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>Bypassing the argument thru definition

2009 September 21 54 comments

>Choosing one’s terms and labels may be an effective rhetorical technique; albeit frequently a dishonest one. Here are few examples that I find irritating.

Pro abortion as pro-choice

I have concerns with terms used on both sides of this debate, but this the more insidious. It is describing the issue in terms of freedom, but opponents to abortion are by no means anti-freedom. They see the issue as one of murder. I don’t hear “pro-choice” people advocating for the freedom of men to murder adults, or steal property. The pro-freedom position is reasonably described as libertarian. It is true many libertarians are “pro-choice” but this is not universal with some libertarians arguing against abortion. More relevant however is the position “pro-choice” people take otherwise, and this is commonly a socialist leaning position, hardly a paragon of choice or freedom. I would not be surprised to learn that opponents of abortion have a stronger commitment to choice outside the abortion debate.

I don’t particularly like the term “pro-life” either. The debate is about whether a fetus is living in a sense that confers the fetus natural rights. Although I hold this position, many abortion advocates disagree with it. As such they could argue they are pro-life and consistent by opposing capital punishment. I think it preferable to use accurate unloaded terms such as “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion.”

Science as methodological naturalism

Science does not need to be defined this way and historically it was not. While it may seem somewhat reasonable on the surface, it fails on 2 counts. The meaning and reason for the term “methodological naturalism” is that one can not invoke the supernatural as an explanation, rather science seeks natural explanations for various phenomena. Given that operational science was invented by supernaturalists whose concept of God (immutable) gave them reason to think the world was orderly and thus amenable to repeated observation with an expectation of identical findings, it is uncertain why a definition using “naturalism” needs to be invoked centuries later.

It fails because it does not apply to historical science which has no such non-supernatural limitations yet historical science is considered part of the broader concept of science. And it fails because it contains a philosophical term: Naturalism has a range of claims which are not derived from science, nor does science intrinsically favour naturalism.

Such a term can lead to the claim that science has disproved God. But analysis of this claim will show it to be circular. God is excluded by definition, and any thesis sans God is deemed “scientifically” preferable, even if untrue.

Gender neutral as gender accurate translation

There is debate about how to best translate various Greek words into English in Bible translation. Does one translate masculine pronouns such as “he” inclusively or specifically? Does the Greek word anthropos mean “person” or “man” with generic connotations at times? I do not intend to discuss the merits of both arguments, just note that the inclusive school uses the term “gender accurate” to describe their theory. They argue that an inclusive view is intended by biblical authors, thus improved accuracy. One problem is that the term “accurate” is more synonymous with “precision” than “intention”. The other problem, of course, is that the debate is around which translation theory is the most accurate. Using a term as part of your definition, then claiming something is thus, by definition—often implicitly—resolves nothing.

Suggestion

The reason this annoys me is that the terms are deliberately chosen. Their inventors are not so much trying to frame the debate as circumvent it. I find it disingenuous.

This is not to suggest choosing various terms is intrinsically dishonest. If a different term brings clarity, or is neutral, or both, then it may be preferable.

Sometimes one should consider terms used by his opponents. While the adoption of labels from the opposition is not compulsory, they may sometimes be accurate. Another option is to use historical terms.

>A defense of inerrancy

2008 September 21 15 comments

>I heard mention of inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures in a sermon recently. The speaker was defending infallibility though he is not an inerrantist. It would seem that these terms seem synonymous so perhaps some definitions are in order.

Infallibility
Incapable of error in expounding doctrine on faith or morals.
Inability to err in teaching revealed truth.
Inerrancy
True in any claim of fact.
Without error, and free from all contradiction.

“Fallibility” in theology is describing reliability, “errancy” is describing error. Inerrancy encompasses infallibility, that is if the Bible is error free then it is also reliable. Inerrantists are infallibilists. However one can claim that the Bible is reliable and useful for faith yet claim it contains errors of fact. Infallibilists may or may not be inerrantists. I claim the latter position is difficult to defend logically and scripturally, but that is not the intent of this post.

During the sermon the position of inerrancy was dismissed in, what I consider, somewhat of a strawman manner. Inerrantists were portrayed as being somewhat simplistic and unthinking. The kind who say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” While people of that persuasion undoubtedly exist, this is not the zenith of an inerrancy apologetic and one should should consider the best claims of his opponents, not the poorest.

I am an inerrantist because I think that is the position Scripture points to. The Bible does not appear to discriminate between facts of faith and facts of history. Conversely the Bible claims to be grounded in history. We can believe God about things we cannot know because he is reliable in the things we do know. The early Christians backed up the truth of Christianity by appeal to a fact of history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now we can know much about the spiritual implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection based on revelation by God, but this revelation is confirmed in our minds by the very fact that Jesus did indeed die and then rise from the dead! Many people make claims about spiritual truths but many are also unreliable. They cannot back up their claims with events that prove them trustworthy. If they are unreliable in earthly things why should we believe them about spiritual things.

But rather than an extensive defence of inerrancy at this stage, I want to describe what it is inerrantists claim.

Inerrantists believe the Bible to be true in every factual statement it affirms. Inerrantists can agree with the quote, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” though preferably with qualification.

The last two clauses are relatively straightforward:

  • I believe, or I affirm that what Scripture claims is true;
  • The debate is settled on the side of Scriptural claims because God never errs.

The problem lies in the first clause. While true on the face of it, the debate is around what exactly did God say? The speaker is equating the Bible with God’s words: written in the Bible = God said it. But Bible may not say what the speaker is claiming the Bible says. So while the inerrantist believes the Bible is true in everything it affirms, the careful inerrantist wants to know what exactly the Bible does affirm; nothing more, nothing less.

While people may disagree on specific meanings of texts, there are several relevant issues in understanding Scripture. I will address the literalism claim in more depth.

Inerrantists don’t hold to a literal reading of every text. While they believe much of the Bible is to be taken literally (while errantists may not do so), probably the best descriptor of their hermeneutic is a “straightforward reading” of the text. So if the text is historical narrative then the claim of inerrantists is that what is written is a faithful history. The events really did happen in the way described. But this does not mean that every verse is to be read as literal. No one reads like this. Even the hyperliteralist sees metaphor in some passages. I am not aware that anyone claims the parables really happened. The literalist would rather defend that Jesus really spoke the parables.

So Scripture is to be interpreted according to genre.

Here are several beliefs that inerrantists can and do hold.

  • Poetry uses symbolism and hyperbole.
  • Proverbs are general truths and there may be specific examples of people who fail to follow the general rule.
  • Fables and allegory illustrate an underlying reality.
  • Analogies carry over an aspect common to 2 situations. They may carry over several aspects but they may carry over only 1 aspect and one should be careful about over reading them.
  • People use approximations when giving information.
  • Not all information about an event may be given.
  • Early revelation is not overturned by later revelation though it may be clarified and/ or expanded upon.
  • Only the original text is necessarily inerrant.
  • Copists made errors. Extant manuscripts may contain error.
  • Translation can introduce error. The original language is inerrant, other languages are inerrant in as much as they faithfully reproduce the original.
  • The text may contain more than one meaning.
  • A strict chronology may not be followed.
  • The Bible may be (deliberately) vague in places.
  • Prophecy is often difficult to understand, especially before the fact.

Here are some examples that an infallibilist may falsely challenge an inerrantist.

  • The earth does not stand on pillars. (Job 9:6)
  • Godly parents have rebellious children. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Some Bibles include the comma Johanneum. (1 John 5:7-8)

So where would an inerrantist and infallibilist possibly disagree?

  • The numbers of returning exiles listed in Ezra and Nehemiah do not line up.
  • Was the number of demoniacs 1 or 2?
  • Jonah was not really swallowed by a sea creature.
  • The chronology of the Israelite/ Judean kings is incorrect.
  • Noah did not really live to 950.
  • Paul did not write the pastoral epistles.

An infalliblist may claim that there is error in the Bible as evidenced by this list, but because they are not claims of faith we can still learn from the principles in the stories. The inerrantist would argue that the straightforward reading of the Bible claims are indeed true or that the apparent contradictions are resolvable. He would further argue that the lessons taught are dependant on the reality of the situation: God acting in real history.

>Biblical versus scientific creationism

2008 April 10 1 comment

>Henry Morris makes an interesting distinction between scientific creationism, biblical creationism, and scientific biblical creationism.

His definitions state that scientific creationism is based on scientific data within a broad creation claim, biblical creationism defends a creation based solely on Scripture, and scientific biblical creationism is the development of the creation model based on Scripture and science.

I was a little suspicious of this when I started the article but on completion I think there may be some merit to this way of thinking. The systems are not contradictory but rather complementary as can be seen by the amalgamation of the first 2 systems in the 3rd.

Here is a summary of Morris’ principles of the systems.

Scientific Creationism

What can be known about the universe thru scientific endeavour—general revelation.

  1. The physical universe was created.
  2. The biological universal was created.
  3. The biosphere was created in bounded kinds and adaptions are neutral or information losing.
  4. Humans were created and have an added spiritual component.
  5. Catastrophism rather than uniformitarianism explains geology.
  6. Natural laws dictate the scientific method.
  7. Physical and biological structures are deteriorating.
  8. An originally perfect and now deteriorating universe implies divine purpose.
  9. Humans can investigate manifestations of the divine in the material world.

Biblical Creationism

What can be known about the universe thru biblical study—special revelation.

  1. The creator of the universe is the triune God.
  2. The Bible is divinely inspired and true in all domains it touches on.
  3. The world was created in 6 days.
  4. Adam had dominion over the earth; the Fall cursed that dominion.
  5. The Flood and confusion of languages are historical.
  6. Alienation of man from God can only be rectified by God, and that in Christ.
  7. God will restore creation in the future and give life to those who accept him and death to those who reject him.
  8. Jesus will return and remove the Curse.
  9. Men should subdue the earth and proclaim Christ.

I am not certain I would choose these specific items or group them this way, but it shows some of what can be known by general revelation and what is added with special revelation. Further, additional ground can be made by marrying the specific to the general: we have much greater insight when it is clear that not only is geology catastrophic (general revelation), most of it was due to a single event over about 1 year (special revelation).

It is also apparent that general revelation is subservient to special revelation. For example if the world was made in 6 days this is not obtainable from scientific endeavour. Even if science can teach us much, such as fixity of kinds and that creation must have been over a short period (symbiosis and ecology), it cannot teach us a 6 day creation. But this information is obtainable thru revelation from the creator who made the world.

Biblical priority is real. Believing this can alter our perspective, which it the topic of my next post.

>The essence of hypocrisy

2007 April 28 1 comment

>Websters (1828) states the meaning of hypocrisy.

  1. Simulation; a feigning to be what one is not; or dissimulation, a concealment of one’s real character or motives. More generally, hypocrisy is simulation, or the assuming of a false appearance of virtue or religion; a deceitful show of a good character, in morals or religion; a counterfeiting of religion.
  2. Simulation; deceitful appearance; false pretence.

Oftentimes a philosophy can be ridiculed by pointing to the hypocrisy of its followers. While the truth of a philosophy stands on its own merits, and the ridicules may just be a easy way to dismiss something that one doesn’t like, people’s responses to a belief system are frequently coloured by the behaviour of its practitioners.

My concern is that anyone who does something that they otherwise condemn is labelled a hypocrite. This is understandable and there may be some hypocrisy involved but it is not the essence of hypocrisy. It is possible the person is anything but a hypocrite. Because we are fallen we struggle with sin. So we all battle not to do what we think is wrong. We have a concept of morality and many attempt to live by their consciences. Failing to do so is sin. Dennis Prager wrote about this at the time of the Haggard scandal.

If I condemn what I do I am not a hypocrite I am a sinner. If I condemn it in you but conceal that I do it I am a hypocrite. But the essence of hypocrisy, and why it is especially odorous, is when someone claims that his behaviour is acceptable but another’s is not when the first person is doing exactly the same thing. I justify my own sin by appealing to special reasoning but condemn you for yours. No wonder Jesus had little time for it and spoke harshly against its practitioners.

This is not to say that there are no circumstances where something is allowed for one group and not another. And situations may be truly different (parents and children). But be careful you are not inventing reasons so as to justify your own sin. And if you do think that there are legitimate reasons for your behaviour when it is usually not allowed, be very sure of your reasons and be very slow to condemn others when they do the same.

Categories: definition, ethics