Wednesday, 5 September 2012

21st Century Apologetics: A Roundtable Discussion

I have just returned from my three month trip to America. During that time, I had various adventures of varying levels of excitement. The last few days I spent in Atlanta, Georgia where I went to Dragon*Con. However, I was privileged to be invited by my good friend Nick Peters, to visit him and his wife Allie at the house of his father-in-law, none other than scholar, historian, and well-known Christian apologist, Mike Licona. What was even more exciting was that Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig were there also, and they gave short talks about their most recent research projects. I, and other people who were invited to this talk, had the opportunity to pose questions to these esteemed Christian intellectuals. I shall do my best to relate the talks and the discussions that were had.

William Lane Craig - Divine Aseity and the Challenge of Platonism

This is an interesting subject, as it covers the property of God's self-existence. In Christian thought, God is the only self-existent being, and is the creator of all other beings, both seen and unseen. Dr. Craig said that he has been busy researching this subject because of a potential powerful argument against theism and for atheism, and that is the argument that platonic objects undercut this notion of divine aseity, and so the position of theism is rendered false. It is interesting to note, however, as Dr. Craig remarked, that this is argument has never been offered by any atheist to our current knowledge. This is a problem that has been bought forward by and discussed by, almost exclusively it would seem, Christian Theists. The problem is, if there are abstract entities, as postulated by Plato, then they would exist necessarily, and thus would be uncreated. Thus, God would not be their creator, and God's necessary self-existence would not be unique, rendering theism false. Dr. Craig primarily discussed a view he had been analysing recently named 'neo-meinongianism,' which is a unique ontological position which was derived from and named after Austrian philosopher Alexius Meinong.

Meinong noted that we are capable of attributing properties to things that do not exist. We can think of unicorns, Bigfoot, and the Slender Manet al., yet these entities do not exist. Meinong thus concluded that there were a class of beings that do not exist. Or rather, that therefore there exists non-existent beings. Whilst this is obviously flawed, the lesson to be learned here is that we can and do often think about things that do not actually exist. Dr. Craig argues that this is the case with abstract objects such as numbers, propositions, and properties, et al. The number two does not actually exist. When we refer to the number two, we are not positing the existence of the number two as an abstract entity that stands over other things. When we say that something such has the property of goldenness, we are not suggesting that such a thing as goldenness exists. Two plausible alternatives to platonism that Dr. Craig mentioned were nominalism, whereby abstract objects do not actually exist, or conceptualism, where they exist as ideas in the mind of God.

Gary Habermas - Apologetical Issues of the 21st Century: The Death of Atheism and the Challenge of Neo-Paganism

Gary Habermas spoke of his pontifications over what apologetical issues concern Christians in the 21st century. By this, he means, which issues specific for 21st century Christians are there? Dr. Habermas noted an article he had read in the New York Times by David Brooks that noted that atheism is dead. The new atheism is its death knell, and the noise of it kicking up its heels as it passes away. Instead of atheism, Christians today will have to deal with what the article refers to as 'Neural Buddhism.' Essentially a catch-all term for the latest, most modern version of the new age movement. A potpourri of spiritualistic religions with a shared belief of universalism and relativism, i.e. everything is equally valid. Furthermore, we live in an age where theistic arguments can be co-opted by other religious groups. Dr. Habermas noted how arguments from physics and neuro-science were taken as supportive of the Hare Krishna movement and their religious beliefs.

The evidence for theism is more or less conclusive and has been stronger now that in any other point in recent times. We have evidence from physics both for the beginning of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe. There is good, concrete evidence for miracles and other 'super-natural' occurrences. Dr. Habermas noted Craig Keener's impressive work on Miracles as being an impressive catalogue of such occurrences. We are becoming more sure of the non-materiality of the mind, amongst other things, as well as the fact that humans are hard-wired for transcendental experiences. Dr. Habermas notes that these are consistent with more than just Christian Theism, and that we need specific Christian evidences. Obviously, the evidence for the resurrection is the strongest of these, but we also need to make sure to press other points to. Like how evidence from cosmology favours monotheism over polytheism, and an intelligent creator over an unconscious force, etc.

Mike Licona - Contradictions in the Bible: Methods for Analysing the New Testament

Mike Licona noted how a big problem for some people is the existence of apparent contradictions in the Bible. Even though the historicity for the resurrection of Jesus and the truth of Christianity does not depend upon these, it is nonetheless a problem for some people. Dr. Licona thus discussed ways of dealing with these apparent contradictions by analysing the New Testament text and comparing them with similar ancient texts from the same period. He noted that some people would contend that we must treat the New Testament as unique and as entirely literal, yet this would lead to absurdities. For example, we would be required to believe that the dragon described in Revelation is a literal dragon from outer space, vis a vis the Iron Man (which, unironically, is a position held by none other than Norman Geisler.) It is precisely this reading of the New Testament that leads to difficulties and alleged contradictions.

If, however, we compare the New Testament to other literature of the same period, said contradictions disappear. Dr. Licona noted that some effort has already been made to compare the Gospels to other ancient works of biography. What Dr. Licona has been doing is to expand this knowledge by analysing the works of a single author, in this case, Plutarch. Licona contacted the leading expert on Plutarch and discovered that such a project has not been undertaken before. What Dr. Licona did was to go through multiple works of Plutarch, especially looking for multiple accounts of the same events. Licona noted several techniques employed by Plutarch that are found in the New Testament, yet Plutarch is still regarded as a good historian. For example, Plutarch would compress accounts. Another technique would be to attribute the words of one person to a person who agreed with those words to emphasise the fact that the other person agreed with those words.

1 comment:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...