key to understanding why this is so lies in understanding how so-called natural kind terms function.

Richard Swinburne’s Is there a God?
Richard Dawkins
Think, Volume 2, Issue 04, June 2003, pp 51-54

In this review of Richard Swinburne’s Is There a God? (which contains the same two arguments from design that may be found in his article in issue one of Think), Richard Dawkins admires Swinburne’s clarity but is unconvinced by his arguments. Dawkins questions, in particular, Swinburne’s suggestion that the hypothesis that God exists and sustains his creation is simpler than the hypothesis that there is no God.

A Dialogue on Immortality
Mikel Burley
Think , Volume 8 , Issue 21 , Mar 2009 , pp 91-97

The fictional case of Elina Makropulos has been a focus for philosophical reflections on immortality. Here Mikel Burley presents a conversation between Elina and two imaginary philosophers (some, but not all, of whose views bear a passing resemblance to those of Bernard Williams and John Martin Fischer respectively).

Justice as a Natural Phenomenon
Ken Binmore
Think , Volume 8 , Issue 22 , Jun 2009 , pp 7-23

This article is my latest attempt to come up with a minimal version of my evolutionary theory of fairness, previously summarized in my book Natural Justice. The naturalism that I espouse is currently unpopular, but Figure 1 shows that the scientific tradition in moral philosophy nevertheless has a long and distinguished history. John Mackie’s Inventing Right and Wrong is the most eloquent expression of the case for naturalism in modern times. Mackie’s demolition of the claims made for a priori reasoning in moral philosophy seem unanswerable to me.

After my Own Heart: Dorothy Sayers’ Feminism
Susan Haack
Think , Volume 7 , Issue 19 , Jun 2008 , pp 23-33

Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, published in 1936, explores still-topical questions about the relation of epistemological and ethical values, and about the place of women in the life of the mind. In her wry reflections on the radical differences between today’s feminist philosophy and Sayers’ no-nonsense observation that “women are more like men than anything else on earth,” Susan Haack draws both on this detective story and on Sayers’ wonderfully brisk essay, ‘Are Women Human?’

The Golden Rule
Brad Hooker
Think , Volume 4 , Issue 10 , Jun 2005 , pp 25-29

Should you always do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Brad Hooker investigates a seemingly plausible-looking moral principle: the Golden Rule.

Morality with and without God
Terence Thomas
Think , Volume 7 , Issue 20 , Dec 2008 , pp 47-55

It began with a lie. Perhaps not a big lie, at least I didn’t think so at the time, but a lie nevertheless. My Vicar had taken me for an interview with our Bishop following my application, supported by him, to undergo ordination training. My Vicar had prepared me well except that he never warned me that I would be asked if I was sure that I had a vocation. I had to hazard a guess at what this question meant. I wanted to be a clergyman like the Vicar and I sensed that if I answered: “No”, to the bishop’s question, I probably wouldn’t be proceeding much further. So I said “Yes”, not really knowing what I was committing myself to. Later I worked out that the question was meant to reassure the bishop that I had had a word from God. At the end, many, many years later, when I admitted to myself that there really wasn’t a god, it was the same question that rose up to meet me. By then I had to admit that I had never, ever had a word from God.

Could a Machine Think?
Stephen Law
Think, Volume 1, Issue 01, March 2002, pp 55-65

The year is 2100. Geena is the proud new owner of Emit, a state-of-the-art robot. She has just unwrapped him, the packaging strewn across the dining room floor. Emit is designed to replicate the outward behaviour of a human being down to the last detail (except that he is rather more compliant and obedient). Emit responds to questions in much the same way humans do. Ask him how he feels and he will say he has had a tough day, has a slight headache, is sorry he broke that vase, and so on. Geena flips the switch at the back of Emit’s neck to ‘on’. Emit springs to life.

Is Atheism a Faith Position?
Piers Benn
Think, Volume 5, Issue 13, June 2006, pp 25-34

In a recent issue of Think, Brenda Watson suggested that atheism is also a ‘faith position’. Here, Piers Benn looks more closely at this often-made suggestion.

Also check out the free essays in the March issue of the journal, such as The Emperor’s Incoherent New Clothes – Pointing the Finger at Dawkins’ Atheism by Peter S. Williams and Against Mythicism: A Case for the Plausibility of a Historical Jesus by Edmund Standing.

Who Designed the Designer?

Last year, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary Douglas Groothius wrote an essay in the philosophy journal, Think: Philosophy for Everyone, challenging some of Dawkins’ claims in the The God Delusion about the argument from design. It was one of the journal’s most popular essays of the year and if you haven’t read it, the article is available as a free sample on the Cambridge University Press website. Think seeks to expose contemporary philosophy to the widest possible readership and here Groothius has presented his arguments in the form of fictional conversation at a book discussion group. Anthony is the atheist; Agnes, the agnostic; and Theo, the theist:

Anthony: … There is one argument against theism that Dawkins returns to repeatedly. It isn’t new, but he uses it powerfully. And it can be stated simply, I think.

Theo: I think I know what is coming.

Anthony: Dawkins says that believers in God use God as a kind of philosophical trump card to explain certain aspects of nature. When they cannot explain something scientifically, they simply invoke God to end the argument. So, if we cannot explain something very complex and seemingly designed, like the rotary motor attached the back of the bacterium in the cell, God is invoked. I’m talking about the bacterial flagellum, the poster child for the Intelligent Design (or ID) movement. These people say, ‘It was designed by an intelligence, not brought about by nature alone’.

Theo: That’s right. ID thinkers call it ‘the design inference.’ It appeals to empirically observable facts – from biology and cosmology – and infers from these facts that the best explanation is design, rather than some combination of chance and necessity, which are unintelligent, nondirective causes.

Agnes: It sounds like these ID people are at least trying to give a scientific argument, aren’t they?

Anthony: Agnes, it’s a ruse, a charade really. Think of the Wizard of Oz. He seems to be a supernatural wizard, when in fact he is a mere human with special effects. As Dawkins says, ID is ‘creationism in a cheap tuxedo.’

Theo: That smells like a false analogy, but go on. And watch out for ad hominem fallacies as well.

Anthony: I am happy to do so. I’m just getting warmed up. At an intuitive level, it seems that a designer is the most commonsensical explanation for some things in nature. If you see Mount Rushmore or ‘John Loves Mary’ written in the sands of a beach, you infer a designer. Fair enough.

Theo: That’s right! You seem to get the design inference at a basic level, although it can be put more technically. You have a complex phenomenon that fits a specifiable pattern: either the faces of presidents (Mount Rushmore) or a known and meaningful sentence (‘John loves Mary’). Design is, therefore, a warranted inference.

Anthony: Don’t get your hopes up, Theo. We have to look for the man behind the curtain and there is no one there – only nature! You see, as Dawkins points out, any supposed designer would be a case of specified complex itself (or herself or himself). Therefore, that designer’s existence would need to be explained by a previous designer. And that designer, being complex, would have to be explained by another designer, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. There is a vicious and infinite regress in which nothing at all gets explained. It goes on forever and that is philosophically nauseating.

Agnes: I see. It would be like jumping out of a bottomless pit!

Anthony: That’s it exactly, Agnes. You see, the appeal to a designer does not really explain anything. It just seems to, since we explain things like sculptures and sentences on the basis of intelligent agents who design them. But the sculptors and sentence-writers are not the last word. Their own existence needs explanation. So, the ID examples are misleading. Atheism is superior, since it explains everything according to what is simple: particles and natural laws banged into existence about 14 billion years ago.

Theo: It’s about time I slowed down this atheistic train and made some distinctions, Anthony. You are asserting that ID thinkers assume this principle: any complex entity that is specified in its pattern requires a designer outside of itself as a sufficient explanation.

Anthony: I suppose I am, and so does Dawkins. What’s wrong with that?

Theo: Everything is wrong with that. It’s a straw man fallacy. ID attempts to explain certain features of nature that indicate intelligence. These artifacts or systems are finite and material in nature. That is the explanandum if you will.

Anthony: Stop showing off, Theo. What does explanandum mean?

Theo: It simply means: the thing explained. The explacans is what does the explaining.

Anthony: OK. Very impressive. But I don’t discern an argument as yet.

Theo: Be patient. The point is this: ID is not operating from the premise that everything that is complex requires an explanation outside itself. Rather, it attempts to explain certain finite and material states of affairs through the design inference. It does not operate on some general philosophical principle that anything at all that is complex requires an explanation outside itself.1

Agnes: Dawkins never mentioned this. Did he misrepresent the ID argument?

Theo: In spades, he did! Dawkins is not the most sympathetic interlocutor. Moreover, a bona fide explanation can be given even if the thing that explains something else is not itself explained. For example, if I explain that Sam slipped because he stepped on a banana peel that is a genuine explanation. I do not have to explain how the banana peel got there!

Anthony: I suppose so. But what if the designer is a finite, material thing with specified complexity? Then it, too, requires an explanation.

Theo: Yes, but ID only tries to explain finite, material, complex states that are empirically observable. It leaves certain aspects of the designer or designers unspecified.

Anthony: Hah! So what kind of natural theology is that?! You don’t even know who the designer is.

Agnes: Right. So even if I accept the design inference, I can still remain agnostic about the existence of the full-strength monotheistic God: personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, totally good, and so on.

You can find the whole article here or download it as PDF file.

(HT: The Constructive Curmudgeon)

Don Carson on Learning How to Interpret the Bible

Modern Reformation have made available a good article by Don Carson, research professor of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, on the discipline of interpreting the Bible:

“Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation; biblical hermeneutics is the art and science of interpreting the Bible. At the time of the Reformation, debates over interpretation played an enormously important role. These were debates over interpretation, not just over interpretations. In other words, the Reformers disagreed with their opponents not only over what this or that passage meant, but over the nature of interpretation, the locus of authority in interpretation, the role of the church and of the Spirit in interpretation, and much more.

During the last half-century, so many developments have taken place in the realm of hermeneutics that it would take a very long article even to sketch them in lightly. Sad to say, nowadays many scholars are more interested in the challenges of the discipline of hermeneutics itself, than in the Bible that hermeneutics should help us handle more responsibly. Ironically, there are still some people who think that there is something slightly sleazy about interpretation. Without being crass enough to say so, they secretly harbor the opinion that what others offer are interpretations, but what they offer is just what the Bible says.

Carl F. H. Henry is fond of saying that there are two kinds of presuppositionalists: those who admit it and those who don’t. We might adapt his analysis to our topic: There are two kinds of practitioners of hermeneutics: those who admit it and those who don’t.

The fact of the matter is that every time we find something in the Bible (whether it is there or not!), we have interpreted the Bible. There are good interpretations and there are bad interpretations, but there is no escape from interpretation.”

Carson offers some guidelines for resolving difficult interpretive issues:

(1) As conscientiously as possible, seek the balance of Scripture, and avoid succumbing to historical and theological disjunctions.

(2) Recognize that the antithetical nature of certain parts of the Bible, not least some of Jesus’ preaching, is a rhetorical device, not an absolute. The context must decide where this is the case.

(3) Be cautious about absolutizing what is said or commanded only once.

(4) Carefully examine the biblical rationale for any saying or command.

(5) Carefully observe that the formal universality of proverbs and of proverbial sayings is only rarely an absolute universality. If proverbs are treated as statutes or case law, major interpretive and pastoral errors will inevitably ensue.

(6) The application of some themes and subjects must be handled with special care, not only because of their intrinsic complexity, but also because of essential shifts in social structures between Biblical times and our own day.

Read the whole thing here. You will need to become a subscriber to read back issues of the magazine, and this article by Carson will no longer be viewable after the close of the month. For further work by Carson on Biblical exegesis, check out his excellent Exegetical Fallacies. It is a must-have for serious students of the Bible.

(HT: Jonny King)

Apologetics Study Bible for Students

The sheer volume of Bible translations, commentaries and resources available in English is staggering. While many language groups still go without the Bible in their own dialect, English has many hundreds of translations to encourage personal study, meditation and memorization. Holman Bible Publishers have added to that vast reservoir by releasing the Apologetics Study Bible for Students. HCSB is responsible for the popular Apologetics Study Bible, which sold more than 115,000 copies. This new study Bible is directed to younger Christians, with the goal of providing accessible responses to some of the central challenges to Christianity.

The study Bible uses the HCSB translation, which tries to find a middle ground between dynamic and formal equivalence (what they have termed “optimal equivalence”). Some might argue that it can sometimes favour literalness over readability but overall it is still a solid, useful translation. Edited by Sean McDowell, a leader at the Bible department of Capistrano Valley Christian Schools in California, the Apologetics Study Bible for Students also includes contributions from Josh McDowell, C. S. Lewis, Dan Kimball, Hank Hanegraaff, and others.

Some other features:

• Two-color design-intensive layout on every page

• Sixty “Twisted Scriptures” explanations (addressing eccentric Biblical interpretations by cults and others)

• Fifty “Bones & Dirt” entries (archaeology meets apologetics)

• Fifty “Notable Quotes”

• Twenty-five “Tactics” against common anti-Christian arguments

• Twenty “Personal Stories” of how God has worked in real lives

• Twenty “Top Five” lists to help remember key apologetics topics

It’s true, the Apologetics Study Bible was not without its weaknesses, but it nonetheless presented some good material from top evangelical apologists and scholars in a way that was accessible and easy to understand.  It will be exciting if this new study Bible is able to do something similar and encourage a whole new generation of Christians to become people of virtue and maturity by having renewed confidence in their Bibles and realizing that our religion is a religion of knowledge, not private faith.

(HT: Brian at Apologetics 315)

Why Truth Matters

Without truth we cannot answer the fundamental objection that faith in God is simply a form of “bad faith” or “poor faith.” The wilder accusation of “bad faith” … is one of the deepest and most damaging charges against [faith] in the last two centuries. …Christians believe, critics say, not because of good reasons but because they are afraid not to believe. Without faith, they would be naked to the alternatives, such as the terror of meaninglessness or the nameless dread of unspecified guilt. Faith is therefore a handy shield to ward off the fear, a comforting tune to whistle in the darkness; it is, however, fundamentally untrue, irrational, and illegitimate — and therefore “inauthentic” and “bad faith.”

In modern times the charge of “bad faith” was raised by the French existentialists but is more widely associated with Marxist and Freudian attacks on religion — religion for Marx was the “opium of the people” and for Freud a “projection.” Needless to say, the germ of the charge is far older and wider. “Fear made the gods,” wrote Lucretius as a first-century B.C. Roman. Or as Henrik Ibsen remarked as a nineteenth-century Norwegian, “Take away the life-lie from the average man and you take away his happiness.” Whatever the historical period, the dynamic of the accusation is the same.

… There are several possible responses to this charge, such as those who wield it are rarely courageous enough to turn it on their own beliefs, the very charge is itself the biblical critique of idols, and so on. But at the end of the day, there is no answer without one: Those who put their faith in God do so for all sorts of good reasons, but the very best reason is that they are finally, utterly, and incontrovertibly convinced that the faith in which they put their confidence is true.

Os Guinness in Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, & Spin (Baker Books 2000), pages 76-77.